Golden Spoons Review: Agave Grill

| 02/08/2018

CNS Local Life(CNS Foodie): Of all cuisines, Mexican is my favourite, though I do admit to liking Tex-Mex and preferring a crispy taco to a soft one. But I also appreciate that the most important aspect of a Mexican meal is the flavour, no matter the vessel in which it is served. So it was with great expectations that my companion and I headed over to Agave Grill, which has reopened its doors after about a two-year hiatus, looking for it once again to deliver genuine Mexican cuisine. The new place is directly across North Sound Way from its old spot.

Let’s begin with the décor and atmosphere. The new location is bigger, which is a welcome change as the old Agave was too small and pretty much topped out at 20 people. But old Agave had a certain charm, an eclectic collection of Spanish relics and bold colours and rugged, haphazardness that created an atmosphere of a true hole-in-the-wall cantina. New Agave is sparse and plain and the décor is difficult to translate; I couldn’t decide if it was going for upscale minimalist or if the point was to evoke a less-is-more feel. White walls, barely adorned, dim lighting and wood accents did not render a sense of ethnicity. The atmosphere was likewise stark.

As for seating options, there is one round table for a larger group, with the main dining area is otherwise pressed against the farthest wall or tucked into a booth. For a bit more privacy, there’s a semi-closed off section with a few tables that appear segregated from the rest of the restaurant. We were seated in the main part, against the wall, at a table that was too close for comfort to another couple. That proved a bit awkward as we could have easily reached into their basket of chips by mistake, the gap between us being mere inches.

Our server arrived shortly after we were seated. She was not friendly and seemed a bit distracted and preoccupied. Throughout the evening we found ourselves trying to make eye contact or somehow get her attention; she did not appear to be handling the crowd very well and was not interested in checking on her tables on a regular basis. Perhaps the servers need a bit of training since as much as a restaurant is about the food, it has to be about the service as well.

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Chips & all 3

We mulled over the drinks menu and settled on the east 8 hold up ($10), a Tequila Ocho offering, shaken with fresh pineapple, aperol, citrus and passionfruit, and the blood plumb cobbler ($10), a long cocktail with Tequila Ocho, citrus, house blend LBV port, pineapple and orange Curacao, with a splash of soda. Both were freshly made at the bar and proved tasty and refreshing, a good start to the evening.

You can’t go to a Mexican restaurant and not order the chips and salsa. Being really committed to that cause, we opted for the combo of chips & all 3 ($14), which featured totopos (hand-cut chips) served with guacamole, salsa and queso. The chips were crunchy, salty and perfect. The guacamole was chunky, velvety and fresh and the salsa, which was more of a pico de gallo, was sufficiently chilled. We found the queso a bit wanting, but it was obvious that it was made from scratch and not an imitation out-of-the-can number, so we were satisfied to dip and munch.

As we finished our shared appetizer, we realised that the restaurant had filled up, with all seats taken, even at the bar. Our server appeared to be the only one on the floor, juggling tables, orders and ad hoc requests. We struggled to get her attention to place our main order and ended up waiting quite a while until we could flag her down. We had questions about the menu and she seemed impatient and rushed. Why didn’t she have more help?

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Crispy tres amigos

The menu is laden with your typical fare of burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas, but we were focused on the tacos. With three sets of options, the taco menu was actually quite extensive, and you could choose from a 3” or 6” handmade soft corn taco or regular crispy taco. I opted for the crispy tres amigos ($14) – three crispy shell tacos with cheese mix and roasted red pepper sauce, lettuce, onions, sour cream and pico de gallo, and chose one beef, one chicken and one pork. My dining companion went with the tequila shrimp taco ($10), two 3” handmade corn tortilla tacos served with red sauce and topped with sweet and sour slaw and the slow taco carne asada ($14), two 6” slow tacos, Negra Modela beer-marinated grilled skirt steak and dab of guacamole.

Looking at my plate of tacos, I knew I would not be satisfied, as the meat was merely a thin layer along the bottom, barely reaching to the ends of the shell. Shredded cheese was dropped into the middle and the balance of sides were arranged on the plate, for me to add. I messily assembled the first taco, chicken, and eagerly took the first bite. The shell was indeed crunchy, but there was nothing special about it at all. The meat lacked flavour and there wasn’t enough if it to have any significant impact on my taste buds. The beef taco was equally underwhelming. The pork taco proved a bit tastier, but still lacked substance or quantity. I was done in minutes and turned my attention to my companion who had been surveying her plates with apprehension.

