Andrew Tonry
Nuestra Cocina

2135 SE Division

232-2135

What makes you love something? I mean why do I love the show Arrested Development, or the jeans from the Gap, or the coffee from Stumptown? Simple--because they give me what I want. Why do I love certain restaurants and think others are just okay? Of course it's ingenuity, atmosphere, selection or a combination thereof, but even more than that, it's something unspoken--an ambiguous comfort level combined with maybe one or two dishes that really light my fire.

Nuestra Cocina, the new restaurant that's taken over Nourishment's space, is good--but it lacks that special something. Upon arriving, the hostess tried to bully us into sitting at the bar (which seemed odd); we refused, opting for one of the many open tables in the dining area. Perusing the menu, I found standard upscale Mexican dishes, which drew my skepticism considering the vast number of cheap, delicious taquerias in town. There are perks, however, to spendier Mexican restaurants, and in Nuestra's case it's great margaritas and sangria, fresh-tasting seafood, and moist, handmade tortillas.

The meal started off with said tortillas and a spicy sauce. This was good, but my boyfriend and I both dripped red chili sauce all over our shirts, which is always a bitch. As an appetizer we ordered the red snapper ceviche and the baby spinach salad with bacon and chipotle vinaigrette. The ceviche was tasty; the fish had a rich flavor and smooth texture that went well with the lime marinade, tomatoes, chilies, and cilantro. It was, however, pricey at seven bucks. The salad, on the other hand, was a steal at six dollars, at least in terms of quantity--it was easily big enough for two. Unfortunately in terms of quality, it was good, but not great; the dressing was bland, the chunks of bacon were overwhelming, and it was sprinkled with a ton of cojita cheese, which I don't like.

For dinner, we had the Gorditas Rellenas and Bifstek a la Parilla. The table next to us had the exact same thing... which seemed to say something about how appetizing the other dishes sounded (one item is described as meatballs with mint and rice in a rich broth with vegetables). Anyway, the gorditas were pleasing, using the signature tortillas and stuffing them with beautiful avocado slices, black beans, roasted chiles, and again cojita. The green chile sauce the dish came with was spectacular, probably homemade, and the combination of ingredients went together well. After a while, though, it was too salty, and I wished the chiles had more of a presence. The Bifstek was a sliced piece of tip steak with a sauce made from Guajillo peppers, served with a side of pinto beans and a few grilled vegetables. The steak was really good, and the sauce was outstanding, but the meal itself just wasn't that exciting. It was, after all, just a plate of meat and beans.

The restaurant's atmosphere is comforting, with an open-air kitchen, warm colors, and intimate tables. The service was great, our waitress couldn't have been nicer, and all the food was well-timed and aesthetically pleasing. But Nuestra just isn't doing anything new. Their homemade sauces, tortillas, and margaritas are great, but beyond that, the menu needs more spark in order to really start blazing.