Margaritas, merriment abound at Agave Cocina & Tequilas
November 17, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
The times, tough. The cupboard, bare. In all of the ways the Great Recession has taken a toll — on budgets and belt-tightening — the crimp on posh noshing stings the most.
The solution: happy hour, a chance to sip low-cost libations, made merrier with many little plates for grazing.
The destination: Agave Cocina & Tequilas, a place where margaritas and merriment seemed like a sure bet.
Expect margaritas aplenty, but because the happy hour clock is ticking, opt for the $4 Agave Margarita — Sauza Gold and lime juice shaken into sunny submission and served in a fat, low glass rimmed with salt. The bartender balanced the mix-to-tequila ratio, and the elixir tasted like spiked sunshine as the temperature outside drooped toward 40 and darkness descended at 5 p.m.
Uh oh: 5 o’clock arrives, happy hour reaches the halfway point and the time is nigh for nibbles. Glance at the compact bar menu; pick the quesadillas and the grown-up riff on jalapeño poppers. In the meantime, dash through the bountiful, bottomless chips — corny, salty and warm — and cilantro-flecked salsa. The margaritas arrive just a beat behind chips and salsa.
Moments later, the server will ask if you would like another round — and you would — when the snacks land on a highboy table at the bar. Make room amid the cocktails and chips for a spinach and mushroom quesadilla, another quesadilla filled with grilled chicken, and the showstopper: jalapeños stuffed with goat cheese, swaddled in bacon and kissed by the grill.
The astringent heat of the jalapeño cuts the richness of the dish, and a pineapple-serrano salsa tempers the fire. The salsa scattered across the plate delivers more sweet than heat, but the effect is pleasant nonetheless.
Now, for the quesadillas. Both arrive accented with squiggles of cilantro-lime cream and a chunky salsa. The achiote chicken variety has smoke and a smattering of cheese. Mushrooms and spinach are tucked into the other offering. The menu billed the mushrooms as wild — well, maybe — but the overall effect is toothsome and satisfying. Spinach, so often used as filler in similar dishes, is well seasoned and complementary here.
For $4.50 apiece, the snacks are enjoyable and straightforward, a proper foil for the alcohol.
The dinner menu covers a broad swath of Mexico, from the usual enchiladas and tacos to fajitas, a big draw. The enticing platters of grilled flank steak sizzle while being hauled across the dining room, ready to be folded into warm tortillas.
Remember: At a place where the presence — and indeed, the celebration of — tequila is announced on the sign, diners have a duty to sample the potent potable. Behind the handsome bar, bartenders sling dozens of tequilas and muddle mint into mojitos. Sure, mojitos are made with rum, but nobody likes a happy hour purist.
The restaurant lures a diverse crowd after sunset: families with young children, yuppies nursing post-work Dos Equis and raucous groups of middle-aged ladies — dare I say cougars?
Diners who crowd the bar to sample small plates at petite prices are cared for by attentive servers who continue to renew the supply of chips and salsa long after guests switch from tequila to agua.
Linger at the bar during the dinner rush. Another happy hour starts at 9 p.m.
Agave Cocina & Tequilas
1048 N.E. Park Drive
369-8900 for reservations
11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. – midnight Friday to Saturday, happy hour 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. – close
$8-11 for appetizers; $7-16 for entrees; $3-6 for desserts
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.