Mexican Caesar Salad with Prawns and Cilantro Dressing, Enchiladas Placeras with Chicken, Chips and Salsa
Occupation: Part-time Caterer
Location: Walnut Creek
Favorite Restaurant: El Jarro
Reviewed El Jarro: Saturday, September 23, 2006
Are you looking for a place to take someone on a first date or perhaps impress someone? Or would you like to relax, drink a cold beer, and enjoy good Mexican food? If your answer is yes to the second question, then you need to stop by El Jarro restaurant. Once you’re seated, they bring a basket of warm tortilla chips and fresh salsa to your table. Take your time to read the menu; you have a lot to choose from. Don’t order a burrito or taco; get that at your local taqueria. Instead, order any of the seafood dishes that are the specialty of the Oaxacan region of Mexico. Try the Mexican Caesar Salad with prawns that have been marinated in tequila and garlic -- it’s all tossed with a lime cilantro dressing that will have you asking for the recipe. There’s also the Tilapia ala Vera Cruz -- tilapia simmered in a flavorful roasted tomato sauce that’s so good you’ll want warm tortillas to sop up the broth.
All the seafood dishes come with fresh seasonal vegetables that are cooked to order, so when your plate arrives they are still hot, bright in color, and never mushy. My favorite enchiladas are the Enchiladas Placeras with chicken. It is corn tortillas stuffed with chicken, diced carrots, potatoes, zucchini, and raisins. The house made ancho guajillo sauce is wonderful; a dark red sauce with a spicy yet subtle sweet flavor topped with Mexican cream and queso fresco cheese. I think it’s the perfect combination of spicy and sweet, and it’s great every time I order it.
El Jarro isn’t a large restaurant, nor is it pretentious in any way;it’s just comfortable and casual. But if the weather’s nice I recommend sitting out on the patio. And after your dinner don’t forget to order the cream cheese flan, it’s another specialty of the house.
Occupation: Radio Personality
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Mecca
Reviewed El Jarro: Sunday, September 17, 2006
The guacamole was good. That’s about the only thing that I can say positive about this taqueria they call a café. After we made the thirty-minute drive to Lafayette from San Francisco, we found El Jarro in a cute neighborhood that almost reminded me of a college campus. Being a native Texan, I was excited to find a Mexican café that might have a little more than the same faire you get at the taquerias in The City.
It was a promising start as the two tables on the sidewalk in the front were open, so we got to sit outside on a sunny day. It was fun to sit on the sidewalk and watch people walk by during lunchtime. The waiter was attentive as we were two of only a handful of people at the restaurant. We started off with chips, salsa, guacamole, and of course, a margarita. As I said, the guacamole was good, but that’s where it ended. The salsa was too sweet with no kick, and the margarita fell right in line with that as well. It was a disastrous disappointment that was way too syrupy sweet. I didn’t check out the bar, or should I say the “non bar” before we sat down, but it only took my Texas taste buds one sip to figure out that these margaritas were made with wine and not tequila -- probably a result of this place not having a liquor license. We were served our food promptly, but it was a sheer disappointment. The steak was billed as New York Strip, but I could have pan-fried skirt steak with more flavor at home. The enchiladas that my friend had were short on flavor and on chicken. And being a Tex Mex aficionado, I could live on beans. Black, borracho, or refried, bring them all on. Except the ones they served here. Some combination of black and refried, they had little flavor, other than the cheese placed on top. And the “Mexican rice” was basically some steamed white rice with two kernels of corn in it.
At least this place had a chance to be “cute”. I liked the closed-in patio in the back and the sidewalk seating in front. But it lost most of its charm when I had to walk through that back patio, out the backdoor and in to the beauty shop next door to use the rest room. But at least that gave us something to giggle about. Well, that and the hot postman who stopped by to deliver the mail and engaged us in a short conversation. He was the only thing that spiced up the day.
I was more than a little perplexed at my experience, because I had looked online to find rave reviews of this little place. So maybe I’m crazy or maybe they were having a bad day. Too bad I can’t blame it on the margarita. They should probably think about adding tequila to the menu. It would make the food taste a whole lot better. I guess the only thing else that needs to be said came from my friend when, after eating a couple of bites of her food said, “I can’t believe that this is someone’s favorite place to eat.”
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Maria Manso World Cuisine
Reviewed El Jarro: Tuesday, September 26, 2006
My advice on El Jarro: DON’T go late.
I guess I can blame myself a bit, but our experience was not great because we got there pretty close to closing. I should say, though, that we were not the last table seated and the other restaurants in the area seemed to still be going at full-tilt when we left.
I had just one night to visit El Jarro. We were cutting it close time-wise, so I did call before we left the city to ask what time their last seating was. It was then 8 pm, they said their last seating was at 9pm, and Mapquest said they were 36 minutes away, so, QUICK, to the bridge!
We did not have much trouble getting there, and the neighborhood seems very nice. For your sake, I hope Lafayette isn’t preparing (read: closing off) their downtown for a street fair, as they were when we were trying to get there. This delayed us a bit and forced us to park a few blocks away.
We got to El Jarro at 8:45 and the open sign was still lit, so we went in. The waitress proceeded to start to seat us in the very small inside dining room. A co-worker, an El Jarro regular, recommends their patio (and margaritas) and especially coming from it’s-rarely-warm-enough-outside-after-dark San Francisco, we asked for the patio. She said yes, and we started towards the back, but then another employee jumped out from behind the counter and said the patio was closed already. A waiter myself for years, I understand closing stations when approaching closing time. HOWEVER, everybody needs to get on the same page, and the yes/no about-face, unfortunate to begin with, was not handled well.
Once seated, the meal was, in a word, rushed. We were asked if we wanted chips, but declined saying we wanted to instead start with an order of Nachos. Our waiter said, “OK, are you ready to order?” We were, so we did.
The drinks came quickly and our entrees arrived. Oops, no nachos. The food was fine, as in, "satisfactory." We both agreed the refried (black?) beans were pretty dry and pasty. My iced tea was never refilled and my girl friend was never asked “un otro Corona?”
Dessert? I saw no evidence of it. The silent dropping of our check before it was requested ensured I didn’t ask.
I guess we could’ve gone earlier, and who knows, maybe a margarita would’ve made us care less (too bad I hardly drink). El Jarro was fine, as a neighborhood place, but if I went back to Lafayette, I would probably try one of the other interesting-looking places.
El Jarro needs to remember to treat the last five guests as well as the first five.