Cafe Society

Wasting Away in Margaritaville

The waiter stood there expectantly, his pen hovering over the order pad as he waited for the woman to tell him what she wanted for dinner. All of a sudden, a noise that sounded like victory music from a kids' video game rang through the dining room, and the woman gave the waiter a vaguely apologetic look and said, "Hold on a sec," as she picked up her cell phone from the table and answered it.

"Hello?" she said. "Oh, hi! Yeah, we're at the restaurant, and I'm just about to order. Uh-huh. Well, we're not sure what we're going to do afterward. Well, we want to take our time. Yeah. Okay. See you later on, then. Okay. Bye." As she set the phone back down on the table next to her silverware, she smiled at the waiter, who was actually still standing there, the look on his face a mixture of incredulity and resignation. "Sorry about that," she said, not sounding sorry at all. "I'll have the chicken mole."

This can only mean one thing, folks. The idiots are winning.

To his credit, the waiter had chosen professionalism over what I'm certain was an overwhelming desire to curse the woman in Spanish and walk away. The place was packed, he had many other tables to take care of, and the audacity of the woman would have justified nearly any action. He did roll his eyes as he hurried to the kitchen, though.

But the whole incident made me realize that there is actually a need for chain restaurants like Tres Margaritas. Without them, we'd have to deal with people like this on a regular basis; this way, the people with half a brain can go elsewhere. Because if I run into this woman again -- who answered the phone no fewer than four more times while she dined with six of her friends and family members (who was left to talk to on the phone?) -- I'm going to pour a margarita over her head.

That wouldn't be such a hardship at the foolishly named Tres Margaritas, which served terrible margaritas. My Cuervo Gold version ($4.50) tasted like watery lime juice, and there were exactly seven flakes of salt on the rim of the glass. But, hey, it's hard to complain too much when this restaurant was a haven for people like the two couples across from us, who'd brought their combined seven children, ages four to ten, with them. The kids spent two hours racing around the dining room, yelling, bothering customers and, at one point, crashing into a server who lost control of her tray and dumped a bad margarita all over a patron. I overheard one of the mothers telling another diner that she hated to make the kids stop because "they've been cooped up all day in the house, and we wanted to let them stretch a little."

In a restaurant?

It all would have been easier to swallow if the margaritas had been easier to swallow. But they weren't -- and the food wasn't, either, starting with the salsa, which was canned tomato purée doctored up with fresh cilantro left mostly as whole leaves, along with huge chunks of onion and just enough jalapeño bits to make it taste like tomato sauce with jalapeño bits. It obviously had been made fresh, but there's such a thing as too fresh with salsa, because none of the ingredients had been allowed to meld. Our table of three did, however, get two bowls of the stuff.

In fact, generosity was not a problem at Tres Margaritas, and the prices were right. A small combination plate of chimichanga, guacamole and sour cream ($7.95) brought one large chimichanga and equally large blobs of guac and sour cream, along with standard-issue refried beans, rice and "cole slaw," which seemed to be nothing but shredded lettuce and tomato. We'd ordered the shredded beef in the chimichanga and were disappointed to find that Tres Margaritas' idea of shredded beef was really torn hunks that were dry and chewy; the "picadillo" stuffing, which consisted of crunchy onions and green bell peppers, provided little relief. And the consistency of the guacamole was so bland and creamy that the only thing distinguishing it from the sour cream was the fact that it was green.

There was also something very unsettling about the chile relleno combination ($7.95). It featured an undercooked pasilla pepper that had been stuffed with ranchero cheese -- a type of queso fresco that doesn't really melt but just sort of spreads out when it's heated -- and blanketed with an egg batter that was as stiff as an old pancake. The whole thing was smeared, not smothered, with a watery, orangeish sauce that didn't taste like anything.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner

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