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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tacos Royale

Affordable haute cuisine

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Brookfield is not the place where I would expect to find a good Mexican restaurant, especially one with the French-sounding name of Haute Taco. Moreover, this is a place that takes liberties like making tacos with duck breast and short ribs! Yet it’s a concept that actually works, expanding the vocabulary of simple Mexican cooking and remaining true to the flavors. The restaurant is the brainchild of Jake and Karen Replogle. Jake, who also owns the nearby steakhouse of the same name, was born in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca.

Haute Taco is not a large place: The bar seats 10 and the tables fewer than 50 people. Walls are of reclaimed wood and the carpeting has orange hues. Tables have wooden tops, and this is the only Mexican eatery in this area that has linen napkins. Haute, indeed!

Start with an order of warm chips with three salsas ($2.95), perfect with a margarita or a Mexican beer. The tortilla chips are salty, but tamed by the salsas, the mildest of which is the roasted corn salsa that adds a bit of onion and red pepper to the whole kernels of corn. It has just a hint of hot chile pepper. The tomatillo salsa has the tartness associated with the fruit, and there is a noticeable undertone of hot green chiles. It is a bit watery for the chips. The best salsa would be the chile de arbol. Arbol chiles are some of the hottest Mexico offers, outgunned only by the habanero. This salsa is toned down a bit, but enough of the heat remains.

Ceviche de camarones y cangrejo ($7.95) is a ceviche made of chunks of shrimp and smaller pieces of crabmeat paired with fresh tomato and onion and a marinade of fresh lime juice. The seafood is all cooked; nothing is raw. The amount of lime juice and cilantro are right on target. Elote a la Mexicana ($3.95) is four pieces of corn on the cob topped with grated cheese and a dash of chile powder. Do use the slice of lime.

Corn on the cob is a near universal disappointment at any restaurant, but this corn manages to be of decent quality, a foretaste of the bounty of August. The Tijuana Caesar salad ($3.50-$7)—yes, it originated in Tijuana—makes a few departures from the original. The lettuce remains romaine, but there are marinated red onions, radish slices and a grated cheese that definitely is not Parmesan. Yet it is still a good and inexpensive salad with flavors that seem Mexican.

The tacos are the premier act. Seven are of meat and two are vegetarian. The main ingredients also appear in the burritos, tortas or served over a bowl of rice. The tortillas are smaller than those at most restaurants here, but are the size that you would find in Mexico City. The closest to a true Mexican taco would be the pork carnitas, but opt for something more novel. Try the slow-cooked duck ($2.85). The flavor and the duck meat, which is cooked to the point of nearly falling apart, are in the spirit of carnitas. Add a dash of crema, a sprig of cilantro, corn salsa and lime and you have a great taco.

The braised short rib taco ($2.85) may be even better, with the same swirl of crema, queso fresco and slices of avocado. It is everything a good taco should be. The fish del dia ($3.25) might be battered tilapia with shredded cabbage, jicama, mango and cilantro. Good, but not the equal of the short ribs. Perhaps Brookfield is a good location for Haute Taco, as it’s very different from the restaurants located near Fifth Street and National Avenue. It takes the humblest of street food and treats it royally. The menu is also a pleasure. Even the solo diner can try several items for a very affordable price. The only drawback that I can see is the restaurant’s small size. This is a place that will prove very popular, and that means long lines. Nevertheless, it is still worth the effort, placing it above most restaurants in this price range.

HAUTE TACO
18905 W. Capitol Drive (Sendik’s Towne Center) (262) 781-1110 $-$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoke Free Handicap Access: Yes


Haute Taco | Photos by Jessica Kaminski

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