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Cilantro Bar and Grille

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Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby AaronTheSnob » Fri Jul 09, 2010 9:53 am

Sure has gotten great reviews. Anyone been there yet?
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby Henry Vilas » Fri Jul 09, 2010 11:36 am

Funny you asked, as I was going to start a thread. Ms Vilas and I celebrated the 37th anniversary of our meeting with dinner at Cilantro last evening. A very nice upscale Mexican, white table cloth place. Good crowd for a Thursday (we had reservations at seven). Besides their regular menu they had quite a few specials. Ms Vilas had the chicken enchiladas with a black mole sauce. She said it was very good. I had a special - two soft shelled crabs. Good, but slightly greasy. We shared an appetizer, an ancho pepper stuffed with veggies. With two margaritas the tab came to just a little over sixty bucks. We told our server what we were celebrating and she comped us a dessert. Crème brûlée with homemade Mexican wedding cakes.

I give the place a thumbs up. We'll be back.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby LargeMarge » Fri Jul 09, 2010 11:48 am

I've been there twice. I am fairly critical of the Mexican restaurant scene in Madison. I am not a fan of the Laredo-type restaurants. La Mestiza is pretty good.

I am vegetarian. I ordered the veggie enchiladas in a green sauce both times. The first time the sauce was almost as good as my pipian sauce. The second time the sauce was too sour.

On the second visit, we ordered a tamal as an appetizer. I enjoyed it; although it was softer than most tamales I had before. It needed salt. They didn't have salt on the table so I had to ask my server for a salt shaker. It is one pet peeves to have to ask for a salt shaker.

I don't remember what my SO had on the first visit. My dad had a tamarind duck and my SO had chicken mole negro. Both were excellent. It's really hard to find decent mole in Madison. He was a little disappointed that there was only one mole sauce available that night. We had read some news articles about the restaurant that seem to indicate that they would have more varieties.

A man who I believe to be the owner greeted all the customers. He seemed to want to make sure that they understood that this wasn't a Pedros-style Mexican restaurant. It seemed impressed that I not only knew about the varieties of moles but had also made some.

A mariachi band came toward the end of our meal on our second visit. The space is not well suited for a band. They blocked access to the bathroom. Our server could not hear us nor could we hear each other talking.

I think Cilantro has potential, but I think they still have to work out some kinks. We will be back to try again.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby Henry Vilas » Fri Jul 09, 2010 12:11 pm

Finally got around to reading this week's Isthmus and noticed a review for Cilantro.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby TAsunder » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:19 am

We went there on Friday after reading this thread. The food is very good and by far the best Mexican food I've had in Madison, all things considered.

The moles actually tastes like good mole should. Not just a piece of hershey's mixed with some vinegar (or whatever crap is being slopped onto the plate elsewhere and termed mole).

We had their guacamole which was fairly good though pricey at $6 for a small portion - perhaps due to the price of avocados lately, perhaps not. Not at the same level as the guac at frontera or topolobampo as I was hoping for from three alum from those restaurants.

The real winners were the remaining items we ordered: huchepos de elote which my companion repeatedly thought was impossibly tasty; chicken enchiladas mole negro, where the mole actually tasted complex and interesting with actual spices and everything; the daily special: chile relleno (which featured chorizo and vegetables stuffed inside of an ancho chili and given an escabeche style treatment) which was very good and the most interesting chile relleno I've had in a long time; the homemade pecan pie which was possibly the best I've had; and crepes with plantains - tasty and not too sweet as I was expecting.

One of the proprietors visited us repeatedly and seemed genuinely interested in our feedback. The servers were attentive and excited by the menu.

The place was completely packed at 5pm on a Friday. Considering its location and relative newness, I was surprised by this. We had a 20 minute wait before getting a table.

The only real down side to this place is the incongruous decor. The walls, ceiling, and windows seem sterile and suited to something like a vacuum repair shop. They've done a good job decorating where they can, but I am just not sure that the building is suited to the fine dining experience they are going for here.

Anyway, big thumbs up so far. Will return soon and hope that it isn't a huge letdown the second time as places like Las Cazuelas were. LargeMarge indicated some inconsistency between visits... I hope that isn't the case because I was very impressed.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby Tsur » Sat Jul 17, 2010 5:11 pm

So my wife and I went last night.…unbelievably uneven service, but promising enough that we'll be back.

We arrived at 8:45 pm and the hostess informed us, rather dramatically, that the wait would be 15, maybe 25 minutes. No problem. We waited at the bar. Five minutes later we were pleasantly surprised when she came to seat us. Once seated, the clock continued to tick. Water arrived but nothing else. Other waitresses and tables bustled around us, but no one acknowledged us. After about ten minutes I went to the hostess stand to let them know we were being ignored.

