Sitting there alone, contemplating the table before me, it occurred to me that while we'd had a great meal, I had no particular recollection of what was good about it. Instead, it was the garishness that stood out, the pointless complexity that I remembered. Cielo's trouble -- and, by extension, the trouble with every white-cloth Mexican restaurant in town fighting over the same ragged, diminishing ends of this market -- is that it is too in love with itself. Completely gaga over every inch of its space, every word on its menu, it presents Mexican cuisine as a tautology in which, because each thing is so fabulous, mixing each thing up with everything else must only make it more fabulous. But food doesn't work that way. Regardless of its national origins, the best food needs nothing but itself to sell itself.
With the best Mexican cooking, there's something cheap and sexy and absolutely low-fi to the flavors -- nothing complex, nothing intricate, nothing self-conscious. But those simple, lizard-brain sensations are exactly what go missing when a cook or chef or owner gets it in his head to start dressing things up and showing them off to the world.