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Back Bay’s Lolita Cocina offers chic but underwhelming fare

This past Tuesday, my two friends and I decided to grab dinner and drinks at Back Bay’s Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar. It was fairly full when we walked in at around 9:30, and the crowd was young, and the vibe, decidedly cool. The space was a maze of exposed brick, wrought iron, glittering vintage chandeliers and red accents. The menu, which featured dishes like bacon chipotle pecan Mexican green beans and fried chicken and rib-eye tacos, seemed to be a playful take on Mexican cuisine.

We sat down and were presented with a bowl of grapefruit mint granita to cleanse our palates (if you’re 21 + ask them to pour one of the over 200 kinds of tequila they have at the bar over it). The ‘bread’ course followed in the form of a basket of warm tortilla chips, a trio of salsas (salsa verde, a tomatillo salsa, and a spicy concoction which tasted more like a crema) and a mango habanero hot sauce. Both the salsa verde and the tomatillo salsa seemed to beg for a little extra seasoning; a touch of salt, a hit of hot pepper, or a bite of acid perhaps. The less said about the mango habanero sauce the better. It was somehow both sickly sweet and sharply spicy at the same time – like mango puree haphazardly seasoned with raw cayenne pepper. Nonetheless, the course was an acceptable accompaniment to our pitcher of Rosé Sangria and idle chatter.

I have a rather chronic inability to make decisions, especially when they’re food related. I have been known to change my order multiple times during the course of the evening, order three mains just so I may try them all, and most notably, beg my server to ‘just decide for me.’ Lolita’s ‘I want it all’ trio of guacamoles then, was right up my alley—a sampling of the three types of guac they have on the menu: the tocino pork belly, the especial, and the picante. The first of the three—creamy guac topped with salty, slightly caramelized bits of pork belly—was sublime. My outlandish love for both pork belly and avocado could have something to do with my profound appreciation for this little bowl of heaven, but it was given quite the vote of confidence by my fellow carnivorous diner as well. Plus, it was the only thing we finished all evening. The especial, a lump-crab and lobster guacamole with a butter wine drizzle, was good, although the combined richness of the avocado, the butter and the shellfish made it a tad heavy. The picante was essentially a classic guacamole, with lashings of spicy sauce and sliced jalapenos. It was the only one of the three my vegetarian friend tried and she seemed perfectly content with it. All in all, each of the three guaranteed a perfectly pleasant mouthful.

Next, we tried the tres ceviches; ahi with coconut, cilantro and jalapeno, mahi with Serrano, red onion and lime, and lobster and scallop with tomato and chile oil. I would recommend eating the three interchangeably, to cut the sweetness from the coconut with the tang of the Serrano and lime, or the heat from the chile oil with the freshness of the coriander. The mahi was my favorite of the three; it was simple and refreshing and although I generally abhor shredded coconut, the fried slivers that garnished the ahi added the perfect little amount of crunch to my bite. The tortilla chips were a decent accompaniment to the three, but a basket of fresh plantain chips would have been ideal. My friend also ordered the tortilla soup, which was a pleasant well-balanced broth with chicken, avocado, and tortilla strips. It was nothing to write home about, but it made me feel healthy and wholesome, like my body was giving me thanks.

Quite full by this point, but adamant not to leave without a taco, I asked our waitress to recommend one of the eight types on the menu. She recommended the mahi-mahi to suit my spice-loving palate but I’d had my fill of seafood for the evening, so she suggested I try the most popular taco on the menu – the crispy shredded pork taco. The plate arrived shortly after with three decently sized soft tacos with less filling than I would have liked and a meager bowl of the same bland salsa verde our evening began with. The tacos were fine. They were satisfying, but far from the gold standard. We also ordered a portion of their black beans, which arrived in a little clay pot and gave us hope that some semblance of authenticity would soon grace our palates, but alas, it too, seemed to carry the under seasoned gene.

Ideal For: Drinks with the girls, a third date, or a random Tuesday when all you can think about is this review and the tocino pork belly.

Eat: The tocino pork belly guacamole, and we wish we could have tried the al pastor quesadilla, the zocalo corn, and the Mexican winter stew!

Verdict: The Lolita experience might not have been an epicurean dream, but it was a fun evening, with good food, drinks, and service. Plus, we were offered a cloud of cotton candy with our check—major points for that!

271 Dartmouth St. Boston, MA 02166. tel: (617) 369-5609. 

Upasti Basappa

Cover photo source.

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