A few weeks ago, I took my lunch break at a recently opened restaurant in the Tysons Corner mall. The place is La Sandia, which means 'the watermelon' in Spanish, and the chef is Richard Sandoval who also runs several other restaurants including Zengo in Chinatown (DC), Isla in Vegas, Papano in NYC, and Tamayo in Denver. I've never been to Zengo in Chinatown, but the idea of latin-japanese fusion has never tempted me, even though I like both styles of food.
The first thing I noted about La Sandia was the decor. It was a little dark in there, but the mexican-style mosaic tile work along with various shades of glass and cut tin was very nice. I just wish that my first impression would have stuck around long enough for me to get through the chips and salsa. Now a thing about me: if I am going to eat by myself, I actually prefer to sit at the bar. I've always enjoyed feeling like you're a part of the pulse of a restaurant, therefore, I usually sit at the bar. the drinks are usually better that way, and I find that I have much more attentive service. Not this time.
The first food that I tasted here was pretty bad. I'm not sure how, but chef Sandoval has managed to totally screw up chips and salsa, the most basic of Mexican restaurant staples. Instead of being some kind of fried corn tortillas, the chips were unsalted and made from flour tortillas. Gross. Had the chips been made from corn, they would have been the perfect accompaniment with the smoky, spicy, chipotle salsa. In short, while the chips were lackluster, the salsa was a knockout!
As for my main dish, I ordered my old standby: Cheese enchiladas. The bartender recommended these as one of his favorites, so I was happy to go with his suggestion. When my order arrived, I noticed the 'salad' that came with it. It was nothing more than a pinch of dressed lettuce with a slice of radish on top-- hardly what I'd call a salad. The order also came with a good sized helping of refried black beans, a favorite of mine. As I tasted them, however, they had a strange flavor. Perhaps they'd been sitting for too long, or maybe they'd added some kind of pork fat to them because they had a strangely 'non-vegetarian' flavor that was not in the least appealing. There was also Mexican rice, which was not unlike most Spanish rices that I've had. However, this too, was a waste of time as it was WAY too tomato-ey, and largely flavorless and bland. Now, for the enchiladas themselves. They were covered in a tangy, green tomatillo sauce and were probably the best thing on the plate. Instead of what you find in most places, the cheese wasn't a greasy cheddar or other yellow cheese. This was a nice, soft blend of white farmer's cheeses, and was a great combination with the tomatillo sauce that topped the enchiladas.
Considering my lunch was for the most part unimpressive, I decided that I would make my final decision about the restaurant over dessert. I opted with the Mexican take on my favorite restaurant dessert: Brownie, Ice Cream, and hot fudge.
This dessert is my favorite, and as far as I'm concerned, if a restaurant doesn't have a variation of this on their sweets menu, then I probably won't be interested in anything. Go ahead: call me an overgrown kid if you want. I know what I like! :)
At La Sandia, their version of this dessert is called the Morenita (Little Brown Girl) Sundae. This was a warm (YES!) brownie resting on dulce de leche topped with Cinnamon ice cream and topped with lots of hot fudge and praline walnut brittle. Talk about a fantastic dessert! And wouldn't you know it, it was so rich I couldn't finish it all! The DdL was a little too sweet and sour milk tasting for my tastes that day, but I think it is a great carmelly addition to the brownie-ice cream-fudge combo. The cinnamon ice cream was a great touch, and the crunchy sweet walnuts were good, but a little too sweet. Tasting it, the collision of flavors described on the menu were no disappointment, and the rich, powerful flavors were a stark contrast to the over all bland, flavorless food.
Every time I go to the mall I take a peek into La Sandia. It's almost always empty. I wonder if the word has already gotten out that the food at this place is uninspired and flat. I don't recommend that anyone patronize this place unless you're going for dessert. Otherwise, your taste buds will be left highly disappointed.