Gallo Blanco Cafe and Bar (The Clarendon Hotel)

Written by Mike Shoe2 Category: Food Reviews Issue: December 2009
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It doesn’t feel like a Mexican food restauant either. Yet Robson, born in Mexico to parents of French, Vietnamese and English descent, named Gallo Blanco in honor of his roots. Gallo Blanco liteally means “white rooster,” but it’s also Mexican slang for “white dude.” It feels like a casual, hip neighborhood hangout, spoting an open kitchen in the main dining room. Concrete floors, an exposed ceiling and coloful striped chairs and banquettes surrounding blond wood tables complete the modern look. Large windows on two sides let bright light in during the day and refl ect, like mirrors, the bustling restauant scene at night.  The menu is surprisingly small (especially for a hotel restauant) with only a handful of staters, a few street tacos, several flavors of tortas and burgers, and a smidgen of house specialties along with five “breakfast all day” entries.

 

Libations are thoughtfully crafted to enhance the food, with wines from Spain, Argentina and Chile, and Latin cocktails with pizzazz, like fruity, vodka-spiked aguas frescas ($7). A few bottled beers and local draft brews round out the bar menu. Seers, who know the menu and thespecific ingredients like the backs of their hands, come across as genuinely invested in the freshness of the cuisine. Many of the ingredients come from local farms, like Seacat Gardens, Love Grows Farms and Maya’s Farm.  Red Bird Farms supplies the fresh chicken, The Meat Shop ponies up pork, and Schreiner’s Fine Sausage crafts the chorizo. Robson buys all the local eggs he can get his hands on; even the breads and masa come from a local Mexican totilla factory and bakery. Local ingredients don’t always guarantee a delicious plate, but Robson and his band of cooks coax the best out of the farm fresh produce and local meats. While there isn’t a single enchilada or burrito on the menu, Gallo Blanco shimmies up one of the best tortas in town.  Wapped in parchment paper, the mesquite- grilled carne asada tota ($8) starts with tender, thin slices of citrus and soy (aChinese influence) marinated rib eye. Seed on a toasted oval bun slathered with mayo and topped with sliced avocado, the inherent smokey  flavor of the beef gets another punch from the side of charred tomato salsa. e cochinita torta ($7) is also laudable with fall-apat hunks of pork braised with oange and achiote (a spiced paste made from annatto seeds), but if you can only try one, make it the carne asada. Neither torta comes with a side, but for a couple bucks, dive into addictive, house-cut French fries seed with a kicky aji (Peruvian yellow chile) aioli that tastes of mustard more than mayonnaise.

A healthier option is the fragrant side of steamed jasmine rice (that Asian influence aain) topped with fresh, crisp tomatillo salsa. From the taqueria section of the menu, make a meal out of a few street tacos – three should be plenty. Sold sepaately (either $2 or $2.50), the tacos are filled with the same tasty tota fillings of cochinita and carne asada, or choose eco-friendly fish (line-caught halibut on one visit) or garden vegetable tacos. All of the fi llings are swaddled in hot, freshly made and griddled four-inch corn tortillas, topped with one of the house-made salsas (tomatillo for pork and charred tomato for the beef). One night, juicy pork belly tacos ($3 each) made an appeaance, rubbed in the same citrus, garlic and achiote paste that gaces the cochinita – a Mexican barbecue rub, of sorts.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to the Pica Rico burger ($11), which Robson says is the creation of his sous chef, Christopher Newstrom. It’s one of the few items on the menu that’s all about guilty pleasure. Eight ounces of chuck (ground in-house) are paired with roasted poblano and Anaheim chiles, smothered in melted sharp cheddar and topped with a pool of silky caamelized onions. I tried in vain to keep the burger together, sandwiched between the so toasted bun with sliced avocado and aji aioli dressed iceberg. In the end, I surrendered and attacked the gluttonous monster with a knife and fork. To off set the naughtiness of the burger, start with the snappy ensalada cortada ($7) – chopped salad. Gallo Blanco’s version includes heart healthy kale, red and white cabbage, hard-boiled egg and avocado lightly bathed in a tan, creamy ranch dressing. It’s arnished with yulu seeds from Mexico – crunchy, tiny orbs that taste similar to sunflower seeds. More crunchiness comes from corn nuts and dehydated peas. Although well prepared, I’m less enthusiastic about the house specialties. The half pollo  asado ($11) is a respectable, juicy, citrus-marinated grilled chicken, seed simply with corn tortillas and aji aioli for dipping. The chilaquiles verdes ($8) is ather plain, despite the gorgeous sunny-side up eggs on top of mild, green chile-smothered totillas stuffed with chicken shards and Monterey Jack. I sampled only one breakfast item, the eggs and chorizo ($5) seed with refried beans and soft corn totillas. I can’t complain about the price, but it was quickly forgotten, especially considering the other flavor-packed options on the menu. Desset isn’t necessarily an a ethought at Gallo Blanco, but it’s not a reason to visit either. T the moist oange and cocoa spice cake with cream cheese icing; it’s enough for two to share. At press time, it wasn’t listed on the menu but instead was the Postre de chocolate. The creamy chocolate pudding ($5) topped with marshmallow cream and gaham cacker spears (both made in-house) is comforting, if not terribly exciting, but sharing might be more problematic if you love pudding. What really makes Gallo Blanco great are the modest prices given the freshness and locality of the ingredients, and the feelgood neighborhood setting with laid-back,
genuinely friendly servers. You’ll rethink the definition of Mexican cuisine.

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