Cuatro: A Meal in Four Acts
By Vanessa Wolf
Act I – The Wanderers: Seeking Foretold Fortune
The Scene: a modest strip-mall restaurant with a knockout view of Foodland.
Stage Left: Enter Waiter, a ubiquitous presence at the restaurant.
If you require a refresher – and even if you don’t – on some basic Spanish, Waiter (serving also as host, bon vivant and raconteur) is there to help.
“What’s the chile verde sauce like?”
“Verde means green.”
Indeed it does.
Additionally, if you were wondering, chile means chili and the sauce is quite spicy, akin to a warm tomatillo salsa.
On this first dip in the pool, we tried the Calamari ($10).
Crisp fried squid are accompanied by a spicy remoulade: it’s standard, by-the-book battered seafood.
The Tijuana Caesar Salad ($8) is equally “what you would expect.” Romaine, croutons and Parmesan cheese arrive dressed in a flavorful homemade dressing. The portion is enough for a light meal.
The Shrimp Mini Tacos ($12)? Meh.
Four shrimp arrive in two dry corn tortillas otherwise loaded to the gills with lettuce and a copious amount of “cilantro crème.”
When hot and freshly made, corn tortillas are some of the best things going. Otherwise, the flavor profile falls somewhere between paper towel and paper plate. Pass.
Act II – The Loner: Crab Seeks Lemon
Enter Waiter: Unprompted, he explains that Cuatro means four, which apparently has something to do with the fact that from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, the entire menu is discounted 25%. Except when it isn’t, which was the case both times we went during those hours.
But we’ll get to that.
Around this time we developed a theory that Cuatro may be a reference to how many sauces accompany each of the dishes.
If the kitchen were an army, the saucier is leading the brigade.
The Crab Cakes ($13) arrive on a vibrant sea of liquid.
There’s so much going on that when the food is set down, there is a lengthy spiel delivered at an auctioneer pace.
The crab cake itself is rather oily with a pronounced “crabby” seafood flavor: acid – particularly lemon – would be nice.
The deluge of buerre blanc upon which they float would have benefited from more wine or vinegar and reminded us of cold Alfredo sauce. The Sriracha, guacamole and tobiko are really just gilding the lily. All in all the dish is acceptable, but hardly crave-able.
Unfortunately, when our bill arrived, no discount had been taken off even though we were earlier told it was “in the system.” When mentioned, the busboy was blamed. This happened again on a subsequent visit.
Maybe a note on the computer or something would help?
Act III – Towards the True Goal: the Hero’s Hopes are Dashed
Cue unnerving music, as this is when things get a little odd.
Waiter is in rare form and bursting with opinions.
“Not everyone that lives here should live here. I wish the tourists would stay and a lot of the ‘locals’ would leave.”
“Get the fish. No? Suit yourself.”
Moving on, the five Spicy Tuna Nachos ($14) arrive with “three award-winning sauces” – truffle aioli, cilantro pesto, and avocado relish. There is also spicy ko choo jang chili sauce, rounding things out to a perfect cuatro.
A veritable flavor explosion, there is a lot going on in that mouthful of wonton, ground raw ahi and award-winning sauces, but it works. Prepare to fight over the fifth one.
The Asian Style Pupu Steak ($19) is a thin cut of New York drenched in a sauce dense with sodium, Sriracha and black pepper flavors.
Preferring less complicated, cleaner flavors, our taste buds were offended: we actually winced a little with each bite. However, if you like your meat powerfully seasoned, this could be your jam.
The Asian Marinated Grilled Steak ($28) looms large. Happily, the restaurant is gracious about splitting and sharing plates.
We liked the accompanying chimichurri sauce, but once again, the cut was thin and cooked beyond our personal sense of medium rare. However, Waiter bristled notably when we mentioned this and told us he “picked out the biggest steak” for us personally. Properly guilted, we spoke of this no more.
Act IV – Result of the Action: the Martyr is Redeemed
On the final visit, Waiter again urged us to try the Fresh Hawaiian Fish of the Day ($28). This time we obliged.
Our dining companion laughed in the face of tradition and ordered Ahi in the Classic Style, with a lemon butter and shrimp topping. The fish arrived very rare as ordered, and – despite being (understandably) discouraged from this combo – it worked.
It was supposed to come with asparagus, but crisp green beans arrived instead. The mashed potatoes that accompany most of the dishes are decadent and rich: this helps or harms depending upon the aforementioned penchant for powerful sauces.
Cuatro fans may disagree, but up until this point we weren’t on board with the hype.
However, the Monchong prepared “Mauiterranean” Style changed all that.
The fish arrived in a huge – at least 12 ounce – portion and was beautifully prepared. The accompanying grilled onions, zucchini and eggplant were a lovely compliment. The mashed potatoes provided the only real decadence as, for once, the preparation was not beating us over the head with a half-dozen spicy, salty, flamboyant sauces. We could eat this all day long.
Moral of the story: they say nothing in life is perfect, but the “Mauiterranean” Monchong comes close.
Cuatro is open from 4 to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line – Vanessa(@mauinow.com)