Drive-by Tasting: One visit. One meal. One shot to get it right

TRIPLE THREAT | The trio of pork tacos from Goghee To Go packs some major punch.

Goghee To Go Korean BBQ Tacos

Growing up in Mesquite might not sound like an ideal setting to reflect my Latino heritage, but despite my white middle class neighborhood, one thing Mom didn’t skip out on was the cuisine. These street tacos gringos have been fawning over for a few years? Old hat. Barbacoa? Been there, done that — decades ago.

So when I heard a new taco stand was opening on Inwood in the Medical District, I yawned. What’s another taqueria to me?

That quickly changed when I discovered the twist: Goghee To Go offers Korean barbecue tacos. This was a perfect fit for the rules of Drive-by Tasting: One critic, no guests, visiting someplace new for lunch or a casual dinner. And we keep it cheap.

Menu options were easy but also impressive. I could get meat (goghee in Korean) prepared several ways, and all for $6.25 (chicken $5.95). The torta and nachos sounded good, but I opted for the simple three tacos plate with pork in a corn tortilla. (Options include beef as well as a portabella for non-meat eaters.)

The tacos came bustling with a zesty slaw in a Styrofoam box. Clearly, the environment is not on their minds, but who cares when this concoction is a fireworks display in both looks and taste.  The spicy factor is enough to clear the sinuses but won’t turn off anybody sensitive to even a little heat. The slaw, along with the pico and sesame soy sauce vinaigrette, really punches the flavor up but there is enough meat to get a balanced taste.

Goghee’s shtick is how they marinate their meats, and they do so to nice effect. The pork delivered in both natural flavor and a subtle saltiness. Some bites were a tad tougher than others, but this is minor compared to the overall satisfaction of the meal.

I was happily coerced into buying the half-order of their new menu item Goghee gimchee fries. Mostly covered by the same accoutrements, the fries also come topped with jack and cheddar cheeses and a creamy fresca sauce along with the same meat selections. I had mine with beef. This was a slight miss because the meat makes it too heavy, unless you’re a college student and actually want fries as your meal.

Goghee To Go really is a taco stand, with tables outside for dining for walkups and a drive-thru window. They cook the food directly upon ordering so they have the freshness factor down pat, but the wait could have easily gone a few moments too long.

Overall impression: The lady behind the counter was filled with bubbly customer service and knew her menu. GTG is simple and hip with lingering flavor, but not in a bad way.

Recommended: Yes.

— Rich Lopez

—  John Wright

To the Maximo

Chef Amador Mora goes to North Dallas in order to head South of the Border, with excellent results

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Maximo’s roaming guacamole
HAVE AVOCADO, WILL TRAVEL | Maximo’s roaming guacamole cart brings fresh ingredients right to your table. Just try to resist. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

One of the first things you notice about Maximo is that the place is serious about its tequila. Makes sense — its full name is Maximo Cocina Mexicana & Margarita Lounge. If you’re gonna name yourself after a margarita, you’d better be adept at blending the fermented nectar of the agave with style.

One sip of the signature drink, an impossibly spicy concoction muddled with jalapeno that warms as it refreshes, and you know the bar takes risks. And they pay off.

But not just the bar. The restaurant, which opened in the North Dallas space vacated by BLT Steak more than a year ago, is no more a taqueria than Five Sixty is a Chinese takeout spot. The chef-partner, Amador Mora, trained at the Mansion and helped create Trece’s high-end Mexican style.

There are Tex-Mex elements, but the source is really Mexico’s regional cuisine itself without the American patina. Yes, there are enchiladas and quesadillas, but also steamed salmon, braised short ribs and banana crepes. Try finding that on the board next time you drive through Taco Bell.

Like Javier’s and the late, lamented Ciudad, Maximo relishes fine dining with that familiar flair. Take the empanadas: These small turnovers (here called empanaditas, $9) have the usual chorizo and spinach filling, but then Mora sneaks in olives, an airy tomatillo salsa and watermelon pico de gallo. The crust itself is flaky as all get-out.

Enjoy them with the flavorful lobster nachos and the signature guac, handmade at a roving cart. There’s something tantalizing about the glistening reds of tomato, the verdant cilantro and creaminess of avocado mashed into a chunky dip that can’t help but get you salivating. Add to that three salsas — one green with pineapple, a charred red and a creamy style — that elbow each other around for the title “favorite;” I’m still undecided which to hoard next time.

Maximo’s gazpacho ($4.50/$8) is a study in scarlet — a startlingly vibrant soup that packs a kick from fresh cilantro, heirloom tomatoes and pickled garlic, then cooled by cucumber and a crabmeat ragout. For a late summer dish, it can’t be matched. Heartier is the tortilla soup with chicken stewed in guajillo chile broth. The salads are as lightly dressed as a bodybuilder on Venice beach and equally mouthwatering.

