The last thing that Milpas Street needs is yet another establishmente that serves up greasy Mexican fare.
But that, my friends, is not true. The last thing that Milpas Street needs is another atrocious Chinese buffet. One is more than enough. Mexican establishments, here in my beloved part of town at least, we can deal with. For when it comes to Mexican fare, Milpas, which in 10 short blocks has a current total of 11 life support systems, is Darwinism in restaurantism. Only the strong survive. Which brings me to one of the newer establishmentes, Los Agaves, a swankier than the norm joint at Cota and Milpas that has been open a couple months now and which I’ve now eaten at enough times to give a clear view of what we’re looking at. But let’s start off with the most recent visit.
First off, I don’t like their ordering system. They’re obviously trying to go for the taqueria style of things by having you order at the counter, but you’re obviously not in a taqueria. You’re in a restaurant where a service person brings out chips and salsa as well as your food. They need to get over the identity crisis, cause it’s annoying. Anyways, that complaint aside, Deb had heard good things about a dish called the Molcajetes. So we ordered that and the Enchiladas Guadalajara, which were good enough on a prior visit that I ordered them again. The enchiladas were fantastic: perfect chicken and outstanding verde sauce. I could ask for nothing more, but really, it's a basic Mexican dish and if you can't do this one right you can kiss your ass goodbye in this part of town, no?
Well, on to the Molcajetes. We got the “sea and land” version, and what is it really, you may ask? Yeah, I hadn't heard of it either, which is why I was excited to try it out. In short, it’s a bunch of fish, shrimp, chicken, beef and spices cooked up bouillabaisse style to a resting temperature of 9 million degrees. A more in-depth explanation is that it is a boiling, bubbling, mass of goodness that goes straight from the pot into an equally hot bowl formed from volcanic rock that has been mined from the depths of the earth and kept under constant heat since Krakatoa exploded. Sitting at a table front and center to the kitchen I swear I saw a tiny Indonesian midget emerge from a mineshaft in the back corner, wipe some black soot from his brow, hand the bowl over to the cook, and then jump into the oven to cool off. Right then I should have known something was up.
But alas, I was clueless and watched carefully as the always friendly proprietor of Los Agaves brought over the boiling bowl cradled in only his bare hands and set it down on the table. Struck by paralyzing fear, I could only stare dumbly at its gurgling redness. It looked good, yes. I took a swallow of Modelo. But it was obviously…..well, really fucking hot. I stuck a fork into the broth and watched the tines disappear as much molten steel. Luckily I had carried along with me a set of titanium tongs which I dipped in and scooped some grub onto the waiting corn tortilla. Via some chemical reaction that I can’t possibly begin to understand, the tortilla did not shrivel up and combust as expected. Things were going my way. After another swig off the Modelo, I anxiously closed my eyes, lifted the filled tortilla to my mouth, prayed to the rosary and every pagan idol I could think of..........and then bit in.
Remember when you get that pizza straight out of the oven with the scalding hot cheese and are so hungry you chomp right in, only to have the cheese sear the roof of your mouth leaving not only pain but effectively ruining the rest of the meal and leaving you with a flap of skin hanging from your mouth for the next 3 days? Child’s play, friends. That’s like chomping into an ice-cream sandwich compared to this. Food does not need to be this hot. In fact, unless you are Heidi Klum or an 8th century Japanese ninja forging a sword, nothing should be this hot. Ever.
We decided to let the dish cool a bit before we ate it, ended up spending the night with everyone else in the restaurant who’d ordered the same thing, and devoured it the next evening when it was merely scorching. And it was really good. Not to mention that as far as I know, and what I don’t know about Mexican food in this town ain’t worth knowin’, you can’t get anything like it anywhere else in Santa Barbara.
The final verdict on Los Agaves is it ROCKS. Probably my favorite new place to open up in town since Palapa on upper State broke tortilla. I think we’re four for four on satisfactory visits, which don’t happen often in my world. Furthermore, the style of the food, the curiosity of the menu, and the manner of the service can really only mean that they're gunning for the high-falutin' (is there a Spanish translation for that?) Super Rica crowd who've grown tired of waiting in line all day. They won't be disappointed.