Mojave, in Astoria, is the closest thing we’ve found to a hipster hangout in Queens. The clientele is young, attractive and, well, hip. We could have been dining in Williamsburg.
The surroundings are stylishly Tex Mex without being kitschy. The adobe hacienda effect is achieved with high−pitched, natural wood ceilings, earth tones and candlelight. No wagon wheels. No 10−gallon hats. On Wednesday nights, from 7 until 11, singer⁄guitarist Gregorio Uribe performs Gypsy Kings covers and other Latin love songs.
We couldn’t help but notice that the drink menu exceeded the food menu in the number of offerings. There are 130 tequilas to contemplate. That’s only the beginning. Then there is a selection of exotic house−infused tequilas like lemongrass ginger, or the habanero pepper “Punisher,” which is on the house for those iron−gutted souls than can finish it.
A nice fruity sangria made with red wine, white wine or champagne is available for those less inclined toward the hard stuff. For the truly wussy, we spotted panachÉ, the Mexican version of something called “shandy” in the British Isles, a mixture of beer and 7−Up.
For a place that offers the “Punisher” and also a habanero pepper martini, we found the chef’s use of spices surprisingly circumspect. The complimentary red and green salsa duo was fresh and pleasantly flavored, but packed no heat. Mojave’s margarita garlic gulf shrimp with poblano chilies and tomato makes a worthy starter or small plate. The shrimp were sweet and delicate, and the sauce gratifying.
To get a sense of Mojave’s vegetarian options, which are scattered throughout the menu, marked with a green “V,” we ordered an artichoke, roasted mushroom and cheese quesadilla. This is a vegetarian−pleasing dish of the wrap−anything−in−a−tortilla−and−it’s−Tex−Mex school. It came topped with a little sour cream, salsa and nice chunky guacamole, which somewhat bolstered its Tex−Mex standing.
We were intrigued by the concept of Santa Fe Shepherd’s Pie. Shepherd’s pie is an Anglo−Irish pub grub standard of meat and a few vegetables in a gravy covered by a layer of mashed potatoes. Interpreting that as chili with a layer of mac ’n’ cheese sounded like a clever riff on an old standard.
What arrived was a prodigious portion of mac ’n’ cheese with a few dabs of chili here and there underneath. Nothing consistent enough to be called a layer. The chili, when we could find it, was nice chunky meat (not ground) with a pleasing zip. The mac ’n’ cheese was decent enough. The problem was the proportions. The concept components of the dish were great. Put a decent layer of that first−rate chili under a less overwhelming layer of the mac ’n’ cheese, and they’d really have something.
Nieman Ranch cider brined pork tenderloin was allegedly stuffed with chorizo, chile, and manchego cheese, but it was hard to tell. The slices of pork had less than a nickel’s circumference of something unidentifiable in the center. The accompaniments, mashed potatoes studded with corn kernels and grilled asparagus, added overall interest to the plate.
The Bottom Line
Mojave’s setting is right for conviviality. Chained to your laptop? No problem, they have wi−fi. The food is no challenge for the faint hearted.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e−mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
22−36 31st St.
Astoria, NY 11105
Price Range: Appetizers: $4−$14, Entrees: $9−$26
Cuisine: Tamed Tex Mex
Setting: Adobe hacienda
Hours: Sun.—Mon. 11−11, Tues.—Thurs. 11−12, Fri.—Sat. 11−1
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Alcohol: Full bar
Children: No menu
Music: Live on Wednesdays
Credit Cards: Yes
Noise Level: Acceptable
©2009 Community News Group
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