I’m always excited when a new Mexican spot opens in Calgary. I pray for authenticity. I dream of the perfect pork taco like those served at small, family-run stands all over Mexico. Añejo, located in Mission, is not that spot, but it’s not really trying to be. Describing its offerings as “Mexican with a modern twist,” the latest addition to Calgary dining has the air of a tequila lounge with a few solid menu options.
Popping in after eight on a Wednesday night, we are promptly seated above the bar area. The room looks good. I like the feature wall of artisan crosses — it works with the backlit bar dotted with bottles of glimmering tequila, and the tin star chandeliers. My only qualm is that the space feels tight. A combination of tall tables and couch-style seating with low tables, it definitely feels more like a lounge than a restaurant. I’m just thankful they didn’t call it a restolounge.
As one would expect from a Mexican-inspired restaurant, Añejo has a great tequila list featuring a succinct overview of different types of the liquor — Blanco-silver is fresh from the still, Reposado is a young tequila and is kept in an oak barrel anywhere from two months to a year, Añejo is barrel-aged from one to three years, and Extra Añejo is aged three years plus.
The bar also offers a nice list of margaritas with unique flavours like ginger and prickly pear. They look great, but I’m sticking with the classic ($7.50) made with Blanco, Triple Sec, lime and a salt rim. It’s definitely one of the best I’ve had in town — fresh and authentic.
To go with our drinks, we start with the scallop and shrimp ceviche ($8) topped with avocado, black salt and served with tortilla chips. I like the mix of fresh shrimp and scallops in this straightforward ceviche, and I love the kick of the jalapeno.
We also get the guacamole ($12). Made fresh at the table, the dish combines avocado, serrano pepper, jalapeno, onion, tomato, lime and sea salt. We love the flavour and creamy texture, and it’s perfect alongside the ceviche.
From the taco menu we get an Adobo pork taco ($5). Other varieties include beef short rib, red snapper, and chicken (3 for $12, 6 for $20). Served on a flour tortilla with pickled cabbage, cilantro, red onion, avocado and fresh jalapeno, the pork is tender with a nice smoky flavour. It’s not a bad taco, but I’d prefer the more traditional corn tortilla.
On the side, Añejo offers three salsas with the tacos: verde, pico de gallo and salsa picasa. The tangy verde is our favourite and I like the addition of cucumber to the pico de gallo — it’s a fresh twist.
For his main, my husband has the molcajete with beef tenderloin ($22, a seafood option is also available). For those unfamiliar, a molcajete is a three-legged stone tool/bowl (similar to a mortar and pestle) that is used for cooking or grinding ingredients.
In this case, it’s used for cooking strips of beef tenderloin in a tangy sauce spiked with cactus, roasted onions, pasillo tomatillos and Oaxaca cheese. Served piping hot, the dish is accompanied by three flour tortillas in a tortilla warmer. It’s a fun dish to experience, but there’s nothing remarkable to note about the flavour.
I try the red snapper ($21) served with lime cilantro rice, shrimp, lemon and a creamy romesco sauce (typically made from a base of nuts, peppers and roasted tomatoes). On paper it sounds delicious, but I find myself underwhelmed. The fish is nicely prepared, but the entree doesn’t deliver any big flavour. The romesco sauce is mild, the lime cilantro rice is muted and the shrimp is, well, shrimp — it feels like something is missing.
For dessert we try the arroze con leche ($9). On the menu it is described as a cinnamon scented rice pudding, which sounds lovely, but this dessert is a major flop. My problem is the sweetness and combination of ingredients. Condensed milk makes this dish sweet to begin with, and when mounds of raisins are added (I’m not exaggerating) and it’s topped with fresh, sweet strawberries, it’s simply way too much. That, and the rice is crunchy, which isn’t a good choice for rice pudding.
Thankfully, our friendly and professional server, Jorge, notes our displeasure and has the dessert removed from the bill. In Añejo’s defence, this is an authentic Mexican dessert — I just think the recipe proportions need to be fine-tuned.
I’d head back to Añejo — but likely just for drinks and starters next time.