For a last minute Valentine's Day dinner I decided that it was right about time to try one of Boston's newest restaurants, Tico. I had heard a few things about this place - that it was Latin American, Central American, Mexican, Small Plate/Tapas, and Nuevo Latino, so I had to go check it out for myself. Lucky for us we were able to get a table for two at 6:45.
We were seated without issue and put right in front on St. James at a table for two - thankfully it would give me enough light to take some food pictures, as the place overall is rather dim. After we ordered a very nice bottle of Garnacha, our server was kind enough to fill us in as to plate sizes and whatnot so we wouldn´t order too much or too little food. Basically the menu is divided into 4 sections. There are a number of tacos, each serving two and costing between 8 and 12 and consisting of two small tacos. Then there are the "a la plancha" or grilled selections, ranging from around 5 to 12. Thirdly are the "small plates", a large selection of dishes for sharing ranging from around 7 to 12. Finally are maybe 5 or 6 full-size entrees for a main course. We figured it best to get a variety of things to try, and as our server suggested we split our selections among the first three varieties. We ended up with 1 set of tacos, 2 from the grilled, and then 5 of the small plates, one of which was added on at the end...plus dessert ;-) While we waited we enjoyed freshly baked bread with olive oil - nothing special but definitely delicious. The first dish to come out was the fried calamari with ancho-lime aioli. It was your standard calamari - the deep fried lime wedges were a nice touch and the aioli was as tasty as any mayonnaise-based dip can be. Next came the chicken "a la plancha" with spicy pomegranate served on little skewers. The chicken was moist and had a really delicious seared flavor, and while the pomegranate sauce wasn't overly spicey, I was a big fan.
Next came the sweetbreads with blood orange, endive, hazelnuts and masa harissa. While the mystery still remains as to which part of what animal I was served, the sweetbreads were very mild and nicely enhanced with the harissa and blood oranges. Luckily by this point we were not even halfway through! The next three dishes came in succession, starting with the tacos with tender pork with spicy cucumber. The pork was wonderfully moist and flavorful, and the cucumbers were at that nice halfway pickled stage providing a nice crunch to the soft tortilla taco. Next was the risotto - while it was flavorful enough and the rice was nicely cooked, there was hardly any chorizo, and at it tasted like the chorizo I buy at Stop & Shop - not at all bad, but I was hoping for something more. Finally came the meatballs with smoky tomato. The meatballs had a nice crisp outer layer and were perfectly cooked, but the "smoky tomato" sauce that accompanied it was non-descript.
At this point we were feeling satisfied, but I still wished I had ordered the mushroom and cheese quesadilla with black truffle salsa. Done. Within minutes our light and crisp tortilla arrived - the mushrooms were great, though I wish the cheese had been something like chihuahua, not American-esque like I tasted. The little dollop of truffle salsa was really nice, but could definitely have been amplified. Dessert? Why not?! It was Valentine's Day after all. Our dessert had a long name, the "chocolate gelatto-peanut butter mousse over-the-top caramelized banana split" with Mexican chocolate and crushed peanuts. The hyphens were confusing. What came out was a three-scoop serving of chocolate gelatto sitting in a bit of peanut butter sauce (mousse) alongside a caramalized banana with everything sprinkled in peanuts and then a side of Mexican chocolate. This was legitimate, particularly the chocolate sauce with just enough cayenne to really enhance the dish overall. The gelatto was excellent and the whole dish was perfectly-sized to be split between two.
All in all we left satisfied with Tico and would consider returning, but we could certainly think of some improvements. First of all was the music. I'm not quite sure if Tico has decided what it wants to be - swanky Latin lounge and restaurant, yuppy south-of-the-border hangout, or what, but the music leaves something to be desired and didn't quite match with the atmosphere. As mentioned before it was very dim, but at least warm-colored. For how big the place is, though, I'm not sure if this works. Price-wise the food was decent, though to compete with other local tapas-type restaurants like Masa it should consider some time with reduced price menu items as what I got wasn´t necessarily what I thought I was paying for. Regardless, the place has been open for only a week, and if it doing this well so far it definitely deserves future patronage, and I´m looking forward to coming back and sitting at the bar for something from its extensive selection of tequilas and some nibbles at the bar.