From the team behind the uber-successful Pi Pizzeria chain comes Gringo, entering the increasingly crowded arena of Mexican eateries in St. Louis with what it describes as "modern Mexican food with a twist." With such a pedigreed background, expectations have been high for Gringo, so we headed down to the CWE to see if it measured up.
There may not be a better chunk of real estate for a new restaurant in town than Gringo's digs at the corner of Euclid and McPherson avenues. Since it's a corner lot, there's plenty of outdoor seating and curb appeal to lure in the undecided diner looking for a bite. The space, which used to house Rothschild's Antiques, is now wide open and airy, awash in bright colors in an attempt to replicate what the establishment calls a "re-imagined Mid-Century Baja surf lodge."
The menu has a variety of platters, as well as quesadillas, soups, salads and sides; but the main attraction are the tacos, and it was this area we focused on while sipping a couple of malty Schlafly Gringo Munich Negras ($4), one of three custom brews Schlafly created for the restaurant.
The lineup that came to the table was impressive: the Octo Taco ($4), featuring grilled octopus, refried beans and a chunky citrus salsa; the Chicken Tinga ($3), slow-braised chicken in a smoky tinga sauce; the Gringo Taco ($3), a classic with a crispy tortilla shell, ground beef, cheese and pico de gallo; the Barbacoa ($4), with slow-cooked beef and pickled onion; Chapulines ($5), sauteed grasshoppers (yep, that's right) with green chile relish, avocado and cilantro; Grilled Fish (market price), nestled in crispy Napa cabbage; and Hongos ($4), Ozark mushrooms with refried beans and topped with arugula. We also added on a side of Vegetable Escabeche ($2), a ramekin of sweet pickled carrots, jalepenos, onions and bell peppers, and some guacamole ($2).
While there was much variety to be had, the taste results of our taco smorgasbord were a mixed bag. The Hongos was an unexpected delight, with earthy mushrooms set off nicely by the fresh arugula, resulting in a mild yet complex flavor. The Grilled Fish featured a healthy chunk of tender mahi-mahi that was almost too much for the tortilla to handle; and the Gringo Taco was an old-school combo of beef, tomato, lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream in a crunchy shell. All three of these tacos were proof positive that sometimes, the simplest ingredients and flavors yield the tastiest results.
On the other hand, the Chicken Tinga and Barbacoa were both dry and fairly bland. As for the Chapulines, unfortunately, we never really got to taste the little critters as they were doused in copious amounts of lime and salt that overwhelmed them. Likewise, the octopus in the Octo Taco was pushed aside by the sweet and tangy citrus salsa. A lighter hand with the sauces and seasonings and more focus on the proteins on these four would be most welcome.
We finished up with an order of Churros ($4). These came as bite-sized sugar-coated nuggets with cinnamon horchata sauce on the side instead of the traditional dark chocolate, which was a great substitute. The lighter sauce really allowed the pastry to shine.
Gringo has a lot going for it; and with a little bit of tweaking, could well become a CWE standard.
--Gringo, 398 N. Euclid Ave., 449-1212, gringo-stl.com.
- 1 1/2 ripe avocado
- 2 T roasted poblano peppers, chopped
- 1 T roasted garlic, chopped
- 1 T jalapeño
- 1 T chopped cilantro
- 2 T diced white onion, 1/4 in.
- Juice of 1 lime (or 1/4 lime, to taste)
- 1 t salt (or less, to taste)
- 1 T Cotija cheese
- 2 T olive oil
- 3 medium-sized mixing bowls
- Plastic wrap
- Large spoon
- Place olive oil in small mixing bowl. Roll the poblanos in the oil until they are evenly coated, but not soaked, and let excess oil drip back into bowl.
- Light a flame on your gas stove and place the pepper onto the open flame.
- Rotate the poblanos until they are black on each side, turning them to ensure even roasting.
- Once blackened, place in a dry bowl and cover with plastic wrap, which will aid in the peeling of the peppers’ skin.
- After 10 minutes, pull the peppers out and begin peeling them with your hands by rubbing the skin off of the peppers. Once peeled, chop into 1/4 in. pieces and put to the side. Note: Poblano peppers can be from medium to high heat so make sure to either wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly before touching your skin or eyes.
- Cut the ripe avocado in half by running the blade through the flesh and using the large seed inside as a cutting board to split it down the middle. Once in half use the blade of the knife to remove the large seed by gently striking the seed, twisting with the blade intact and pulling from the soft avocado. Discard the seed and use a large spoon to remove the edible avocado from its thick skin.
- Place the salt, jalapeño, garlic, poblanos and onion in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Mash this together until it becomes somewhat of a paste, releasing the oils and seasoning the bowl.
- Add the avocado, lime juice and cilantro to the mixture and mash. The texture of the guacamole depends on how much you mash, so mash less for a chunkier product.
- Garnish with Cotija cheese and serve with tortilla chips.