At $10 and $14, one would expect a proportionate serving of food, but what was offered seemed more fitting for an appetizer than a main course. The 3” taco was a flat round soft tortilla with one – maybe one and a half – shrimp(s) topped with slaw and a red sauce, taking up perhaps 1 ½” of space. Very, very little food for the price. Too little to determine if it was good, as the tortilla (small as it was) was the prominent feature, overshadowing the protein and veg. The 6” carne asada taco was a bit bigger, offering much more meat but lacking any flavour whatsoever, not even salt, which was clearly not part of the food prep, except for the chips, of course.

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Cochinita pibil

With ethnic cuisine, there is an art to the flavours. The meats are typically the same from culture to culture, but the spices and seasonings are what set them apart. With many, that is achieved through the sauces, added during or after cooking, so it might not even be necessary to add extra salt or pepper. Unfortunately, Agave’s offerings on this night fell short. The meats were under-seasoned and the thinly applied sauces were too scarce.

And we were still hungry.

We asked for the menu to fill the void and chose another round of tacos, because anything else would have just been gluttonous! We ordered the 3” handmade corn tortilla Cayman catch ($13) with wahoo and the 6”cochinita pibil ($11), another slow taco, with achiote pork, cooked in banana leaves and citrus. We should have stopped at the chips and salsa, the last two were as unremarkable and flavourless as the rest.

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But we were determined to finish on a high note, which at that point required copious amounts of either tequila or sugar. We chose the latter, ordering the churros ($9) with homemade guava ice cream and a slice of caramelised orange and the fried ice cream ($9) with vanilla. Finally, heaven! The churros were warm, crunchy, chewy and sweet with a side of Nutella for dipping, which singlehandedly boosted Agave’s food rating by one spoon. Fried ice cream always seems unnatural to me, but here we were, facing a giant serving. The outer layer of the deep-fried concoction appeared to be a tortilla, wrapped around a ball of ice cream, and topped with powdered sugar and shredded coconut. The wrapping was difficult to cut through and a bit chewy in texture, so we gave up on it once we’d broken through to the ice cream, which was just plain vanilla. A few bites and we were done.

Our elusive server eventually brought the bill and we were out of there – two hours after arriving, with very little of that time spent savouring and enjoying, which is unfortunate as we really wanted to fall in love with Agave again.

However, we will hold out hope that the restaurant will better train their servers, use salt and consider portion sizes in relation to appetites. Some items should just be starters and no one should be expected to pay $28 for four teeny tiny tacos.

The total bill was $142.60, including 15% gratuity.

Agave Grill website

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Category: Dinner, Golden Spoons Review

Comments (16)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    We went there on the first week upon reopening and decided not to go again for at least 1 year. I was served something I didn’t order, when I mentioned that, server got upset and insisted on serving the food. I accepted not to be mean! (I know it’s my fault) I don’t know what it was but I didn’t enjoy it. Server looked like she was working under a threat or something. Casa43 is delivering every time so we will probably stay loyal to them for a while

  2. Anonymous says:

    2 of us went on a recent Saturday.
    I liked the décor.
    Decent enough service. (bar was busy but not many tables occupied) Staff was friendly.
    Decent enough food but not overly impressed with the flavors. Drinks were overpriced because the very cool square ice cube taking up the entire wee teeny glass.
    And yes, got the chip trio for $14. We felt that was overpriced for the underwhelming flavors. (queso was thin)

    I may still go back in hopes of tweaks that may be made. But I will stick with water.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So the place changed hands? That is probably all one needs to know.

    • StopTheCrime says:

      No. Same owner, just different location across the street. I’d have to agree with this review. Food is still good, but there’s something missing from the old Agave magic, and the portion sizes are definitely too small.

  4. Anonymous says:

    onl in cayman could you pay $142 for mexican food….
    it not as if its fine dining beachfront dining on smb….
    i suppose they do have roundabout views….zzzzzzzz

  5. Anonymous says:

    I met the chefs at Slow Food earlier this year. To my question about when the restaurant was going to open, and where, I was given the cold shoulder. The chefs turned away, began chatting together, totally ignoring me and my friends .. what an attitude! Am i likely to visit, specially after this review? Not on your life. Plenty of other establishments who appreciate their customers and speak civilly to them during encounters outside the restaurant.

  6. I loved Agave when they were in their old spot and agree with the critic that the new ambiance is lacking; the charm of its original location is what separated it from the usual higher-class restaurants in Cayman.

