Saturday, 23 November 2013

Dark, sinister cocktails at Big El's Latin American Fusion

Kinda like over-eating when you're wearing unforgiving tight pants...
Big Els Latin American Fusion on Urbanspoon
The mixing and matching and combination of different cultures and cuisines seems to be the latest trend on the food industry's catwalk, with the season's hottest style being fusion. This distinctive and daring fashion seems to be donned by chefs of all backgrounds and seen in new restaurants everywhere (opening new eateries follows closely as the next hipster thing to do lately).

This surge of new restaurant openings in our little quiet city is phenomenal - Perth is experiencing the rise of everybody eating, talking about and wanting to take pictures of food more than they do selfies. I've never felt more comfortable pulling out my brick of a DSLR in a restaurant than now.
Tapas and tortillas at Big El's Latin American Fusion
Big El's is the bright new kid on the ever-improving Northbridge block, taking over the premises where Sake Bar once inhabited. Its menu boasts a whole range of fare that's suited to share for a casual weekday dinner or a less greasy alternative to late night kebab pig-outs for hardcore party goers, as the place opens 'til an early 4am on peoples' most loved nights of the week.

Only looking through my pictures now did I notice that we managed to fill the entire table with food for two people. Some reassurance please; this is NOT crazy right?
Mural and ceiling, equally as striking
I came here with a good friend (hardly; we both haven't been arsed to see each other for more than a year) for my earliest dinner ever at 6:30pm. Which is pretty crazy for me - even the place was empty at this time. We dawdled our way through dinner and miraculously, the time was 9:30pm when we checked our phones - I was wondering why we had a few staff members who came more than a few times to ask if we wanted more to eat or drink! It's the casual, relaxed vibe of the place that keeps you from checking the time.

The restaurant itself is spacious and loud in terms of colour; the walls are a bright, happy sunshine yellow and the place is decked with chairs alternating red and green - perfect for the Christmas season really. The colours are echoed in the awesome puzzle of milk crates attached to the ceiling, the most prominent feature of Big El's if you don't count the huge mural at the entrance.
Daintily sipping vodka by the jar, as you do
Mei ambitiously suggested we order one of everything from the menu to which the waitress said something along the lines of, "Hmm. Uhh, perhaps not for TWO people. That's a lot of food". I would have accepted the challenge, but my intolerance of cheese and deep-fried food wiped off practically half the items on the menu.

After explaining my annoying food intolerance, the staff members are really patient in making recommendations - although I told her it's not helpful when all the dishes are being recommended as really, really good haha! Spicy is a popular theme at Big El's, as are their visually appealing, unconventionally named cocktails.

