First impression: Just when you think there's nothing left to say about Mexican cuisine, I get surprised with a place like Dos Caminos. There's an elegance to the presentation here that elevates this simple fare into something that's a little more special. While its location on Fort Lauderdale beach makes it an ideal spot for tourists, don't overlook the inventively casual menu or celebratory atmosphere.
Background: Open since January, this is the sixth location for Dos Caminos, after success in New York City, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. It's owned by B.R. Guest Hospitality, which operates everything from seafood restaurants (Blue Water Grill) to Asian restaurants (Ruby Foo's).
Ambience: The 144-seat main dining room (with room for 137 more in the lounge and outdoors) is long with polished concrete floors, rough wooden walls and multiple lighting fixtures that look at first glance like tin lanterns. Black and white photographs and splashes of graffiti give the room an industrial feel.
Starters: Every good Mexican meal starts with guacamole ($14), but unlike so many other "modern Mexican" restaurants, we weren't forced to watch it being prepared table-side. Instead, this creamy and slightly spicy version is brought to the table in an authentic stone molcajete. Don't stop with traditional guacamole. There's also Jumbo lump crab-chipotle guacamole ($18) and Mango, papaya-habanero guacamole ($14), or a tasting of all three ($18). From the bocaditos section of the menu, Tuna-ceviche Chino-Latino ($12) veers more toward Chinese than Latin with strong soy and sesame flavors. Pulled chicken taquitos ($8) are crispy rolled tacos filled with flavorful chicken and topped with just the right amounts of lettuce, cream, queso fresco and salsa. Roasted plantain empanadas ($9) are filled with not-too-sweet plantain. I only wished they were more flaky. Every table also gets complimentary warm corn chips and three kinds of salsa, from mild tomatillo to spicy red pepper.
Entree excellence: When you order Dos enchiladas ($18), two rolls filled with deeply flavored roasted chicken arrive. One is topped with perfect mole poblano, the other with refreshing tomatillo salsa verde. Sesame seared tuna lettuce wraps ($17) aren't really wraps at all. The lettuce acts as a plate for each square of sushi grade yellowfin that's topped with papaya salsa, black bean pico de gallo and smoked chile vinaigrette. Black Angus skirt steak ($24) is so heavily marinated that it has an almost artificial flavor. It's plenty tender, but the intensity of the marinade is off-putting. It's served with oven-dried tomato chipotle salsita, roasted asparagus and borracho beans heavy with bits of pork. Grilled shrimp quesadilla ($17) starts with an open-faced crispy flour tortilla. The shrimp are chile-marinated, and everything is topped with cheese, smoked wild mushrooms and oven-dried tomatoes. Cheese never takes over any dish here. Tacos were disappointing, in large part because the corn tortilla fell apart. We ordered slow roasted pork carnitas ($14) and grilled chipotle-marinated sirloin steak ($15) — and both taco fillings seemed a bit dry.
Sweet!: Creamy vanilla caramel flan ($6) is served with whipped cream, fresh berries and a white chocolate pistachio chip. Dark chocolate tamal ($7) is the Mexican version of a chocolate molten cake with caramel fudge sauce and dulce de leche ice cream.
Service: Outstanding. I can't remember a server in a Mexican restaurant who knew the menu quite as thoroughly.
Liquid assets: Among the margaritas and other specialty cocktails is a refreshing prickly pear ($9) and red, rose or white sangria ($9 per glass, $32 per pitcher).
One more thing: Ivy Stark, corporate executive chef for Dos Caminos, has penned a new cookbook with Joanna Pruess: "Dos Caminos Mexican Street Food" ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing), which is scheduled for release Oct. 24. Stark plans to be at the Fort Lauderdale restaurant from Nov. 14 to 16 to meet guests.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun