Chris Israel’s Mexican restaurant collaboration with investment group ChefStable has been struggling since they opened the doors. I like the space, which is at SW 12th and Washington St., but from the opening the food was a bit expensive, not that great, the drinks were inconsistent, and the menu wasn’t approachable enough for the size of crowd they are going to need to pay the bills. A few months after opening, they retooled the menu, dropping drink prices and removing some of the more esoteric dishes, and, unfortunately, somewhat Americanizing the food.
Now, According to PortlandMonthly, Chris Israel is no longer involved:
“Even with a scaled back menu, I took it too personally, trying to honor my background. I didn’t want to be remembered as a taqueria. It’s hard to find good cooks; there’s a shortage of talent right now. Everyone thinks Mexican food is easy, but it’s not.”
Instead, ex Tabla chef Anthony Cafiero has been brought in as a consultant, simplifying the menu yet again, and steering it more towards small sharing plates. Corazon is still using the house-made masa, but gone are the oyster shooters, seafood cocktails, enchiladas, chiles rellenos and carnitas. Small plates are good choices in many restaurant situations, because at casual glance the menu can seem inexpensive, but the prices add up quickly and guests frequently end up paying more than they would for regular sized plates.
These days, with a few companies financing many restaurants, the pressure is on for them to turn a profit from the start, rather than taking a little time to tweak things and to build an audience. It reminds me of the new television season, where they have to grab an audience right away, or they are canceled after three episodes. I find it hard to believe that with the right menu and kitchen staff a good Mexican restaurant couldn’t thrive downtown – something along the lines of Autentica, Mextiza, Mi Mero Mole or Nuestra Cocina. We already have enough Cha Cha Cha type restaurants.
I wish they had given Chris a bit more time, but hopefully he will be able to open a less ambitious, smaller restaurant where the pressure will be less, and he can work to see his vision come to fruition. I get the feeling his heart wasn’t in this venture from the beginning.