Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: The Mission Restaurant

Name: The Mission Restaurant
Address: 304 E Onondaga St Syracuse, NY
Neighborhood: Downtown (Columbus Circle)
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: Mexican and Pan-American
Alcohol: Beer and Wine
Hours: Monday 11:30 AM to 2 PM, Tuesday-Thursday 11:30 AM to 9 PM, Friday 11:30 AM to 10 PM, Saturday 5 PM to 10 PM, Sunday 4 PM to 9 PM
Parking: On street and occasionally free parking in a private lot on E Onondaga St (call for details)
Accepts credit cards: Yes

Note: I had had only two experiences at The Mission prior to this one: the first being about 8 years ago when they first opened and I remember the food being sub-par, and the second time was this Summer for a birthday dinner (where my family and I were treated to some of the worst service ever). Needless to say, I was hoping on this occasion that The Mission could make me forget my two prior visits. And yes, they succeeded.

I got into The Mission on a Tuesday evening around 5:30. Parking wasn't a problem as I found a spot on Jefferson St and walked about a block and a half to the restaurant. The Mission is uniquely situated in an old Wesleyan Methodist Church at Columbus Circle (complete history here). Inside, you'll see a wide range of colors and some of the best decor in any Syracuse Restaurant: An extended bar on the left side with giant, ordinate columns, stained glass windows letting in natural sunlight, booths on the right for more intimate dining, and a kitchen in the back where you can see the chefs preparing Pan-American and Mexican dishes.

The menu is great and has a nice range of standard Mexican fare (like tacos and burritos) mixed with creative new dishes. And in case you can't figure out what pasilla means, the back of the menu features a Spanish to English dictionary and pronunciation guide of sorts to help out with Mexican cuisine terminology that you might be unfamiliar with.

You are treated to fresh pico de gallo salsa and chips after you sit down...

The salsa was extremely tasty. Perfect chunks of tomatoes with onions, jalapenos, and cilantro.

The order...

Salsa Tasting Menu: $2
Basic Margarita: $5
Puerco: $17
Total cost with tax and tip: $29.68

The margarita was very good and had quite the kick!

The table salsa was so good that I just had to order the "salsa tasting menu". Salsas include a roasted tomato chipotle (pictured on top), tomatillo serrano (pictured in the middle), and a papaya habanero salsa (pictured on the bottom). The roasted tomato was smokey and had just the right amount of heat and garlic. The tomatillo serrano, though my least favorite of the 3 on the plate, was sweet and the blackened tomatillos were a nice change of pace. And the papaya habenero, which turned out to be my favorite, was a extremely hot and citrusy. This salsa was great and I loved the unique combination of tomatoes and papaya as a salsa.

The entree Puerco was: Rum and pineapple glazed, oven-roasted pork loin medallions topped with a grilled pineapple and red onion salsa. Served with sweet plantain fufu and vegetable del dia.

The rum and pineapple glaze was excellent except for the fact that there was a puddle of it at the bottom of my plate. Though, should I be complaining about having too much rum in my dish? Me thinks not. The fufu (mashed sweet plantains cooked with onions and bacon) was great and had a similar constancy to stuffing: sweet with the plantains and hearty with the bacon and onions. I would recommend giving this side-dish a shot, even if you have never had plantains before. The vegetable del dia (vegetable of the day) was cooked zucchini and squash. Although squash was one of the foods that was on my "would-not-eat-unless-it-was-a-life-or-death-situation" list, after trying them at The Mission, hey what do you know, I love squash now. Both vegetables were a great compliment to the fufu. The pork loin was cooked perfectly with just a little pink on the inside and the grilled pineapple and red onion salsa mixture was very sweet and tangy.

I suppose if I had to change one or two things about this place, it would be to exchange the tortilla chips at The Mission with El Canelo's. Not that The Mission's are bad by any means, but El Canelo's were thicker, served warm, and tasted more like corn tortillas. Again, not that this should warrant a star rating in either direction or be a big deal to anybody, but it's merely a small judgement call on my part. And I thought the music could have been a little more authentic. I have no problem whatsoever listening to Steve Miller while I'm chowing down on awesome Mexican food, but I think The Mission should set themselves apart from other places in the area and maybe play some Mexican-style music instead of Rock 'n Roll, as it might be better suited with the decor and food. Some instrumental music like this for starters.

Some other things of note...

- Salsas and guacamole can be ordered to go.

- Catering services and gift certificates are offered. Call for info.

- Free parking is available. Call for details.

- I'm not quite going to label The Mission a "date spot", because it can get fairy loud in here at times depending on when you visit

All and all, the entrees may be on the pricier side for some (and if that is the case, I would highly recommend their lunch menu with more affordable offerings) but your palette will be treated to a wide-range of flavors and ingredients that you will just not get by visiting most, if not all Mexican places in the area. And from a personal standpoint, The Mission deserves praise not only for totally redeeming themselves on the terrible service that I had prior to this visit, but for also reversing my view on squash. The service this time was very good and the food was excellent.

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The Mission on Urbanspoon

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