Salpicon has been compared to Frontera (where chef Priscilla Satkoff used to work), ever since it opened in the spring. Thrilled by the prospect of another fabulous regional Mexican restaurant--and wary of disappointment--I've been hesitant to indulge. But a night last week seemed to call for margaritas. We found damn fine ones--mixed from an elaborate tequila list--and the sort of outraged debate they can inspire. By comparison, the dishes that paraded across our table held our attention only briefly.
Salpicon, according to the definitions on the front of the menu, can mean a "splash" of flavor. But the effect was more like a brute tidal wave. Not, shall we say, subtle.
Sopes Rusticos: Traditionally fat little boats tugging their payload of crumbly cheese. These re-created that humble charm, which delighted me; everyone else found them bland, which they were.
Empanaditas de Bacalao: Just a couple of round brown empanadas napping on the job; not especially flaky outside; salty, but not especially intriguing inside. Creamy jalapeno sauce eerily reminiscent of tartar sauce.
Camarones al Carbon Slightly underdone shrimp served in the most dazzling fashion, on two semicircles of sauce, one bright green, the other deep red, set off with four perfect slivers of brilliant mango. Appealing taste, stunning spectacle.
There was also quail broiled under a thick coat of rich ancho pepper mole, a seductive sweet-spicy pleasure. Served with a potato and cheese pancake, useful for mopping up every drop of sauce.
Pollo a la Yucateca: Achiote anything appeals, but in this dish the peppers participated in an assault. Apparently the red onions are pickled in an assertive, if not downright aggressive, vinegar that roughs up the whole bird, while the switchblade-sharp salsa menaces from the sidelines. Not to be rescued by brothy black beans.
Pescado a la Veracruzana: Your basic Veracruz, studded with capers and olives. An inoffensive, much needed respite.
Chuletas de Borrego con Salsa de Chile Pasilla: Sauce-free bites offered fine if slightly overdone lamb. Sauce-soaked bites lured us on a strange journey down a scorched mole-dark path, leaving us longing for the cleansing levity of plain white rice.
For dessert we picked at some bitter orange rinds soaking in syrup, a Mexican chocolate cake unrelieved of crumby dryness by its center ribbon of ganache, and a terrific dense deep chocolate mousse. There's a dish I don't mind splashing into.
Salpicon, at 1252 N. Wells, serves lunch from 11 to 2:30 daily. Dinner is served 5 to 10 weekdays and 5 to 11 Saturday and Sunday. Closed Monday. Call 988-7811 for more.