The Painted Burro, his new Mexican restaurant in Davis Square, Somerville.
Chef Cassinelli is also the owner of Pizzeria Posto, which is located in Davis Square too. I have long been a big fan of Posto so was excited to check out The Painted Burro. I recently had the opportunity, as a media guest, to visit the Burro on two occasions, on consecutive Thursday evenings, in part to assess the impact of their new soundproofing efforts.
The restaurant, which occupies the spot of the former Gargoyles, was very busy on both nights, and on the first Thursday, there was even a one hour wait for seating at 8pm. It is a medium-sized restaurant, with a long bar at the front. It is a very open room, much more than it once had been as Gargoyles. On that first Thursday, it was quite loud, and seemed as if it contained twice the amount of people as it actually did. You often expect a festive Mexican restaurant and bar to be noisy, but this seemed overboard. Chef Cassinelli understood this issue and took a series of measures to mute the noise.
He consulted New England Soundproofing and initially installed sound paneling under the chairs and tables, though that ended up not helping much. After further consultation, they installed sound proofing panels, which were expensive, on the ceiling and walls. Some of those panels will eventually be painted with murals by local artist Raul Gonzalez, who also painted an existing mural at the Burro. So, on the second Thursday, after this additional sound proofing was completed, there was a noticeable difference in the noise level. It will never be a quiet restaurant, but the noise is at a much more manageable level, enabling conversation with the guests at your table. The panels are very unobtrusive, and blend well into the decor, and will blend even more once murals are painted on some of them.
Margaritas are served in a misshapen old-fashioned-type glass rather than the usual margarita glass. The Margarita de la Casa ($8) is made with Agavales Blanco, Combier and lime juice and had a very pleasant and balanced flavor. The Margarita Royale ($16) is made with Kah Organic Blanco, Damiana liquer (which allegedly has an aphrodisiacal effect) and lime juice. It had a more unique flavor, a bit more herbal, and was once again a balanced and tasty cocktail. The El Jefe ($10) is a nice Mezcal cocktail made with orange bitters and homemade grenadine. This had a bit of a smoky flavor with citrus notes and hints of sweetness. The Burro Colada ($11) is a frozen cocktail made with Ron Virgin, Cream of Coconut and Cayenne Pineapple Juice. The addition of the cayenne elevated this cocktail, providing a delicious spicy kick on the finish, balancing out the initial chill. A great variation on the traditional pina colada.
The bar also stocks over 20 beers ($5-$15), about half of them hailing from Mexico, available in Draft, Tin, Ballenas and Bottles. Five of their beers are from New England, including the Slumbrew Happy Sol made by the Somerville Brewing Company. The wine list is small, with only 11 choices, all available by the glass or bottle, and most reasonably priced from $24-$32 per bottle. You'll find an Argentina Malbec, a Spanish Tempranillo, California Pinot Noir and two wines from Mexico. They carry the 2009 L.A. Cetto Chenin Blanc ($24) and 2006 L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Nebbiolo ($52). I did not try either of these wines but am going to do so on my next visit. It is very rare to find a Mexican wine locally so it is very cool to know the Burro carries two.
As you peruse the menu, you will be brought chips and salsa. The salsa is mild but with a rich tomato and herb flavor. If you prefer a spicier salsa, I suspect they would find something to please you.
Another refreshing choice is the "Chingon" Cucumbers ($5), which are small pieces of cucumber with watermelon radish, pickled grapes, cilantro, lemon, chile, and sea salt. The cucumbers pieces have a nice crispness to them, and a mild, citrus taste. They probably could use a bit more chile, to add more heat, though not everyone might like them spicier.
I also had a Side of Oaxaca Cheese Grits ($4), which are made with white corn meal, milk, Oaxaca cheese, roasted poblanos, sauteed white onion, oregano, and Cotija cheese. Quite an interesting and delicious take on grits. Creamy, with enticing cheese flavors, hints of spice and a little crunch from the onions. Cotija cheese is one of my favorite cheeses and I think placing it atop any dish of grits would be a great idea.
Another good-sized dish, this concoction would convert any meatloaf hater. It was moist, bursting with interesting flavors, a nice saltiness from the pork, and the almonds added a delightful texture and nuttiness. The mole was very spicy and enhanced the allure of this dish. I would love to see this mole, with its spiciness and umami, used in other dishes as well. I was thoroughly impressed with this meatloaf and highly recommend it.
Service was excellent and overall, Chef Cassinelli has created another winning restaurant. An excellent and exciting drinks program, a creative and compelling food menu, and plenty of good-sized and reasonably priced entrees. And a meatloaf that even haters would enjoy. They also serve Brunch, which I will be checking out over the weekend, and I'll report back on that as well.
Addendum (9/20): I have since learned that Executive Chef Danny Bua, Jr. is actually the mastermind behind the superb Yucatan Meatloaf. Chef Bua made a trip to the Yucatan region and was inspired by a similar dish sold by local street vendors. So when he returned home, he created his own version and certainly has created a winner.