Review: Mojo Tapas Restaurant and Bar in St. Louis
Toward the end of our meal at Mojo Tapas Restaurant and Bar, my dining partners looked around with satisfaction, pleased with the food, the revamped interior, the prices and the close proximity to the neighborhood. Yes, Mojo is another tapas-style/small plates/larger plates/pan-Latin/whatever we call them today restaurant where fancy cocktails and “sliders” are de rigueur and table space for all those plates is at a premium. Not that I mind the trend; as long as you’re aware of the risks – confused palates, ill-timed delivery, surprisingly inflated checks – it’s a fun, convivial way to share the dining experience with friends. Mojo solved the timing issue by enlarging the small kitchen used by the previous tenants, Erato Wine Bar and Parkside Lounge, which in turn solved the crowded table and confused palate problems. With the brisk and attentive service, we could order a few items and focus on tasting each dish fully, confident in the fact we wouldn’t have to wait long between rounds.
That’s good because you will want to linger over the curried edamame hummus, one of chef-owner Eric Erhard’s many creations. Hummus is on a lot of menus of late, and perhaps some are made with edamame, but with this creamy, gently spiced dip, Erhard pays homage to the South Asian, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines dotting the South Grand restaurant strip where Mojo resides. Same with the five-spice pork belly in black vinegar sauce, its rich, savory-sweetness permeating the slow-roasted tender pork belly, deliciously interlaced with slivers of meat and creamy fat. But none of this is new for Erhard, who created the tapas at Boogaloo and has worked in several area restaurants, including Annie Gunn’s and Tejas.
There are other influences. Italian comes in the form of pasta and several flatbreads. The former was tagliatelle with sautéed, sliced chicken breast and tomatoes in a butter sauce fragrant with lemon, thyme and pepper. The dish had the beautiful bite of fresh-made noodles (Stellina Pasta Café makes them), but the flavor-popping scent of lemon and thyme was nearly overpowered by the heat of too much pepper. While the chorizo sausage was fresh and spicy and went well with the roasted peppers and Provolone cheese, there was nothing flat about the flatbread; it’s just a small pizza with tasty toppings.
The lamb sliders are really made with lamb and beef, served as two good-sized burgers on a soft white bun and topped with pepper-jack cheese. The side of mixed, fresh greens makes the dish a filling nosh, but as with a few other sauces at Mojo, the burger’s apricot-mustard “mojo” condiment was distractingly sweet – too much apricot, not enough mustard. Pork empanadas succeed alone on the merit of the roasted pulled pork, subtly spiced with cumin. A douse of orange-oregano mojo brightens the dish, but unless you just can’t live without empanadas, more productive time can be spent with the mussels: a hearty bowl of Canadian mollusks, tender from their steam bath in hard cider and swimming in a sweet and savory sauce redolent with thick slices of crunchy fennel and onions. You’ll want extra bread to sop up this heady, buttery broth. A tablemate likened the pistachio-encrusted Provolone tapa to a cheese stick, only better. Much, much better, actually; it’s a chunk of smoked cheese rolled in chopped nuts, quickly fried for a crispy exterior, then nestled in a Creole tomato sauce ringed with pesto. Short order was also made of the maple-smoked trout and horseradish salad. More of a spread than a salad, about a half-dozen crostini surrounded a creamy white mound of the chunked trout-horseradish dip topped with a tangle of crispy fried onions.
Aside from a Mexican chocolate dish and a mango-mascarpone empanada, desserts, while quite good, show little Latin influence. The banana brioche bread pudding is lighter and fluffier than the typical gut-busting version and made a good sharable dessert.
The word “mojo” has many interpretations, just like Mojo the restaurant interprets tapas through many influences, and that just may put a spell on you.
To read sommelier Glenn Bardgett’s review of Mojo Tapas Restaurant’s wine, beer and cocktail lists, visit The Sommelier’s Take in the Reviews section at www.saucemagazine.com.
NEW AND NOTABLE
Don’t-Miss Dish: Curried edamame hummus, lamb sliders, hard cider-steamed mussels
Vibe: Soft visual tones belie loud auditory tones in the casual and comfortable smoke-free space. The blues soundtrack enhances the mojo vibe.
Entrée Prices: Tapas: $5 to $9. Larger plates: $6.50 to $10.
Where: Mojo Tapas Restaurant and Bar, 3117 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.865.0500
When: Mon. to Fri. – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (bar until 1:30 a.m.), Sat. – 4 to 11 p.m. (bar until 1:30 a.m.)