Halle came rushing over apologizing profusely. We're pretty easy-going and really weren't upset. Nonetheless she insisted on giving us free chips and salsa. The chips were fresh and the green and red salsa were pretty good, not fabulous but good. The ramekins were ridiculously small. Halle offered us the hotter habanero salsa and took our drink orders. She recited the specials and, based on our questions, correctly determined we were vegetarians (pescatarians actually, but whatever). The menu itself is refreshingly vegetarian friendly.

We decided to get some guac, the sopa de cilantro calabaza and the tamale special for apps. We ordered the the vegi enchilda to share for our entree. The gaucamole was really good, as was the tamale. The soup was fantastic. If nothing else go there for the soup. Vibrant, green and velvety the soup was just wonderful. Halle assured me it was vegetarian but I'd be shocked if there weren't chicken broth. I had to remind her about the habnero salsa. It was good too, citrusy and definitely hot, but not mean-spirited. My margarita was okay. A little weak for $8 but had it been five I woulda been pleased.

The entire meal, was slow. Most people would probably be annoyed, but as I mentioned earlier, we like to think we're easy-going. Had it been slightly quicker I would have considered it a paced delivery.

After my margarita I ordered a Corona. Amazingly, it was kinda flat. Maybe it had been opened a half hour earlier? I didn't complain.

The Enchiladas Vegetarianas en crema de cilantro arrived and it was good. The enchiladas were drowning in a green sauce (I'm guessing tomatillo in addition to cream and cilantro) were very good - really, really good. But right as we're about to take our first bite of the actual enchilada we noticed a really generous piece of chicken sitting atop one of enchiladas. Sigh. I informed Halle and she was adequately appalled. The dish came back within 3-4 minutes. Halle assured us that the one offending enchilada had been remade. We took our first actual bites and were very pleased. Until we cut into the second enchilada and saw more chicken.

I was pretty annoyed. I walk the plate to the hostess stand. Halle comes rushing over apologizing profusely. At this point I just want to go. I'm not pissed, but I've kinda just had enough. She offers to remake the dish or get us something else, but I just want to go. I politely demand the check. Halle continues to apologize and offer us anything and everything, but I really just want to leave. I start to worry that she won't bring the check unless I order something else.

Five mintues later she comes back, still apologizing, and lets us know that the entire meal has been taken care. We thank her and let her know that we'll be back and even ask for her by name. Half jokingly and maybe a little sadly she replied, "No you won't."

But we will be back and we'll ask for her. Though I wished she'd apologized less, she seemed sweet enough and the food seems promising. I get that all restaurants have growing pains. I appreciate that they did the right thing by comping the meal. And I owe Halle a tip. We only had a credit card so we didn't leave anything.

Despite the uneven service I still recommend you at least try Cilantro. All the flavors worked - particularly the enchilada sauce, the tamale and that fantastic soup. Just check your food for hidden surprises and be patient when you go.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby AaronTheSnob » Mon Jul 19, 2010 9:34 am

Kudos to Tsur for the best review I've ever read of a restaurant. If you're not already writing for a living, you should be.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby Crockett » Mon Jul 19, 2010 10:02 am

Tsur wrote:We only had a credit card so we didn't leave anything.


You can't leave tips on credit cards?
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby TheBookPolice » Mon Jul 19, 2010 10:04 am

Not if you don't have a check to pay to begin with.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby Crockett » Mon Jul 19, 2010 10:09 am

TheBookPolice wrote:Not if you don't have a check to pay to begin with.

Right. Thanks.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby Athena » Mon Jul 19, 2010 10:41 am

That is pretty horrible that they served you chicken when they knew you were vegetarians. They should have remade the entire plate when the mistake was discovered.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby Tsur » Mon Jul 19, 2010 9:42 pm

AaronTheSnob wrote:Kudos to Tsur for the best review I've ever read of a restaurant. If you're not already writing for a living, you should be.


Thanks for the kind words…maybe for my next career.

Athena wrote:That is pretty horrible that they served you chicken when they knew you were vegetarians. They should have remade the entire plate when the mistake was discovered.


Yeah it is pretty horrible, but not totally unexpected. Something similar happens to me at least twice a year at different restaurants. Honestly, I think it often happens because of cultural differences. For better or worse, lots of kitchen help are from Latin American countries. In speaking with some of my Latino acquaintances they simply can't fathom choosing to not eat meat. It seems more like a preference, "today they're choosing not to have chicken or beef and they'd like some veggies." Not that white staff can't be indifferent too. My own brother says that he'd sooner understand if I were gay versus my choosing to be a pescatarian.

