By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
On a return visit, I arrived with an entourage, my plan being to blend in and thus avoid having one of the waiters point me out to the others: "Hey, there's that dork with the fork!" To be fair, I must say the staff here is friendly and functions with an impressive degree of competency.
This time we ordered Rosa's renowned guacamole, and minutes later a cart rolled up bearing a bowl brimming with knobby Hass avocados. The waiter asked our preference of heat and then went about the task of barely mashing the three Aztec elements (avocado, tomato, and chili) with onion, cilantro, and salt in a lava molcajete. Handmade corn tortillas and cleanly fried tortilla chips were served alongside the unctuous green custard. Other starters were equally satisfying, particularly zarape de pato, pulled morsels of roast duck layered between corn tortillas and bathed in a sweet, sultry yellow pepper–habanero sauce.
The Yucatecan specialty cochinita pibil entails marinating pork shoulder in achiote, spices, and bitter orange juice; wrapping it in banana leaf; and roasting it in an underground pit, or pib. There is no pit here, and though the pork was served in a neat banana leaf boat, the meat didn't carry the herby taste of having been cooked in it. Still, the stewed pork was tartly tasty, topped with pickled onions and sided by a circle of grilled green and yellow squash perked with pineapple. No less impressive was a whole deboned roasted red snapper, the fleshy fish butterflied like an open book and piquantly painted with guajillo chili sauce. Tomatillo salsa gets freshly mashed tableside in a molcajete and dolloped atop the snapper.
Nothing beats a beer with dishes such as these; the choices here are exclusively Mexican. A limited wine list leans toward budget choices, including a category of "$25 and under." Food prices are family-friendly, too, most starters going for $7.50 to $8.50, main courses $14 to $22.50. The other Rosa locations charge a few dollars more for everything; the guacamole, for instance, is $10 here, $14 everywhere else. Appreciate it while you can, for this differential is not likely to last long.
Desserts are pretty much the same as those found at other restaurants, except with seemingly makeshift Mex twists. The ubiquitous molten chocolate cake is Hispanicized with sweet tomatillo dipping sauce. Flan is flecked with coconut. The tres Marias sundae brings a scoop each of peanut butter crunch, Mexican chocolate, and raspberry-rose ice creams accessorized with roasted pineapple, plantain, spiced blackberries, chocolate and cajeta (caramel) syrups, and whipped cream. All the ingredients melt and meld into an indistinguishably creamy hodgepodge of sweetness — which, I suppose, is the point of a sundae.
Miami folks in 2007 are in the same place New Yorkers were in '84: hungering for the clean, complex flavors that characterize real Mexican cooking. Just like back then, Rosa Mexicano comes through for its new hometown.