I'm pretty excited by the new Mexican restaurant on Snowden River Parkway because it's trying something different -- a mix of real Mexican recipes, trendy "small plates" and a modern, classy design out here in Columbia.
Our first dinner was great fun, and I didn't even try the tacos, which sound spectacular and which Dzoey commended last week. The official grand opening will be about October 8. For now, they're serving appetizers and small dishes, gradually adding the main courses, desserts and the full spread. You start with great chips. You have to love that, and I loved both of our "platos pequenos" -- a paprika-spiced shrimp in camarones al periodico and grilled cactus with vegetables and tortillas in napalito asado. The napalito particularly was excellent as we made little tacos of cactus and the stewed vegetables at the bottom of the bowl. This kitchen aims high with unusual spices and layered flavors.
(We're so "Top Chef" these days. Mrs. HowChow loves to say "layered flavors.")
I hope the ceviche is popular. I liked the tuna, but I'm a tough judge of ceviche because I haven't eaten anything in years as delicious as the three-fish plate
at Alma de Cuba. I also hope that Azul 17 does something to improve the guacamole. Eleven bucks is a real price. We got an avocado mixed with some vegetables and queso fresco. Nice, but not a real dish like the tableside at Rosa Mexicano or places that have strong or unique flavors. Mrs. HowChow makes her signature dish with goat cheese, pistachios and chipotle that has a strength that I didn't get in the Azul 17 "rojo" ceviche. It took her months to work out her ratios, and she still has the advantage of tasting the guacamole as she makes it up. The Azul 17 waitress was really nice, but I will try other dishes before returning to the guacamole. (I also didn't know why our "rojo" was $1.50 more than the "traditional" when the only difference appeared to be a few tablespoons of queso fresco.)
Overall, I'm really excited. The Azul people were friendly. The decor is cool without being affected -- a mix of modern, but comfortable seating with Mexican paintings and neon lights. The menu will eventually have a million tequila variations, but they also have some non-alcoholic touches like agua frescas and horchata that shows they're looking for authentic Mexican, not just a party scene.
Definitely give Azul 17 a try. This isn't a cheap joint. You're going to average $10 each even for the little dishes, so it's $40 quick for two and that's without a margarita. But it looks like a special place for Howard County, and I'm excited to go back.
Click here for the 2009 "best restaurants" in Howard County.