Rereading my review, I hope everyone gets the vibe that I do recommend the place. Try it. I think that both vegetarians and omnivores alike will be pleased.
Last edited by Tsur on Tue Jul 20, 2010 11:44 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby swoon_queen » Mon Jul 19, 2010 10:36 pm

I agree that your review was great, Tsur, but I think it's a little misleading; we also ate at Cilantro about a week back and had similar mixed reviews, but chalked them up to the kitchen.

As you seem to be suggesting, we're going to return because of the service rather than in spite of it.... Apart from the initial slowness with a server approaching your table, it's kitchen/bar inconsistencies that seem to have led your experience and your meal astray: food coming out slowly, weak margarita, flat or perhaps preopened [?!?!] Corona, and the strange appearance of chicken in a vegetarian dish not once but twice. The server was appropriately on top of it, apologetic, and did the right thing by comping your meal. We went to Cilantro last weekend and were blown away by the service. Everyone-- host,waitress, busser, bartender-- was knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful in that nuanced way that's attentive without being hover-y. The thoughtfulness and attention to detail on the part of the staff helped us overlook or laugh off the slight eccentricities of the kitchen.

I had what were supposed to be "duck medallions" in a mole negro. The mole was phenomenal-- maybe the best I've ever had, and definitely the best I've had in Madison-- but the duck was served in two portions replete with bones and skin, the opposite of medallions and a bit overcooked to boot. Though it was difficult to eat, and not as succulent as I expected, I enjoyed my dish. Both my boyfriend and my daughter liked their respective entrees. He had the shrimp, she the night's special of blue corn encrusted soft-shell crabs. However, they both bemoaned excessive olive oil that pooled on their plates making dinner both hard to eat (yup, my boyfriend's shirt is permanently olive-oil stained) and not quite as healthy as the menu made it seem-- I had a similar misgiving re: my duck. Weirdly, it seemed that the oil wasn't simply running off as excess from the shrimp/crabs (i.e. what sometimes happens with greasy tempura or overly fried fish), it seemed as though its extravagance was intentional-- it had been slopped on like a sauce. After we asked for separate plates, we transferred everything onto those and left the oil behind. Deliciousness ensued.

Anyway, we were impressed with everything to the extent that we are hoping to let them work through a few early kinks before we give it another try. I do encourage everyone to go. It's reasonably priced as well, and throughout the meal we marveled at our service. A real treat to feel that pampered, even if the food's got one or two issues.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby Tsur » Tue Jul 20, 2010 12:01 am

swoon_queen wrote:As you seem to be suggesting, we're going to return because of the service rather than in spite of it....


I say Cilantro deserves a visit because of the flavors. In my specific instance, the kitchen might have been sloppy or inattentive with their preparation, but the flavors of our dishes definitely worked.

The service was well-intentioned, if not overly competent. Anyone can have an off night, but I think the staff that we interacted with (waitress, hostess, and water refiller) seemed genuinely pleasant.

Friendly staff + good flavors = try again
or
Good food and smiles > slow service and stray chicken pieces

swoon_queen wrote:Anyway, we were impressed with everything to the extent that we are hoping to let them work through a few early kinks before we give it another try. I do encourage everyone to go.


I completely agree.
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Re: Cilantro Bar and Grille

Postby TheSyndicate » Sat Jul 24, 2010 1:07 pm

Me, my wife, and two friends went to Cilantro last night. We all thought it was just OK. We, unlike some other posters, thought it was overpriced ($17 for a tough, fatty piece of pork with a side of overcooked rice seems a bit much).

The Queso Fundido appetizer was fine if a bit small and it was hard to taste anything except for the roasted poblanos on top.

I had the chicken enchiladas with mole negro, my wife had the shrimp with garlic mojo, our friends had the carne asada and the pork tenderloin dish. Of the four, the shrimp was the star - well-cooked (and LARGE) shrimp, tasty sauce, though too oily by a mile. The carne asada was tasty but tough and gristly. It was ordered medium rare but came well-done. The pork tenderloin was flavorless and tough. The chicken enchiladas were fine but I couldn't taste the chicken or the tortilla and my black beans were cold.

My friend and I ordered coffees that were delivered lukewarm and cold, respectively.

The highlight of the meals were the desserts - the flan was excellent (impressive given how boring flans usually are), the plantain crepes were delicious and the tres leches cake was very good.

The service was friendly and knowledgeable but the food was so inconsistent and largely boring that I don't know if we'll be back. Like I said at the beginning, it was just OK - not bad by any means - but certainly not worth the price and with La Mestiza so close, I don't see a reason to go back.
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