On a Monday evening, so few cars were parked in Jalapeno's giant parking lot, I thought it might be closed. Only two tables in the huge dining area held diners, and the IT Guy and I had unobstructed views of the decor melange, which included bright-colored walls, a horse-and-cowboy print leaning against a horse-and-cowboy mural, a print of Gustav Klimt's stunning Life and Death, and a derivative Klimt-esque painting on an opposite wall. Over accordion-heavy Spanish-language music from the PA bouncing around the nearly empty room, we talked about how the IdahoPTV show Rick Bayless' Mexico: One Plate at a Time causes us major Mexican food cravings. In light of a recent episode, the IT Guy went for carnitas ($11.99). I instead opted for more adventure and ordered what our solicitous server explained was new: the Leticia's special--grilled cod fillets over a bed of rice and topped with grilled spinach, tomatoes and capers in cream sauce, served with a guacamole salad ($13.99).
The fishy smell reached our table before the server carrying our plates did. A white buttery puddle of cod pieces, tomato and spinach was surrounded by pale piles of orange rice and grayish-purple refried beans, but no guacamole salad. And nary a caper graced the pool of pescado, though that may not have helped the bland dish. I pushed the plate away after a bite.
The IT Guy spooned a few big, brown carnitas nuggets onto a steaming flour tortilla. The pork was dry and as flavorless as the fish. We had gobbled up the addictive salty salsa that accompanied the complimentary basket of tortilla chips. No bottles of Tabasco or Tapatio graced our table, and if there had been even a spoonful of hot sauce anywhere in the dining room, we might have tried to salvage the carnitas. As it was, we left most of the food pretty much how it found us.
A return on a Tuesday night offered a study in change. The parking lot was full, ipso facto, the dining room was packed. Rather than test the boundaries of the specials at Jalapeno's again, I ordered a simple California burrito ($10.75) and a taco salad with chicken ($7.99) to go. At home, a huge tinfoil packet revealed a crunchy home-fried flat-bottom flour tortilla filled with guacamole, sour cream, jack cheese, lettuce and tender white-meat chicken dotted with red chili pepper. The burrito was almost a foot long, and nearly as wide with julienned Angus steak, lettuce and guacamole swaddled in a soft flour tortilla and bathed in a white cheese sauce. Remembering our previous meal, the IT Guy and I tentatively dug in, but found both dishes quite likeable. We even bargained for the remainder of the salad--I acquiesced, but got to take the rest of the burrito for lunch the next day.
Like the Klimt print juxtaposed with the hand-painted copy, Jalapeno's should focus on tried-and-true Mexican food basics instead of trying to paint too far outside of the lines with experimental fare. That big-ass burrito was a total hit.
--Amy Atkins sometimes speaks baby talk to big burritos.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Jalapeno's Bar and Grill.