Old World Mexico lives in Avon
If you1re nostalgic for the good old days, when Curtis1 Kitchen was a greasy spoon that fed a primarily local population, Agave isn1t the place for you. On the other hand, if you1re looking to step into Old World Mexico, with all of the rustic charm that implies, Agave has something to offer.Agave, named after the plant that is the source of that magical elixir, tequila, is the new restaurant venture (with an after-hours night club) of Richard Wheelock, owner of La Cantina in Vail.The former Delmar, Calif. native has found a faithful following at La Cantina, offering up a selection of Baja and Sonora-style Mexican food.3La Cantina has experienced a lot of success, Wheelock said. 3But so many people consider it to be part of the bus station, not a restaurant, and we wanted to do something more. We also had the desire to provide an alternative Mexican restaurant for the locals in Avon.Agave has an extensive menu with two distinctive personalities: La Cantina favorites and almost Mexican fusion alternatives. In fact, the menu is divided down the middle, segregating the two sides. Before delving into the menu, though, patrons have the opportunity to feast on fresh flour tortillas, hot off the grill, prepared by abuelita in the front. They arrive at the table in small quantities, ensuring that they1re always warm. The house salsa is true Mexi-style, with a texture reminiscent of the traditional molcajete, or mortar and pestle. It has a healthy kick, but other options (a green salsa and a taco sauce) are available for the especially polite.Appetizers run the gamut, with expected selections, like guacamole ($5), taquitos ($5), and Mahi Mahi ceviche served with lime-chile aioli ($6). Executive Chef Josh Brass, who has taken his inspiration from Rick Bayless, has also added some unexpected twists and turns. (Bayless is the American guru of fine Mexican dining.) The entremes de jicama ($4) is a refreshing salad of jicama, cucumber and oranges. My personal favorite was the ensalada de nopales asados ($5), a roasted cactus salad served with queso fresco, a fresh Mexican cheese. Large pieces of roasted garlic can be found throughout the salad, and the bite of that stinky rose blends nicely with the mellow cactus.Margaritas are free flowing, with none of the sour-mix aftertaste that plagues tequila aficionados. Their house margarita is terrific, and they1ve nailed the consistency of the strawberry margarita. Agave also serves a 3margtini, which is a margarita served up in a martini glass. The small vessel packs a boozey punch. Wheelock usually drinks the house margarita.3I like to have something I can drink a quantity of, he said.The entrees offer the same kind of diversity as the appetizers. In addition to the staples of La Cantina, like tacos, chile rellenos, and enchiladas, Brass has added a myriad of interesting dishes. The pipian verde de pollo con huitlacoche ($15) entails a half a chicken, rendered in its own juices and finished in the oven, giving it a crispy skin. Sitting in corn sauce, the chicken is topped with the Mexican equivalent of morel mushrooms and a green pumpkin seed mole sauce. The chicken is succulent and the sauces complement the richness of the huitlacoche. The pescado de chile con crema poblana ($19), is a chile-crusted filet of fish, served with a poblano cream sauce amongst a smattering of roasted yams. The yams are cooked so that they are crisp on the outside and creamy inside.Being a boy from the South, Brass1 favorite dish is the costillas de puerco con verdolagas ($20), pork baby back ribs braised in a tomatillo sauce with new potatoes. Along the same vein is the puerco asado al adobo de chile ancho ($18), an ancho-marinated pork tenderloin served with roasted plantain (a starchy, less-sweet banana) chips. The pork takes on the consistency of brisket.Wheelock1s own favorite is the chile-crusted fish.3It has a little spice to it, and I like that, as well as the delicate aspect of the fish. We use whatever fresh fish is available at the time, usually wahoo or halibut.The only thing that has surprised both Wheelock and Brass is the immediate positive response from the community.3Josh has done a great job with the menu, said Wheelock. 3We do offer some unique things, and some people aren1t so sure about them. They1re not for everyone. But we have enough of the traditional things, too.3Traditional Mexican food is more about the sauces, less about putting a vegetable, a meat and a starch on the plate, said Brass. 3We1re focusing on highlighting the fresh flavors of Mexico and the sauces. It1s more about blending the sauces with the right flavors.Agave1s atmosphere is just as important as the food. Dark, rough-hewn beams spiral out from a rock centerpiece that goes from the floor to the ceiling. Each table hosts a ceramic candle holder with an agave cutout, and plants abound, turning each table into its own universe.Agave serves lunch and dinner, and then a transformation occurs<it becomes a night club. At 10 p.m., the music is cranked up and the tables are moved off the dance floor.3We also offer an alternative to going up into Vail for the night life, said Wheelock. 3There1s so many good clubs up in Vail, but there1s nobody that really attempts the club scene here. So we1re doing it. This is something that they do in the cities in Mexico, but isn1t done here.Agave opens at 11 a.m. for lunch with a mostly cantina menu, and serves their full dinner menu from 4:30 until 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended for peak times. For more information, call 748-8666.Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.