Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Breakfast at Rosa Mexicano

Rosa Mexicano opened its SF location, right down the street from me, a few months ago.  I walked by many times as the restaurant being built up, and it looked swanky.  I read the initial menu and got so excited - tacos, but with scallops and pork belly!  Enchiladas, but with crab! Some of my favorite ingredients, put into a cuisine that I love for the flavors, but so often uses lower end ingredients.  It of course had price tags to match, but I'll happily pay for great food.

But then the reviews started rolling in.  They were not very good.  The only thing I saw anyone praise was the tableside prepared guacamole, and since I'm allergic to avocado, that was out.  So I filed Rosa away in the back of my mind, as a place to check back in on if I ever exhausted my endless list of other restaurants to check out.

A while later, I saw they offered brunch, featuring a mascarpone stuffed french toast with plantains. OMG.  I love a good french toast, mascarpone or other cream component is always a plus, and I'm somehow always craving plantains.  But, alas, it is served Saturday only, and I always have other plans on Saturdays.  So again, filed away in the back of my mind.

I'd honestly completely forgotten about Rosa Mexicano, until I received a very exciting e-mail.  They were trying out a new idea: breakfast, Monday - Friday.  Now, I get free breakfast at work during the week, so I rarely go out for breakfast, but sometimes, I do want a change from the norm.  And it is so close by. And better yet, they were offering a free breakfast to test it out the first week.

The menu provided stated many times that it was a sample menu, and that items would change and rotate, but it did have the french toast listed.  I was so excited.

Now, I must now give another detail: the breakfast is done as ... a buffet.  Yes, a buffet. Breakfast buffets generally have a pretty bad reputation: think uninspired hotel breakfasts, cold rubbery eggs, soggy pancakes, food that has been sitting around poorly maintaining heat for who knows how long.

I was determined to still give it a try, and figured it if was awful, I'd just turn back around and go back to my office, and enjoy something there.  And, I decided to drag myself there right when they opened at 8am, so at least I could combat the issue of food that had been sitting for ages.

I went on the second day of service.  I was greeted warmly at the front door, and handed my ticket to exchange for a plate (or togo box) at the bar.  I'm not sure what the setup will be like once they are running normal service, but I think it makes sense for the togo style to remain, so people can grab their breakfast on their way to the office.  The buffet will normally be $11.99, and includes beverages.  I exchanged my ticket for a plate, again, greeted very warmly, and made my way to the buffet line.

Overall, the food was quite tasty, far better than most buffet fair.  The flavors were where they really excelled.  If the chef can season, spice, and sauce like this in simple breakfast dishes, then I definitely want to return to try their regular food!
The Breakfast Buffet Line.
No items in the buffet were labelled, but the chef was behind the line, happy to describe any of the dishes.  In my review below, I pulled descriptions from the sample online menus.

The buffet featured 3 hot main dishes, 4 hot sides, along with yogurt and fresh cut fruit.  At the end of the line was real silverware and napkins for those staying to eat, plastic packaged silverware for those leaving.

The coffee station had coffee, a few types of tea, cream, and assorted sugar and substitutes.  One fellow patron was a bit upset that they only had cream, no skim milk for her coffee.  They had ceramic mugs if you wanted to dine-in, togo cups if you were leaving.  The coffee was astonishingly good, and I got decaf.  I almost wonder if it wasn't decaf.  I think that once they are in full swing, they'll also have orange juice and aqua fresca available.

Most folks just took their togo boxes and breezed out the door, but I chose to dine-in.  The buffet was set up in the bar area, so you just seated yourself in the bar after you got your plate.  Again, not sure how this will work when they are offering it for real, if they'd have table service, or open up the full restaurant.

One thing that was missing was any condiments.  There was no salt and pepper, ketchup, syrup, etc.  For the most part, the food was so flavorful that it wasn't necessary, but I did have one dish I wanted salt and pepper on.  I asked if there was any, and was nicely provided a set of shakers, but we all had to pass that set around, as there was only one set, and several other people wanted it too.
Mexican Breakfast! Chilaquiles, black beans, migas, potatoes, soft corn tamal. (clockwise, from top)
Sadly, the french toast I was so excited for was not on the buffet.  I was fairly disappointed when I saw the line up, all egg based main dishes.  Now, I can love a good benedict, or a perfectly fresh fried eggs, but scrambled eggs never do it for me.  Not that the type of eggs I like would ever do well on a buffet, so I didn't want those either.  I'm also not generally a fan of mexican food for breakfast, as I tend to go for something sweet rather than spicy in the morning.

That said, I was there to give it a try!  The main dishes offered were chilaquiles, migas, and an egg white burrito.

