Saturday, 11 June 2011

Vamos Amigos: Authentic Mexican the American Way!

About a week or so ago, I had arranged to treck all the way down to Glifada after work to meat up with a couple of friend. A year ago I wouldn't have done this, not on a weekday and not after work. Rush-hour traffic going down to Glifada is an absolute nightmare! However, ever since I've gotten my motorbike, getting around has become so much easier so I said what the hell, I'll do it!

The thing is, I'd read about a burger joint, The Burger Joint, that is competing for the best burger title! I figured this was a good opportunity to try it out. Unfortunately, one of the friends I was visiting, who lives in the neighbourhood, had been there the day before, so we were looking for something else.

We started by checking athinorama, then used foursquare and eventually just ended up walking the streets. We were hoping for something non-european (so unfortunately Bayern Bierhaus was out the question - damn!). Eventually we decided to try for a taste of Mexico and entered 'Vamos Amigos'. Their website reads "we are committed to serving our guests authentic Mexican dishes". It should have read "we are committed to serving out guests what they know as authentic Mexican dishes". I've sort of jumped the gun in saying this however so I'm going to rewind now and tell you how our visit panned out.

The first thing I noticed on entering the place was how large and empty it was. It probably was just the time  and day, but I still wondered how often it fills up. We sat right in the back, next to the glass that separated the inner seating from the outside ones. I did wish it had been open so we could have gone outside because it did look nice. They had a water feature going outside, each table had a little cactus on it and generally care had been taken into giving the place a Mexican feel - maybe too much care (we did manage to extract from the waiter that the sombrero sealed baskets the tortillas were served in had been purchased from some food and hospitality exhibition in Germany).

A Cactus per Table

Water Feature

Going through the menu I noticed it was more or less split into the the Mexican half: Nachos, Nachos, Nachos, Quesadillas, Chilli con Carne, Guacamole etc. for starters and Fajitas, Tacos, Burritos, Enchilada, Chimichanga etc. for mains, and the western half: BBQ chicken wings and a whole load of fried stuff for starters, and Grilled stuff, chicken with various sauces, burgers and pasta for mains. Sounds like a Fridays/Applebees/Ruby Tuesday menu you say... no no no, it must be your imagination. I immediately dismissed the western half, and we eventually decided to go for Chilli con Carne, Guacamole, Nachos and a basic mixed salad to start with, and then the Chimichanga and the Fajita with veal as our mains. To finish we said 'sod it' and went for the deep fried ice cream (for novelty value - though I have to admit I have had deep fried ice cream before).

Nachos with Dipping Sauce

When the waiter first arrived, somehow the conversation turned to how spicy the food was, and how we were puzzled because I like my food really spicy but my friends didn't. He said, "I could bring you some spicy dipping sauce on the side". I said, "Yea!". He asked "How spicy I would like it?". I said, "Give me all you've got". He said, "What if I bring medium spicy, and if its not spicy enough I'll bring very spicy". I said "No, you're more likely to get it right if you bring very spicy and if its too spicy you can bring medium spicy". he said, "OK". He brought the sauce, I tried it. It rated 'barely hot' on my hot scale. Oh if only I had a penny every time this happened I'd be a rich man! By the end of the meal, when he came around to ask if everything was all right, I couldn't help but mention that my hot sauce rated 'barely hot'. He sighed with disappointment and said, "Well next time you should let us know and we'll bring you the not stuff".

The Ensalada Mixta

Basically, lettuce leaves cut it to strips in a crunchy tortilla nest with chopped tomato, lots of carrots, cheese and sour cream on top. Theoretically there were was also sweat corn, kidney beans and it was dressed with a vinaigrette. I can't remember seeing of tasting the last three. Either way, the salad wasn't bad, but it left me largely indifferent.

The Guacamole

Is this the colour of guacamole? How come I remember a more vibrant green? Taste-wise it tasted oily, either from the avocado or from added olive oil, either way I think it needed some acidity to cut though this, which would also explain the colour as the avocado would darken without some lemon or lime.

The Chilli con Carne

Not much to say, it tasted great, but there's a fine line between Chilli con Carne and Bolognese sauce, and this was too close to that line! Barely spicy -both in terms of heat and spices used. Hardly any beans in it (if any at all) (though my understanding is that there's an ongoing 'war' about if Chilli con Carne should have beans in it).

The Chimichanga

Chicken and cheese wrapped and cooked in a tortilla. How wrong can you go with that. It was always going to taste good, but if you're not eating it at home, you expect it to taste great.

The Fajitas

What you see it what you get. The meat was tender, you wrapped it in one of four tortillas, added some condiments and ate it. I did think that for the amount of meat, they could have had a few more tortillas.

Deep Fried Ice Cream

This was actually the most exciting thing we had. The crust we were told was made with some sort of cereals. It tasted like biscuit. Very nice. And the ice cream inside: no picture means it wasn't there long enough to take one ;)

After the meal was over, my hunger subsided, and my brain functional, I started to think about the meal I'd had. The first question I ask myself, every single time I visit a new place, is will I be coming again. Quick question, gut feeling answer, and the answer was no! And I couldn't understand why. There was nothing wrong with the meal, it was sort of what I expected, and yet there was nothing special about it. Nothing to scream "wow!".

The same night I'm still thinking what went wrong. Maybe I just don't like Mexican food. But how can it be? Given me lime, coriander, cumin, tequila, peppers, sweetcorn, beans and chilli! I love so many of these flavours that I associate with Mexican food. And then it hit me. They were all absent. The Chilli con Carne and Fajitas meat was garnished with the greens from fresh onions (instead of possibly coriander), there was no lime zing in either Fajitas or the Guacamole, the salad was hardly dressed, the use of sweetcorn and beans was negligible, and there was no chilli - either that or it was as weak as Weak Mac. Weak! All the food tasted nice without tasting of anything!

I wasn't done though. I'd already read in Heston Blumenthal's Total Perfection that Chilli con Carne is far from authentic Mexican cuisine, so I decided to look around the internet for what is. I was as much shocked as appalled with myself for what I found: bottom line being that what I largely understood and associated with Mexican food is actually American influenced Mexican food, or Tex-Mex. I'll spare you the details, less to link a few pages that I found particularly interesting: this one which basically talks about how Tex-Mex evolved and this one which is basically all about the real deal Mexican food.

Going back now to Vamos Amigos, call it Mexican or call it Tex-Mex, for me, it is a poor and sloppy attempt at both. Attention has been put into the detail of how the place looks and how it presents itself, but the lack of that attention in to food show in dishes that are just OK: not notably better that anything you can get at the likes of Fridays, Applebees etc. But don't take my word for it, here's a map, see what you think.

View Vamos Amigos in a larger map

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