Señor Tucan' s Serves Up Friendliness and Flavor
This location is closed
Wow!" Sandi said, ogling the tropical-bird décor at Señor Tucan's (10291 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City,  461-4266). "Dorothy would just love this place!" That's because Dorothy, our co-worker, is positively gaga for a bird named Bo, her African gray parrot. And the walls and high ceiling at Señor Tucan's are hung with every sort and shade of faux tropical bird imaginable. It's part of what makes this big, open room inviting, not to mention colorful. I dare say Bo would find it all a bit overwhelming.
C.C., on the other hand, was underwhelmed by the dining experience. Driving home afterward in a pitiless drizzle, she announced, "Really, the best thing was the stuffed plantain. That was delicious." The comment had more to do with the bleak weather, I think, than with the food, which was enjoyable overall. Señor Tucan's is an offshoot of Clarksville's wildly popular El Azteca and, like that diminutive eatery, strives to introduce us to the cuisines of the rest of the Americas.
Let me start by praising Señor Tucan's staff. They welcomed us on the way in and thanked us for coming on the way out. Our server answered our questions cheerfully, even providing Sandi, a stranger to white sangría, a small complimentary glass. We went with the red sangría ($15.50 per pitcher), though, a fine and fruity mix heavy with chunks of fresh limes and apples. There was nothing original about the complimentary chips, though the tongue-searing salsa, tasting of coriander at the start and ending with a peppery punch, contained big hunks of onion and tomato.
For an appetizer, I was leaning toward the black bean soup, but our server steered me to the homemade chicken with vegetables (all soups are $2.75 a cup, $3.75 a bowl). A few thin strips of fried tortilla were the only overtly Latin touch gracing an excellent broth studded with lots of chicken and vegetables. The soup's mild seasoning stood in contrast to the infernally hot stuffed jalapeños ($6.95) appetizer. It was available with either cheese or chicken, but our server obliged us by bringing a split order so we could sample both kinds. And both kinds were hot, especially the jalapeño stuffed with shredded chicken in a red sauce, spicy in its own right. Sandi loved them, while C.C. gave up and I had to slather each bite with sour cream.
The Venezuelan-style stuffed fried plantain ($4.50) provided an oasis of down- home blandness. The sweet, ripe plantain oozed with mild white cheese, a surprisingly good flavor combination. A mite heavy, though, especially if you're the type (as we are) who gorges on chips before the meal.
As for main courses, C.C. went right for the chimichangas, while Sandi and I deployed our taste buds across the large menu, she to one of Señor Tucan's Mexican Favorites, I to one of the Paisano Favorites. Of course, those who love enchiladas, fajitas, taco salads and other Tex-Mex favorites, and also vegetarians who eat dairy, will find a lot to like here. Señor Tucan's also has a large selection of lower-priced lunch specials, served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
That C.C. did not like her beef chimichanga ($9.95) was less a reflection on the dish than a personal quirk. The crisp fried tortilla enclosed a chili-style ground beef, which I found hearty but C.C. had been hoping for her favorite type of chimi, one stuffed with beef tips. Of the side dishes, C.C. and Sandi pronounced the rice undercooked (I didn't think so), and they also agreed on the blandness of the refried beans. Me, I liked their mild smokiness and their shape and consistency--better than the usual mush.
Sandi sampled a traditional dish from the Mexican region of Veracruz, Sabroso Pepian de Pollo ($13.50). Don't believe the menu's assertion that the red sauce is mild. It coated the sliced chicken, which was tossed in sesame seeds, chilis, and herbs, and packed a wallop. You can cool off with the marinated vegetables--beets, celery, carrot, and broccoli--that, along with rice and beans, accompany the dish.
I tried a dish my pal Carmen has been touting for years, Salvadoran pupusas. The cornmeal dough, called masa, enclosed a stuffing of mild cheese and creamy shredded pork. The pupusas, which resembled small, chubby flapjacks, were fried on both sides. Besides the two hearty pupusas, my platter ($9.95) came with sour cream, refried beans, and a pickled cabbage salad called curtido. I was delighted by the homey dish and the contrast of creamy and crunchy.
For dessert, we tried the sopapillas ($2.95) and the flan ($3.25). The latter, smooth and light, was laced with brandy, which delighted C.C. But Sandi preferred the sopapillas, little pillows of fried dough doused in cinnamon and honey. Between bites, Sandi looked across the room at two young women enjoying their frozen cocktails.
"My, they look too young to be drinking margaritas," she said, in a display of motherly concern.
"Maybe they're drinking virgin margaritas," C.C. added, in a hopeful tone.
"Maybe they're virgins drinking margaritas," I said, and then, before the sangria giddiness got the best of us, we hoisted our carryout containers and bid the kindly staff good night.
Open 11 a.m-9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, noon-8:30 p.m. Sunday.