Just when you thought The Village at Meridian couldn’t find room for another restaurant, voila, space was made available for Casa del Matador, a stylish Mexican concept that recently debuted down the way from Village Cinema.
The Matador, a Seattle-based chain with restaurants and bars in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Idaho, is known for its large selection of tequilas and Mexican-inspired eats made from scratch.
Most Matadors are situated in hip neighborhoods and cater to primarily adult tastes. There’s one on 8th Street in Downtown Boise. The Casa del Matador concept, on the other hand, strives to offer something for the entire family, which is a good idea for a restaurant at The Village. But I couldn’t really tell what the lure is for kids at this place during my two visits, except for the food itself.
Casa del Matador, which faces Fairview Avenue, boasts an attractive interior design with a profusion of handcrafted wood accents, swirly metal art and colorful Mexican tiles. The décor is romantic, some might even say sexy, in a “Like Water for Chocolate” kind of way.
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The restaurant and bar became instantly popular from the minute it popped open its doors in August, notably with a crowd that’s old enough to partake in adult beverages.
Happy hour (daily from 4 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.) gives diners the opportunity to try the restaurant’s smaller plates at a reduced price.
The grilled stuffed jalapenos ($6) were easily the best thing I tried on the menu. These grill-blistered peppers — crammed with tangy goat cheese and wound tightly with bands of crispy bacon — burst with flavor, especially when dipped in an aioli-like sauce with no shortage of garlic.
Casa del Matador features around 120 different kinds of tequilas (ranging from bottom-shelf brands to to high-end anejos), which get turned into creative margaritas and other cocktails.
A blood orange margarita ($10), with a serious punch of Avion Silver tequila, blood orange liqueur, agave and fresh lime juice, offers a citrusy juxtaposition to the smoke and spice of the stuffed jalapenos.
Expect to be greeted with a basket of freshly fried tortilla chips, still warm, and a small dish of roasted tomato salsa that’s about medium on the spice scale.
Guacamole ($5) is not whipped up tableside, yet it’s made to order in the kitchen. Plump avocadoes get gently mashed with cilantro, lime and salt, making for chunky guacamole and not some avocado mush that gets drowned out by too many ingredients. This simple and delicious chip dip comes in a bowl arranged with zesty tomatillo salsa and pickled jalapenos, carrot and sliced onion.
During happy hour, you also can get two tacos for $5. While the beef tacos boast shreds of tender, ancho-braised beef shoulder (topped with avocado slices, pico de gallo and crumbly cotija cheese), you’ll want to eat them quickly because the resulting pan sauce turns the tortillas to mush lickety-split. Crispy taco shells would support this saucy beef much better.
The inspiration for the fish tacos comes from the eastern seaboard of Mexico, with two corn tortillas filled with chili-marinated, grilled pieces of mahi mahi buried beneath spicy slaw, salsa verde and bright pico de gallo.
During a dinner visit, I brought my wife and two kids to see what they thought of the place.
We waited a long time for appetizers and entrées, yet our server brought our drinks right away. Of course, it was a weekend night and the young wait staff looked like Keystone Cops running around the dining room, bumping into one another.
My son cringed at the spicy shrimp appetizer ($10), but he’s typically not a seafood eater. He really liked the torta sandwich ($11), though, a ciabatta-like roll split and packed with a grilled chicken breast (mostly tender), roasted poblano pepper, gooey jack cheese, lettuce and tomato, served with crispy fries.
My daughter, who loves most things from the sea, found the shrimp (sautéed with butter and white wine in a bright orange roasted habanero sauce) to be a little picante for her developing palate. Mom and Dad, however, liked the spicy shrimp, which encircled a moist jalapeno-corn cake crowned with pickled red onions.
Everyone at the table liked the carnitas sopes ($9.50) — tender chunks of fried pork piled high atop grilled masa cakes with guacamole, black beans, pickled veggies and cotija — even though the underlying corn cakes were hard to cut with our forks, causing the toppings to fly across the plate.
Mom had no problem downing a mojito ($8), an aromatic rum drink muddled with mint leaves, sugar and fresh limes.
She also liked the simplicity of the strawberry salad ($8.50), a pile of mixed greens tossed in a zippy orange-agave dressing with plump strawberries, toasted almond slices and big crumbles of fresh goat cheese.
The chicken fajitas ($16) were a disappointment, especially for the price. A cast iron pan sizzled its way to our table. Inside, a bed of charred onion and bell pepper offered a foundation for a small, sliced chicken breast that obviously spent too much time on the grill. The dry bird came with warm corn tortillas and a side plate brimming with black beans, shredded cheddar, salsa fresca, guacamole and citrusy sour cream.
Casa del Matador has succeeded in creating a visually appealing space, but it’s safe to say that adults will probably enjoy the experience more than the wee ones.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Kelly: Scene@idahostatesman.com