Medium-sized night

Mid-Au­gust Lunch, wispy dram­edy, not rated, in Ital­ian with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Lau­rel Glad­den I For The New Mex­i­can

Ah, sum­mer. ’ Tis the sea­son of bright, blis­ter­ing af­ter­noons when we rush to see the lat­est Hollywood tent pole — not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause we re­ally care about the movie but be­cause we can ben­e­fit from the mul­ti­plex’s dimmed lights and air con­di­tion­ing for a cou­ple of hours.

Made in Italy and re­leased in 2008, this sweet, short movie is known in its na­tive land as Pranzo di Fer­ragosto, Fer­ragosto be­ing the mid-Au­gust hol­i­day that has been cel­e­brated in Italy since the days of the Ro­man Em­pire. With that in mind, think about a meal you’d en­joy on a swel­ter­ing Au­gust af­ter­noon: light and sim­ple, maybe a lit­tle sweet, with some­thing bub­bly in your glass. You could use many of those ad­jec­tives to de­scribe Mid-Au­gust Lunch. It lasts barely over an hour, so you won’t get much of an air-con­di­tioned break out of it, but it of­fers a dif­fer­ent kind of re­fresh­ment.

Like so many sin­gle men in Italy, schlubby Gianni (writer-di­rec­tor Gianni Di Gre­go­rio, who was one of the writ­ers on the mafia drama Go­mor­rah) lives with his mother (Va­le­ria De Fran­cis­cis). The 50-some­thing Ro­man bach­e­lor is ap­par­ently un­em­ployed, but he works full time as his mother’s care­taker and cook. One Au­gust

Eric DiSte­fano, one of Santa Fe’s renowned chefs, has owned Coy­ote Café and its out­side bar, Coy­ote Cantina, since 2007. It came with a mas­sive rep­u­ta­tion, Mark Miller hav­ing set the style for new South­west­ern cui­sine. The tra­di­tion con­tin­ues at the Cantina — sort of — with dishes that make a pass­ing ref­er­ence to Mex­ico but don’t re­ally have a lot of fla­vor. How­ever, peo­ple love Coy­ote Cantina, where there’s a fi­esta ev­ery evening. Par­ty­ing 20-and 30-some­things and tourists flock to the rooftop to get rowdy and en­joy the sum­mer weather.

The wait staff is en­thu­si­as­tic and ef­fi­cient. The staffers know the menu and the drinks, and they hus­tle. How­ever, most of the food is unin­spired, heavy pub fare. All the right in­gre­di­ents are there; they just don’t add up to de­li­cious.

Gen­er­ally, ap­pe­tiz­ers fare bet­ter than main cour­ses do. The gua­camole and house­made tor­tilla chips with the fire-roasted salsa are a de­li­cious clas­sic ren­di­tion that de­serves ap­plause. The spicy wedge salad tasted good, but the com­po­si­tion was care­less and the pre­sen­ta­tion needed im­prove­ment. Wilted wedges of ice­berg let­tuce sprin­kled with Cotija cheese crum­bles were served with large slices of mealy tomato, a tart vine­gar-and-oil dress­ing, and a tasty green-chile tem­pura on the side.

Mild and creamy shrimp, crab, and tomato soup loaded with seafood came with a grilled cheese and poblano sandwich. Aside from the chile and the par­tially melted cheese, the sandwich re­minded me of the kind we used to or­der at the corner drug­store. The plate’s a bar­gain: fill­ing, but with­out much fla­vor. A very good plump Mex­i­can white shrimp ce­viche sparked with red onion, cel­ery, av­o­ca­dos, and radishes came with a side of that trade­mark fire-roasted salsa and those great chips.

The veg­e­tar­ian tacos could have been phoned in; they’re a great ex­am­ple of how chefs of­ten dis­re­gard veg­e­tar­i­ans’ need for in­ter­est­ing, well-pre­pared dishes. A make-it-your­self plat­ter came with moz­zarella chunks, sun-dried toma­toes, salad, basil leaves, avo­cado, and yel­low toma­toes to wrap in tough, thick, grilled flour tor­tillas. This is a dish that didn’t work on any level.

Baja-style fish tem­pura tacos were prob­lem­atic, too. They needed the creamy white sauce that tra­di­tion­ally adorns them in Mex­ico. The bat­tered mahi-mahi pieces had been pur­pose­fully mashed to nes­tle in the folded tor­tillas. It was vis­ually unap­pe­tiz­ing, and I just have to won­der why it was done. The tacos needed some pico de gallo, too, be­cause the soft mango-lime salsa lacked zip. Hot Pig — chipo­tle-and agave-basted sticky pork ten­der­loin with crispy fried po­lenta, scal­lion tem­pura, and Tide­wa­ter coleslaw — was also a study in medi­ocrity; greasy po­lenta is al­ways a travesty.

The Cubaña is Cantina’s sig­na­ture Cuban sandwich. (Cubaña is not a Span­ish word. Cubana is. But again, who’s pay­ing at­ten­tion to de­tails?) Re­gard­less of the name, the sandwich was good: heavy with smoked ham, asadero cheese, chipo­tle sauce, black-bean spread, and gua­camole, sided with “salad verde” (is this a fun Span­glish name?), ex­cel­lent fries, and home­made spicy ketchup.

Cantina’s mixed drinks are ex­cel­lent. The Brazil­ian daiquiri harks back to the early Coy­ote Café, when a huge glass bar­rel of it moldered on the bar. Made with dark rum, pi­l­on­cillo (Mex­i­can brown sugar), and pineap­ple, it packs a wal­lop. A de­li­cious prickly pear mar­garita, girly with its bright fuch­sia color and sweet­ness, con­trasted with the in­ter­est­ing mar­garita del Maguey, in which the mez­cal came through loud and clear.

Desserts from the café in­clude a lus­cious, creamy, and pineap­ple-y tres leches cake. The reg­u­la­tion espresso brownie with mac­er­ated straw­ber­ries and blue­ber­ries came with a scoop of ice cream. The trio of ice-cream sand­wiches, made with tough choco­late cook­ies, hadn’t had time to soften up from con­tact with the ice cream and didn’t re­ally work. The mango ice cream was icy and un­der­fla­vored com­pared with the straw­berry pas­sion fruit ice cream. We left the sad, wrin­kled blue­ber­ries on the side. Cold rice pud­ding with three caramelized ba­nana slices were a great com­bi­na­tion, but the rice pud­ding was in­sipid, and we soon ran out of ba­nanas.

Our visit to Coy­ote Cantina was dis­ap­point­ing. Serv­ing great cock­tails and heavy bar food seems to be the ex­tent of the am­bi­tions for this venue. ◀


girls: Maria Calì, left, and Va­le­ria De Fran­cis­cis

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