Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Restaurant Review: El Bracero, Poughkeepsie, NY

I normally don't return home from having dinner at a restaurant and immediately sit down at the computer to type a review for No Gluten, No Problem. Tonight's meal, however, was so utterly disappointing that I'm making an exception. Writing this review is an act of catharsis; a way to emotionally deal with a meal for which we had enormously high hopes, but which ended up leaving us bitterly crestfallen.

As we get acquainted with our new home in the Hudson Valley, we've been occasionally heading out for dinner to sample the area's many ethnic restaurants in search of the foods we like to eat. Tonight, our focus was Mexican. When I did an Internet search for "mexican restaurant Poughkeepsie," almost all of the restaurants - a dozen or more - showed up on a map on the same 1.5-mile stretch of Main Street in the center of the city. I immediately took to calling it Poughkeepsie's Mexican Mile.

While most of the restaurants were actually on Main Street, one was about a block or two off the main drag at one end of the Mexican Mile. Called Mole Mole, it came highly recommended by some of my coworkers at Vassar College. But as I read online reviews of Mole Mole, another restaurant kept getting mentioned as even better: El Bracero. It seemed that El Bracero had earned a reputation for offering Poughkeepsie's best authentic Mexican food (4.5 out of 5 stars on Yelp) - and as you might expect, they offered that food at a hole in the wall neighborhood joint with affordable prices. And so to El Bracero we went.

If you want to avoid all the dirty details of this review, here's the take home lesson: If El Bracero represents Poughkeepsie's best Mexican food, you might be better off going to Taco Bell, or not going out for Mexican at all. Seriously.

As we perused the menu, we noticed a lot wheat flour tortillas (and fried dishes involving wheat flour tortillas), so we had some serious concerns about gluten cross-contamination. I haven't gotten sick...yet (but I'm still within my brief magic window where the food wouldn't have made its way through my system enough to initiate a reaction). We'll see how I fare as the evening wears on...

Kelli ordered Bracero's standard steak fajitas. For myself, given Bracero's Oaxacan roots, I went with a mole chicken. Her fajitas were awful. The steak was cooked beyond well-done, and tasted either re-heated or microwaved. The peppers for the fajita were cut very wide, rather than in narrower strips that would have been more convenient for filling corn tortilla fajitas. The onions were under-caramelized, rather than being sweet, soft and well-sauteed.

My mole chicken came with an average mole sauce. Nothing special at all. The chicken, like the steak, tasted reheated. Both Kelli's and my dinner came with a side of bland white rice, rather than a flavorful Mexican rice as I've come to expect.

The only redeeming quality to the meal was our glasses of sangria. While we've had better, they were still quite good, and certainly better than many sangrias we've had at other restaurants. At $4 per glass (or $15 for a pitcher), the price was right. My only regret was that I didn't gulp down several sangrias before my meal so as to deaden my taste buds (and perhaps lower my expectations).

People keep telling us what great restaurants there are in Poughkeepsie, thanks to the influence of the nearby Culinary Institute of America. At the moment, we're convinced that all of the CIA graduates are getting the heck out of Dodge. If there are diamonds in the rough, waiting to be found - and you know about them - please comment on this post and let us know! Because thus far, we've had a lot of average to below-average meals at local restaurants (with some rare exceptions coming soon in blog posts). Otherwise, Poughkeepsie's dining scene - especially for the gluten-free community - is looking about as bland and unpalatable as our meal tonight at Bracero.

Still hungry (and pulling some cupcakes out of the freezer)... Pete


Gluten Free Steve said...

Sorry to hear you had such a bad meal. That stinks. But I am sure a cupcake can make it all better. Hope you and the girls had a fabulous Christmas!

Amanda on Maui said...

OH! I didn't know you all had moved. I hope you're loving your new home, even if the food isn't so good around there. It's hard finding good Mexican food here as well. I think, though, is that you have to find the one thing that your area does well. Here, in Hawaii, we have a very large Asian community and so that is the food that is done very well.

I understand wanting to come home and vent about a bad meal right away. I've done that after being glutened by a restaurant. I recently had a somewhat bad experience with a local restaurant where the server almost refused to make any changes to the menu items. She blamed the kitchen, but all restaurants should be willing to do their best to accomodate a guest.