Hands down, the top enchilada I’ve found in North Texas is at Reata in Fort Worth, but Maximo’s version, called Alberta’s ($15), gives it a run for its money.

Ceviche and grilled shrimp notwithstanding, Mexican cuisine doesn’t get its due for use of seafood; Maximo helps right that wrong. Here, a steamed fillet of salmon ($23) glazed with tequila and lime and brushed with a citrus pesto perches atop an organic corn pudding. The salmon, such a strong fish, stands up well to the spicy chiles (and a second margarita if you’re so inclined), with the sweetness of the corn offering balance.

A braised short rib ($22) doesn’t sound very Latin, but add a truffled chimichurri and you’re onto something. Even the most American element on the menu — a side of mac and cheese — takes on a Mexican accent with a chipotle infusion. After 24 hours slow cooking, the meat falls off the bone.

The desserts are great, too — and not just flan and tres leches. In fact, we tried completely different offerings (all $6): Crepes with caramelized banana, chile pecans and rum, which give a French classic a mariachi’s flamboyance; the “bomba” chocolate volcano cake with tequila in the fudge; and a peach and basil sorbet, more refreshing than an honest politician.

The wine list is as substantial as the tequilas (ask for a bottle of the Torentes — a real treat), which helps establish Maximo as a fine dining destination, as do the lush curtains and muted lighting. But there are also rustic tables and natural woods to keep it earthy and grounded. Casual and classy. Muy bien.

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TASTING NOTES

Rathbun goes retail; Samuel gets his Nosh on; Dish’s new menu

Kent Rathbun, the chef who happily lines up diners for his restaurants Abacus, Jasper’s and Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen, is now making it easier for them not to visit. He’s launched his own home product line, named Kent Rathbun Elements, so amateur chefs can approximate the cuisine he whips up.

Well, not really. Just take a look at the dish Kent whipped up, below, using his roasted shallot and black pepper vinaigrette. Most of us won’t take the time to make something that gorgeous after work, but damn if the dressing — straight out of the bottle — doesn’t finish the dish beautifully.

The products have been on the shelves since April, but only recently did Rathbun tweak the recipes in the entire line, which also includes a home version of his coconut lobster shooter sauce, a Thai style, very spicy red curry with a terrific taste on the back end, a Caesar salad dressing and a barbecue sauce that works just as well on a scallop as on a spare rib.

Over on Oak Lawn, Avner Samuel’s new venture Nosh opened this week in the space previously occupied by his high-end French bistro Aurora. The atmosphere (and the price point) is more laid-back as the name implies, with almost all entrees $19 and under and noshable small plates like ahi tuna tartare ($11), spiced beef cigars ($5) and miso glazed Bershire pork ribs ($6).

Dish at the ilume has added a few new dishes to its lunch menu, including a turkey club wrap, spinach-artichoke flatbread and two pasta dishes. The kitchen has also introduced “protein plates” for the gym rats. Mention that you heard about the new lunch menu and they’ll take 10 percent off your check.

On Saturday, the Dallas Arboretum brings back its harvest tea service, which runs through Nov. 14. The most civilized of dining traditions, it features a butternut squash soup, finger sandwiches and dessert (including an autumnal-sounding apple spice cake), as well as a selection of teas of course, in the DeGolyer Team Room. The cost is $40 (add champagne to the lunch for $9 more). Admission and parking at the Arboretum are included.

Naan Sushi, the Plano-based Japanese restaurant, will open its new Uptown location in the Gables Villa Rosa project. Service will begin in November.

Chef Stephan Pyles is taking his cuisine on the road … sort of. He’s teamed up with David Morris International to offer guides tours of exotic culinary destinations including Tahiti and Peru. Trips begin in the fall.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Ladies' Lunch: A date with a Rusty Taco

I joined the Ladies’ Lunch gang yesterday to hit up the newest taco spot in town. Rusty Taco opened April 12 in the old Just Brakes location on University and Greenville. We weren’t sure if we’d have a motor oil aftertaste, but we were all about looking deep into this taco.

We pulled up around 11:45 to an awkward parking lot but snagged a spot quickly. However, we were a little distressed over this sight. RTaco1But that line out the door didn’t take too long and the ladies taking our orders were cool, collected and upbeat enough to forget the wait.

The menu is thankfully simple but the options are above average. And with every taco at $2, Chance and I splurged on three. Being the real lady of this lunch, Kristina ordered a dainty two. We dug the best bet of $1 chips and salsa. Major score.

—  Rich Lopez