Saturday, July 26, 2008

La Terraza

Nashville Restaurants and Food
La Terraza
5751 Nolensville Rd.

The Mexican restaurant scene in Nashville is exploding. A drive down Nolensville Road often reveals the sprouting of a new Taqueria or Panaderia. The Taqueria trucks are moving into more permanent surroundings in new buildings. It all means that the competition is heating up. La Terraza brought much to the plate when it opened in 2000. In 2008 it’s a different scene. On that note we visited on a recent Sunday, our first time out.

The interior is colorful and a bit over the top. The street and countryside scene is bright and accented by arches and tiled floors. The staff is geared up and ready to go. The open kitchen reveals fast moving chefs in a uniform of red shirts and baseball caps. Waitresses quickly pick up a new table and take the order.

The menu is huge at La Terraza. It covers seafood, grilled meat, Taqueria favorites, and Mexican-American classics. The place is also quite kid friendly, from the special children’s menu to the wide open spaces. Families can spread out and enjoy the meal. That was happening in droves as the noon hour approached. It was a festive and relaxed atmosphere with a diverse mix of Latinos and a variety of other ethnicities in the crowd.

I went for the Parrillada Especial. It’s a grilled combo plate with steak, pork chop, chicken and chorizo. The thin cut meats are prepared in a special marinade according to the menu. There is no doubt they are dancing on a charcoal grill. That comes through loud and perhaps a bit too clear. Thin cut meat is fine, but it has to retain some juice. These cuts were dry and tasting too much of the fire. I like grilled food a lot but you need to be careful with the char. It was just around the edges but it dominated all flavors, proving to be a little bitter. Any evidence of marinade was hard to find.

The toughest thing about Mexican-American food is the ingredients. Everyone is going to have frijoles. You need to make sure yours are top notch. We found the refried beans at La Terraza to be rather bland. The rice wasn’t much better. The presentation is fine and the slice of avocado and the lime on the plate a good touch.

We started with a good rich, red salsa. However, I soon found the Veggie Eater dumping that salsa on her plate of food. Never a good sign.

Veggie Eater: A loyal reader recently noted that we always appear to be referencing the need for the food we eat to be “spiced up” or “zipped up.” Point taken. I will freely admit to liking “hot” food. However, I really don’t usually put additional stuff on my refried beans, but found I was unconsciously adding salsa as they had virtually no flavor. Ditto for the rice; although fluffy, it didn’t have much flavor. Although I found the flavor of the salsa to be fresh, it was devoid of virtually all texture; there were no discernable parts of items used to make salsa. It appears to have been pureed to a slightly thick liquid. The Chile Relleno tasted fresh and had a slight zing to it. The enchilada’s corn tortilla was not a mushy mess, which was a big plus. However, the enchilada sauce was nothing special. In my mind what separates good Mexican food from great Mexican food are the spices. It doesn’t have to be hot, but it does have to have the unexpected twist. Pepita salsa; salsa made with tomatillos, rice generously seasoned with cilantro, beans given a smokey earthiness by using chipotles, veggie enchiladas stuffed with fresh spinach, mole made from 5 different kinds of dried and roasted chilies pestled into a delicate powder…these are just a few of the simple things that have elevated other meals from good to great. Granted, we may not be able to find the hidden jewel in one visit, but there was nothing that suggested there was buried treasure to be found.

Meat Eater: This is only one visit. And that menu is so huge we might have just seen an off day. They do apparently have other varieties of salsa available, although we didn’t see them listed so perhaps you have to ask. La Terraza set the standard for Mexican seafood in town several years back and they have many fans. Still, it’s the subpar beans and rice that worries us. It’s the type of thing a top restaurant should have down. We paid $31 with tax, tip and two drinks.
La Terraza on Urbanspoon


Sunny Lea said...

Oh, but I love La Terraza!

Yes, on the "blandness" scale, they could use some help, but they have great variety, and very good margaritas!

I love their tortas, and their fajitas arrive with enough food to feed you for days.

My husband, who keeps kosher, loves the extended seafood choices.

Anonymous said...

You didn't arrive on a 'bad day.'

BP said...

Terraza has definitely slipped in the last couple of years, but I still love the Grilled Alambres.

My favorite Mexican place is kind of across Nolensville Rd from there - El Manjar. Give it a shot!

Eric and Katie said...

sunny lea...we know how you feel. We have a local joint up here that used to be great and now is just okay. We still go though because it's fun and kind of a habit. bp...that's really funny, we passed El Manjar coming up and put it on our list of places to check out. With your recommendation we'll move it to the top.

Lannae said...

Hey E & K, we used to really like La Terraza years ago, and it was packed. I think they changed ownership a year or 2 ago, and last year it was kind of empty and only so-so. We have not gone back since.

RHPT said...

My wife and I enjoyed La Terraza until our last trip there when she found a dead cockroach in her chimichanga. So, yeah. We're never going back.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could give this a ZERO. The waitress just rung me up for a $500 charge instead of a $50 charge. She waited 20 minutes to tell us, didn't void the charge immediately, and refused to tell the manager. When we finally spoke to the manager, he didn't even comp the meal and didn't seem concerned about this issue. We eat her once weekly and this is how they treat their regular customers. HORRIBLE!!!! Don't eat here unless you want to be charge $500 for no reason and then not have anyone care. This is the Nolensville Road location. The manager was completely rude and didn't even care.