New Mexican

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Rojo Mexican Bistro brings a new style of Mexican restaurant to the area, with upscale ambience, a mix of authentic tacos, enchiladas and burritos as well as dishes reflecting the "gourmet" food served in Mexico. Executive chef Luis Garza spoke with us recently.

METRO TIMES: Describe the difference between the food at Rojo Mexican Bistro and the food at the typical Mexican restaurant in the Detroit area.

LUIS GARZA: When I make this menu, I know that the people know about the traditional Mexican food like enchiladas and tamales. In Mexico, we have all different kinds of nice food. We have other dishes. Americans are not familiar with these things. I have a lot of very nice things on the menu that I sell a lot of, our "Rojo Signatures" like huitlacoche that nobody has here in Michigan. All my quesadillas are served with guacamole, beans, and rice with choices; like I have black beans, pinto beans, white rice — vegetarian — and red rice. What we do here is all fresh. Nothing in the back is in a can. My mother is in the kitchen cooking too.

MT: What prompted the opening of this type of restaurant?

GARZA: I was cooking Italian food and the owners love it. They travel to Mexico a lot and taste the food. They come over here and they taste my food and wanted to serve it. We opened this restaurant on Nov. 17. We are doing very great. On the weekends people stand at the bar and have a drink and they wait. We have 110 tequilas. We have one tequila that cost $175 a shot. Great tequila. The manager is taking a class to learn the different tequilas to tell the customers. Tequila is not just tequila. Differences in taste can be the age, the kind of wood where it's aged, the process of distillation. All of the tequila is produced in Jalisco, where the agave grows.

MT: What made you think that this type of restaurant would succeed, serving dishes not familiar to many people?

GARZA: We thought people would come here to try regular Mexican food, but when they see our menu they would try other dishes. Some of them looked at the menu and said that this is not Mexican food, but after they tried it, we have a lot of come-backs.

MT: What are some of the signature dishes and what are some of the dishes that you would recommend to people who want to explore real Mexican cuisine?

GARZA: We have camarones rellonos, shrimp that are stuffed with cheese, then breaded and sautéed, not fried, with poblano peppers, onions, garlic, white wine and lobster sauce, topped with cilantro. The guacamole is done tableside. We have fish tacos, grilled, not fried. We do not have menudo. Sometimes the waiters say that a customer wants menudo or posole. I talk to the customer and tell him to call me and I will make it. Someone called and said that his mother made menudo when he was growing up and he wanted some on Sunday. I asked how many people. He said 25. I make it for them. They love it. If people call, they want something, I do it for them. I have cazuella de mariscos, a seafood soup. It has chipotle and lemon in the broth, lobster, mussels, shrimp, mahi-mahi and snapper. Like cioppino.

MT: Fish tacos have recently become popular. How are yours different?

GARZA: Everyone makes them fried now. I don't. I grill this fish, fresh mahi mahi, about 50 pounds a week. I put on coleslaw made with white cabbage and red cabbage and jalapeños, aioli, which is a garlic mayonnaise, tomatoes and lime, with a choice of corn or flour or whole-wheat tortillas. I go to the tables and talk to the customers to see what they like.

MT: Your mom works in the kitchen. What does she do?

GARZA: She makes the classic things like the tomatillo sauce and the meats, the ground beef and the grilled meat and the chicken.

MT: What is your culinary background? Did you learn to cook at home?

GARZA: I started cooking when I was 10 years old. My mom was working and I stayed at home and began to cook in my own style. I love it. When I came here in 1985 — I was 18 — I learned to cook Italian food too. Every time I drive, my mind is always working, thinking what I can make. I read cookbooks trying to find new ideas and then I experiment to make new dishes.

MT: Are all of the ingredients that you or anyone wanting to cook gourmet Mexican at home available locally?

GARZA: I go to the Honeybee La Colmena. I remember when I came here in 1985 it was a little tiny place. Then they built a beautiful market. Now all kinds of people go there to shop.

MT: The foods one can eat in Mexico include much more than just the so-called corn kitchen, that is, tacos, enchiladas and burritos, fried and then covered with globs of cheese — I call it montanas de queso — foods that incorporate fresh seafood and delicious dishes like carne de puerco en tomatillo salsa. What is the most unusual dish you serve.

GARZA: Huitlacoche [a fungus that grows on corn]. I make it with shiitake, oyster and portabella mushrooms, epazote and onions. We serve it as a quesadilla.

MT: What makes a good chef?

GARZA: The cooks. I cannot prepare all the food myself for a restaurant full of people. I help the cooks to grow and to become chefs. I know some of them will leave, but I like to help them.

Rojo Mexican Bistro is located at 44375 12 Mile Rd., in Fountain Walk, Novi; 248-374-4600.

Honeybee La Colmena is at 2443 Bagley, Detroit; 313-2370295.

Jeff Broder does this interview column for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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