Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mary Ann's Mexican Restaurant

What better way to wind down a tension-filled day after spending the afternoon in the dreaded dentist chair than to enjoy a nice, relaxing late afternoon lunch? Okay, I could think of better ways, but food will have to suffice for now. The decision to take a trip to Mary Ann's Mexican Restaurant wasn't a difficult one. I suggested it; Maarten seconded the motion; and so it was done.
On our first trip to Mary Ann’s—which we had visited even before becoming official Stanfordians (and I have absolutely no clue if that is the correct demonym used to describe people who live in Stamford)—we were delighted with the food, especially the guacamole, so we thought it worthy of a return visit. Surprisingly, I made it to the restaurant without the aid of our trusty navigation system, a feat which had me swelling with pride since I've gotten lost a gazillion times while trying to become acclimated to my new surroundings.

After lucking out and finding a metered parking spot mere footsteps from the restaurant, we went inside and took a seat at the front window. Mary Ann's is a good sized spot—not too large, not too small. To the left of the front door is a small dining area; to the right is a dining area about twice the size of the smaller room; and just behind the smaller area is a bar, filled with all manners of tequila, beer and other spirits. If I had never before in life traveled to the streets of Mexico, I probably would have been naive enough to believe I had magically crossed the border and ended up in the heart of Mexico. Lucky for me I'm not that gullible.

Practically as soon as you get your bottom on the seat, a waiter swoops down on the table and whips out a bowl each of salsa and tortilla chips. It was obvious that Mary Ann's kept the salsa refrigerated because it was pretty chilled with small chunks of tomato and onion. However, it was a little on the watery side and could have used something more to soak up the liquid. Even this small fact didn't make it inedible, though.

To say that we were going to order the guacamole as our starter was an understatement. So, naturally, we ordered the guacamole. Maarten had never been the biggest fan of Mexican fare—that is, until he tried chicken fajitas for the first time—and the guacamole that he had tried at other places was not so much to his liking. But this guacamole was far different than any that we have ever had. We ordered the small starter which, by any other restaurant's offerings, would be considered jumbo. It was served in a heavy stone molcajete (mortar bowl) adorned with the head of a pig.

I'm just gonna come out and say it: That was some dayum good salsa! It was bursting with chunks of sweet red onion, tomatoes, red and green peppers, cilantro and, of course, hunks of fresh, tasty avocado. It was a careful balancing act—eating enough guacamole to satisfy the nibbles without completely devouring the entire bowl and spoiling our appetite for the main dishes. We lost. We scraped up every visible trace of guacamole with our cracked and broken chips, and I even had the impudence to lick my fingers afterward. And had I been alone, I would have been licking that molcajete, too.

Good beginnings deserve good endings, so we were truly looking forward to what was to come. Maarten sipped on his unsweetened tea and I gulped down the first of two glasses of ginger ale as we waited for our meals to arrive. We had all but obliterated the tortilla chips, there was no more guacamole left, and I was about the turn the salt shaker upside down in my mouth, but the food came to the table in record time, a testament to the quick service of Mary Ann's.

Choosing the appetizer was a piece of cake; making up my mind on the meal was a bit more challenging, due in large part to the menu which boasted an array of appetizing sounding dishes. After deep contemplation and an almost Zen-like feat of concentration, I decided to have Gloria's Burrito. Not that it actually belonged to Gloria, mind you, it's just one of the menu items that bore her namesake (and please don't ask me who Gloria is for I believe I would have to tell you a lie the likes of which the world has never seen and make up some fantastical story about our adventures together). Gloria's Burrito was a flour tortilla wrapped around grilled chicken fajita meat and sautéed spinach (sans mushrooms), and topped with cheddar cheese and a delicious tomatillo (also known as a "green tomato") sauce.

Apparently Maarten was not one to fool around when it came to his Mexican provisions. His decision was swift and sure, landing his taste buds squarely on the Chicken Fajitas. Sure, it once again exhibited his propensity to be a creature of habit, but he enjoyed rolling up the "pancakes" (as he refers to anything edible that is flattened and round, such as the tortilla) and making a grand production out of the whole affair. I think it is an inherent trait in men to have that little boy builder come out from time to time. Yes, my husband built his fajita like a skilled contractor constructing a carefully-planned-out building. Every component had its place of importance—from the crisp broccoli to the plump tomatoes to the flavorful onions and even the fragrant green peppers—each piece was held in high esteem.

While Maarten worked diligently on his fajitas, I dug into my burrito. Everything about that dish was yummy. The burrito was stuffed full of chicken and spinach, and the green rice and black beans were the perfect accompaniment without overshadowing any of the other flavors. The "after" photo should give you just a hint of just how good it was to me.

At the end of the meal, not only were Maarten and I full, but it actually hurt to walk because my tummy was so popped out. Gluttony really shouldn't have a place in my life, and for that transgression I apologize. But sometimes a sister just has to eat.

Would I recommend Mary Ann’s Mexican Restaurant? Definitely, especially for the purveyors of guacamole (and even those who are straddling the guacamole fence). The food is good, fresh and plentiful.

Is Mary Ann’s a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? Very reasonably priced, and you get plenty of food (think “leftovers” . . . unless you’re a glutton like me). One item of note: Drink refills (tea, soda, etc.) are not complimentary.

What about atmosphere and ambience? The atmosphere is not as corny as a lot of Mexican restaurants I’ve frequented that play up all of the overworked stereotypes that a lot of Americans expect from a Mexican restaurant. The music that played in the background was lively and jovial, but not too terribly loud, and the staff that I encountered was pleasant and efficient.

Mary Ann's Mexican Restaurant
Mary Ann's has four locations (Stamford, CT [the newest addition to  the Mary Ann's family]; Chelsea, NY; Port Chester, NY and Tribeca, NY)

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