"Poquitos" is about as fitting a name for Capitol Hill's new Mexi-palace as “Tiny” is for a 300-pound man. I got the chance to soak it all in at the pre-opening party on Friday, and nothing owners Deming Maclise and James Weimann (the powerhouse duo behind Bastille Cafe & Bar) have done with their latest project is small.
With a 3,400-square foot space on the primo corner of Pike and 10th that includes a restaurant, bar, takeout counter and mercantile shop selling goodies like Mexican Coke, spices and chocolate, it only takes one look around this big place to see that it more than lives up to its little name. The hand-painted Talavera tiles lining the spectacular archways of the ceiling? Fourteen-thousand of them, filling half a train car, that Maclise and Weimann sent northward from their interior decorating adventure in Puebla, Mexico. The patio that's scheduled to open mid-April? Twelve-hundred square feet of it, two fireplaces, a separate bar, heated floors and benches. The avocados? Fifteen cases delivered a day, guaranteed to arrive at their fragile, fleeting moment of perfect ripeness. The takeout counter, serving tacos, tortas and other casual Mexican grub, will soon be feeding weekend drunkypantses until the overly-ripe hour of 3 a.m.
Ok, so the tacos, for one, are appropriately pequeño, (small) but don't be fooled. The Al Pastors we tasted were make-your-head-explode flavorful, with handmade tortillas, sweet grilled onions, bright green cilantro and perfectly charred pork imbued with the drippings of pineapples the kitchen strategically positions above the meat while it cooks on a spit.
The rest of the menu covers a lot of ground, highlighting the best Mexican cuisine has to offer, from Halibut lime ceviche ($14) and Jicama Salad with cucumber and oranges to Tortilla soup, enchiladas and tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Half a dozen entree plates (ranging from $11-$20) include classic Mole Negro con Pollo, Carnitas, and Chile Rellenos with either pork or cheese, poblano chiles, raisins, cinnamon and almonds, all battered and fried and served in tomato broth. Leading the kitchen is chef Manny Arce, formerly of Bastille, Union and La Spiga, a Southern California native well-versed in Mexican cuisine.
While the food menu sticks reverentially close to tradition, the cocktail menu is where the creativity is unleashed. The “El Ditch” is savory and relaxing, with cilantro and coriander infused tequila, fresh lime juice, agave syrup and fresh cilantro, served up with a jalapeno-stuffed olive. “The El Modern,” on the other hand, jolts your taste buds to attention with El Jimador reposado, passionfruit puree, agave nectar and a chipotle sugar rim.
The idea for Poquitos started out modestly enough. “We had just finished building Bastille when we found this sign at a salvage store in Sodo,” says Maclise. On the old restaurant sign, which they think dates from the 1930s or '40s, a jolly Mexican fellow with a guitar and a big belly beams beneath a gleaming neon script reading “Poquitos.” They were smitten. So what's a wickedly stylish restauranteur with a weakness for real-deal ethnic food, colonial architecture and lost Seattle lore to do? Fashion an entire restaurant concept around it, of course. “It just took off from there,” Maclise says. “We decided to totally go for it.”
The original Poquitos, rumor has it, was somewhere in the Greenwood neighborhood. And its owner was indeed known to wander his restaurant with his guitar slung over his shoulders, serenading his guests. But something tells me that Poquitos' namesake wasn't a place where things were done small, either, and everything thus far suggests that the reincarnation is going to be big.
Poquitos, 1000 E. Pike Street, www.vivapoquitos.com
*Note: Due to what Poquitos calls "the amazing response," lunch service at the takeout counter has been suspended until next week.