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Spicy Transformation

The restaurant formerly known as Mayfield's goes Mexican



You know, you turn your back for a second and some restaurant you used to visit has closed, moved, remodeled or spontaneously imploded. Trying to keep track of all the restaurants in this town is like a kitten chasing its tail -- perpetually in motion and never reaching the goal. I would go on with the kitten metaphor, but by the time I reached things like hairballs and litter boxes, we'd be in territory that does not belong in an article about food.

Ahem. Please raise your hand if you remember Mayfield's, located in the Safeway plaza at Vindicator and Rockrimmon.

If you haven't been for a while, you're in for a shock. The cozy, intimate interior has been opened up, with exposed beams in the ceiling, a rustic cement floor and wide, comfortable booths with warm wooden tables. Oh, and the big "Mayfield's" sign has been replaced by one that says "Salsa Brava." You might notice that first, I guess.

Does Colorado Springs need another Mexican restaurant? You betcha. Especially at the north end of town, and even more especially on the northwest side of town, where good restaurants are few and far between. And while Salsa Brava isn't the largest restaurant you've ever been in, service is pretty prompt, getting the people moved in and out at a respectable pace without ever making anyone feel rushed.

Of course, when you sit down, you get the obligatory bowl of chips and two salsas. One salsa is an extremely mild pico de gallo, with fresh tomatoes, onions and a bit of cilantro. The other is served warm, and it's much thinner, has more depth and more heat. And, if you're in the know, you can ask for the pineapple habanera salsa. While I liked the salsa, an intriguing blend of heat and sweet, I don't like the idea that the salsa isn't advertised anywhere on the menu, and if someone doesn't tell you to try it you'll never know it exists. Word to the wise: If you want to make a 3-year-old shriek on a loud, pure, high note, don't pay attention while they are dipping their chip into the habanera salsa. Keep the hot stuff out of Junior's reach.

If you're absolutely starving, order an appetizer -- but only if you're starving because servings are large. The guacamole is good, very fresh tasting and garlicky without overwhelming the flavor of the avocado. The Chile Queso ($4.95) is a nice, thin, medium-hot cheese dip, and the Spinach Dip ($5.95) is outstanding. Fresh spinach and chunks of artichoke are blended with just enough creamy cheese to keep it together, but not enough to make this an overwhelmingly rich dish.

If you're in the mood, wash it down with a house margarita. These little beauties could be the poster children for margaritas everywhere. A decent size but not gigantic or served in strange, awkward glasses, they are a lovely blend of sweet, tart and tequila. There's no artificial aftertaste from cheap mixer left in your mouth, just a perfect hint of pucker from the lime.

Most of the entre dishes I tried were very good. The beef burrito was filled with juicy, flavorful beef. The grilled veggie burrito was stuffed with absolutely delicious, smoky grilled zucchini and summer squash on a bed of refried black beans. And -- joy of joys! -- the refried black beans and the regular refried beans tasted distinctly different, both smooth and flavorful.

If you're looking for a walk on the wild fajita side, you can try chicken, beef or shrimp. Or you could try the portabella fajitas ($9.95), with meaty chunks of grilled mushroom nestled in with the still-crisp onions, peppers and zucchini. The aroma alone will make other diners at your table drool with envy; unless, of course, they happened to order the Coconut Shrimp ($12.95) -- a little platter of perfection. The shrimp is plump and moist, not tough under its crispy coconut coating. It comes with some scrumptious pineapple dipping sauce (without the habanera heat), plus a salad topped with fresh, juicy diced nectarine, and a side of the same grilled vegetables that show up in the veggie burrito. If you are not by nature a sharing person, then you should go to the restaurant alone when you plan to order this dish. It's that good.

The only real disappointment was the carnitas ($8.95). I am accustomed to the pork being served in chunks, and these had the textured of pulled pork barbecue, served in shreds. I also associate carnitas with the rich, full flavor of roasted pork, which was noticeably lacking in the serving I tried. There were some clumps of chili powder on some of the larger pieces, but on the whole it was rather dry and lacking in flavor. Even the luscious guacamole that came with it couldn't save the dish.

If you have room for dessert, the fried ice cream ($4.25) is good, and one serving is enough for at least two people. You can also get sopapillas ($3.50 for an order of four), although the texture here confounded me. I expected them to be light and crispy, with a hollow interior begging for a drizzle of honey. These are much thicker and denser, a closer relation to the donut, it seemed, but still coated with cinnamon sugar and served with honey. Not a light bite by any means, but still quite tasty.

Oh, by the way, those of you who remember Mayfield's can put your hands down now.

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