Monday, May 7, 2012

Cinco de Mayo - El Rancho Grande

I'll start by saying this is going to be a post about the Cinco de Mayo feast from hell! I have been lucky to experience more positives than negatives in my adventures and I have always preferred not to do a post at all when a restaurant is a disaster. However, I was compelled to write this post today because it was a special day and I really believe restaurants have to be extremely conscientious and careful in the way they present themselves everyday; but particularly on days like these.  From the circumstances of my visit - I got all wet (that's what she said), to the bland taste of the food - I don't have too many accolades to give.

It was Cinco de Mayo and I was really looking forward to having some out of this world Margaritas and traditional Mexican food. I was staying at the beach and while there were many great  block parties going on all over Miami, I thought it would be better to stay close by. Remembering a Mexican restaurant  I had been wanting to visit for a while, El Rancho Grande, located at 314 72nd Street in Miami Beach, I gave them a call to find out about their festivities. They told me they were having a block party with a DJ, mariachis and great drinks starting at 4 pm. I got excited and thought "Hijole, I just found me the perfect place for Cinco de Mayo." After all, Cinco de Mayo is a day for Mexican restaurants to pull out all the stops, showcase their very best, and leave customers with a desire to come back.

That's where my excitement started and that's where it ended. We showed up to El Rancho Grande about 5 o'clock and there were only a couple of people there. That's was still early. They asked us whether we wanted to sit inside or outside, and since the mariachis were singing, and it was a beautiful day, we decided to sit outside.  I noticed the table they were preparing for us was very wet on top, but I figured they'd take care of it. After sitting down for a few seconds, I felt wet in the seat of my dress. Hmmm...nothing was going on down there so I looked at my seat, which was made of rattan and wondered what was up.  I then noticed the floor below me was pretty wet also. Now, if you live in Miami, you know it didn't rain on Saturday, so I got up and realized my dress and thighs were soaking wet. One of the busboys noticed me standing and came to ask me what was wrong. I told him my chair was all wet and now so was I, so he explained a dog had been sitting in my chair prior to us taking it and had spilled his water all over it.

Now, I am a pet owner and dog lover myself, so I have no problem with restaurants being dog friendly. However, there is a limit. A dog? On the same chair I was sitting with my mini dress? What if I had worn something more elegant that could be ruined? Are you sure it was his water he spilled? How much water did this dog drink? It had been all over the table, the floor, and now me. OMG! He couldn't understand why I was so upset. So, I grabbed another chair and asked him to please remove that one. The waiter then came a few minutes later and after trying to ignore the cold, wet feeling on my derriere, I thought I'd order one of those delicious drinks they had told me they had. "What kind of margaritas do you have?", I asked. "We only have margaritas on the rocks", he responded. (In a plastic cup, no salt on the rim, might I add.) I took that because at this point I realized I'd probably need 5 or 6 to get me through this.

I looked at the menu, and it was lame to say the least. Where was the queso fundido I had read about? Turns out, it was a very (emphasis on the very) limited menu for Cinco de Mayo. I thought, well, they have their Guacamole listed and I read they prepare it for you at the table while you watch so, I'll start with that. I sat back, hoping the breeze would dry me, and waited, until the waiter came back with a small ***** container with already made guacamole. I looked at him, and didn't ask. Why waste my time?  We didn't have any cutlery yet so we asked the waiter for some to eat the guacamole, and he came with three little packets of plastic cutlery (like the one you get in some fast food restaurants) that contained a plastic knife, a plastic "spork" and a small napkin. Are you serious? It's not like they were so busy they had to break out the paperware. There was nobody here! Back to the food...the guacamole didn't have much flavor and I grabbed big chunks of avocado with every scoop. According to the menu, it was supposed to be prepared with California avocados, which tend to be sweeter, fresh onions, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos, but I just didn't taste it. I love guacamole, and make a pretty mean one at home, and this one was less than desirable; which would prove to be the theme of the entire meal.

Mexican Tamales
Rather than going through the agonizing details of each dish we ordered, I'll keep it short. In addition to the guacamole, we also ordered the Mexican Tamales.  These were supposed to be traditional tamales stuffed with seasoned shredded beef, and topped with salsa roja and verde, with a touch of chipotle. Sounds amazing, right? Not! No flavor, I tell you. The meat was tough and very difficult to swallow. My biggest concern when I eat Mexican food, which I love, is that I ask it not be too spicy.  However, I would've welcomed some serious spice here - anything to give it a kick. There just wasn't any seasoning..

Taquitos Dorados
Taquitos al Pastor
While there were three of us, we shared two entrees afraid of what would come. Luck would have it we ordered the Taquitos Dorados as an entree, which were crispy long corn tortillas, filled with chicken or shredded beef, and topped with lettuce, pico de gallo and crema mexicana. Unbeknownst to us the shredded beef was the same one as in the tamales. Miss! As a second entree, we ordered the Tacos al Pastor; which were supposed to consist of soft corn tortillas, stuffed with pork marinated in different chiles and spices, and then grilled with pineapple and topped with onions and cilantro. I really don't know what we got because I never tasted or saw any pineapples and if that meat was marinated in anything, those were some bland-tasting chiles. I have a strong suspicion they served us something else but we were so confused at this point, we went with the flow. If you look at the picture I've included with the dish, you may think I had one too many margaritas since there is nothing stuffed inside the soft corn tortillas. No, I wasn't drunk, and yes you are correct. We had to do the stuffing ourselves unlike the menu stated. To this day, we are still arguing over what meat actually came with the dish. I say it was chicken, others say pork. Very bizarre.

Needless to say, we couldn't finish our food (which you know is atypical of me). I had to get home, and prepare a little something because we were in for a long night and wouldn't be eating anything else. The only positives I found on my visit to El Rancho Grande were that the inside of the place is decorated very nicely and authentic and the bathroom was quite spacious and well kept. That's it. I have heard there is a second location in Kendall, but I have not visited there and really don't plan to after this experience. There appears to also have been a location in South Beach that closed a few months ago.

In case you want to contact them anyway, their number is 305-864-7404 and their website appears to be under construction.

El Rancho Grande on Urbanspoon

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