Copyright © 1998 All Rights Reserved.
by Patrick Rengger
I think it was the great philosopher Marx who once said that "marriage is a great institution - but who wants to live in an institution?" That would be Groucho Marx, of course, not that old windbag Karl. Great institution or not, marriage ain't what it used to be and, I presume, still fewer people cleave to the old traditions of weddings, one of which required the presence of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Which brings me, in a somewhat roundabout way,. to Diablos (1315-1st Street SW, phone 266-3339). Diablos is the new cocktail and tapas lounge, married to the old and established Mescalaro restaurant. And both members of this union have borrowed extensively from the cantina tradition of Mexico, albeit with certain Calgary twists. The only thing lacking from this old-fashioned arrangement is anything blue. Both are designed in El Rancho style with rusty reds being the principal color. In Diablos's case, to such a degree that at night it feels warm and welcoming whilst during the day the paint is more reminiscent of dried blood.
But no matter. What is truly important is the food, and whilst the full Mescalaro menu is available in the lounge, the tradition here is to sample the tapas-style food. The portions are all more than adequate so any three of the 21 items will likely sate the appetite of two people. The temptations for my companion and I were many, but we managed to overcome most of them, including the grilled scallops ($9), the chili-rubbed chicken drummettes ($10), the chimichanga ($8) and the tostada with smoked chicken breast ($8). Instead of these, we elected to sample the salmon, asparagus and goat cheese burrito ($9), jack cheese quesadillas ($6) and the corn chip-crusted crab cakes with greens and a Creole dipping sauce ($9).
Perhaps it is my penchant for gum-searing spicy food, but for me the crab cakes were the best of our dietary trinity. But be warned - the Creole sauce is certainly hot, with an added piquancy of mustard. The crab cakes were delicious with the corn crusting offsetting the morsels of fresh crab inside and each working with the aforementioned dipping sauce. The quesadillas were more stolid fare, but good with the fine guacamole that Mescalaro is renowned for. If a little insubstantial, they worked well with the other dishes we ordered. The salmon burrito was a delightful mixture of tasty fish with fresh and juicy asparagus which combined with the goat cheese in a surprising but satisfying way. This unexpected combination in a burrito - salmon not being generally associated with matters Tex-Mex was nevertheless a success. All in all it turned out to be a meal of balanced taste nuances and all the better for that.
The Diablos lounge, being a lounge, is fully comfortable with any cigarette cravings of its clientele, and being on the ground floor, entirely wheelchair accessible, even if the charming washrooms are the smallest this side of the Rio Grande. Booking ahead isn't really as necessary here as it is in Mescalaro, and certainly not for lunch, but a crowd does develop toward the end of the week.
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