Last weekend I finally made it out to Zocalo in the Fountains. This is the 2nd location, the first being in Midtown Sacramento. It opened not long ago, summer or late summer I think, in the location previously occupied by Tres Agaves. I hadn’t had a chance to try them out before they went out of business but from everything I had heard I wasn’t missing much. I had only been to Zocalo in Midtown one time, for Mothers Day dinner this year. They had a limited menu for the holiday but they had a carnitas plate and plenty of deserts, and it was excellent.
I was joining Anne and Justin again for dinner. We weren’t sure if it was going to be too busy to get a table in a reasonable amount of time, OpenTable wasn’t accepting reservations for the same day for whatever reason. Anne and Justin arrived quite early though and got our name in. They were told a 30 minute wait and I was on my way when I got the message that they had already been seated in just 10 minutes, so that worked out pretty well. When I showed up the Fountains were packed. Parking was looking ugly, but I lucked out and found a spot right on the main strip just a few shops down. I headed in and found them at a booth towards the back end where the open kitchen area is. The weather was fantastic and their outdoor seating was completely full, and from the short look I got of it while looking for Anne & Justin it seemed to be pretty big. The interior is very nicely decorated with some interesting/bizarre lighting.
Once I sat down, our server came by to get my drink order almost immediately. That came quickly, along with chips, bean dip and salsa, and we took advantage of a short window to order from the Happy Hour menu. Guacamole sounded pretty good so we went with that. The server took a moment to go over a few specials and highly recommended the cochinita pibil (Smoked shoulder of pork in an achiote rub, achiote glaze, habanero salsa and pickled red onion) which got me debating between it and my beloved carnitas. That train of thought was put on hold for a little while when a heavy stone bowl with a ton of guacamole was delivered. Sometimes I have a bit of hesitation when it comes to ordering $5+ guacamole at restaurants. Often there isn’t much of it or there’s a lot of cheap filler (I’m looking sternly in your direction, El Torito) and it feels like a rip. Yard House and another place that I can’t think of at the moment have somewhat tempered my thoughts on restaurant guac with their excellent quality good portion size. Zocalo is another winner in this regard. There was a TON of guacamole, and it was really good. Heavy on the lime side, which I love. I’ve never had so much that we stopped eating it before it was gone. At some point we had our chips replaced by some stealth employee. I just looked up and all of a sudden there were fresh, hot (and greasy) chips.
This brings me to the service which I thought was fantastic. I mentioned in my last post (Mehfil Indian Restaurant) that I wished more servers would pay close attention to the table, from a distance, and anticipate the needs before they’re even asked. This server, and some other helper staff, were dialed in and doing just that. One sip from having to need another soda I had a new one before I realized I was even that low. That said, the attentiveness did start to slide towards the end of our meal when a big group was seated near us and sucked up a lot of his attention. I can’t say that the service was perfect due to that, but he did apologize later so clearly he was aware.
When we ordered I asked him what he would go with between the carnitas and the cochinita pibil. I hadn’t even finished my sentence, without hesitation he said cochinita pibil, and that was that. About 15 minutes later we had plates delivered by a runner. Anne had ordered the Tacos Del Mar (Beer battered fish tacos with chipotle aioli, pico de gallo and our repollo. Served on three housemade miniature flour tortillas). She said these were really good and made up for some so/so sangria. I somewhat recall her mentioning that there was a lot of fish on them as well, enough that it made it difficult to pick each one up as a proper taco. Justin ordered from the Happy Hour menu, 2 empanadas (braised brisket in pasilla chile & 2 types of cheese, crema, salsa, cotija) and a chicken quesadilla, which came rolled and looked a lot more like a burrito or an enchilada without the sauce. He said the empanadas were good and he really liked the quesadilla and said he’d order it again.
My cochinita pibil was a very simple dish with the pork, pickled red onion and a light green dip (I didn’t realize until after dessert that all entrees came with green rice and black beans, served family style. It was on the other side of the table and I was completely oblivious to it.). The flavor was ridiculous. It was quite intense, with a bit of the habenero coming through on the end. Overall it was a very sweet glaze, which was interesting with the delicious, savory pork underneath. The waiter had mentioned how long it was marinated for, though I can’t remember now, 2 days? However long it was, as a result of that and the slow cooking it was mostly very, very tender and juicy. I say mostly because a couple pieces were a bit tougher. The others were pretty much just falling apart as soon as I started to apply pressure with my fork. I stopped about halfway through so I would have room for dessert. The server boxed it up for me and put the remaining rice and beans in the container for me. I had this for lunch a couple days later and it was still very good. The rice and beans were pretty decent too.
Any time I see tres leches (Dense vanilla cake, condensed milk syrup, whipped cream, seasonal fruit topping) on the dessert menu I pretty much have to order it. This one was uniquely baked and served in a jar. I think this was not only a convenient serving container, but also quite functional in that all the excess milk had nowhere else to go, allowing the sponge cake to sit mostly submerged in it instead of allowing it to slowly drain into a bowl or onto a plate. The best one I’ve ever had was at Mas, and I think Zocalo’s is an easy tie, if not edging it out by a bit. Justin ordered the churros (Fried-dough filled with vanilla cream and a side of vanilla ice cream), and said they tasted like…churros. He was a little underwhelmed and was expecting some more substantial cream filling.
So overall not perfect but very close. Great service for the most part, amazing food, good atmosphere. I’m a fan.