Last time I checked in with Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, I ate lunch at their downtown Los Angeles restaurant, CiUDAD. The chefs, better known by their Food Network alter egos, “Two Hot Tamales,” were in absentia, possibly on location. The food was fine, but nothing I was excited to revisit. I wrote off the “Hot Tamales” as irrelevant and never looked back…until recently, when I read S. Irene Virbila’s account of CiUDAD’s Sunday Tapas in the LA Times. Goat cheese fritters with cherries? Spinach empanadas with pine nuts and raisins? Lobster Salad with Shaved Cucumber, Melon, and Sherry-Mint Aioli? I had to go.
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger came to prominence in Los Angeles in the 80’s, teaming on the restaurant CITY (CiUDAD in English). They next fell for the cuisine of Mexico and Border Grill supplanted CITY. A burgeoning Food Network hired them for two shows, “Two Hot Tamales” and “Tamales World Tour,” and their exposure and popularity soared. The second show exposed them to the cuisines of the Caribbean, Central and South America, providing Milliken and Feniger with the impetus and knowledge base to open CiUDAD. The duo also has a Border Grill in Vegas.
Design wise, CiUDAD was unchanged since my last visit, which was a good thing. The walls are canary yellow and mint green, with boxy canary-hued lanterns and black scribble lining the walls and ceiling. On Sunday nights, things get pretty lonely downtown, between the empty skyscrapers, but not here. Since it was the holiday season, CiUDAD was especially festive. The poles were wrapped with red ribbon, like candy canes.
To drink, my girlfriend and I each began with a “Refresher” ($3.50 each). They sold out of the most intriguing selection, pomegranate lemonade, so we split a “Ciudad Cucumber Cooler: Crisp cucumbers blended with fresh lime and mint”; and a “Minty Lime Cooler: Fresh mint and lime with a splash of soda and a touch of sugar.” I liked the first one better. The latter could have done without the soda.
We split six dishes, five of them successful. The best dish was the boneless baby back ribs ($10) slow roasted in chile, spices and sweet mistela. Mistela involves tequila, and the tender, chewy, caramelized ribs came with a shot glass of spiced tequila sauce. I drank it as a shot, and it was easily the best tequila shot I’ve ever tasted, not like that’s saying a lot. I’m at eater, not a drinker.
Goat cheese fritters with sherry soaked cherries (3 for $6) featured three very lightly fried goat cheese balls, triangular flatbread and both green and orange pickled cherries. The cheese was great, creamy and tasty.
After our delicious CiUDAD experience, I admit I underestimated Feniger and Milliken. Looks like they have some culinary kick left after all. That, or more likely, they hired the right Executive Chef: Kajsa Dilger. Either way, I plan on a Sunday return. Who knows, if I’m feeling really daring, I might even take a trip on a weeknight.