Restaurant Review: Guadalajara (1.5 Stars)

At Guadalajara, good intentions are stymied by incompetent service and inconsistent food.

Mexican Standoff
At Guadalajara, good intentions are stymied by incompetent service and inconsistent food.

We know, we know. Seems like the life of a restaurant reviewer must be pretty wonderful, right? You eat out on someone else’s nickel (or Franklin), then write about it. Okay, so you have a bad meal now and then—small price to pay, right?

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On a good day, we’d agree. There are lots of good restaurants out there, and even a few great ones. We anonymously eat at as many as we can–the great, the good, and the bad—and report on our experiences. Our job is not to find fault or to look for missteps—anymore than we should look the other way when they occur. Our first loyalty is to you, the reader. Our job is to convey our experiences so you can decide if this is a place you want to spend your time and money.

But that’s when the job sometimes isn’t much fun. Take Guadalajara, for instance. The restaurant is staffed with really nice, well-meaning servers who appear to be working hard and who seem especially eager to please. We hate having to take them to task. But service gaffes on our visits were numerous: on one visit, three of the four entrees took 45 minutes to get to the table and the last was simply a no-show. One server wasn’t sure whether the dish in her hand was fish or chicken, while another couldn’t tell the difference between swordfish and snapper. The waiting times between courses consistently stretched on longer than it took us to actually eat the food once it arrived. Whether the problems stem from the kitchen or lack of staff training is, frankly, irrelevant. Despite the best intentions of the staff, service here is truly lousy.

Fortunately, the lively atmosphere and pleasantly bright Mexican décor in combination with fruit-flavored mojitos and margaritas helped the time pass before our appetizers arrived; a bowl of multi-colored corn chips accompanied by a tasty salsa helped assuage our hunger. Guacamole is made tableside in the traditional molcajate bowl with conservative use of salt and jalapeños; order it with your drinks and simply ask for extra salt and jalapenos to be left on the table.

Unusual shrimp quesadillas made a tasty starter: perfectly cooked shrimp and cheese were rolled in corn tortillas and topped with mild salsa. While much about this dish baffled us—the “chipotle salsa” was neither smoky nor hot, and the quesadilla was neither fried nor grilled—the contrast of crisp seasoned shrimp and creamy cheese was good enough that we didn’t care what they called it.

The salmon ceviche, on the other hand, was a two-biter. On one visit, the lime was so assertive, we simply couldn’t keep going after the second taste. But in all fairness, we had the ceviche on our last visit. If eating at Guadalajara has taught us anything, it is that a dish served there on one occasion might bear no resemblance to the same dish served on another.

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A rather stunning example of this kind of inconsistency has to do with a dish that was, on one occasion, the worst and, on another, arguably the best we ate: snapper Veracruz. The first time it was, quite simply, horrible. Or, as one of our guests that night who happens to be a chef, said, “In fifteen years in this business, I have never seen fish cooked to that bizarre rubbery texture.” (The swordfish we had that night, though, was also strangely rubbery.) But on a subsequent visit, the snapper was moist and flaky; its inherent sweet, mild flavor enhanced by the traditional Veracruz ragoùt of tomato, olives, onions, and peppers.

We enjoyed other dishes as well. Carne asada poblana, rich skirt steak grilled medium- rare, retained its entire meaty flavor and was pleasantly moist and tender. Similarly, the chicken breasts in the mole poblano were perfectly cooked and pleasant enough, although the mole itself was coarse and unbalanced.

Desserts were inconsistent, with no real standouts. The flan may have been the best of the bunch: it was creamy and thick, and the caramel had a nice, slightly bitter edge to it. A “fried dough” dessert was actually triangles of slightly oily fried tortillas tossed with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with what we presumed to be chocolate syrup. No matter: by then, we wanted to leave before anything else could go wrong. We slumped deep in our chairs, unable even to look at our sweet server, knowing how we’d struggle to find something nice to write about Guadalajara.

GUADALAJARA

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2 Union St.

, Briarcliff Manor

(914) 944-4380

 

HOURS:

Sun. to Thurs. ;

Fri-Sat.

 

PRICES:

Appetizers: $5 – $9

Entrees: $10.95 – $35

Desserts: $5.50

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