Quintanas de la Plaza review

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Quintanas flan

Quintanas
57 Rowan St.
St. John’s, NL
Ph. (709) 579-7000

Several of my friends enjoy Quintanas. I went there with one of them recently because I’d heard the ownership had changed. Such a swap can be momentous. It can mean that a restaurant is completely overhauled and so changed that it becomes exceedingly popular, or, in rare cases, less popular. Since Quintanas was already successful, I was betting – not hoping – that the new owners would opt for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. They did.

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Quintanas at Churchill Square

Personally, I was hoping to see improvement in a trio of sides, sides that are as boring as they are consistent. Not menu stars, just necessary extras. If they were actors in a play, they’d have non-speaking roles – like a spear carrier in Shakespeare’s Henry V. I’m talking about: the standard complimentary salsa, the refried beans, and the (Mexican? Mexican inspired?) rice.

Why keep serving insipid refried beans and rice? They only detract from the decent dishes. How about making them look and taste better? Now there’s an idea.

Tempest in a pea pod
Several years ago, the New York Times stirred up a massive controversy when it published a recipe for guacamole by renowned chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, that included green peas. Barack Obama even stuck his nose in – against using the legume. American star chef, Mexico City born Enrique Olvera, recently opened another NYC restaurant called, Atla, where he’s done something that may drive the purists crazy again. Olvera’s added fresh mint to his guacamole. Quick! Man the battle stations!

Inside Quintanas

Quintanas doesn’t need to do anything as avant-garde with its sides, but a good start would be to pay more attention to the basic seasoning of what are currently very pale representatives of several Tex-Mex staples. I’ll begin with the worst offenders, which need help desperately: refried beans and rice.

Refried beans or frijoles refritos, is a visual nightmare, especially the way Quintanas presents it, like a splat of unappetizing brown glop on your plate. A more pleasant first impression can be created by putting the beans in a small dish, with a sprig of cilantro on top. And, how about putting some cilantro in it? While you’re at it, how about also tossing in some salt, cumin, onions, garlic and bay? Hell, bacon would be amazing too.

Quintanas’ rice has always disappointed. It tastes like something that spilled out of a throw cushion. There’s a football field of room for improvement in this dry, mostly flavourless dish. If you’re going for bland, just do steamed rice. At least it won’t be as dry as a skull in a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.

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Quintanas chips and salsa

Subdued salsa
As with most Tex-Mex restaurants, corn chips and salsa have always been the appetite kick-starter of choice at Quintanas. I see the dull tortilla chip as nothing more than a delivery system for salsa – an edible spoon – it’s only redeeming quality. Of course, the salsa needs to be worth delivering, over and over. Quintanas’ salsa is okay, but it needs ginning up. Fresh lime juice, more garlic, jalapeño and cilantro might do the trick.

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Quintanas sweet potato and chipotle soup

Apart from being a cheap and cheerful meal, I think many Newfoundlanders view soup as a remedy against the ill effects – both physical and psychological – of our mostly cool, grey climate. Quintanas’ prescription was sweet potato and chipotle soup. It was beautifully flavoured and seasoned, a nectarous bowl of sweet potato, beans, corn, onion, and for that distinctly Mexican touch, smoky chipotle pepper.

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Quintanas chicken poquitas with cheese chili con queso dip

We shared a plate of poquitas – similar, if not identical to what are also called, taquitos. The mini fried tortillas, filled with chicken, were a neat way of having fried chicken with crunch. Much less messy than KFC. Quintanas supplied a dip of cheese chili con queso, with a Velveeta-like taste, to make them more interesting. It worked.

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Quintanas chicken flauta with rice and refried beans

Fantastic flauta
Quintanas’ chicken flauta, apart from the challenging rice and beans, turned out to be quite good. A soft chicken-filled corn tortilla was covered with a piquant sauce, almonds, sour cream, raisins and melted Jack cheese. This was a menu item I’d definitely order again.

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Quintanas cod tacos

It took a while for fried fish sandwiches to catch on here, and now, we finally have fried fish tacos, an act that everybody seems to be getting in on. Quintanas made me a version where the fried cod was camouflaged by sliced cabbage (Mexican slaw, apparently). I thought that that was fine, provided the fish underneath dominated. It didn’t. It made its presence felt by only the faintest of whispers, like a vole inside a whale. There simply wasn’t enough fish inside the two flour tortillas, which, by the way, cost $17.99.

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Quintanas flan

I hope that at some point in your life you’ve tasted crème caramel. If not, I know where you can find one that’s darn good, Quintanas. Although the dessert was created in Europe, it became popular around the world. In Spain, Mexico and South America they call it, flan. It’s eggy, creamy and sweet, but not too sweet. Soft, shiny caramel – found on top and pooled around the set egg mixture – provides just the right amount of sugar and smokiness. It’s a classic, and Quintanas’ flan was just right.

Rating
**     

Price Dinner for two with beverage, tip and tax costs approximately $80.

Service Friendly and professional.

Atmosphere Colourful and busy with a positive vibe.

Sound level Moderate.

Open Monday to Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday: 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Reservations Yes, and walk-ins are welcome.

Credit cards All major.

Parking Churchill Square lot, metered and non-metered.

Beverages House wines, sangria, Margaritas, Corona, domestic beer, pints.

Best bets Sweet potato and chipotle soup, flautas, cod tacos, caramel flan.

Wheelchair access Entrance is difficult, table access is limited, restrooms are accessible.

* Fair  * * Good  * * * Excellent  * * * * Exceptional