Geckos' Tex-Mex is Unreal in the Best Sense of the Word
You know that mood when nothing will do but Tex-Mex food--I believe that this is our bodies telling us to eat something with cheese melted on it. That big noise you heard last week was my friends' bodies and mine shouting for some enchiladas, which soon brought us to Geckos
When it comes to Tex-Mex cuisine, there's a plus side to living in a town like Baltimore, where there's scant history of great Tex-Mex cuisine--it means freedom from the tyranny of Authenticity. Without having to worry too much about whether what we're eating is authentic, we can actually relax and enjoy it. This freedom also allows a restaurant like the cheerful, multi-level Geckos to find its own comfort level, which has resulted in moderately sized menu peppered with enough innovations to keep adventurous diners interested and enough Tex-Mex standards to satisfy the hidebound.
At least that's what we all came to believe after our first round of margaritas. The menu offered 14 choices in all, including such fruity selections as mango, raspberry, passion fruit, and cactus pear ($5.25/$5.75 frozen). These strong nectar-enhanced drinks made us sort of gabby and silly. The passion fruit was our favorite, maybe because it was so summery and pretty; in another drink, though, pear flavors were overwhelmed by the sour mix.
A complimentary bowl of chips and salsa deftly introduced Geckos take on Tex-Mex. The salsa itself was not very fiery but tomato-fresh, and not saturated with cilantro as is the custom these days. A cup of Chesapeake chili ($5) was filled generously with seafood and had a pleasing peppery flavor, but that was the only flavor it had. The mussels, shrimps, crab, and fish might as well have been tempeh; they simply absorbed the pepper flavor.
From a list of 10 appetizers we chose the mango chipotle barbecue wings ($7.50) and the chilaquiles ($8), tortillas layered with chorizo, black beans, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and salsa. The wings were plump, meaty, sweet, sloppy, and very tasty. We loved them and we kept dipping into the go-with cheddar cheese sauce, even when we ran out of wings. Geckos' version of chilaquiles, a traditional "poor man's dish," is just the thing that would provoke a heated debate about its authenticity--shouldn't it be more like a baked casserole, kind of a Mexican lasagna? Or is that the Tex-Mex variation, with the original being closer to Geckos version, a kind of glorified nachos? What mattered to us was that layering ingredients into the chips sure beats throwing them on top.
Vegetarians have a handful of choices for main dishes, and our token meat-shunner chose very wisely when she picked a wild mushroom and cheese enchilada ($9), in which tomato tortillas were packed with shiitake, cremini, and portobello mushrooms, as well as sun-dried tomatoes and feta and goat cheese. There was dense, woody pleasure in this superb preparation, and the side portion of firm black beans and aromatic rice added nutritive balance.
The delectable mango chipotle that we liked so much on our chicken wings reappeared in a roasted chicken enchilada ($11). While this lacked the impact of the mushroom enchilada (that thrill of finding a great new dish), it was happily devoured by my companion.
Less successful was a quesadilla with jerked chicken and sweet potatoes ($10). The potatoes and chicken were cut in too-big pieces--dicing would have helped--but, more significantly, the jerking just didn't seem to take. The chicken lacked not only fire (I'm no pepper-head) but jerk flavor. More than making up for these deficiencies was an accompanying portion of mango salsa--fresh, sweet pieces of mango mixed with cilantro, onions and sweet peppers. Big yum.
Four special entrées were offered on the night we dined at Geckos, including pan-seared scallops ($14), baked wild rockfish ($15), and chile-crusted filet mignon ($20). My friend chose the pork chop ($13), which Geckos braised with musky adobo sauce and accompanied with mashed potatoes flavored mildly with horseradish. The big chop was tender and juicy, evenly cooked, with that musky, dark-vinegary adobo taste.
We tried homemade mango ice cream in place of the vanilla that was suggested for the special apple crisp ($6), a bum decision. The not very crispy crisp would have been helped by something creamier than the too-icy homemade stuff. I promised to make special mention of Geckos' tequila Key lime pie ($3.95), which my friend received like the elusive golden fleece for which she'd been searching so long. She loved especially that it was tart and firm, and wanted to call her mother right away to tell her the good KLP news.