Cinco de Mayo: Fiesta on a plate

(Photos: Hani Bathiche/JNews)
AMMAN — Think Cinco de Mayo and the opening scene from the James Bond movie ‘Spectre’ is likely to come to mind.اضافة اعلان

The bursts of color, raucous celebrations and parades that fill Mexico’s streets each year on the fifth day of May, are reflected in this Mexican restaurant’s culinary fare. 

May 5 commemorates the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, the victory of a smaller, poorly equipped Mexican force against the larger and better-armed French army was a morale boost for the young Central American country.

The other day, a friend and I were in the mood for authentic Mexican food and decided to head to Cinco de Mayo at the InterContinental Hotel in Amman.

It did not disappoint. Sharing an expansive outdoor terrace seating area with the Lebanese eatery Burj el Hammam, Cinco delivers what it terms ‘modern’ Mexican cuisine, but one firmly grounded in the country’s millennia-old culinary tradition dating back to the Aztecs. 

Mexican food, as often food is, is all about celebration, and savory or sweet, you’ll find dishes that satisfy and entertain, coming steaming and bubbling to your table. Colors of the Mexican flag and more fill the table, your stomach, and your heart with a warm festive feel.

As with any weekend, an aperitif is de rigueur, so we ordered one of their fine traditional drinks, a perfectly balanced tequila margherita with a massive iceberg of crushed ice at its center rising two inches above the salted rim.

Our drinks lasted the rest of the evening, and I think I saw the Titanic at the bottom of my glass, or maybe that was just the tequila.

To start, we ordered two salads to share.

The brisket salad was delectable, shredded, slow cooked beef brisket and shards of taco shell scattered over a mélange of lettuce, tomato, onion, red kidney beans, and corn all tossed in a citrusy cilantro dressing.

The classic Caesar salad is hard to get wrong, but Cinco’s was especially nice with char grilled chicken strips perfectly seasoned and not dry at all.

Long strips of toasted tortilla bread gave it an extra crunch, all tossed in a thick mayo Caesar dressing.

(Photos: Hani Bathiche/JNews) 

The first main we ordered was the Mix Fajita platter, a generous main course, it includes stripes of beef, chicken, and medium size shrimp cooked with bell peppers and onions in a thick brown gravy.

It is served in an iron skillet, sizzling and bubbling hot from the oven to your table.

You hear it before you see it.

The generous portion comes with hot, soft tortilla wraps, sour cream, grated cheese, and pickled jalapeno peppers on the side, allowing you to build your own fajita wrap. Warm, spicy, tangy, and juicy best describes every bite.

The beef, chicken, and shrimp were perfectly cooked, and the condiments complemented the thick brown gravy perfectly. 

Risking to overdo it, we next ventured to order the ‘Taco Cinco de Mayo’. I knew I had to try at least once.

A national street food in Mexico and made famous far beyond its borders, the crunchy taco shell filled with goodies is probably Mexico’s most recognized culinary ambassador.

Stuffed with avocado, guacamole, and shrimp and topped with fresh, crunchy lettuce and onions and chopped tomato, the taco dish comes with thick bean sauce and a hot ranchero sauce on the side.

As you bite into the taco, a burst of freshness explodes in your mouth with the thick bean sauce perfectly complimenting the fresh zesty ingredients. 

The tacos also come with a side of spicy red Mexican rice, which I thought was a bit superfluous and we left it mostly untouched.

(Photos: Hani Bathiche/JNews) 

Next, we tried the beef burrito, a flour tortilla wrap stuffed with beef and fried beans and cheese with ranchero sauce, sour cream, and pickled jalapeno peppers on the side.

As expected, the beef was perfectly cooked and seasoned and the tortilla bread was light and soft. It did not make us feel heavy afterwards at all. 

(Photos: Hani Bathiche/JNews) 

We then decided to go for dessert, although already full, but no meal is complete without something sweet, and no Mexican sweet is as well-known or loved as the sugar coated soft, warm fried churros.

So, we ordered the Churros de Chocalata. Perfectly cooked and soft and warm on the inside, the thick house chocolate sauce on the side elevated the simple churro to a very adult desert. I ate one, my friend had three. I never had much of a sweet tooth.

We also decided to try the Fresca Cocida, a dish of caramelized strawberries with a hint of chili served in an iron skillet. As with the fajita, it comes bubbling and sputtering to your table, with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

If any desert says celebration, this one does. The chili wasn’t recognizable at all in the dish.

(Photos: Hani Bathiche/JNews) 

In fact, it tasted more of cinnamon, warm, hot, and sweet. Regardless, the sweet, gooey strawberries were irresistible and the clear winners of the evening. So, a big thumbs up to chili — whatever role it played it was a good one.

Overall, the experience was a good one and the meal was very tasty. In fact, the only fly in the ointment was the nacho nibbles and dips that arrive at your table unprompted. Although the guacamole and sour cream dips were pretty good, the tomato salsa dip was bland, the onions old, cilantro overpowering, and the salsa dry.

It appeared as if these table nibbles were prepared hours beforehand to be instantly ready to serve. The salsa could have used a dash of citrus and salt and some heat.

We had asked the extremely polite and obliging waiter to pack the rest of the meal to go, which he gladly did in neat take away boxes. 
If you ever feel in the mood for Mexican, Cinco is the place to go.

Read more Lifestyle