Before Dylan Elchami sold his Scotch & Sausage restaurant concept, he converted part of the space housing it into a taqueria specializing in tacos de guisados. For Elchami, it was a dream come true. For me, it was a chance to eat more tacos de guisados, a massive and unwieldy class of taco filled with homey slow-cooked stews and sauced preparations. Chorizo and papas is a guisado. Bistec en salsa de chile pasilla is another. So are chile relleno and picadillo. And this new operation, S&S Tequileria, put picadillo on the menu. Unfortunately, the kitchen’s idea of picadillo was sauceless, dry crumbles of over-salted beef. It was, in a word, terrible. The rest of the tacos ordered that day weren’t as memorable.
Then I noticed something peculiar, the Scotch & Sausage social media channels had almost no taco images. Had they realized how disappointing the tacos were? Not long after that I received a press release for Le Taco Cantina, a new taco concept taking over the space. It described the food as having a “triage of flavors” melding Mexican and Asian cooking techniques and ingredients with a little French flare. While I’m sure who ever wrote that release was trying to make the food come across as compelling as possible, the use of medical disaster terminology probably isn’t the way to achieve that goal. “Sortie” might have been better.
Shortly thereafter, the blogs began to announce the taqueria’s opening. There was a lot of oohing and ahhing because handmade tortillas and moo shu duck confit. Interesting, right? Not really. Handmade tortillas by themselves aren’t that big a deal. They’re difficult to make well consistently, and a smart taquero knows that if he can’t have them produced in-house perfectly it’s better to find a tortilleria that can meet his standards.
Le Taco Cantina might consider doing the same. On my lunch visit this week, I was given tacos in handmade tortillas, yes, but they were cold. If it was as the owner told me over the phone last week that he has two women in the kitchen making tortillas all day every day, they should have at least been warm. They were also thin and stiff. After the meal, I asked a server about the tortillas. He directed me to another server, who said the tortillas are made fresh every morning before correcting herself. “They’re made all day,” she told me. So I asked to see the tortilla machine. An aluminum tortilla press much like the one I use at home was brought out of the kitchen. It was spotless. During lunch.
The fillings weren’t much better. The carne asada taco, priced at $3, was curled in thick, gnarly threads devoid of moisture and tough as hell to bite through, much less pull apart with my hands, which I attempted. A taco de carne asada, a simple snack of grilled steak, is the quintessential street taco. It should be easy for a chef with the pedigree of Le Taco Cantina executive chef Daniel Tarasevich, previously of The Second Floor in Dallas. The carne asada was a failure. Not even the meek salsa could resuscitate it. The tempura avocado became butter between my teeth, and the heat from the promised Calabrese salsa was absent. It wasn’t a complete loss, though. The fried ripe plantain did add a nice sweetness. There was no brightness to the ginger achiote chicken taco, and the moo shu duck confit with hoisin was candy. Meanwhile, the carnitas, composed of smoked pork shoulder, red cabbage, grilled pineapple chunks and santaka chile salsa, was an over-sauced mess lacking any spice the santaka chiles should have provided. The heavy-handedness with the sauce is a common problem at Le Taco. A small helping of yellow rice might help absorb excess sauce, in much the same way as it does when used in tacos de guisados, and prevent the liquid from burning through the tortillas.
Research might help temper the bluster of who ever is in charge of Le Taco Cantina’s Facebook and Instagram pages. (Elchami told me over the phone that he outsources that work.) On June 6, he or she posted a picture of a bottle of Wahaka, a mezcal that’s widely available. The caption read, “Whole new stock of mezcal.. Come sample our list, by far the rarest in the city.. We’ve done our research personally.” Except it’s not. And they haven’t.
Sharing space on the menu is a bottle of Illegal (very good) and Zignum (trash). Above it, in the tequila section, there is Patrón, Avión, Espolón and Cuervo. Cachaça options are listed under agave spirits. Cachaça is made from sugarcane juice. What’s missing, aside from knowledge, is anything that makes that list impressive. Where is the Del Maguey Pechuga (or Iberico)? Where is the Vago, specifically the Texas-only release, Bien Picado? Where’s the Alipús? Where are some of mezcal’s siblings, including raicilla? There are bars in Dallas where one can blissfully waste away the night with those pours. Elchami and his staff would know that if they had truly done their research.
At least the tortillas are handmade.
Le Taco Cantina 2808 Oak Lawn Ave. Dallas, TX 75219 469-802-6753