Cecilia’s secret

Photo by David Robert

You know you’re onto something when Waiter Jose brings you chips, Cecilia’s Salsa de Mesa and a hearty bowl of potato-bacon soup—before you’ve even ordered.

Not that it’s easy to order when everything on the menu sounds incredible.

And when there are 11 pages of menu to read.

Or when Waiter Jose starts describing the salsa ingredients: garlic, onion and El Arbol—a Mexican chile “that is a cousin to the hot Hawaiian chile that grows on a bush.”

The salsa is thick and vicious. Not exactly gringo-friendly, but then again. The chile’s heat isn’t the sort that burns your taste buds so badly that eating the rest of your meal is futile. I like it—in small quantities.

It’s evident that the cuisine geniuses at Santa Cecilia’s Plaza, a new restaurant on the “doomed” eastern corner of Park Lane Mall, have a chile fixation. They use 15 types of chiles, grill them and slice them and puree them into endless variations on a multitude of themes, using “traditional recipes that date back to the Aztecs of Mexico,” as text on the menu’s first page declares.

Three of our party of four don’t get past the menu’s first few entrée selections: six different kinds of enchiladas, several of which offer optional chicken or cheese fillings.

We order the Matamoros plate ($5.95) with enchiladas verdes—fresh corn tortillas filled with chicken or cheese, topped with green cilantro and tomatillo sauce and garnished with garlic, cilantro, sour cream and cheese. We order the Queretaro plate ($5.95) with enchiladas rojas—"A Todo Dar Compadre.” And we get the Puebla—enchiladas verdes poblanas ($5.45), corn tortillas with sauteed chicken, “smothered in a rich Green and White sauce Poblano Pasilla Chile, garnished with roasted Poblano, Green and White Onions and Sour Cream.” The menu text acknowledges that “this may at first seem an unusual combination, but it works very well … Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be converted.”

When I order a seafood burrito ($7.45), Waiter Jose breaks into a grin.

“So it’s good, huh?” I say.

“Yes, it’s my recipe,” he replies.

The food arrives in no time, looking fabulous and tasting even better. The green enchiladas are slightly hotter than the red ones. The white and green sauce that tops both the enchiladas verdes poblanas and my seafood burrito is a work of art, the perfect balance of tangy and creamy. My burrito’s insides are packed with fresh-tasting shrimp, other bits of shellfish, thin-sliced pieces of fish that don’t taste fishy and a variety of grilled chiles and onions. It’s topped with half an avocado.

We are converted.

The menu says that the “platillos mejicanos” include Mexican rice, Frijoles Charros de la Olla, corn tortilla chips fried in canola oil and “our wonderful tasty Cecilia’s Salsa de Mesa.” It says nothing about that potato-bacon soup. Is this part of some grand opening special? Waiter Jose says everyone gets the soup. Then, just when we’re about ready to take off, Jose brings us a final treat—four small plates with lovely round servings of flan—topped with a rich, exciting Cognac Napolitano glaze and a tiny dollop of whipped cream.

Our bill for four lunches came to less than $30. Jose let me borrow a menu so I could read more at my leisure—and plan my return trip.

See you soon, amigo.