More of Mas!
Roseville, CA 95661
When you eat out with a toddler (or—memo to the White House—place yourself in any dangerous situation), it is important to have an exit strategy. Some that have worked for me are to ask for the check early and to be prepared to a) skip dessert, and b) leave a big tip. Another is to choose your restaurant carefully. My kid still is learning that spoons are not, in fact, solely meant for banging on tables, so I don’t think she’s quite ready for the French Laundry. I thought, however, that a trip to Roseville’s new Mas—a modern-Mexican joint venture between Randy Paragary and Ernesto Jimenez of Ernesto’s—might work out, though I didn’t know how kid-friendly the place was.
I needn’t have worried. Mas was positively kid-sycophantic, providing a toy dinosaur, a fairly comprehensive kid’s menu that went way beyond the chicken nugget, and a brilliant disposable, stick-on-the-table place mat for those young diners who aren’t yet down with the whole plate concept. (I’ve been thinking for months that someone needed to invent something like that. Who knew they already had?)
But Mas is certainly not just for kids. For one thing, there’s a nice lineup of specialty cocktails in a margarita-ish vein. The Granada, with pomegranate juice, was particularly delicious and pretty, with sweet-tart ruby liquid in a sugar-rimmed glass. The handcrafted margarita was great in concept (just the basics, including fresh lime juice), but it was surprisingly watery—a real flaw in such a pricey drink. There’s a big bar and a convivial-looking patio, and the décor, too, is all grown up, with comfy earth-toned booths.
Light and crunchy chips came with two dips: one a savory warm bean dip with melted cheese, which we all loved, and the other a just-spicy-enough finely chopped tomato salsa. For an appetizer, we chose the tasty shrimp ceviche, which came in a huge margarita glass with vertical slices of cucumber and mounded slices of perfect avocado topping a lime-dressed mixture of sweet shrimp flesh, onion, tomatoes, and punchy slices of pickled jalapeño.
My three-item combo came on an enormous oval plate that looked big enough to hold your average holiday roast, but the portions weren’t as enormous as you might think. They were quite healthy, though. I chose taquitos, a pork tamale and a chile relleno, which lined up in separate segments between mashed (not refried) pinto beans on one side and fluffy Mexican rice on the other.
Of these, my favorite was the cigar-sized taquitos, which had a nice shattering crunch to the fried corn tortillas and an earthy flavor to the shredded chicken filling. The tamale’s cubes of pork were similarly flavored with mild brick-red chile and other spices, but the masa dough was dense and heavy rather than tender—betraying, I suspect, a too-long wait between steaming and serving.
The chile relleno was marred only by its uneven heat: Some bites were searing, some timid. That, though, is not something the kitchen can be expected to control completely, though a lot of heat seemed to come from the seeds and ribs being left in the chile. I loved, however, the parts they could control: The fact that the deep green poblano chile was roasted rather than fried, and especially the unusual and tasty filling, with beef in a warm and tomato-y stew, chunks of carrots and a couple of different kinds of stringy melted cheese. I love the basic combo-plate relleno, with its eggy batter and its hefty whack of cheese, but this slightly lighter take was welcome.
The lightening of some Mexican favorites is a bit of a theme at Mas. You can get plenty of sour cream and cheese if that’s what you want—don’t worry—but there’s no hidden lard in the beans (the menu notes that they’re mashed in “their natural juices”). It also mentions that vegetable stock is used in all dishes and the tortilla chips are made with canola oil rather than laden with trans fats. This is good news for the health-conscious and vegetarians, who have a short menu section to choose from as well. The food doesn’t suffer, either: The beans, for instance, are thick and richly flavored (if perhaps a little salty), and you don’t miss the lard.
The meaty, thick chile-verde pork, on the other hand, perhaps veered a little too far in the lean direction (the meat was on the dry side), but the sauce had a bright, tangy flavor with slight herbaceous notes. It came with a big helping of rice and beans, as well as warm and pliable corn tortillas.
My daughter’s kid’s plate was the hit of the night. A mild mini-enchilada with chicken and the cheese-topped beans and rice all were devoured. I sampled them, too, and they were darned good, as well as being a good deal at $3.99. Nevertheless, by the time we were sated, it was time to put our exit strategy into play. With regret, we skipped desserts like tres-leches cake and cream-cheese flan in order to get while the getting was good.
Next time we find ourselves in Roseville, though, I think we’ll go back to Mas for more. With well-prepared food, clean flavors and warm service, it’s the kind of place that should please diners no matter their age.