PLANO – A world with more opportunities to eat Gabriel DeLeon's quesadillas de huitlacoche is, no question about it, a better world.
It's a fabulous dish: handmade blue corn tortillas folded over huitlacoche – the silky-textured, umami-rich, faintly funky delicacy also known as Mexican truffle or corn fungus – plus asadero cheese, roasted poblanos, tomatoes, epazote and more. Chef DeLeon stacks the half-moon-shaped packages on a plate sauced half-and-half with New Mexico green and red salsas, leaving the top tortilla open, scattering corn kernels on top and squiggling it with crema.
Until recently, you could eat the dish only at Mi Día From Scratch in Grapevine – which was all well and good if you happened to live in or near Grapevine, but kind of a drag if you didn't.
Now you can eat it in this northern suburb whose restaurant boom shows no signs of slowing. The new Mi Día From Scratch is planted across from Princi Italia (yes, there's a new one of those, too), a stone's throw from the Royale Magnificent Burgers (from the owners of Oak), in a development called West Plano Village. Its menu, identical to the Grapevine original's, features a smart assortment of Mexican dishes, Santa Fe specialties and Tex-Mex combos.
Naturally I zeroed in on those quesadillas the first time I stopped in to the new Mi Día for dinner, a little nervous, I must confess, that the dish might have lost something along the way from Grapevine to Plano. Would the flavors be flattened out? Would the tortillas be too stiff? When restaurants multiply, care in preparation has a way of evaporating. Happy surprise: It was as delicious as it was beautiful, a wonderful interplay of toothsome tortilla, tangy green sauce, piquant-dusky red sauce, rich melty cheese, luscious huitlacoche – perfect to share between two or more, as each folded half-moon lifts neatly off the stack.
As at the original Mi Día, the dining room's focal point is a round central bar that looks like something from a Busby Berkeley musical, with a chorus line of fancy-looking tequila bottles dancing on Plexiglas tiers all the way to the ceiling. There are lots of booths (designed for very tall people, apparently; our feet barely touched the floor); a busy, quick-paced, casual vibe; an inviting patio; and giant photo prints of luscious-looking fruit that make the room look ready to be replicated in locations in a dozen cities.
I enjoyed most of the rest of what we had that night, particularly cochinita pibil – pork flavored with orange and achiote, wrapped in banana leaf and slow-roasted to melty tenderness. Dressed with pink pickled onion, its traditional garnish, it was terrific wrapped in fine handmade corn tortillas. For dessert I loved a scoop of blueberry ice cream spiked with tequila. The service was warm and attentive, and I looked forward to returning.
What a difference grumpy service can make. When I returned with three ebullient guests (I'd talked the place up!), our merry mood was nearly shattered by a stony-faced server who seemed put-upon taking and delivering orders. She didn't seem hostile, just miserable to the point that we were reluctant to ask if the cocktails were coming soon, as the tamales we'd ordered as apps had already landed.
The drinks list is populated with a silly number of margaritas and other cocktails (more than 60!), along with a lengthy explanation of why lemons are used instead of limes. I found myself wishing for fewer choices and better drinks. One called Pink Taco, which I ordered because its Japanese cilantro ice sphere sounded cool, tasted like tequila-spiked pink lemonade from a carton.
"Are you OK?" I asked as our sullen server delivered a plate. She seemed to collect herself and said she was. The expression of concern seemed to help a little; at least now she made eye contact and made sure we had what we needed.
Other servers (I realized, as I looked around the dining room) looked equally glum. It was a moderately but not terribly busy Tuesday evening.
What a relief when the affable gent who came to make guacamole tableside cheerfully asked how we'd like it customized (medium-spicy, no garlic, no bacon). We enjoyed watching him add ingredients to the ripe avocados in the molcajete, grinding and seasoning with a flourish and a smile.
Who knew that the queso fundido we ordered involved tableside preparation as well? Unfortunately the young woman charged with filling handmade flour tortillas with melted cheese did so at the same time the guacamolero put on his show; her display was wasted as she was nearly hidden from view behind him.
Nearly six months after the restaurant opened, there are clearly issues to be worked out.
This time, many of the dishes hit their marks; most notably slices of well-seared, guajillo-chile-rubbed duck breast served next to a pool of mole coloradito enlivened by diced pineapple and paired with a sope topped with black bean purée and duck leg confit. A grilled skirt steak cooked perfectly medium-rare came topped with a chile relleno, swathed in those good red and green New Mexican chile sauces and melted cheese.
Other dishes were less successful, such as the guacamole, which required a good deal of doctoring with salsas and salt both times I ordered it, and the queso fundido, which quickly congealed, once enclosed in the flour tortilla rolls, to bland clunkiness. Duck carnitas tacos on flour tortillas were likable, if not exciting; ditto enchiladas filled with faintly fishy crabmeat, Chilean sea bass and onions, cloaked in a salsa verde.
What a difference grumpy service can make.
The place is not inexpensive: Guacamole goes for $15; the queso fundido is $13; the crab enchiladas – which come with good black bean purée and uninspired esquites – are $30. That's a lot of dough when the dish is delivered with a grunt.
For dessert, there's plenty to choose from; we enjoyed churros filled with cajeta and served with velvety house-made Negra Modelo milk chocolate ice cream and a thick, rich flan.
One hopes DeLeon – who besides being chef is a managing partner – can work out the rough spots.
Mi Día From Scratch (2 stars)
Price: $$$ (lunch dishes $10 to $18; brunch dishes $12 to $25; dinner appetizers, soups and salads $5 to $19, main courses $11 to $35; desserts $6 to $13)
Service: Wildly uneven, ranging from cheerfully attentive to sluggish and morose
Ambience: A busy, casual dining room with a sleek (if maybe a little corporate) feel, lots of booths and an inviting patio
Noise level: Medium. Can be somewhat noisy, but conversation wasn't difficult.
Location: 3310 Dallas Parkway (at West Parker Road), Plano; 972-403-7474; midiafromscratch.com
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar, with a long list of margaritas and other cocktails, plus a cursory wine list and 16 beers (including nine from Mexico) by the bottle.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50