My apartment gets hot. In winter, my old-style flat is a snug little haven from blistering chilly winds and frozen mornings – I don’t even need to have a hot water bottle or electric blanket to sleep, and in my housemate’s room the no-longer-usable fireplace is somehow connected to our neighbours downstairs, so when the neighbours turn their heating on the room somehow gets warm as well. Free heat, woop woop!
Come summer though, and it’s a different matter entirely. The insulating properties of my dear vintage flat work against my favour, turning every room into an arid and baking hot space with little relief from windows that have been thrown open in an attempt to catch a breeze or the fan working diligently away in the corner, which simply recycles the stiflingly warm air over your sweaty, sticky self.
For this reason, when I heard that it was going to hit 42 degrees on Friday, I needed an evening diversion to give my place some time to try and catch the cool change which was forecasted to roll through in the late night. I decided to treat myself with a solo dinner out and movie – Spectre was out and I don’t have many (any, really) friends that are into Bond movies, so it was the perfect movie to see on my own.
The opening scene starts with the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City, the day most people know as Halloween. Dia de Muertos is celebrated in the central and southern areas of Mexico, and is a holiday that focuses on gathering together family and friends to pray for and celebrate the lives of family and friends who have died; helping to support their spiritual journey. I was lucky enough to be invited to Los Vida Crows Nest’s celebration of the event.
The staff had their faces painted in the traditional Day of the Dead fashion, and after being led to our table we’re brought two Classico Margaritas ($17 each) with Tequila Blanco, Cointreau, lime and sugar, and Guacamole with Totopos ($12) – avocado, lime, coriander, garlic, chilli, paprika and jicama with pomegranate, served with blue and yellow corn chips – while we peruse the extensive menu.
The margaritas are nicely smooth and refreshing without too much of a citrus bite, and the rims are’t overly salted. Crispy deep-fried jalapenos are scattered among the blue and yellow corn chips, providing a crunchy little burst of heat with the soothing creaminess of the guacamole and the pops of sweetness from the pomegranate seeds. While we’re crunching down on these I select a few items from the menu while asking our waitress for her recommendations, then settle back to enjoy our evening.
Standing outside of the restaurant, I would never have imagined the size of the place inside. A sunken lower floor, second floor and loft in addition to the high ceiling makes for a hugely expansive space lit by hundreds of candles and fairy lights. It was quite dark at the table which made it hard to read the menu, let alone take photos, so I apologise for the slight blurriness of today’s photographs.
The lights and flame throw their yellow glow up onto the ceiling, where the detail of the prints are nothing short of amazing.
The Tuna Cerviche ($13) is the first dish to arrive: tuna fillet, leche de tigre, chipotle mayo, clamato infused tapioca, cucumber, chives, avocado and pistachios.
What is not to love about ceviche? Beautifully fresh and silky tuna fillet had been chopped up and combined with all of the above listed ingredients into one massive half-fist-sized ball of deliciousness before being carefully laid onto the crisp corn-chip base. It was zesty and refreshing – on point for texture and flavour. It was the dish of the evening; I just wish we had known it would be the best dish so we could have planned our meal accordingly! This would have been the perfect palate-cleansing dish.
Our four tacos arrived next, in soft plain flour tortillas. I had ordered Pulled Beef ($5) – chipotle sauce, coriander, nopales farsa, guacamole and poblano chilli with sesame seeds – the Lamb Barbacoa ($5) – guajillo sauce, mint mayo, habanero with radish and pickled onion – the Pibil Braised Pork ($5) – caramelised pineapple, habanero and radish with pickled onion – and the Los Vida Famous Fish ($5) – beer battered barramundi, zesty lime, cabbage slaw and three style jalapenos with chipotle mayo.
There wasn’t a whole lot of slaw in the fish taco but there’s only so much you can stuff in a taco before it falls out everywhere. The batter on the fish though, was nothing short of perfect. Amazingly crisp yet encasing a still moist (sorry) and flavoursome little fillet of tender barramundi. The fried jalapenos were a great addition and the chipotle mayo was the perfect amount of heat.
The pork was the other taco I tried, and it had been braised for long enough that the shredded meat near-melted on the tongue. I quite enjoyed its combination with the caramelised pineapple adding a toffee-like sweetness, and the thin radish slices contributing crunch and lightening the flavour of the stewed meat.
I had asked the waitress what dishes she would recommend and she said the Mushroom Quesadillas ($15) was one of her favourite dishes, with queso fresco, monterey jack, red onion, guacamole and pico de gallo with chipotle crema.
While the quesadillas were stuffed full of delicious mushrooms and certainly very stretchy and cheesy, the flavour paled in comparison to the pop of the tacos and the ceviche we had already had; if I had known, I would have had the quesadillas first.
I call for a respite before our last savoury dish, ordering one of the special Day of the Dead cocktails: the Mezcal Morelos ($17) with mezcal, yellow chartreuse, burnt agave and pineapple. Refreshing, subtly sweet and somehow creamy at the same time.
The last savoury dish proved to be my undoing – the Beef Rib ($18) was a few massive chunks of epic deliciousness. Braised beef ribs, chipotle glaze, radish and red onion with pickled habanero.
The tender meat literally slid off the bone when pushed with our dinner knives, and like the meat from the tacos – simply melted away on your tongue without any residual fattiness. The chipotle glaze was sticky and smoky, and the heat factor crept up slowly but surely on you – this is coming from a girl who loves chilli noodles in 42 degree weather…
I was stuffed to the brim at this point but everyone knows I’ve got a second stomach exclusively reserved for dessert. Los Vida had a Dessert Tamal Y Muerto Combo – on the house to say gracias for attending to partake in the Day of the Dead festivities. There was a Pan de Muerto – sweetened soft Mexican bread baked the traditional way, an exclusive for the Day of the Dead, and a Mini Tamal de Chocolate – cacao corn dough filled with chocolate goodness and wrapped in a leaf.
The corn bread was very soft and crumbly, and quite fragrant – scented with something that smelled similar to rosewater. It reminded me of the sweet breads usually found in Asian bakeries. I smeared a little of it in the dark sauce down the side of the plate and discovered it was a cacao/chilli/chipotle sauce which was quite spicy! I probably enjoyed the cacao corn dough more, which had been steamed in the leaf and so retained a lot of its softness, moisture and subtle cacao flavour.
As we were dining on the house, our waitress also insisted she get us her favourite dessert. The name of it escapes me, and all I have is the savoury menu to go off on, I’m afraid. She said they were hot braided pastry sticks encasing molten chocolate – similar to the idea of a churro – which is the best way to describe them. The pastry dough itself was a little salty, which took the edge off the sweetness of the powdered sugar and gooey chocolate inside.
It surprised me how reasonably priced it was for such good quality Mexican food at Los Vida, and it was wonderful to partake in the whole Day of the Dead dining experience. I think one day I would like to travel to Mexico and be there in time for the Day of the Dead festivities, but until then I’ll settle for going back to Los Vida and treating myself to more of their beautiful ceviche and tacos.
419 Pacific Highway,
Crows Nest NSW 2065
(02) 9439 8323