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Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009

Coa’s Mexican Street Food

Simple elegance, affordable prices at Bayshore Town Center

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About a year ago, Cameron’s Steakhouse became the first of the new restaurants at Bayshore Town Center to close its doors for good. Perhaps not coincidentally, Cameron’s had the distinction of being the priciest eatery there. The empty space has now been occupied, with a Mexican restaurant called Coa, and the setting has been much improved.

Coa modified the exterior to add a dining patio and large stone fireplace. The stonework is a perfect match to the former Cameron’s. The interior is now more open, with a bar in the center of everything, and many of the tables are located near windows.

Coa is the newest venture of Marc and Marta Bianchini, whose other properties include Osteria del Mondo, Cubanitas and Indulge. Marc is also a consulting chef who has worked extensively with the menus at Carnevor and Kil@wat. The Bianchinis typically cater to the upper ends of the market, but Coa aims for something more affordable. It is dubbed “The heart of Mexican street food.”

Though the term “coa” refers to a tool used to remove thorns from agave plants, the restaurant Coa does not have a rough, “street food” setting. The elegant, restrained interior, with its sleek wooden tables, boasts a very contemporary feel. There is none of the colorful handcrafted clutter that many Mexican restaurants thrive on.

The menu centers on tacos, with a dozen different fillings to choose from. You’ll also find simple starter courses such as sopes, tamales and ceviche, as well as salads and cocktails.

But the tacos remain the focus. Carne asada, al pastor, rajas and pescado fit the genre of street food. Choose from white corn, flour tortillas or lettuce cups. The pescado is simple enough—a piece of battered mahi-mahi with a dash of cabbage slaw and Coa mayo that has a chipotle flavor. The al pastor tacos are made from chunks of pork that are short on chile flavor. The cilantro and chopped onion seem right, but there is also chopped pineapple—it’s not bad, but the flavors are very different. The carne asada is grilled flank steak with pico de gallo and slices of avocado. The steak pieces, cooked medium-rare, are too thick, with tenderness and flavor trumping authenticity. Vegetarian rajas usually include fried chile pepper strips as the dominant ingredient; this version features poblano, but it’s outnumbered by potatoes dusted with cheese.

A few tacos wander far from the street, such as the Strauss veal with a mildly spicy tomato and chile sauce. A Nueske’s cherry bacon taco offers chunks of bacon combined with sweet cherries, honey and onions. It certainly is novel, and quite sweet—a dessert taco. Individual tacos cost $3 to $5; you can get a plate of three for $12 or eight for $29.

The remainder of the menu actually has a better focus than the tacos. The tamales ($4), pork-filled masa wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, are perfectly appropriate. Elote asado ($3), an ear of corn with squiggles of Coa mayo, cheese and a dusting of arbol chile powder, makes for great street food. Sopa tarasca is a fine soup featuring tortilla strips, avocado and Chihuahua cheese with a chicken broth infused with chile pepper and lime juice.

Diners receive complimentary flour tortilla chips that are feather-light. The flour chips are a refreshing change from corn and arrive with two salsas: a tart salsa verde and a spicier red salsa with a smoky flavor.

Every day offers a special entrée. Tuesday’s special of baby back ribs ($14) is the priciest item on the menu. The serving is 10 large, meaty ribs. The meat holds to the bone and the mild Yucatecan-style sauce is very interesting. The sauce is a mango orange barbecue, with the mango making it as sweet as honey. In Yucatan the oranges tend to be sour, but these are quite difficult to find locally, which is a shame.

Be sure to explore the bar as well, as Coa takes the art of the margarita seriously. If your idea of a real Mexican margarita is something from Senor Frog’s or Carlos’n Charlie’s, you have come to the wrong place. The La Casa margarita ($8) is served over ice; salt must be requested. The lime juice is fresh and tart in this potent drink—this is the real Mexico.

The “street food” concept may be a bit of a stretch, but it is the suburbs, after all. Service is accommodating and there are plenty of hands on deck. And Coa definitely has the nicest setting at Bayshore—simple elegance meets very affordable prices. n

Coa
5750 N. Port Washington Road
Bayshore Town Center
(414) 967-1451
$$
Credit Cards: All Major
Handicap Access: Yes

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