13 January, 2010
Tonali (Durham) — Restaurant ReviewPosted in : Dining in Durham - NC, Restaurants on by : becca
3642 Shannon Road
Entrees: $10-25 (I think)
I’ve been wanting to try Tonali for quite some time because I’ve seen it show up on many people’s lists of favorite Mexican spots in the area. It’s upscale fare with an intriguing list of appetizers and entrees to choose from. Service was a bit brusque, but with so many loyal customers, I’d bet that’s an anomaly. The décor is inviting, with dim lighting, blue and red walls, and thought-provoking artwork – there’s no sombreros hung on the walls, here, though the cozy, thick placemats are in a typical Mexican pattern. I considered them a nice touch.
A plate of oversized tortilla chips started the meal. They were fresh, tasted fine, and I appreciated that there were only about ten of them as a basket of chips nearly always does me in. Self-control, I know thee not. The accompanying salsa roja was thin and sweet but had more flavor than I usually detect in that style of sauce.
I ordered a jarritos cocktail, made with tequila, rum, and tropical juices (no, I don’t know if Jarritos soda was used or not-I don’t think so, but I don’t know why else it would be named that!). It was very tasty, especially when I squeezed the lime in for added flavor. The mug held a huge amount of liquid!
My husband and I shared an appetizer and entrée. The first was a row of three delicious pork tacos. They were definitely the best part of the meal.
As you can tell, they looked delicious and the vibrantly pink, pickled red onions were oh-so-good. Roasted poblano strips provided the perfect amount of heat for each bite.
We had a chicken entrée, served with rice, poblano vegetables, and mole sauce.
I was not terribly impressed with this dish’s flavor. My husband was not impressed with the portion size. There were two flattened chicken breasts that tasted pretty good but the accompanying mole sauce was too subtle for me. I like to discern the layers of flavor in mole more easily. The thick-grained rice was interesting, buttery with a touch of citrus, but the vegetables were very plain. Compared to the tacos, it was not at all exciting.
I ended the meal with a passion fruit margarita.
This was every bit as large as the jarritos cocktail, which is to say huge! I asked for sal de gusana around the rim, only to discover as I write this that it’s a mixture of salt, chili powder, and roasted caterpillar. Perhaps I might not have ordered it if I knew that last ingredient! Oh, who am I kidding? I’d have still tried it. The salt mixture made the drink for me, as the thinner, lighter salt crystals and extra flavors went well with the sweetness of the passion fruit. I’m not sure if juice was used or a syrup, as the passion fruit itself tasted a bit like candy and would have benefitted from more sour mix. The tequila was undetectable, until those last few sips.
So the pork tacos were divine, jarritos cocktail great, and the atmosphere a nice change from standard Mexican joints, but the main dish and margarita simply didn’t impress me that much. When averaging these things together, it was good, but not great.