November 9th, 2012 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (10)
“I should have grabbed more of the carnitas!” I said. It’s not that I was hungry. By then I had devoured most of an epic banquet of some of the best and most authentic Mexican food I’ve found in Tulsa. But those carnitas were so good! Now I wish I could boast that those delicious dishes were served in some unknown restaurant off Garnett, where everyone speaks Spanish and which no one knows about but me. But no, I was at Chimi’s on Cherry Street.
Chimi’s??? Has someone hacked his website or his brain? Until last week that’s what I would have thought. Chimi’s has been around for thirty years or more. I ate at another branch around ten years ago, and their idea fine Mexican cooking was… dump queso on it. But things have changed.
Sometime last summer I reviewed a tiny Mexican restaurant on Sheridan. I wrote that one of my dining companions, whose family often went to Chimi’s, said that their enchiladas were better than Chimi’s. Now I don’t get much fan mail, but a few days later I got an email from a girl I hadn’t heard from in years. “I saw your review,” Amber Helvey wrote, “and noticed that you wrote that their enchiladas were for sure better than Chimi’s. Chimi’s is willing to challenge that! The owner, Brandon Fischer, would like to set up a lunch or dinner with you and a friend and serve you a little bit of everything and try to change your mind. He bought Chimi’s about 4 years ago, and he is passionate about the food and what he’s done with it.” I accepted. This was the first time I’ve ever reviewed a restaurant and didn’t pay for my meal.
Elegant and energetic, Amber ran to greet me when I was still in the parking lot. When I first met her she was a waitress, but she used her tips to put herself through a good college and now she’s a young urban professional. She works for a publicity firm that has Chimi’s as a client. “Brandon’s out of town,” she explained. “I wish he were here because he knows more about Mexican food than anyone.” But the general manager, Lori Lieb-Rosas, joined us. She knows quite a bit too. We walked inside.
It’s an attractive interior, recently redecorated I’m told, and far more light and airy than the photo suggests. We sat down and were greeted with the traditional chips and dips.
Now this looks like the old Chimi’s, I thought, but it’s not. The sprightly guacamole was enlivened by citric flavors and the cheese dip was laced with sausage freshly made in house. All thoughts of the old Chimi’s were banished when the next course came. (I should note that all the courses are from the regular menu and all are priced at about $10.)
Yes, carnitas, there at the top right of the photo. Carnitas are chunks of pork shoulder slowly simmered in broth with Mexican spices, braised for four hours until the collagen in the meat breaks down. Chimi’s has improved this traditional recipe by tossing the meat on the griddle after braising, giving the pieces, which by now look a lot like pulled pork, a caramelized crust. The yummy juicy pork was so good that I thought of it longingly several hours later. Alongside were rice and beans. The beans were tasty, and surprisingly are vegetarian. The rice was unusually good. It was cooked in chicken broth, a lot like Hainan chicken rice (a popular Malaysian dish), and that made it good enough to eat on its own.
But it wasn’t on its own for long. A few minutes later, this arrived.
No it’s not a huge margarita. It’s shrimp cocktail… served the way you’d get it in Mexico City, where it’s called Coctel de Camarones. The shrimp swim in a wide tomato sea enlivened by avocado, jalapeno and cilantro. With this too, I wish I’d eaten more.
Then came enchiladas.
These are Sonoran enchiladas. Shredded chicken enchiladas are topped with a green sauce made of tomatillos, Monterey Jack cheese is spread on top of that, and a rich sour cream sauce surrounds it. Gooey and good. Very good. And yes they were better than Fiesta Cozumel. I barely finished my portion when this arrived.
Street tacos. The kind you’d get off a taco truck over on Garnett. A really good taco truck. I had one of the steak tacos. By now I was close to bursting. Still, I found room for this.
Shrimp quesadilla. I’m not a big fan of quesadillas. But I loved this. A thin flaky crust stuffed with shrimp in a gooey cheesy sauce. It’s a lot more like an authentic Mexican quesadilla than you’ll usually find around here. The tortilla was folded in half; usually in the U.S. what you get is a tortilla sandwich, what in Mexico is called a Sincronizada. I thought there couldn’t be anything better… until the seventh course arrived.
Yes, it’s soup. But what a soup! Though on the menu it’s called Seafood Chowder, it’s actually a famous dish from the port city of Veracruz called “Caldo de Siete Mares”. It’s Mexico’s answer to Bouillabaisse. Unlike the French version, though, the Caldo uses a simple seafood and tomato broth the better to highlight the shrimp, scallops and tilapia slices that float in it. Here the fragrant tasty broth did just that. I managed to grab the big bowl from my 3 companions and eat almost all of it.
Delicious sopapillas and an addictive Key Lime cheesecake that was more like a fluffy mousse. Unlike the main courses, neither are authentic Mexican (sopapillas come from New Mexico), but who cares? They were so good!
1304 E 15 St (there are also branches at 51 and Harvard and at 81 near Sheridan)
Open daily from 11 AM to 10 PM
Brian Schwartz: Author
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.
Tags: Mexican Food