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Despite a taste of 'real' Mexican, Provecho isn't without stumbles 

Appetite

click to enlarge Cacao and chicken merge in mole sauce. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Cacao and chicken merge in mole sauce.

Just like La Cava shortly before it, Provecho wants to show the real Mexico. Broadly, that means less cheese gumming everything up, and more Spanish words on the menu.

In this former Borriello Brothers spot — casual sans white tablecloths and starkly furnished with limited art and Mexican blanket-print pillows on a long bench — Carole and Jorge De La Fuente, GM and chef respectively, run the show. They previously owned a spa and scuba diving outfit in Cozumel for 20-plus years, and he grew up in Mexico around his family's restaurants. They also lured Mexico native Alfonso Alcantara to help, and share some of his family's recipes.

So when we're biting into the dark, inky mole poblano organic chicken, our server — surprisingly a Le Cordon Bleu-trained culinarian too — informs us it's a third-generation dish. Suddenly, I feel legitimized for a Food Network mole recipe I recently made, quite similar and overly bright on licorice-like anise influence I've vowed to henceforth do without.

Here, lime-juiced jicama wedges sprinkled with mild chili piquin powder and corn on the cob pieces ($5 for one ear — ouch), also covered with the spice plus queso fresco and sour cream, serve as light appetizers. An ensalada de la casa keeps it fresh despite heavily dressed spring mix, with sharp green onion bite, candied pecan bits, and beautiful, red-hearted watermelon radish slivers. By contrast, a heavy cream-based beet soup strikes at hearty earthiness. And Quesadillas Viva Mexico (I didn't say there's no cheese) present a mixed bag, a mushroom and a chili-corn-onion flavorful, but a squash blossom empty of the flowers.

Breaking up the dominance of chicken items, the Chile en Nogada ($10 cheaper here than La Cava, FTW) shows well with rich, pomegranate-seed-garnished walnut cream sauce. It's a bit less sweet with fruit and a trio of ground meat fillings, also served warmer than the traditional room temp. Mushy breading cripples a meat-stuffed Chile Relleno Guadalajara. A Torta de Tinga (sandwich with the Puebla-based tomato-chipotle-onion-sauced shredded chicken) tastes OK but feels skimpy compared to the typical hole-in-the-wall giants.

Come margarita time (a fair $6 to $7.50), the simplicity of a fresh lime margarita can't be beat. Coors (why not a Mexican beer?) fails to show in a sour and citrusy Cowboy Margarita. And the menu fails to indicate the fruit-forward, not-spicy mango habanero margarita is a frozen slurry. Acidity in the grapefruit margarita plays nice though, amping the heat of excellent house red (chile de arbol) and green (serrano) salsas.

At dessert, dry, thick-doughed sweet potato empanadas crumble like pie crust, with heavy cinnamon essence and not a big enough scoop of coconut ice cream. House flan hits nice caramel flavor, but misses an ideal smooth texture, bearing air pockets throughout, and breaking like egg-y silken tofu hunks. Far superior: graham cracker crusted, frozen avocado pie that channels natural hints of green tea and under-ripe banana.

Provecho too feels green, making basic missteps, like sweeping the dining room around us and killing the neon a half-hour before posted closing, turning people away even. (Amigo, por favor!) Another waiter misinforms us that breakfast items are served weekdays during lunch. (They're not, and they constitute a whole menu we still want to try.)

In my experience, this too shows the real Mexico: Some elements function and others don't, but the flavors always beckon me back.

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