A restaurant that can talk the talk, but can't seem to walk the walk. With sterile, unexceptional food indifferent to any flavor, Rosa Mexicano is best enjoyed by a group that will too be indifferent to the outcome of the meal.
15 years ago, William Grimes of The New York Times described the food at Rosa Mexicano as "pallid and dull," and yet he still believed that there were "enough bright spots along the way to offer hope." Today, after too many mediocre, flavorless meals, I have a hard time imagining what those bright spots might have felt like.
From chilly guacamole with an unripe, stiff, and chunky texture that highlights tomatoes more than it does avocados, to oily, under-seasoned fried white fish in the Baja Tacos, the food at Rosa Mexicano hits the palette like one major disappointment after another. These disappointments are made even more surprising when the menu itself reads like a more thoughtful composure of fine foods written by someone educated in the craft. The Baja Tacos advertise Dox XX battered, panko crusted fish topped with house-made slaw and jalapeno tartar sauce, but in reality are stale, dry, and begging for more salt. The grilled corn on the side is a single saving grace, offering the balance of sweet flavor desperately needed in the dish.
But this represents Rosa Mexicano's deepest failure: offering a genuine promise to provide authentic, regional Mexican cuisine, and instead serving cheaply made food that lacks the passion and vibrancy so integral to such cooking, while caring very little for this conceptual inconsistency.
So with all of its shortcomings, how has Rosa Mexicano managed to stay in service for over 30 years? The answer is the eternally busy and cheerful staff that recalls the zeal and enthusiasm of our beloved neighbors to the south, as well as the restaurant's pervasive reputation for its tableside presentation of guacamole. The showy display, belying otherwise disenchanting food, nonetheless manages to add the festive flair so often craved by the crowds that embrace "Taco Tuesday" and are only after bottomless, slushy margaritas from a Slurpee machine.
The long list of cocktails serves not only to increase the youthful volume of the raucous, downstairs space, but also to numb the tastebuds to the weak, subdued fare. The "signature" pomegranate margarita is marketed by all the servers with fervor, yet has not mastered the depth of its bittersweet flavor. It is a drink for happy hour, for an exuberant night in Las Vegas, not for a restaurant that aims for culinary excellence.
Even its two-story fountain wall designed by David Rockwell promises far more than the restaurant can actually deliver. Over the entire wall, a series of little plaster men appear to be swan diving in joyful euphoria toward the bottom of the pool trumpeting a crescendo of flavor that never comes to fruition. Alas, perhaps a glimmer from the iridescent blue tiles on this wall is the only bright spot that remains at Rosa Mexicano.