Polishing a Hidden Gem
BY KATE JONUSKA | PHOTOS BY PHIL MUMFORD
Amid cooks chopping garlic, peeling tomatillos and roasting aromatic chiles, there’s no space for mixes, cans or prefrozen foods in the kitchen of Agave Mexican Bistro & Tequila House. According to owner Rene Cervantes, the guiding philosophy of the family-owned and -operated restaurant has no room for compromise when it comes to quality.
“Everything is from scratch,” says Cervantes, whose family has operated Mexican restaurants for almost 30 years, including 12 years at their current location tucked near 28th Street and Valmont Road. “Everything is as fresh as you can put together, and that’s very labor intensive. We have a lot of people in the kitchen.”
Those many hands are necessary for Agave’s homemade corn tortillas, made-to-order rellenos and the minimum of seven sauces made daily, the latter including chile ancho, tomatillo, ranchero and mole. Freshness and authenticity resonate even into the dining room, where salsa or guacamole can be prepared tableside ($10/each) and food often arrives in sizzling, 300-degree molcajetes, traditional footed bowls made of rough stone.
“We want to create something fresh and healthy, filling and rich, but still very authentic,” Cervantes says. “We want to bring to Colorado and to Boulder the tradition of Mexican food, the things that Mexicans eat at home or that we eat when in Mexico, and the traditional foods of all the regions and cities of Mexico.”
To that end, he and Agave are proudly celebrating a new menu. It has been streamlined and upscaled, and will now feature dishes from a new area of Mexico each season, starting with the coastal region of Mazatlán.
Off the Charts
For diners more familiar with Tex-Mex cuisine, the gourmet flavors of these new specials will impress. Take, for example, the Mazatlán inspired Chilean Sea Bass Saradiado ($30), which is marinated, cooked over an open flame, and topped with pico de gallo and mustard aioli. It will make you feel like you’re dining in a hacienda beside the ocean where the fish was caught and the fields where the accompanying veggies were harvested.
Mazatlán, famous for fresh seafood, also inspired Agave’s new raw bar, offering several types of ceviche, including shrimp and octopus. Cocktails and beers from the Mazatlán region are available for pairing, and for the first time, Agave will also carry both Mexican and local beers on tap.
Craveable vegetarian dishes were also a goal on the new menu, where two of the molcajetes are now meat-free: the Queso and Chile ($22, with four different peppers) and Del Campo ($20, with squash, corn and mushrooms). Like all molcajetes, they’re served with cactus, Mexican cheese, tomatillo and ranchero sauces, and tortillas.
Meat eaters needn’t fear, though, since Agave will never take away favorites like Pollo en Mole ($22, with whole Cornish game hen), pulledpork carnitas ($20), or Tampiqueña ($30, a sirloin steak with chickenmole enchilada, corn on the cob and fried poblano peppers).
“Our goal is to give people something off the charts, and I think we’ve accomplished that,” Cervantes says. “I want people to feel that they are somewhere in Boulder but away from Boulder, that they can come here and play and enjoy the atmosphere.”
Along with the new menu, changes have been made to that atmosphere, too. Agave’s main dining room has been remodeled. Tile floors and spacious booths surround an atrium with tables and an adobe fireplace that reaches floor to ceiling. Just this year, the upstairs balcony became its own entity, Calaca, which serves a unique drinks menu, happy-hour specials and a bare-bones menu—fitting, since Calaca means “skeleton” and the bar has a Día de los Muertos theme.
The main restaurant’s bar menu has also undergone polishing. “We still have a Margarita—the best Margaritas—but we want to be able to break that stereotype, too. There are also different tequila cocktails and mescal cocktails that are very authentic but that people aren’t educated about,” says Cervantes.
His favorite new bar-menu offerings include the tomato-based Vampirito or the light, refreshing Paloma Ahumada with tequila blanco, mezcal, Squirt, and orange, lime and lemon juices.
If you’re a tequila or regional Mexican-food novice, rest assured. The seasoned servers at Agave are trained to talk about spirits, food pairings and flavor profiles, and they’re fully invested members of the team. Like Cervantes, many have grown up in the restaurant business and share his passion for quality food and spreading happiness.
Agave Mexican Bistro and Tequila House (303-444-2922, www.agavecolorado.com)
is located at 2845 28th St. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, and Calaca 2-9 p.m. daily. “The biggest satisfaction is you put out a product that you get to see people enjoy,” he says.
“It’s seeing that table have the time of their life at that moment, drinking and eating. You’re a part of that, and that’s why I do this.”
Kate Jonuska is a freelance writer with a passion for food, fiction and storytelling.
Follow her online at @katejonuska or www.katejonuska.com.