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A WALK ON THE MILD SIDE

We found Cafe Iguana much tastier on our second trip. We started this meal with the seviche ($6.50), a marinated matchup of rock shrimp and silky-textured marlin that was so breezy and fresh it was like sucking on limes while swimming in the Gulf. The shrimp with jalapeno cocktail sauce ($6.25) exhibited the same brightness; the sauce was beautifully orchestrated, with just enough chile heat to bring up the rest of the flavors without overpowering them. Our only complaint: Both of these starters were served in long, narrow parfait-style glasses, and we had to mash the contents around in order to get them out, creating an unappetizing frog-in-a-blender design on the glass.

The Caesar salad ($4.50) also suffered from poor design. Whole romaine leaves had been stacked one on top of the other on a plate exactly the size of the lettuce--which meant that any attempt to cut the three-inch-high pile down to bite-sized portions shoved the whole salad onto the table. Consuming it just wasn't worth the effort, particularly since the dressing was standard-issue and the red-chile croutons numbered a whopping two. A much better way to eat our vegetables was the smooth, chilled gazpacho ($3.50) drizzled with lime cream. It tasted fresh and healthy, the perfect summer soup. The tortilla soup ($3.50), on the other hand, was a stew for all seasons: a thick, spicy mix of avocados, chicken, tomatoes and cheese.

Posole is usually another can't-miss soup, but Taylor's hominy-dominant variation of red posole backfired. This very dry, brothless posole did no favors for the garlic- and cumin-crusted pork ($7.95) that it came with. The pork itself, while well-cooked and filled with flavor, needed more than a few slivers of grilled bananas to balance its spiciness. The juicy charbroiled half chicken ($7.75) fared better because of its covering of mole negro, one of the holdouts from Taylor's old menu. This mole was dark and deep, seemingly packed with a thousand different seasonings. Still more spices showed up in the cinnamony chile-tomato sauce that arrived with the soft taco ($7.25). Iguana uses canela, a Mexican spice that has a rounder flavor and holds up better in sauces than regular cinnamon or cassia (a related spice that's often sold in the States as cinnamon). The bittersweetness of the canela offset the chile's heat and, when mixed with Asiago cheese and grilled sirloin, made for a very heady combination.

Taylor's talent for mixing and matching flavors is showcased in his chile chocolate cake ($4), a flourless version that he's served at Zenith for years (Zenith's pastry chef makes Iguana's desserts). We couldn't taste the ancho chile at all--you're not supposed to--but it was obviously responsible for the depth of the bittersweet chocolate sweetened with cinnamon. The flan ($3.50), too, was filled with cinnamon flavor, made sweeter with maple; the caramelized grilled pineapple and bananas ($3.50) were deceptively simple.

Although Cafe Iguana has come a long way from Oaxaca and the Yucatan, it needs to take a few more steps before its chameleonlike transformation is completely successful. Luckily for Taylor, he has a touch that needs no translation.

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