Chiles & Chocolate
I can’t think of a restaurant in recent history with such surface potential that’s so horrendous in practice. I knew better too. I was intrigued by reports of Oaxacan food on bland Seventh Avenue back in January but thought I’d wait a few months to pay a weeknight visit. We still weren’t safe from overcrowding due to the studio-sized dining room.
They were at full capacity around 8:30pm on a chilly Thursday. The cheerful hostess/waitress proclaimed a little too loudly “This table will be leaving soon,” indicating the only table for four and prompting nasty glares from the lounging middle aged women. That’s exactly the cunty type of attitude I expect from Park Slope. It’s impossible to even stand in the restaurant without sucking up precious space so we killed a good twenty minutes, getting BYOB St. Peter’s stouts up the street, smoking a cigarette, then hovering near the door in artic temperatures. No one inside was going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, the huffy lingerers refused to get up until we were eventually seated at a tiny circular table in the back. We were irked that the next twosome that showed up was almost immediately seated in the spacious four top.
The waiters were really trying, and were way friendlier than you’d anticipate in such harried environs. The female was strangely upbeat, the male positive and frank enough to steer us away from the chicken mole because it had been coming out overcooked. I feared as much actually, though I was a little bummed because moles oaxaqueños: negro, verde and coloradito seemed like a feature to try. The menu is very appealing and they’re using non-mainstream ingredients like chapolín, dried grasshoppers, huitlacoche and serving drinks like atole and champurrado. Almost everything sounds good, and so staunchly professing regional allegiance, “we are not a Mexican restaurant,” you would expect them to deliver.
Appetizers fared better than the entrees. My cheese and huitlacoche quesadilla and James’s tacos dorados were enjoyable, at least initially. Chiles & Chocolate would fail a basic Top Design (I only half-watch this show but I find Matt strangely attractive, though it's worrisome to me that he's 32 and has been married for ten years) challenge due to crazy poor planning. In a best case scenario involving their circular tables being bare, two huge white square plates couldn’t possibly fit in the two-foot circumference. With a candle, daffodil in a vase, salsa, chips, two tumblers of beer, two beer bottles and two appetizer plates, there was absolutely nowhere to put our main dishes when they appeared before we’d adequately wrapped up our first course. More and more I’m realizing we’re slow eaters. This constantly happens at chains, we throw off their timing but I don’t expect much from Applebee’s, plus booths allow for multiple plates. But at a “real” restaurant it’s disastrous.
Cramped quarters, rushed courses, unpleasant patrons could all be excused if the food transcends the circumstances. Alas, it didn’t. Dry and flavorless seemed to be the M.O. The chaos also worked as a natural appetite suppressant. I’m rarely un-hungry so that was quite a feat. Pato cacahuate y chocolate, a grilled duck breast with peanut-chocolate-chipotle sauce somehow blended those three ingredients to create a watery yellow paste that genuinely tasted like nothing. The duck was cooked more than I would’ve liked, only one slice had any hint of pink. James got the mole negro with stewed pork after being scared away from the poultry. Eh, the pork was about as blah as a frozen chicken breast.
There was no way we were risking dessert though we could’ve partaken out of spite, just to pass along the torture to another waiting couple.
Chiles & Chocolate * 54 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY