Viva, Sin Carne
New Eatery Is the Real Mexican Revolution
This location is closed
Sin carne means "without meat." That's the idea the restaurant Sin Carne wants you to have when you go in for a meal. This makes sense--the new eatery is the brainchild of the same folks who bring you Puffins, the Pikesville vegetarian/seafood restaurant that has pleased meat-eschewers for the better part of two decades. But don't let the name deter you, carnivores--the veggie-friendly establishment offers plenty of dishes featuring chicken and seafood. The only meats missing from its menu are red ones. Maybe the restaurant should call itself Sin Carne Rojo.
Sin Carne inhabits the area once taken by Puffins' bar. It is not a large space--when our party arrived for some vegetarian Tex-Mex cuisine, we were told that all of Sin Carne's tables were taken; we had to sit in Puffins' dining room. This news did not thrill us, as the Mexican restaurant's area is a nice, comfortable nook. But if we are anything, we are good sports.
Seated in Puffins, we were given menus for both restaurants; we opted to limit ourselves to Sin Carne's offerings. After a round of drinks (the virgin frozen strawberry margarita [$4] was very tasty) and complimentary salsa and chips, we scanned the menu and noticed that while many of its entrées are in the $9$10 range, some go as high as $12, and the highest are $14. We stayed with the low end of the menu.
The first thing we ordered was the mesquite-smoked shrimp quesadilla ($10), which was wrapped in the smallest flour tortilla I've ever seen. We wondered if the quesadilla would be at all filling, and it wasn't. Inside the tortilla were vegetables, shrimp, and cheese. I can't tell you what the vegetables were; they were grilled beyond all recognition. The shrimp was hidden under an almost overpowering mélange of spices and Sin Carne's delicious blend of Tex-Mex cheeses. The cheeses were so tasty that they, along with the chef's creative, liberal use of a variety of peppers (red, green, and poblano), endeared the miniscule quesadilla to us. The kitchen has got a lot of gumption.
We tried another quesadilla, this one featuring mesquite-smoked chicken ($8). By now the too-grilled veggies and yummy cheeses were no surprise, but we loved the addition of roasted poblano and red peppers and caramelized onion. The chicken was redolent of mesquite, and its flavor was wonderfully intense. It was, perhaps, a bit too spicy for one diner's liking, but the menu offers fair warning: "Proceed at your own risk!"
Next up was the only truly vegetarian dish we ordered, the gigantic grilled- vegetable burrito ($10). Bring a doggie bag for this one. Its large flour shell was filled to bulging with beans, charred tomato, poblanos, red peppers, caramelized onion, spicy red chile sauce, and cheese. As is Sin Carne's wont, the vegetables were grilled senseless, but the thankfully hearty burrito was delicious. Its accompaniments, mildly spiced refried beans and a terrifically moist and flavorful Mexican rice, also satisfied.
We couldn't resist the lure of the "rockin' fish taco" ($12), the most expensive item we tried. This entrée consisted of achiote-rubbed rockfish served on soft-taco shells. The rockfish was grilled to perfect tenderness, and its mild flavor was enhanced by the achiote and the side dishes: savory beans and rice, taco fixings, crisp mesclun greens, red-ripe tomatoes, those wonderful Tex-Mex cheeses, salsa verde, guacamole, and cool sour cream. No, $12 ain't exactly cheap, but we definitely got our money's worth.
If you're a vegan you can still enjoy Sin Carne's bold, new approach to Tex-Mex dining. In all of its entrées Sin Carne will substitute the cheese, fish, chicken or seafood with soy cheese or tofu if you like. And all of the tortillas are made with vegetable shortening.
Sin Carne has real culinary cojones--some might call the place plumb loco. But it takes a brave spirit to paint your restaurant's walls blood red while serving tofu. And by showing real creativity in flavor combinations and unique blends of spices, and by being willing to leave beef off of the menu, Sin Carne separates itself from the Tex-Mex-chain wannabes. It's not perfect: The veggies could stand a little less time on the grill, and the quesadillas should be considered appetizers, not meals. But the atmosphere is warm, the service is solid, the spirit is genial, and the concept is nothing short of revolutionary.
My main regret was having to sit in sister-eatery Puffins' dining room. The manager seemed to sense this; on our way out he shouted, "Next time, try the other dining room!" We will.