    I tried to get in to Agave about three weeks after it had opened. We didn’t have a reservation but were willing to wait at the bar until a table opened .. or even just eat and drink at the bar, as long as I could get in! That first night, the hostess asked us if we had a reservation, to which we replied no. Her response was, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen,” to which I was appalled. Granted there were eight of us, but usually restaurants will say it will be an hour-long wait or however long and then you decide if it’s worth it. Or they’ll offer the bar, neither of which were on the table, so we hiked it to Casa 43 and had a grand time.

    About a month ago, the same eight people made a second attempt to dine at Agave (we were committed) but opted to pop by after work on a Friday to get a table early on. Thankfully there was a booth free and we grabbed it.

    I was disappointed all around with our meal. The prices seemed higher than I remember – one of the things I ordered was the cheese-stuffed jalapenos (which was around CI$14) and was underwhelmed to see TWO jalapenos on the plate, swimming (literally) in red mole. I paid $7 for a jalapeno. Two other orders on the table were incorrect entirely. It also took forever to get our food and, later, our bill.

    I’m sorry to say we’re not in a hurry to return.

  7. Anonymous says:

    CI$14 for chips&dips says it all….

  8. Anonymous says:

    mexican food is meant to be affordable, big and tasty…looks like they failed on all counts.
    old agave was way over-priced too.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I want to try this place out just because of this review. To me it sounded way too harsh. This is two peoples opinion on a very busy short staffed night. I know service is important but my my there’s different ways to say the same thing and not try to shut the place down.

    I always liked agave at the old location. The new bigger location should be amazing. Except I will give them more time to settle in and then decide.

    • A Golden Spooner =0) says:

      Knock yourself out. To be fair, this isn’t my first review and I would hope it’s appreciated that Agave is not a new starter…they have been in the business for many years, so should know what it takes to make it happen. As well, this was actually my most recent visit…I had been there several times before, hoping that it would be different. I have had FOUR different servers and it was always the same: cold, impatient, unprofessional. And each time, it has been only ONE server on the floor, trying to keep up – so if the place is prone to being busy, then hire extra help!

      The food…well, a recipe is a recipe now isn’t it. If they kept changing the way they cook every day it would be impossible to keep up – so I am certain that the food will taste the same in a year if they do not do something to fix that…

      The point of a review is not to shut a place down – so stop overreacting! Unless there are health concerns due to unhygienic conditions. The point is to help people make an informed decision and position a message that hopefully will encourage the establishment to make the necessary changes. I have made quiet suggestions from my table over the years as to how a restaurant can make their food better…did they listen? No. Because I am just one diner with one opinion. Read a bunch of reviews in one forum (i.e. Golden Spoons) and suddenly you have their attention.

  10. Anonymous says:

    i don’t understand this review. i have not eaten at agave yet, as I like to wait more than 3 weeks after opening to get my money’s worth. WHY do food critics always insist on going right away then complain and suggest it may be opening issues. It is quite possible the food was below par, but this makes no sense reviewing the food. Perhaps if you need to feel important and go right at the opening, talk more about setting and ambiance and just talk about the menu. as for the server, well she was probably bothered by the silly questions being asked. I just looked at the menu, and if Mexican truly is your favorite food, you would know all these items, as the menu is basic Mexican food. it is not changing any culinary divides here.

    Unfair to score this new restaurant like this

    CNS: We heard that the restaurant had changed hands and reopened in June – so more than your 3 weeks and not opening night. A restaurant review that doesn’t mention the food because it’s below par is certainly a novel idea but kind of defeats the object. Curious as to why you think the reviewer asked silly questions.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well you say in one sentence that the menu has the usual fare, so being a typical reviewer I can only imagine the questions. I assumed, I guess I shouldn’t. A review not talking about the food is pretty typical if you read most of these reviews on here. Most of the time the reviews are completely misguided and only do harm.
      I had dinner there tonight and the food was as you said though, but it is still early days. I feel for these people. It took them forever to open I would hate a review a month into being open pigeon hole a place.

      CNS: All of our reviews discuss the food, so that is an untruth.

  11. Anon says:

    After a two year break we were also looking forward to returning. However, we were similarly underwhelmed. We went on a Wed late lunch time and we thought service was too slow and not attentive enough despite it being only a quarter full. I hope it improves with a little time.

  12. Anonymous says:

    You spent $142.00 on tasteless tacos??

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m astounded too!
      And how does the review fit in with three spoons each for the food and ambience?! Two for service?