La Sandia Gets Schooled by an 8th Grader

As promised in this week’s Bite Me, here’s the full text of Lili Bjorklund’s review of La Sandia from the student newspaper at Graland. Bear in mind that though she may come from a restaurant family (her parents are Adde Bjorklund and Halleh Hessami, who used to own Bistro Adde Brewster), the kid is in 8th grade. I can’t wait to see what she does when she gets older…

La Sandía Does not a Restaurant Make
Lili Bjorklund

When I decided to write restaurant reviews for Student Press, I impressed upon myself the need to write only positive reviews. That standard was shattered as soon as the table next to us got their first plate.

My parents and I had seen a movie (“Casino Royale”, which was very good), and wanted to try a new restaurant. We walked around Northfield and found a cheery looking Mexican restaurant called La Sandía, Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar. They had a nice patio, which was, unfortunately, closed due to the cold night. The inside was also cheery, with warm tones. The walls were cutouts of stars and swirls. I felt comfortable, even excited, in the atmosphere. There was one couple in the front, a party behind the bar, and no more than three people at the bar. The restaurant had only been open three weeks, and we had not heard of it at all. The hostess was fake-friendly – what do you expect from an unknown place? She led us to a table by the wait stand, the worst place to be besides by the kitchen doors. Since there were only three tables, all three of the wait staff were chillin’ at the wait stand. Five feet away, they were having their own party, just like the large group of guys in the back.

When we got our menu, there was a story about how the owner went back to his childhood and everything to find the food of his mother and bring it back. The owner, Richard Sandoval, had won the National Toque d’Oro, or the Chef of the Year award in his home country of Mexico. He’s opened several acclaimed restaurants, some of them Zagat rated: Savann, Savann Est, Maya (in Dubai, New York and San Francisco), Tamayo (in LoDo), Zengo (also in Denver and D.C.), Isla (in Las Vegas), and Pampano (in New York). There is no doubt in my mind that La Sandía (the Watermelon) could have been great, having been to Tamayo and been impressed.

The waiter came over and gave us his shpeal, which I always find annoying. He tried to make my parents order margaritas. I had to admit, they had interesting flavor combinations. My Dad, ordered a hibiscus margarita to share with my Mom. The waiter was really excitable in that “I really need this money so I’m going to make them buy, buy, buy!” sort of way. Any dish we asked about, it was as if he was that dish’s publicist. It was really annoying. I decided on the Chicken Mole Poblano with cilantro rice and fried plantains, one of my favorite foods. My Mom decides on the Combinacion de la Casa, with small servings of chicken flauta, cheese quesadilla, nachos, chicken tamale and cactus salad. My Dad decides on the carne asada tacos, with chile Poblano rajas. For our appetizer, we order Queso Fundito, three melted cheeses with chorizo and tortillas.

As we wait, the tower of salsa and chips on the party table in the back falls off the tiny table. The manager does not come out, and leaves it to the wait staff to fix the problem. The manager should always come out and make sure everything is okay, but we do not even hear of a manager. The tower is a wire shaped into a medium bowl holder, with three smaller bowls on top for three different kinds of salsa. The table can barely hold such a contraption, and with ten drunk men crowded around one four top, it’s a mess. We get our own salsa thing, and if we hadn’t completely rearranged the table on our own, we would have had another accident. The chips are so, so, so salty. The salsas could have been found in Seven Eleven.

We can smell the Queso on its way, probably the best part of the meal. Not having received any appetizer plates, we dug in. The cheese was gooey and stringy, and very flavorful. The cilantro on top was real, and politely accented the savory of the cheese. My Mother commented how the Queso was a bit salty on its own. The tortillas were soft and elegant. There is another salsa served with the Queso and this one tastes like it might have been homemade. I prefer it to all the others by a considerable amount. Right as I was taking another bite, the salsa thing from the table behind us came crashing down splattering three kinds of salsa on the floor, the chair and my previously pristine white blouse. The manager does not come out this time either and I begin to doubt his overall existence. The waiter does not even bother with the mess on the back of my chair; indeed, I don’t think he even noticed it.

The entrées were brought out and after one look at my plate, I decide the best part is the plantains. The sauce tastes and feels like flavored and watered dirt. The chicken was cooked so far past tough that I could hardly cut through it with my knife, much less chew it. The cilantro rice is cooked slightly past tenderness and tastes like unflavored rice with green bits in it. I almost gag – I can’t stand to eat anymore. The plantains are perfectly cooked, thank goodness. I love the flavor of the plantains, a relative of the banana. It is slightly sweet and very savory. The crosscut slices have been fried to perfection, so tender and buttery; I could squash them with my fork.

However, they couldn’t even get the nachos on my Mom’s plate right. The cheese was definitely cheez-whiz, despite the earlier glories of the Queso. It was grainy and flavorless. The cactus was good but the salad had nothing to tie it together. I taste my Dad’s tacos. The pork is too salty, too peppery and too tough. I try to contain myself. I can’t even bring myself to taste the rest of my Mom’s dish. She comments how the entire plate was “Barely edible.” My dad says his pork was simply “Alright.”

The waiter arrives after we ask another waiter to find him for us, please. He says something about how sure he is that we like our food and then listens with that “I’ve gotten the fact that they don’t like the food but I’m not going to listen why” face. We ask for the menu so that I could order something else, and after glancing over the menu but not finding anything of interest, I discover I have been disgusted out of hunger. My Mom suggests a side of plantains. I could not believe my eyes when the plate arrived. It made me so angry, looking at this plate. Out of seven plantains, two were cooked like the original. The other five were undercooked so blatantly I could not fathom why the chef would allow them to be served. Any fool, who had never even seen a cooked plantain, could tell these were grainy and tasteless--not to mention the fact that they were served in an oil slick--with none of the typical caramelization of well-cooked plantains.

I don’t touch those.

The waiter comes with the bill, and asks if there is anything he can do for our disappointment (now he’s switching jobs with the dubious manager). We say no thank you and leave. The hostess, ever fake friendly, says, “I hope you enjoyed your meal.” We smile politely as we wait for my Dad by the door. At least they have my favorite mints, the powdery ones that melt in your mouth.

I cannot express my disappointment in Richard Sandoval for allowing such a restaurant to exist under his name. I cannot imagine how a place like La Sandía could be allowed the status of ‘restaurant’.

My grade: F.

Rock on, Lili.