Restaurant review: Mi Casa doubles the pleasure with New London restaurant

In this fertile crescent of grinders, seafood and pizza, is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

Let me answer that for you.

No, it's not.

The fact, then, that Mi Casa II is now open in New London - joining the Tex-Mex ranks of Ortega's in Groton and Clinton, Coyote Blue in Middletown, Jalapeno Heaven in Branford and the original Mi Casa in Norwich - is damned welcome. It is now possible to embark on a six-city Enchilada Crawl which, to my knowledge, has never happened, but perhaps it should.

Mi Casa II is located on the newest hip thoroughfare in New London, Golden Street, hard to 33 and the Telegraph and in the spot formerly occupied by Tropical Breeze. It's a bright, casual restaurant, divided into two narrow spaces: a bar area and a dining room. In the offing are polished floors of blond wood and a color scheme mixing earth tones with vibrant hues.

The staff is friendly and welcoming, though it's worth noting there can be a bit of a language barrier. It was tough, for example, to find out whether a particular dish contained any meat by-products; on another occasion, a request to leave guacamole off an entree seemed to result in even more guacamole.

No big deal, though, because the food is excellent and the menu is expansive and as such provides opportunities for many future visits. In addition to Tex-Mex staples, there is a wide sampling of more indigenous possibilities ranging from Cecina al Gusto (salted beef) and menudo (tripe soup) to mixed meat platters including beef tongue, roasted pork and spicy sausage. There is also a kids' menu, breakfast served all day, and American-style sandwiches, burgers and wraps.

On our first visits, we concentrated on the Tex-Mex possibilities because, well, that's what we crave.

As per Tex-Mex protocol, you're greeted with a bowl of warm tortilla chips and a salsa. Mi Casa's is an interesting take: the chips might actually be made from flash-fried flour tortillas, which provides a different texture and thickness. Nice. As for the salsa, it's homemade daily and, as such, can vary slightly.

On one stop, the salsa was almost like a pico de gallo, with very little liquid presence and a lot of peppers, onion and chopped tomato. On another day, it was much more watery and not as flavorful.

Appetizers are limited to American sports bar-type fare: wings, chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks. However, from an extensive list of sides, you can order such things as guacamole, cactus, or beans and rice. If there's a queso option, I didn't see it.

Nachos, available as an entree ($9.95), can certainly be ordered in an opener context and, though prepared in no-frills version - chips, refried beans, cheese and your choice of beef or chicken - the toppings are plentiful and tasty.

Know this: the entrees are generous in terms of portion, and since most are served with beans and rice, I'm not sure appetizers are required.

Here are highlights, sampled chiefly from the most basic Tex-Mex options: from our first trips to Mi Casa II:

• Chilaquiles ($10.50): We haven't seen these since our days back in Texas. There was a ton or so of corn tortilla chips covered in the Casa's amazing green sauce (so piquant!), sprinkled with shreds of queso fresco and topped with an egg done your way - fried or scrambled. Big, big flavor.

• Enchiladas Suizas ($11.95): You get your choice of chicken or beef - I went with shredded, stewed and seasoned chicken breast - clumped inside large corn tortillas. Topped with cheese, sour cream and more of the amazing verde sauce, you're happily faced with two tennis shoe-sized creations. Rice and beans accompany.

• Ground Beef Burrito ($9.95; you can also order this with chicken): Wow. The beef has been seasoned with something like chili powder and maybe cumin, which works wonderfully. The red sauce ladled over the flour tortilla also has a slightly bitter, almost mole component; not sure how they pulled it off but it's wonderful. Yes: there's cheese and sour cream melting in concert with the sauce. The menu says it comes with a side salad but the platter contained rice and beans, which I actually preferred.

One off-note came with the "Mexican Burrito" ($7.75), which was listed on the Egg Platters section of the menu. In addition to an anticipated scrambled egg component, a tortilla was stuffed with onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and avocado. One problem: there was no egg. A second problem: the ingredients mixture was top-heavy on onions and jalapenos, which made it extremely spicy - even by Texan standards. Overall, it was monodimensional and uninteresting.

On the whole, though, Mi Casa II is a welcome addition to not just the New London restaurant community, but for the area at large.

Mi Casa II

31 Golden St., New London
(860) 596-0201

Authentic Mexican including not just border-style Tex-Mex but indigenous dishes from the interior. Also: plenty of American style sandwiches.

Atmosphere: Clean, festive, attractive.

Service: Very friendly. There can be language issues at times, and it can be slow going during lunch or dinner rushes, but the food and experience is worth it.

Handicap access: Accessible.

Credit cards: All majors.

Reservations: Probably not necessary.


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