One of Chow, Baby’s many eating-related visions of hell would be running a food booth at a Sundance Square festival. It’s hot as a kitchen in there; people are always yelling at you for more napkins; and you’re not allowed to leave to check out the artists you missed the last 18 times they showed at a Sundance Square fest. Why do it, then? Marketing! People sample your wares, pick up a card or menu, and (ideally) someday visit your restaurant for the full meal deal.
It worked on Chow, Baby a couple of weeks ago at MusicArte de Fort Worth, “a colorful and exciting celebration of Latino cultures” as represented food-wise by apparently our only two Latino restaurants, Cantina Laredo and Ocho Rios Jamaican & Caribbean Grill. Normally Chow, Baby would never order tacos at Cantina Laredo, but these were surprisingly good: a tender carnitas with a nice chipotle wine sauce, and a roast-beef-juicy brisket with an addictive roasted tomatillo. See? Marketing works. A week later, Cantina Laredo had itself a new customer.
But not a new fan, at least not at first. When appetizer prices are in the double digits, Chow, Baby gets annoyed at slips that it would overlook at a mom-&-pop. Like a busboy setting down chips and salsa – hello again, yummy roasted tomatillo! – without providing ice water at the same time. That’s just cruel. And the pacing sucked: Our entrées came out when we were barely a quarter through our $14 appetizer, leaving Chow, Baby’s beef fajitas ($16.99) on the table corner slowly losing their sizzle. If you’re edging into Upscale prices, you really have to deliver Upscale service.
On the plus side, and it’s a pretty big plus, the food was surprisingly good. Our botanas platter ($13.99) was piled sky-high with savory appetizer treats: tacos al pastor, a full-size chicken fajita quesadilla, perfectly grilled shrimp, much more. The fajitas might be too salty for some, but Chow, Baby loved the marinated flavor and tenderness, and, very important, the onions were beautifully caramelized. Each Tex-Mex hit on the beloved’s Cantina Laredo platter ($16.99) was marvelous, especially the sauces. If the fine work in the kitchen could spread to the service, and if the young Anglos at the stylin’ bar would quiet down some, and if Chow, Baby gave out stars, it just might give Cantina Laredo some.
After swooning over Ocho Rios’ jerk chicken at MusicArte, Chow, Baby sprinted to the restaurant (6204 S. Cooper, Arlington) for more Authentic Ethnic, Subcategory Jamaican cuisine. The place is underdecorated, but Chow, Baby likes that in an eatery – here, all the attention to detail is in the kitchen, which lovingly produces homestyle dishes like brown stew chicken, jerk chicken or pork, curried goat or shrimp, and a stunning whole fish that’s rubbed with spices and lightly fried. (Lunch plates $6.99; dinner entrées $7.99-$11.99; highly recommended combo platters, $18.50-$19.99). Wash it all down with a bottle of Ting ($1.70) or some homemade tropical-fruity Island Punch ($2.50).
Heat-level-wise, Jamaican is akin to the spicy end of Mexican or the medium range in Indian-Paki; if you like slow-cooked, fall-apart juicy meat simmered in warm but not killer-hot complex sauces, this might be your next favorite restaurant. As it is Chow, Baby’s. Thanks to MusicArte and its producer Jay Downie for the tip – maybe a third booth next year?
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org.