Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Azul 17: A First Visit

Azul 17 is slowly opening the kitchen, and we stepped in last week to take a peek.

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.


Work in progress said...

As soon as I can find a babysitter for a night, me and the mrs will be heading here for dinner. Snowden River Parkway is turning out to be quite the corridor for interesting local places. Victoria, Bon Fresco, House of India, An Loi, Pho Dat Thanh, and now Azul.

BeerGuy said...

Re: Snowden --- And soon Wegman's (plus Frisco Grille :))

dzoey said...

I'm glad you tried the Guacamole. I was curious if it was worth the $11.

Porter said...

Can't wait to try it out. From the descriptions, I'm envisioning a Mexican Red Maple (on Snowden rather than Charles).

It's a bold move to open a restaurant/club/lounge in that location, but someone has to be the first (we seem to finally have the pub scene covered).

Azul 17 said...

I wanted to thank Howchow for visiting us during our soft open. We appreciate the feedback we have recieved and enthusiasm for our new concept. I wanted to let you know we have fine tuned our guacomole recipe recently and would love you give it a taste. Jessie X was in the other night and mentioned a handful of key bloggers that I should invite to the official VIP Grand Opening Party happening this Thursday, Oct. 8 from 4-6pm at Azul 17 (Invite only). The chamber will be performing a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4pm sharp and after 7pm the restaurant and lounge is open to public to kick off our Grand Opening Weekend. We look forward to sharing our special day with you.

HowChow said...

Thanks for the invite. I work in the city, and I'm not back by 6 pm. But it sounds like a fun night. We will definitely be back.

Anonymous said...

We left after 20 minutes last Friday. We had expected to wait, but we didn't expect to have no wait staff in the lounge area, nor did we expect to have to bus our own table in the same area. We could never get to the bar, either. The staff was very unfriendly, and after it became apparent that they were in no way going to meet their quoted wait time, we left. The whole experience was a bad one, and it'll be quite awhile before we go back. We ended up at Frisco Grille, where we had a great dinner ... shoulda started there!

Jus-Spin said...

I am so happy to finally have a place like this in Columbia. I'm tired of the endless pubs, sports bars and chain restaurants. This is the perfect place to take your date or relax with friends. The margaritas are out of this world. On Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, top-notch DJs mix live to give you the full lounge experience. Drink, Dance, Dine or unwind all in one brilliant place!

We truly enjoyed our trips to Azul 17 and I’m sure we will be there quite often in the future. I highly recommend Azul 17 for the food, service, music, atmosphere and best of all LOCATION!!

Anonymous said...

I have been here twice, once for just snacks and drinks at the bar and another for dinner. Overall I feel this is a great restaurant. It reminded me a lot of Oyamel in DC.

I am Colombian, and also know the difference between TexMex and authentic mexican. I really really like what they did to the menu. From my understanding the owners are Mexican and Cuban, and the menu reflects this.

For example the Mojito is made with Mexican ingredients for a very unique take on the classic drink. Then there are other surprises like using very hard to find Colombian juices for their drinks. (read, colOmbian, NOT ColUmbian.) Ever had Maracuya, Lulo, or GuanĂ¡bana juice? Well they use it in their Margaritas with very good effect. They even do the authentic Mexican Paloma drink which uses Mexican Squirt soda as an ingredient.

The food is a mix of TexMex and authentic. The street style tacos are exactly as anyone who has had real Mexican tacos would expect. Small corn tortillas with NO cheddar cheese or sour cream poured on top. Just good meat and toppings. If you want cheese on your taco it is available of course.

I also loved the Tacos and the guacamole is defintiely super fresh and delicious.

We tried the Churro desert and enjoyed it, but be warned you get a crap-ton of Churros, it was like Churro Lincoln logs.

The prices are very fair. I appreciate a city-style restaurant in the suburbs, and absolutely love what they do with the margaritas. Normally I hate Tequilla but their Margaritas were so good I didn't mind the Tequilla at all.

Many Americans do not know the difference between texmex and authentic mexican and walk in here expecting Don Pablos or Taco Bell or something. People, that is NOT authentic. That is NOT Mexican food. Here you can get a little of both and if you can't appreciate that then by all means go have some cheddar cheese drenched sour cream saturated flour tortilla monstrosity at TGI Fridays or something.