Editor’s Note: Ciento is now closed.
When talking about Mexican food, the word beginning with the letter O that typically comes to mind is “Olé!” But after a visit to Ciento Tequila Bar and Mexican Kitchen in Golden Valley, you’d be more likely to say “Oy.” Located in the old Majors Sports Cafe spot off 394 and Louisiana Ave., this new concept from Premier Restaurant Management beckons customers with promises of more than 100 tequilas and “authentic and creative” Mexican food, but as a recent evening there revealed, the uneven dining experience at Ciento will also have you saying “no” much more than “sí.” Lo siento, but Barrio this ain’t.
As a restaurant that touts its drinks before the food in its name, you’d think Ciento’s servers would be thoroughly versed in its menu of 111 tequilas, ranging from $4 shots of oro and mezcal varieties to an $85 shot of Patron Burdeos. Since the members of our group didn’t all know the ins and outs of each kind of tequila, we asked our server to walk us through the menu. “Wait just a minute,” she called back as she ran to the bar to fetch a paper sign that explained the differences among the tequilas and then read it to us, word for word. When we asked for recommendations, she deferred to the host on duty that night, who seemed to have a much better grasp of the selection. Note to management: If you’re going to bill yourself as a tequila bar, your staff should know the tequila. We’re not saying they should be able to give a five-minute presentation on each variety’s merits and flaws, but they shouldn’t have to read from a piece of paper to give diners a basic overview of the menu.
After all of that, most of us decided to go for mixed drinks instead, to varying degrees of success. The house Ciento Margarita ($9) was a fine example of how a simple drink can outshine its fancier counterparts on the cocktail menu. The flavors of the tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau were well balanced, unlike in the Sangre Margarita ($8), which mostly tasted of tequila, to the detriment of the appealing blend of prosecco, lime juice, agave nectar, and blood orange juice that made up the rest of the drink. The Ginger and Spice ($8) lacked ginger flavor but tasted suspiciously like it contained an abundance of sour mix (though upon checking with the bartender, we confirmed it was lime juice), and the Tajito ($8) — a mojito made with tequila in place of rum — paled in comparison to its inspiration. The chalice-like goblet in which the white wine sangria ($6) was served was impressive, but the taste of the peach schnapps overwhelmed the drink’s other components.
Drinks finally settled, we turned to the food, and two things immediately stood out: 1) OMG, tableside guacamole! and 2) you mean we have to pay for chips and salsa? Aren’t free chips and salsa what make a restaurant a Mexican restaurant? We anted up the $1.99 for bottomless chips and salsa and were disappointed to find the salsa to be little more than tomato puree lacking any freshness whatsoever. Bummer. Instead, we set our hopes on the tableside guac ($8.99), which our waitress mixed in a plastic molcajete while asking us how many tomatoes and jalapeños we wanted added to the avocado. Unfortunately, she didn’t ask us how much of the lime juice “dressing” we wanted, and we ended up with a bowl full of guac that tasted like lime juice — and only lime juice. Double bummer.
For the most part, though, the entrees did compensate for the lackluster drinks and apps. The fish dishes, in particular, stood out for their expert seasoning and texture. The seared tuna tacos ($12) featured a jalapeño cabbage slaw that added a pleasant crunch to the tender fish, and the tilapia veracruz ($15) garnered raves for its orange-spiked flavor and the addictive sauteed onions on the side. Once the flour tortillas arrived on the side of the chile-rubbed tuna, we realized it was practically the same dish as the tuna tacos but for $7 more. Still tasty, just more expensive.
A mixed grill of chicken and skirt steak fajitas ($16) performed admirably, with the nicely charred steak edging out the extremely lightly seasoned chicken for best filling. The meat in the carnitas tacos ($8), however, tasted a bit dry, as did its accompanying rice and beans. When measured up against the same dish at Barrio, there was no comparison to the moist, flavorful, and balanced meat at that establishment’s two locations in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Ciento burrito ($9) could best be described as a meat bomb — the flour tortilla was so packed with rice and chicken that it left no room for sauce, cheese, sour cream, or other toppings inside. Diners accustomed to the Chipotle-style, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink burritos may be surprised, but when forkfuls of meat were mixed with the lettuce and such on the side, it made for a satisfying dish.
With dessert, however, our meal took a turn for the worse. It wasn’t the fault of the fried ice cream and apple fajitas — both had their fans — but it was the tres leches cake, which we had to return to the kitchen due to its rancid taste. When we told our waitress about the gag-inducing pastry, she hinted that it hadn’t been the first time the kitchen had received such a complaint. Really? Perhaps it doesn’t belong on the menu then.
Our waitress did give us one good tip, however. “Back home in Grand Forks, we have Paradiso, and this is a big step up from there,” she shared as we settled the bill. Note to selves: If ever in Grand Forks, steer clear of Paradiso.
BEST BET: The fish dishes showed that someone in the kitchen has a good grasp of seafood. Try the seared tuna tacos ($12) or the tilapia veracruz ($15).
Ciento Tequila Bar and Mexican Kitchen
Mexican cuisine in Golden Valley
6440 Wayzata Blvd
Golden Valley, MN 55426
OWNER: Premier Restaurant Management
HOURS: 11am-1am daily
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $7-20