Tex-Mex, Really? Cocina 214 Restaurant & Bar

Cocina 214 is a new addition to Winter Park’s Park Avenue culinary scene. Their bold presentation at Cows n Cabs piqued my interest enough to pay them a visit. Since their lunch and dinner menu remains the same; I chose to visit them for lunch, hoping to get a quieter moment.

Cocina 214 sits a stone’s throw away from Park Avenue on Welbourne; corner location that opens to a contemporary designed, expansive and open space. The open air patio, chic looking bar, and a private room seemed befitting for the fashionable Winter Park patrons.

While I was admiring the interiors, I realized that we had been standing for a nearly a couple of minutes at the entrance at an empty hostess desk. The restaurant did not seem fully occupied, then why weren’t we seated, let alone greeted? A gentleman casually came up ignoring all pleasantries, and asked if we were attended too? Finally a lady (dressed in Halloween costume) seated us.

The chips and salsa got quickly dropped off. However, there was no sign of our waiter/waitress. Eventually, our waitress stopped by to introduce herself and walked right back off. Hmm, she did ask if this was our first visit. But then she didn’t follow up the cue to educate us about the uniqueness of Cocina 214. Oh, well! There was still hope, I thought to myself.

The house made salsa tasted like tomato puree with a hint of heat. The chips, allegedly were house made but didn’t evoke any particular flavor in mind.  When our waitress finally stopped to spend a few minutes with us, I asked her for the signature cocktail that Cocina 214 offers. She couldn’t give me a direct answer. “We make mojitos, margaritas, sangria, etc”.  I don’t recall she pointing me in the direction of a Lime Orange Mojito, but that is what I ended up ordering.

While we waited for our drinks, we kept ourselves busy with the Mariachi Band, who might I add seemed to be playing rather loudly.  However, their wide repertoire had me dancing in the chair. They were extremely animated and actually seemed to enjoy themselves. Nice! I highly recommend hiring them as entertainers for your next shenanigan. Mariachi Bamba Actual can be contacted via Agustin De Los Santos.

My Mojito, though on the sweeter side, was smooth and I could definitely taste the liquor. What is with the shriveled strands of mint? The bartender had literally used old, rotting mint as garnish.

For appetizers I ordered the Pineapple Habanero Salsa, Mussels, and Ahi Tuna Crudo. The pineapple salsa was bright with a hint of kick in it. With habanero I do expect a bolder kick in heat; still overall the salsa was tangy and tasty.

The Ahi Tuna was a disappointment. The Tuna per se was of decent sashimi quality, however it lacked the bold flavors I would have expected from the ingredients listed. It simply put, tasted of sweet vinaigrette.

The mussels came literally a few minutes prior to our entrée’s arriving.  We assumed that the waitress forgot to punch in our order, to which she remarked that mussels take a long time to cook. Well, I have cooked mussels personally many a times. And all recipes cook the mussels in less than 5 minutes or else the fear of shelling out rubbery shellfish?

For our main course, we ordered the Carinta Tacos and Carne Picante. The diced fillet mignon to our surprise came absolutely unseasoned; it literally had no salt or pepper, forget heat, and came cooked well done, while I recall my friend specially asking for medium rare. When our waitress strolled over to us, we mentioned that the dish was lacking in any spice. She promptly brought a bowl of a jalapeno cream sauce, (note it was sauce and not salsa). At that point my exasperation got the better of me and I pointed that it didn’t even have salt and pepper. How could she serve a sauce which accompanies other items on the menu? For a minute she looked at as clueless and then asked us if we wanted the dish redone. YES! We exclaimed.

Carne Picante

 

A gentleman came to inform us that they are redoing our entrée. No apologies, no compliments of the kitchen were offered to make us comfortable. We felt completely invisible and unattended. At that point, my friend whispered to me, “You wait and see they will bring the dish out loaded with only hot peppers now”.

The carinta tacos thankfully were nicely flavored and the pork was fork tender.

The second attempt at our carne picante as my friend aptly pointed out, came lip burning hot with peppers. The waiter on serving the dish made it a point to mention “here is the EXTRA EXTRA spicy dish you ordered”. Wait a minute, all we asked for was the dish to represented like it was listed on the menu. That’s all.

I am assuming by now you are getting a fair picture of our dining experience at Cocina 214. I shudder to think how patrons would be treated on a busy Friday or Saturday evening, if the poor service or rather lack of service was present at lunch. I have to admit that the highlight of our entire dining experience was the Mariachi Band.

I was excited to see an ethnic based restaurant added to the Park Avenue line up. But sadly, the lack of flavors and service had me walking out of Cocina 214 feeling rather disillusioned. Wondering, since when did physical appearances start mattering more?

 

Footnote: While writing my review, I researched the menu and the concept of ‘Tex-Mex’ cuisine, as listed boldly on Cocina 214’s website. I would like Cocina 214 to indulge my brashness and address my concerns:

  1.  Restaurants which boast spicy cuisine including Thai depict one star or pepper to emphasize the spiciness factor of a dish, and then confirm the level of spiciness one desires. How does Cocina 214 represent “1” pepper as a mild dish on their menu? Isn’t it misrepresentation from the norm and confusing to say the least?
  2. Tex-Mex Cuisine, what is it? Here is the definition provided by Wikipedia. My interpretation of Tex-Mex cuisine is local fast food of a common man, reinvented to serve in a sit down restaurant. Where does Ahi  Tuna, Truffles, and Duck fit in this? What happened to the addition of various spices like chili and cumin amongst others?

 

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