By Zach Brown
I have high expectations every time I visit a restaurant for the first time. I want a reason to come back, something that sets it apart from the hundreds of other restaurants in Berks County. I'm looking for a unique experience. I'm looking for attentive service. Above all, I'm looking for great food.
Unfortunately, it's inevitable that I will be disappointed from time to time.
La Cocina Mexicana is successful enough for two locations, one in Temple and one in Kutztown. The Kutztown location sits in a nondescript two-story brick building on the corner of Main St. and Constitution Blvd.
But inside the building comes alive. Vibrant shades of red, yellow, orange and green pop from the carved wooden tables. A self-portrait of Frida Kahlo hangs on the wall, her ominous unibrow staring at the diners below.
I ordered the mole poblano, described as "pieces of chicken smothered in rich, red or green mole." Mole poblano is normally a delicious dark sauce made of chili peppers, a dozen different spices, and sometimes chocolate. The flavors should dance across your tongue, a perfect blend of spicy and salty.
My meal hit none of those flavors. The chicken was boiled, dry and tasteless. "Pieces" is a great way to describe it because it was hard to tell what type of meat I was eating. Some of it was dark, some white, all of it flavorless. The sauce was as flavorless as the meat. There was no hint of chili peppers, or any other flavor to speak of.
Every order comes with rice, refried beans and a side of guacamole. The rice was yellow and dry while the "beans" were a brown, watery mess that was all filler and hardly any beans. The guacamole at least looked appealing, even if it didn't taste it.
Mexican food, when done right, is flavorful and exotic. It uses spices that other ethnic foods don't, and opens diners to a world of flavors that otherwise go undiscovered. My meal at La Cocina wasn't even close. There were four of us in total, and everyone left disappointed with their meals.
The only redeeming part of our meal was dessert, fried ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce piled high atop a fried tortilla shell. The shell was like one you would get for a taco salad, deep fried, yet still light and airy. The ice cream was covered in a delicious, crumbly fried shell. It's the only reason I would have to go back again.
The service wasn't much better than the food. The food came very shortly after we ordered, which should have been the first clue that it wasn't going to be a hand-crafted meal, but we had to wait a long time to order. When the meal was finished, we split the check, part cash and part credit, but our waitress missed a $10 bill and charged my card for the additional amount.
I want to try the original La Cocina in Temple because I can't imagine business was good enough to expand without better food and service than what we got.
Berks County has plenty of other options for Mexican dining, so save the trip to Kutztown and try someplace else.
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