I started with the jamón con chilaquiles, "corn tortillas tossed in smokey tomatillo cream sauce, topped with scrambled eggs and grilled ham".  This is a buffet-friendly version of their regular brunch chilaquiles, which features a ham steak on the bottom, rather than chopped ham cubes on top.

I've never been a fan of chilaquiles ... why would I want soggy tortillas? And, as I said, scrambled eggs, meh.  But I have a good friend who LOVES chilaquiles, so I figured I'd try a few bites in her honor.  I'm so glad I did.  This was, hands down, the dish of the morning.  The tortillas, even though on the bottom and coated in sauce, somehow still maintained some crunch.  But it was really all about the sauce.  Just the right level of spicy, not too much for the morning, but enough to wake you up a bit.  The eggs were soft and fluffy, but I was too busy devouring the sauce soaked tortillas to pay much attention to them.  The ham cubes were on top, but I avoid them, since I'm not really a ham fan.  Did I mention the delicious sauce?  I hope this, or something like it, is offered in some of their other dishes!

Next, I moved on to a vegetarian selection, the Mexican Scrambled Eggs: "scrambled eggs with spinach, tomatoes, and jalapeños, served with salsa verde".  Again, another variation from their brunch menu, where you can add bacon, chorizo, or chicken as well.  I tried a bite of this just to give it a try, but as I said, I could kinda care less about scrambled eggs.  And, that is how I felt about these.  Very plain, although nicely loaded up with veggies.  The scrambled eggs is why I wanted some salt and pepper, as they needed ... something.  I didn't see any salsa verde as listed on the menu though, perhaps that would have helped.  My least favorite dish, would not get again.

The third main dish was an egg white burrito, filled with "herb-scrambled egg whites wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla with oven roasted piloncillo tomatoes, arugula, and queso fresca".  This is available in the same form on their brunch menu.  I didn't try it, as it really didn't sound like something I'd enjoy.  It is nice to see a light healthy option though, and I heard others remarking on that fact.

Next, it was time to move on to the hot sides.  They had refried black beans, potatoes, bacon, and something that looked like polenta.

I started with the refried black beans.  Like eggs, I kinda hate on beans.  My cafe at work has them every day at breakfast.  And at lunch.  And they use all sorts of beans, in all sorts of preparations, but I never, ever want them.  I'm honestly not sure when this happened, as I used to love refried beans, and all sorts of bean salads.  Anyway, I wanted to at least try them, so, as you can see, I took a tiny little dollop.  I wish I'd taken more!  (Side note: I'm not sure what the return trip policy is ... when you are paying, is it all you can eat? Or do you need to advance decide what you'll like?)

Anyway, the beans were the second surprise dish of the day, my second favorite overall, and my favorite of the sides.  They were soooo creamy.  So flavorful.  I'm not sure what else was in them, as they were listed just as "refried black beans".  They went perfectly with the chilaquiles too.  Would gladly get again, and hope to see featured in their other dishes.

Then I moved on to the breakfast potatoes, little cubed potatoes cooked with slivered onions.  The potatoes themselves were fairly unremarkable, but the onions had been nicely cooked down, soft, and caramelized.  I loved mixing the onions into the beans, but I'd probably skip the potatoes in the future (unless I had some ketchup or syrup to dunk them in ..).

The dish I was most interested in was the soft corn tomal.  It looked like a bowl of grits or polenta, and I've been really, really into both of these items lately.  I've been enjoying them at lunch or dinner as sides, all cheesed up with herbs, fried into cakes, or topped with all sorts of tomato based sauces.  But I've also really gotten into making breakfast hot grain porridges.  Add a ton of cheese and top with a fried or poached egg? Perhaps a little hot sauce?  One of my gotos these days.  And, being the sweets lover, I've also been making sweet versions, loaded with maple syrup, cinnamon, and sometimes nuts or fruit.

The soft corn tamal was creamy, and as you'd expect since it was a Mexican meal, spicy, with bits of chopped jalapeño throughout.  But those weren't the only bits of goodness.  There was also ... bacon!  I enjoyed this, particularly with some of the beans, or a bit of the sauce from the chilaquiles.  Without either of those elements, they were somehow a bit boring, even though loaded with spice and bacon goodness.  I really wanted some syrup to drizzle in ...

Speaking of bacon goodness, they also had bacon strips, which I skipped.  I wish I hadn't, as I later saw that they were "piloncillo bacon" ... aka, candied bacon!  Next time, I must try this.

Finally, there was some cut fruit, but since it contained watermelon, which I'm allergic to, I skipped it.  There were also cartons of assorted flavored Activa yogurts.  They normally have an interesting sounding yogurt and granola parfait on the brunch and buffet menus, so I'd be curious to see that make an appearance instead.

Overall, a very satisfying plate of food, and I'd definitely return, particularly if that french toast makes an appearance!
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