I love how water is served from crystal head vodka jars and cups are screw-top glass jars; it fits perfectly with the restaurant and its quirky ways. The water however, did have a strange taste to it, like it was tainted with the remains of the alcohol once in the jar.
First to arrive
The dishes - all of them - arrived at lightning speed, which is always a good start. It also makes you a more forgiving person if the food induces you to think meh later on. I heard from friends prior to coming here myself that the food was of the meh category as it was collectively described as a bit of a salt overload, but thankfully none of my food was.
Ceviche - $18
When ordering dishes like this, your best tactic is to take someone who has an aversion to raw food. It was easy to finish this off by myself, as the serving is actually on the small side considering the price. The small diced salmon pieces have been liberally doused in a citrus and herb mixture and are a little too tangy for me. The ceviche is served atop a crispy tostadita, which I learn is nothing more than a bed of corn chips that quickly disintegrate from the juices.
Nacho Bowl - $14
The Nacho Bowl is a hefty serving of tri-colour tortilla chips loaded with a seven chilli con carne, a mountain of gooey melted cheese, big chunks of guacamole and lashings of a savoury, creamy sauce called Potato's Companion swirled on top. The textural combination of creamy, soft, crunchy and warm stringy cheese makes a fab plate of nachos. I would have dived into this wholeheartedly if I could, but I still enjoy picking at everything but the cheese off the plate.
Tortilla Chiplets - $6
In hindsight this was a stupid order on our behalf, to order something with ingredients already present in three of our other dishes. Rookie mistake, as this is essentially a starter item involving, again, corn chips and a choice of a side condiment from a salsa, chilli con queso or guacamole. The guacamole is made at the table by staff and is smashed in a stone pounder before being scooped out for you, or you have the option to have a bit of fun and smash some avocado yourself.
Patron Tequila Prawns - $17
This dish, along with many others (meaning, all of them) was a recommendation from staff as an option that is not laden with cheese nor deep fried. The six pan-fried prawns are marinated in the juice of a lemon and are simmered in Patron Tequila before finally being seared in the pan to seal in the juices. They smell fragrant and the hint of alcohol is present but only subtle.
Soft Shell Tacos (5) - $30
Soft shell tacos come in quantities of two, three, five and ten per order with varying combinations of salsas, meats and sauces which you have the freedom to choose your own. I decided the more filling option would be to order five soft tortillas, which come with guacamole, two meats, two salsas and three sauces. The tortilla discs are handmade using masa harina, a traditional flour used in Mexican cuisine and makes for a thin and light tortilla shell strong enough to encase the most soggy of fillings.
Big El's fresh made salsas
The salsas at Big El's pack a huge punch of flavour in them, and are as good to eat on their own as much as they are a perfect match for just about anything on the table. The 'Mango and Jalapeno' salsa is a tangy, refreshing concoction. It is a reminder of Summer, complete with chunks of mango mixed with creamy avocado and goes down like a fruit salad. The salsa in the foreground is Big El's 'Oven roasted Tomato and Garlic'; a smoky, tasty and richly flavoured salsa made up of chunky ground up tomatoes and a heavy but aromatic garlic taste. Even though I came to the impression that I was full, I found myself spooning this up and eating it like it was a chunky tomato soup - oooh goodness.
Soft tortilla meat choices and Big El's famous sauces
There is more than enough serving of sauce for the tortillas and it's sad to see that we wasted quite a lot of all the sauces we barely made a respectable dent in. We chicken out of the sauces that sit higher on the 'hot' scale and our hottest choice is just the chipotle mayonnaise. Even so, Mei puts a big dollop on her tortilla and it sends her reaching for the crystal head water jar like it were actually vodka inside. It's a good level of spiciness if you aren't the type who can eat chilli like they're just another vegetable, and enough to add a tolerable heat to your food. If you like it hot, the 'twin chilli roasted paprika sauce' and 'devil peach chilli jam' would probably satisfy - their names already hint at their strength!

The garlic aioli and potato's companion sauces are both strong and creamy, chosen after being told the 'creme of mushroom' sauce will be taken off their menu. They add a much needed creaminess to offset the slightly dry (although delicious smelling) pan-fried crispy chicken. I really like the softness of the slow cooked pulled beef, but I can't help but wish I'd had ordered the scorched ginger salmon instead - it sounds like it's something a little amazing.
Demonstration of tortilla formation - finished taco in preceding photo, next to the pulled beef
Like the guacamole making, staff ask whether you want a demonstration to make your tortillas and do so at the table. The process involves starting with a freshly made salsa base, layered with meat topped with a spreading of their guacamole before being finished with generous squirts of their sauces. It's a nice touch but I'd much prefer to whip out some crazy and make MEGA tacos, not stopping until they burst at the seam with every bite. Kinda like over-eating when you're wearing unforgiving tight pants I guess, for comparison purposes. Ha!
My pulled beef, garlic aioli tortilla
I love the idea behind this DIY project - mixing and matching your own fillings to suit your taste and coming up with weird, wild and maybe wonderful combinations of ingredients but I think my only gripe is the amount of meat which is given for five tacos worth - not very much. My other tortillas were already sparsely filled and my last tortilla was close to being a salsa and sauce tortilla. I can't ask for much considering this was a 50% Dimmi deal, but at the normal $30 price tag I would probably expect a littleeeee more meat. Perhaps overly greedy, as I am.
Private booth seating
The booths offer privacy and refuge from the noise and whatever is going on around, which is a factor adding to my illusion of time not passing at all. Staying for as long as we wished was not a problem in the slightest; staff were very accommodating the whole night and checked up regularly, in a friendly but unobtrusive manner. If we had designated drivers for the night, we surely wouldn't have declined their cocktail recommendations which really deserve a mention - how does a 'tall black cocktail combining the essences of evil served with glowing redness' sound? Evil, yet kinda tempting and kinda like a blockbuster movie protagonist in the making?

Then it shouldn't be a surprise that this dark, evil spawning creation is suitably named The Darth Vader.
Big El's Latin American Fusion, Northbridge
Big El's
Tues-Thurs & Sun: 5:30pm-Midnight
Fri-Sat: 5:30pm-4am

Tel: (08)9328 3380
71 Francis Street Northbridge WA 6003

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