It’s always exciting when a new corporate restaurant concept launches in Fort Worth’s tony West 7th development. Foodies of all stripes line up to experience the end product of months of focus groups, demographic analyses, and trend projections, all designed to maximize capitation.
Tortaco (a portmanteau of “torta” and “taco”) is the most concepted of concepts — a slick, open-plan volume, a menu designed for bar business, and a calculated edginess that makes you feel like you’re eating inside an Ed Hardy t-shirt. There’s even a tattoo chair by the front door with temporary tattoos for sale. Patrons are invited to use the chair for selfies.
[box_info]Tortaco, 910 Currie St, FW. “Call via Hangouts” 682-990-0735. 11am-10pm Sun, 11am-2:30pm Mon-Tue, 11am-10pm Wed-Thu, 11am-1am Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted. $[/box_info]
Tortaco is the latest foray of the Firebird Restaurant Group, parent company of El Fenix and Snuffer’s but with a menu like someone’s kid watched a Netflix special on Tele-chef David Chang. Replete with unnecessary modifiers, the offerings bounce around the Pacific Rim haphazardly. The kitchen offers a pork kimchi bowl with Vermont sharp white cheddar and fried raisins, and a Hamachi tuna bowl with charred pineapple and wild (really?) baby arugula, along with more traditional barbacoa and roasted chicken. It’s a dizzying array from a company better known for sour cream enchiladas and cheddar fries.
My guest and I had been seated at a relatively quiet spot on the other side of the glass partition that walled off the busy bar. Service was casual, friendly, and efficient. Our three-course meal lasted slightly more than 30 minutes, a timeframe that seems hurried until you try sitting in the carefully mismatched metal patio chairs.
For those not familiar with ceviche, the simple dish of raw whitefish cured in citrus is one of the great treats of coastal Mexico and Central America. Purists would balk at Tortaco’s odd interpretation, augmented with pineapple, goat cheese, and cherry tomato. For me, it was like my cousin daring me to eat a peanut butter, lettuce, and mayonnaise sandwich. I couldn’t say no, but I’m glad I had to do it only once. Happily, my fears that the goat cheese would clash horribly with the raw fish were misplaced — all I could taste was limejuice. Served with crusty rounds of telera bread, the appetizer was edible, if rather one-note.
My guest’s “diablo” shrimp bowl was a perfectly portioned serving of six large shrimp, plump and expertly sautéed, perched above a featureless muddle of rice and peppers. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much heat for a “diablo” dish, particularly in a neighborhood where Oni Ramen’s ghost pepper blend sets the standard on the Scoville scale. Perhaps the kitchen ought to send down the block for a cup.
A breakfast taco featured the faintly retro “eggwhites” (remember the ’90s?) with bacon and cheddar, adorned with a slightly grassy green sauce of unknown origin. It might have been cilantro. It might not have. It’s worth mentioning that the tortillas used for the tacos have a way of making everything taste like El Fenix.
Better was the pork taco, with the pleasant sweetness of tamarind and charred pineapple. The pork managed to have a bit of personality with a “wood fired” crust that almost attained the taste and texture of taqueria carnitas.
The kitchen’s fried fish taco was almost pretty good, but the apple slaw was too sweet and the goopy remoulade too heavy.
Tortaco was at its best with the roasted chicken taco, the simplest and most familiar item on the menu. I could close my eyes and imagine I was enjoying a thoroughly predictable Tex-Mex meal at El Fenix.
A date cake with mascarpone cheese wasn’t bad, but it was so unbelievably sweet that the small portion was plenty to share.
If Tortaco was out to make a mark on the culinary scene, I might have a dim view of its prospects. If on the other hand, it’s out to make money-selling drinks, well, then it might not be such a bad thing to be the gastronomic equivalent of Hot Topic. The bar, after all, was packed.
Pineapple and goat cheese ceviche $6
Diablo shrimp bowl $8
Tamarind pork taco $4
Fish taco $4
Roasted chicken taco $4
Breakfast taco $4
Creamy date dessert $3[/box_info]