Mikey and I started this blog mostly because we were bored and unemployed. Now we’re neither. In the interim we’ve managed to eat some good food, some not so good food, and meet a ton of really cool people.
Thanks to one of our readers, Michelle of ThePeevery.com, we might even get our 15 minutes of fame. You see, Michelle is an avid yelper and is just generally pissed off about a lot of things (probably because she’s about to pop out a kid any day now). One of the things that really got her going was her experience at Mama Rita’s in Newbury Park and the producers of a certain Gordon Ramsey fronted show found her review and invited her to come to Mama Rita’s Grand Re-opening. She was gracious enough to invite Mikey and myself to the fun and it was all down hill from there.
Mama Rita’s – Newbury Park in Dos Vientos’ lonely shopping center that is disguised as anything but.
I remember when Mama Rita’s was just a little hole in the wall in an industrial strip mall in Westlake. I used to go there for lunch all the time. I liked the simple, inexpensive, good food that they offered and the convenience of how close they were to my work. When I found out that they were moving up in the world, I was crushed. The thing about Mama Rita’s food is that it was never going to be considered gourmet and it also isn’t exactly authentic Mexican food either. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but that was pretty much contingent on the good prices and convenience.
The new Mama Rita’s is very nice looking. It has to be. It’s in a fairly wealthy neighborhood that expects the best. Unfortunately, it seems that the money went into the space instead of the food. Essentially, the same burrito that I was paying 6 bucks for, was now 12. Not exactly what I would call a good deal. So less than a year into their new location’s existence, Mama Rita’s was in trouble. So much trouble that they needed Gordon Ramsey to come in and right the ship.
And that brings us to last night. Our party arrived with a reservation for six and a hearty appetite. We were anxious to see what changes Ramsey had brought to our local cantina and Mikey was beside himself with excitement to see the man who he idolizes above all other celebrity chefs. They sat us right away and got our drink order to us in good time, but that was where the train went off the rails. We were in for a long night.
We decided to order appetizers first. I hadn’t eaten all day in anticipation, so I was hungrily munching away on chips and salsa while we waited for our nachos and an order of guacamole. We were told that the emphasis of the new menu was on fresh local ingredients, but when our nachos arrived, they were severely lacking in one key ingredient: cheese. There was barely any on the dish. The chips on the outside were burned because they didn’t have any cheesy insulation to help them out. They also forgot the beans, but it took us a little while to notice because the nachos were so sad.
The guacamole that we had ordered for $7 was probably less than what they served on the nachos. They ended up comping the guac and when we shared it, we probably each got about 3 chips worth. It tasted great, but I probably could have bought it for $1 at chipotle as far as the amount they gave us.
Round 2 of the nachos was better, but not by much. Still no freaking cheese. They had beans this time, and the chips were less burned, but the only reason we didn’t send these back is because we were really hungry at this point (about 45 minutes in). I actually scored the one good chip on the plate, lovingly nicknamed “the nacho” and I gotta say, if they had all been like that it would have been an awesome dish.
By this time we had all turned to booze (except Michelle). The mojitos and margaritas were strong and helped take the anger out of our wait. It was kind of awkward having a TV crew around us watching us talk about what it would be like to actually have food.
After two hours of sitting and drinking and laughing, our dinner finally came. We all got different things and there was a wide gap in quality between the best dish and worst. I got the worst. I ordered the mahi mahi, which was possibly the most dried out, pitiful excuse for fish that has ever been served in a restaurant. All you could taste was the char off the grill and you had to take a big swig of margarita just to wash the bite down. In contrast, the blackened shrimp tacos were fantastic. They were spicy and succulent and the sauce was light. I really appreciated the fact that our group was willing to share.
The other meals were in between the shrimp tacos and my mahi. Mikey got the carne asada which was served with an amazing sauce. You’ll have to tune in to the show to find out exactly what it was. I don’t want to give away all the secrets.
We had a couple people order fajitas and our good friend Amy, of Parenting with Duct Tape, had the shrimp dish. The consensus was that it was all very bland and that there wasn’t enough protein on the plate. Both the shrimp fajita and the Amy’s dish only had four shrimp on the plate and they weren’t of the jumbo variety. After the dinner last night, Mikey shared a great insight with me about the disappointing portion sizes. He told me that people don’t like Claim Jumper because their food is the best. They like Claim Jumper because they give you so much food that you feel like you’re being taken care of. Having mediocre food and then not getting enough to fill your stomach is the ultimate slap in the face. Paying $16 for the privilege makes you feel like a complete idiot.
Obviously, this was not the way Mama Rita’s wanted to re-open to the neighborhood. I actually felt bad for the owner and the waitstaff, who were clearly trying to hold the place together. The service was attentive and really apologetic and I think that things will get better as the cooks adjust to the new menu. I really wanted to like this reincarnation of the restaurant, but I just don’t know if it’s in the cards. Things have gotten to the point that I don’t even know if Gordon Ramsey is enough to save them.
If you do decide to check out Mama Rita’s, make sure to get the blackened shrimp tacos. They are the best thing on the menu, by far. Also, make sure that you block out a couple hours on your schedule because you won’t be going anywhere for a while. Binge drinking is highly recommended and helps the time to pass a bit more mercifully.