My Mexican Cousin
- 9686 3389
31 Sturt St,
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- American (US)
March 27, 2012
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Photo: Eddie Jim
PRALINE bacon. Pause a moment to reflect on the culinary evolution reflected in the conjunction of those two words. Pork and sugar. Edible malapropism or evolutionary masterpiece?
Your response may hold the key to whether My Mexican Cousin will be a worthy destination or hellfire visitation.
As a bar snack, the praline bacon at My Mexican Cousin - which isn't Mexican at all but the city's first ''smart'' restaurant dabbling in the unexplored waters of Creole cuisine - is fine enough. Kaiserfleisch candied in brown sugar and pecans makes sense, if you stop to think about it between sipping a whiskey sour and stuffing wads of chewing tobacco in your cheek.
Praline bacon is to the bar snack what the potato cake is to the hangover. So sue me.
Food's cultural permutations have been so remorselessly mined it can feel there's little left to discover, so there was a tingle of excitement to think of Creole - a Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and African polyglot that's created its own Louisiana-based gospel - staking its turf off the back of the dude-food movement. Clever, especially combined with a virgin local audience that has only a glancing knowledge of even the most well-travelled dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya and the po'boy.
Trouble is, My Mexican Cousin can't shake the feeling it took off on the bandwagon without a driver. Opened at the Recital Centre late last year by Salvatore ''St Ali'' Malatesta and partners, history attests the idea came before the human infrastructure. A succession of chefs, all amateurs in this particular field, has washed through the kitchen. A food blogger went from critic to payroll, her mission to inject authenticity into the menu. That praline bacon is hers. A large part of the menu feels like they chucked the directness of N'Awlins cooking for a glossy, reconstructed approach. I can't imagine the puree swipe has made it to the bayou but it wanders hopelessly disorientated into MMC - scallops ''cooked'' in the Creole version of ceviche on a green pea puree that's too well-mannered to really give a bite of the territory.
And for a city utterly obsessed with the hot meat roll, the pulled pork po'boy is a crying shame. A fluffy, sweet white baguette is non-negotiable: this one suffers from end-of-the-day-itis. Nothing that couldn't have been fixed by warming it in the oven, if they could have been bothered. The meat, braised over-enthusiastically in chicken stock and a dark roux, is wet, mushy and tasteless. To paraphrase that pop-cultural seer Jessica Simpson, it could be chicken. Or maybe tuna.
Better are the fried chicken wings with a hidden kick of paprika and cayenne, capitalising on their trailer-park appeal with an extremely thin, blue cheese-based dipping sauce.
The stalky, heat-affected heap of coriander it arrives on is odd.
Presentation is a bugbear here. So is timing. It's not the most relaxing way to enjoy a meal when your mains are sitting on the pass, ready to go halfway through starters. The hurried attitude could stem from the relationship to the theatre crowd - and this is a nicely excised part of the Recital Centre's foyer, with a breezy breakfast-to-bar attitude and acoustics that belie the two-storey concrete ceilings - but staff lack the polish to run to timetable. The wine list is ordered by some unknown principle and they really should think twice about scolding a table of nearby diners who ask about Mexican beers that ''we're not a Mexican restaurant'' before confessing there's Corona on the list. Like most Melburnians I can't claim any particular expertise in Creole beyond its status as the mortal enemy of the healthy food pyramid. But it doesn't take any particular expertise to recognise clumsy cooking at refined prices.
A strange blandness to the food is at odds with Creole's unholy trinity of salt, sugar and fat. The seafood gumbo (bits of snapper fillet, calamari, a prawn) at least has some elemental appeal in a murky soup based in green peppers, onion and garlic and cooked for days with a light roux base and crayfish stock until it's as swampy as the blues music piped on the stereo.
Beef ribs - use of the plural signifying one rib and one bit of meat excised from the bone - have been braised then fried, the remainder of the fat rendered into melting meat toffee. There's no jus, which makes a liar of the menu, but a puddle of bland green oil encircles the pile of red cabbage 'slaw. At $26, it's one of the cheapest mains but still no great shakes in the value department.
At least a butter lettuce salad makes sense, with tiny sweet shards of pecan praline playing off against the salty creaminess of goats' cheese.
Desserts see more ideas paying lip service to MMC's idea of itself. Pecan pie creme brulee is a garden-variety creme brulee with praline pecan. Hardly revelatory. The banana compote on the side is bracingly sour; the relationship between the two and a triangle of shortbread is hazy at best. Beignets come with a salted caramel sauce lacking any discernible salt and a fluffy Chantilly cream. The ''strawberries'' listed on the menu are only a garnish.
The obvious metaphor for My Mexican Cousin comes from the surprisingly mild Louisiana hot sauce on each table (company motto: ''one drop will do it''). They've overplayed it, a waiter tells a nearby table. I quite agree.
Breaking new ground is guaranteed to invite arguments about authenticity. This feels bland and generic. A Melbourne-lite version at full-fat prices. But it's not a complete loss. The joining together of pork and sugar, let no man put asunder. Now go and wipe your praline bacon fingers all over the Recital Centre's nice upholstery.
- 9686 3389
31 Sturt St,
View on map
- American (US)
- Typical entree $12, main $32, dessert $13
- Mon-Fri, 7am-3pm and 5pm-late; Sat, 8am-3pm and 5pm-late; open Sundays according to Recital Centre timetable
- Simon den Boogert
- Salvatore Malatesta, Grant Smillie, Jerome Borazio, Andrew MacKinnon
- Cards accepted:
- AMEX, Visa, eftpos, Mastercard