It's not the same old/same old for South Grand. Mojo Tapas Restaurant and Bar offers some serious contemporary cooking delivered mostly tapas-style in the midst of the neighborhood's ethnic restaurants. The space that formerly held Erato has been re-thought and re-painted, and chef-owner Eric Erhard brings the new to the kitchen, too. And wonder of wonders, the kitchen is open until 11 p.m. What a good neighborhood in which to do that. On a quiet weeknight, we saw folks arriving for food at almost 10 o'clock. Certainly a sign of civilization!
The menu ambles through soup and salads, spends a great deal of time on tapas, and, for those determined to eat 'Murrican Style, offers three sandwiches and two entrees. We skipped the latter items; if a menu is that focused on something, the house must believe in its ability, and our general philosophy is to allow a restaurant to give us its best shot.
And so a cup of cool, coarsely ground yellow-tomato gazpacho arrived, nicely tart, a little spicy, perfect for this weather. It was followed closely by more; the night was quiet and the kitchen was working quickly. Since we'd ordered several things, they all arrived more or less at once. That's not a complaint. In traditional restaurants, we like courses to arrive in order, but we're fine with small-plates restaurants sending things out as they're ready. Mussels seasoned with cider, fennel and bacon, were excellent, the fennel and bacon working together for a new and very pleasant combination. Pork empanadas, deep-fried rather than baked, were filled with succulent roast pork, and a little note of cumin, surrounded by an orange sauce with notes of oregano and garlic, a good contrast.
Brandade, or fish cakes made of salt cod and mashed potatoes, always are much milder than they sound, and were pretty much an excuse to eat lots of the orange-chive tartar sauce. They were smooth and not unpleasant, but not as emphatically seasoned as much of what came across the table. On the other hand, the lamb sliders were stunning. Hot and fresh and juicy, they arrived wearing a little pepper jack cheese and some apricot mustard, the sweet-hot contrasting beautifully with the meat. The lamb-reluctant might be persuaded by one of these babes.
The menu features what it calls Mojo on a Stick (and “mojo,” by the way, is pronounced moe-joe); from that list, a shrimp skewer proved to be another remarkable dish. Two skewers, a half-dozen shrimp, tail on, had been perfectly grilled with a note of char, the flesh just cooked through and not a second longer. The sauce dribbled over them and the rice below was coconut and lime, with a faint aura of Thai curry, a killer sauce worth eating with a spoon. A plate of delicious sausage offered Italian, strongly laced with fennel; andouille, red and spicy; and chorizo. This was the Spanish-style chorizo, not the coarse-ground Mexican style, and it was especially excellent. We seldom find that one on a local menu, and we particularly appreciate it. That small dish over on the side? A house-made pineapple chutney, a great contrast to all that spicy pork.
Andouille reappeared in what's termed a side dish, a hash of andouille and sweet potatoes, a nice contrast of taste and textures, all tied together with plenty of onion. (We can see this on a brunch plate with a couple of eggs.)
There's a fruit crisp du jour on the dessert menu, and we hit on mango-strawberry night. Don't expect fruit with a brown sugar-butter-maybe-oatmeal-or-nuts topping. The closest approximation is what some kitchens call a cobbler, a sort of cake batter with lots and lots of fruit, served hot, with some of the brown sugar mixture on top. Having said all that, it was very tasty, a lot more mango than strawberry (did you know this was mango season? It is, and pineapple, too).
Great service, as well, from a guy who knew the menu well and explained it with style and grace while juggling lots of tables, both inside and out. In addition, this is a bar that makes cocktails with oomph; we tried a margarita and a caipirinha and both arrived in properly serious mode.
Mojo Tapas Restaurant and Bar
3117 S. Grand Blvd.
Lunch Mon.-Fri, Dinner Mon.-Sat
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good