A string of restaurant failures in quick succession can really stigmatize a space as untenable to a serious restaurateur – more so when the “jinx” label is bandied about by members of the press and public. So when Mingos, a slick high-end resto, moved into the space formerly occupied by a string of failed slick high-end restos (Graze, Prickly Pear and the short-lived Lotus), the move was met with many a furrowed brow. The fact that Lotus and Mingos shared the same ownership group only added to the confusion, and to the notion that this latest venture was doomed to the same fate as the others.
Now breaking the perceived hex is simply a matter of change. It’s a concept the ownership group seems to desire, yet be daunted by. Take a look at restaurants in the Eola Heights neighborhood and you’ll find it’s the taco/tequila (Mucho) and beer/wings (Sonoma Draught House) joints that have survived. The economic downturn delivered a body blow to Graze’s upscale offerings; Prickly Pear’s closing proved that despite the economy’s rebound, folks weren’t willing yet to pay for high-priced Tex-Mex; and now in Mingos (né Lotus), we’re presented with pricey eats and chic digs as memorable as your OpenTable password.
Take the interior, for instance. Prickly Pear’s eclectic rockabilly swank has been stripped in favor of a scaled-back cool – not an entirely bad thing, but hardly notable. Just as faceless is chef Luis Negron’s seafood-heavy menu, with its smattering of steaks, burgers, flatbreads, pastas and salads. Mains sit in the $20-$35 range, but had I known how tough, fatty, sinewy and flavorless the rib-eye ($24) would be, I wouldn’t have paid $2 for it. The steak came sided with overly roasted Peruvian blue potatoes. If you care to pay extra for a side of green pea risotto ($7), know that it resembles a pilaf more than it does a creamy risotto. The skin-on snapper ($22) was pan-fried perfectly, but laid atop a starchy boniato puree – a sweet-potato mash of sorts – it was a textural mismatch.
By comparison, starters like moist blue crab cakes ($9), brushed with a delectable yellow-pepper remoulade, and the marlin tacos ($7), served on naan bread (there’s no tandoor here, so the “naan” amounts to pita heated on a grill) made the biggest impression. The slightly blackened fish (marlin is a fishy fish, by the by) with crunchy slaw and garlic crema worked very well together. The “uptown burger” ($14), with its short rib patty and mushroom-bacon-Boursin cheese spread, is also deserving of praise.
A serviceable wine list comprises many of the usual suspects, with about 15 varietals available by the glass. Desserts, like vanilla bean crème brûlée cheesecake ($6) and chocolate mousse cake ($6), are equally serviceable, though hardly imaginative.
In a nutshell, there are no overt indicators to make me think Mingos (short for flamingos) will establish itself as a mainstay on this hard-to-please corner. Yes, they’re making an effort with local sourcing, polished service, even a meal delivery program, but change is key, and more of it is needed to set it apart from its predecessors. It could make the difference between a curse reversal and a curse rehearsal.