Our Gourmet: We had to go back to a new favoriteDecember 20. 2016 9:34PM
Agave Azul96 Main St., Nashua; 943-7240; dinemexican.com
Pricing: Appetizers $5-$10; entrees $10-$25; desserts $5. (Approximations based on our checks; no pricing online.)
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m., seven days
The scores for Agave Azul
In this restaurant-review racket, it doesn’t pay to work too far in advance.
A couple of months ago, with a new diet looming on our horizon, Mrs. Gourmet and I decided that we should cram all of our research for our next three reviews into two consecutive weekends in order to get our dining in before the switch to bread and water. (OK, the diet wasn’t that drastic, but we knew we’d be off three-course dinners for a while.)
Our plan went off without a hitch for the first two reviews. We ate, I wrote, and that was that. But then things came up, and I never got around to writing the third review (this one) about Agave Azul Grill and Cantina in Nashua. Weeks later, with my deadline approaching, I realized that my recollections of the restaurant and the food were so fuzzy that I was bound to leave something out or get something wrong. So we had to go back and refresh our memories.
Mrs. G was busy this Sunday evening and couldn’t join me for the return trip to Agave Azul, so the beneficiary of my procrastination was The Bottomless Pit, our now-college-senior son whose ability to pack away food used to be a regular feature of this column. He was happy to join dear old Dad for a beer and some terrific food at what has now become our favorite Mexican restaurant.
Agave Azul is a big place, occupying two storefronts on Nashua’s Main Street. The bar is on one side, the restaurant on the other.
In a word, the ambience is authentic. All the staff members we met were Hispanic. The decor is definitely Spanish/Mexican, with earth tones, terra cotta tiles and big, chunky furniture, but without the sombreros, serapes, maracas and other trappings found in most Mexican restaurants.
The menu, a large, colorful spiral-bound laminated document that goes on and on, features all the Americanized Mexican dishes one might expect, but also has a significant number of specialty dishes that go far beyond the old standards.
Once we were seated, we quickly received a basket of fresh, warm tortilla chips and small bowls of a mildly spicy red salsa and a delicious, slightly sweet white salsa. (Unusual in these parts, it’s typically made with a mayonnaise base, milk and spices, we later learned.)
On our first visit, Mrs. G and I started with Jalapenos con Queso ($7.75) — several big cheese-stuffed roasted jalapeno peppers wrapped in bacon. They were smoky, gooey and just moderately spicy (with one memorable exception). Served with a creamy chipotle salsa, these were head and shoulders above the deep-fried poppers you see on many appetizer menus.
When I returned with The Bottomless Pit, we spied a cart piled high with avocados, limes and other fixings near the host’s station. A quick look at the menu confirmed what that was all about, so we placed an order for Fresh Guacamole ($8) as our appetizer. A young lady wheeled the cart to our table and got to work, mixing the avocados with chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos to our order in a big, heavy cast-iron pot. Watching the process was almost as good as enjoying the finished product.
On both trips, we ordered the same dishes from the Specialties section of the menu: Molcajete ($23) and Acapulco Bahia ($15.50). (We could have ordered something else the second time, but these dishes were great, and I was on a memory-jogging mission.)
The Molcajete is a rich, spicy, saucy combination of sliced chicken and beef, chunks of chorizo sausage, scallions, cactus (yes, cactus, in long, thin strips), avocado, onions, jalapenos, limes and oranges. It’s served in a heated version of the cast-iron pot in which the guacamole was made.
The meats are lightly seasoned and thinly sliced but perfectly tender and moist. The flavors of all these ingredients meld perfectly, and the avocado and chunks of mild white cheese melt and blend into a wonderful sauce as you dive deeper into the hot bowl.
This fantastic dish is served with hot tortillas so you can mix and match ingredients in your own mini burritos when you’re not eating straight from the pot. The generous serving is definitely big enough for two, especially when you add in the sides of rice and refried beans that come with it.
The Acapulco Bahia is a much lighter dish, combining shrimp, scallops and chicken with rice, green and yellow squash, onions, tomatoes and bell peppers, topped with just a drizzle of a fairly thin cheese sauce. Great flavors, mildly spiced, and all combined in a colorful presentation. I ordered this one on our first trip, and even though I felt like I was eating light and healthy, I still could finish only half of the dish before packing the rest up to enjoy the next day. (The accompanying side salad and the aforementioned appetizers might have been factors.)
Mrs. G and I finished our first visit by sharing a delicious flan ($4.95), but TBP and I skipped dessert on the return trip.
A couple of things to note:
First, don’t let the restaurant’s online presence confuse you. When you go to the website, you’ll find that Agave Azul is apparently part of a family of restaurants called Mi Carreta with locations in Virginia and North Carolina (not to be confused with the La Carreta group here in New Hampshire), and the Nashua location is listed as Casa Mezcal. We don’t know about its corporate structure, but from what we can tell, this place has been called Agave Azul since 2014. We can say that the online menu is comparable to the one in the restaurant, although there are no prices online.
Secondly, don’t order a “large” draft beer if you’re the driver in your party. I did on our first visit, and my jaw hit the table when the waiter delivered a 36-ounce tankard. In a world where small and large usually translate to 16 and 22 ounces, this one was the kind of thing you see beermaids hefting six at a time at Oktoberfest in Munich. I quickly handed the keys over to Mrs. G. (When I relayed this info to TBP, his college-kid eyes lit up and he decided that he had to see for himself.) And by the way, the price for the 36-ounce Dos Equis was $11; a 16-ounce was $4.
Pricing was very reasonable for the quantity and quality of the food, and we were very impressed by the atmosphere, the menu and the friendliness of the staff at Agave Azul. We will definitely be back. Again.