We also loved the chili relleño stuffed with jumbo lump crab, avocado, and sweet corn ($14.95). An empanada filled with a tasty pastry of duck confit, wild mushrooms, and salsa verde ($8.95) and a couple of gorditas ($8.45) -- masa pockets filled with roasted pork and cotija cheese -- made us happy too. The pastry, unfortunately, was chewy and dense instead of light and flaky, which hints at other problems.
The pastry-masa-tortilla conundrum hasn't been solved yet at MoQuila. Servers bring baskets of corn tortillas; in one instance, eating these little discs was like trying to chew up a piece of shirt-backing. A second batch was warmer, softer, but still not any particular pleasure to eat. Frankly, making fresh tortillas is a major undertaking; that distinctive corn flavor is what distinguishes true Mexican cuisine. I applaud MoQuila for the attempt, but it either needs to find a little old Mexican angel to work in the kitchen or just buy the damned things premade. And our calamari borracho with garlic, tequila, and red chili butter ($8.95) was a disaster -- somebody had dumped so much tequila into the mix that the alcohol killed the taste of everything and took a few of my brain cells with it.
Recommended entrées: We loved the achiote-glazed snapper ($23.95), a flaky, sweet fillet drizzled with green salsa and crema Latina, although here again, the sweet corn cakes needed lightening up. A dish of fresh dorado (Mexican mahi-mahi) sauced with pineapple ($22.95) and a salad of radish flowers and watercress was snappy and pretty. Spiced-rubbed shrimp enchiladas with roasted peppers, cream, quaxaca cheese, and green pumpkin seed sauce ($21.95) were absolutely delicious, a creamy, rich combination of flavors perfectly balanced and bursting with fat shrimp; it would have been unbeatable with a dash of salt to sharpen the flavors. We had no complaints either about our tender, marinated skirt steak with plantains and chimichurri sauce ($19.95). Pollo con mole ($16.95) offered a tender, rotisserie-cooked chicken breast in a dense pool of bitter, chili-chocolate sauce, along with a bland and watery chayote mash that could have used aggressive seasoning.
Underseasoning was a fairly common fault. My organic rotisserie roasted chicken half ($12.95) needed salt and a more muscular use of marinade; plus, the thigh was still bloody in the center. And the black beans and cilantro rice had almost no flavor.
We finished with a gigantic slab of chocolate tres leches ($7.95), a layer of chocolate cake topped with cream, coconut, and dulce de leche: not particularly authentic but a great hit with our chocolate lover. Forget about the raspberry mousse de tequila ($7.95), an overly sweet parfait.
The staff is really nice at MoQuila, just a little nervous and unpolished -- you get the feeling these servers have had a major crash course. They'll work out their stiffness with practice. Somebody was circulating and taking photos with a digital camera -- our party's picture came with our bill at the end of the night, and despite all the tequila we'd put down, we didn't look half bad.
How serendipitous that two gourmet Mexican restaurants have thrown open their doors in the same hurricane-drenched month in Boca Raton. I'm awfully glad to have Silvana as a counterpoint to MoQuila -- they're opposites in style and substance. Where MoQuila is big, brash, and brassy, Silvana is small and quiet: 44 seats in a long, narrow room between four terracotta-colored walls, a slash of electric-blue banquette running down one side, and oversized, bright, abstract paintings by Boca artists. Where MoQuila's brunet servers have apparently been chosen because they look Hispanic, they're just nervous white American kids. At Silvana, the waiters come from far-flung regions of Mexico -- great big, friendly boys with carefully combed, raven-colored locks, dressed in black with bright-red aprons, their handsome, gleaming smiles as wide as the Rio Grande. There's an ease and grace to their movements -- on a recent busy night, every table was full, one with a party of 14 English-language-challenged European 20-somethings, and I never saw one of the waiters look even minutely flustered.
The director of this show is Mexican too, not just a tourist passing through. His name is Antonio Brodziak, born and raised in Mexico City. Brodziak was taught to cook by his grandmother and later apprenticed to Alicia D'Angeli, then president of the Mexican Culinary Association. You can bet this kitchen knows how to turn out a damned fine tortilla.
Brodziak marries his classical Mexican culinary training with nouvelle touches he picked up in New York; he worked as chef de cuisine under Richard Sandoval at Tamayo and Maya. The focus of Brodziak's menu is seafood -- sea bass with roasted corn and tamarind, tuna with tomatillo and mango chutney, adobo-marinated yellowtail, and salmon served with warm pico de gallo and black bean sauce, all priced between $17 and $22.95.