Wingate brings stability, great food to Agave
It may have started to feel like there was a revolving door at 830 W. Sprague Ave., as Bluefish became Aqua and Aqua became Agave. But now that the spinning has stopped, there’s reason to step inside.
The new Agave Latin Bistro is in the steady hands of chef-owner Ian Wingate. He brings the same beautifully presented, creative dishes to the plate that have made Moxie a local favorite – this time featuring Latin flavors.
The restaurant is a partnership with Sergio DeLeon, of DeLeon’s Foods, so the locally made tortillas and salsas are there. But don’t expect the bistro to be a glorified trip through the Mexican deli (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Wingate elevates the sultry smokiness of chipotle and tames ancho and habanero chilies in inventive dishes that are fun to share.
We started a recent meal with soup – gazpacho ($4) for me and the tequila chicken ($5) for my husband.
One whiff of the smoky aroma of his first course and I was certain that I’d made a mistake. His soup tasted as good as it smelled, with tender bites of chicken and the flavors of tomatillo and a hint of tequila.
But my gazpacho was a welcome burst of what are usually hot-weather flavors. I dipped the crunchy tortilla strips from the chips and salsa into the puree. The cold, fresh taste turned out to be the perfect antidote for seasonal comfort-food overload.
During another visit, my dining companion and I split the prawn salad to start. The crisp greens were dressed with cilantro-lime vinaigrette that had a zing from jalapeño that I loved, but left her reaching for the water glass.
The prawns were generous, and slices of sweet papaya and creamy avocado helped soothe the lingering effects of the chilies.
Land or sea entrees hold equal promise for diners. We tried one of each during our visits.
My tender sea scallops ($23) were served atop small rounds of grilled polenta and finished with a drizzle of syrup sweetened with agave. A crunchy relish of jicama, papaya and cilantro was stacked alongside, with grilled asparagus.
I reluctantly traded a couple of the scallop and polenta stacks for bites of my husband’s duck breast entrée ($23). The meat was perfectly cooked and served atop chorizo risotto. My heat-loving husband soaked up every bit of the habanero glaze and tomatillo-lime sauce.
The menu description of the lobster paella ($21) neglects to mention the lobster among the list of ingredients. (Our server said it was a common query.) But when the entrée arrived, there was no question whether it had been forgotten.
Large succulent pieces of lobster were nestled into the saffron risotto and I’m not sure it could have held more ingredients. In addition to the lobster, chorizo sausage, prawns, chicken, calamari and clams were piled high with the earthy rice.
We also tried the Carne Asada ($18) and were not disappointed. The flank steak was marinated, rubbed with traditional spices, seared and served with DeLeon tortillas and rustic rice and black beans. The grilled steak is also available on a salad ($12) or served in tacos ($14) with onions and cilantro.
Tacos can also be ordered with Grilled Blackened Ahi Tuna ($16), Grilled Chipotle Mahi Mahi ($16) or Grilled Ancho Chile Chicken ($12), which are served with lime crème fraiche along with the cilantro and onions.
Don’t be intimidated by the description of the wild boar entrees. The meat is simmered in a sauce of tomatillos, peppers, onion and herbs and tastes like a more flavorful version of its domesticated cousin, the pig.
We didn’t try it, but Moxie fans might be tempted by a small plate of Wild Boar Ribs ($10) topped with Moxie’s signature chipotle barbecue sauce.
Named for the Central American plant that provides juice that is distilled into tequila, Agave (uh GAH vee) offers an extensive list of tequilas in the restaurant and lounge.
We found wines by the glass that stood up well to the bold and spicy flavors during each visit. Each time, our server was swift, intuitive and kind.
The desserts we tried were delicious. I thought the crunch of caramelized sugar on the creamy pumpkin crème brulee ($7) was the perfect finale for our meal at Agave.
That is, until I tried the Mexican-style flan ($7) drenched in caramel during a following visit. The dessert had a simple but beautiful presentation that allowed the custard and caramel to carry us happily away into the evening.
Wingate may be known for marrying Asian flavors with traditional fare at Moxie, but he’s equally adept at showing off the best in Latin ingredients. The result makes Agave worth a visit.