Thailand can be your next stop with steamed mussels in lemon grass and curry ($7.95), and a quick visit to Texas provides a plateful of jalapenos stuffed with red-pepper cream cheese and shrimp ($7.25). It makes for a Rolaids kind of night, but it’s well worth it.
Soups and salads offer something different, as well. The Thai Cobb salad ($8.25) takes an old favorite and dresses it up with smoked Gouda in a creamy, spicy Thai dressing. Same goes for the New Orleans clam chowder — an excellent melding of chowder and gumbo in a roux-based soup chock full of clams, andouille and chilies. Homemade dressings are ambitious and include a lime-chipotle vinaigrette and a barbecued bleu cheese.
Entrees are priced reasonably and boast generous portions with an exciting fusion of flavors and cuisines. Low country gets a nod with a nonstandard shrimp and grits ($15.95). Jumbo shrimp are served atop creamy grits in an andouille red-eye gravy with a side of braised collards. With just the right hint of spice, it’s a first-rate combination of bitter coffee, salty greens and sweet shrimp.
The “confused Germaican platter” ($9.95) is a strange mishmash of andouille sausage, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and Jamaican beans and rice with a side of spicy brown mustard. Like many dishes, the flavors appear all over the place, yet somehow manage to come together in a blessed union of taste and texture. Grilled rib-eye steak ($18.95) is served with an ancho-espresso sauce, mahi-mahi is served in a “margarita” sauce and a pasta poblano ($11.95) comes bathed in, you guessed it, a roasted poblano sauce.
Desserts are equally adventurous and are a bargain at $4.95 each. Pi¤a-colada bread pudding is doused in a tangy-sweet coconut-rum hard sauce and Bananas Foster harkens back to a classic blending of sautéed bananas, caramel and rum. It’s served warm and topped with barely melting vanilla ice cream.
Caliente also offers a wide range of catering options and doesn’t forget the little ones with a menu geared for children 12 and younger.
But the real take-away here is that Caliente is fun. It’s the kind of place where I’d expect to see Brian Setzer hanging out having a beer. The menu is gutsy yet still delivers, especially when it comes to spiciness that can overwhelm any other flavor in a dish. Such is not the case here. Instead of simply feeling the burn, you actually taste the honey, lime and the chili peppers.
Mix in some tasty tunes, a couple of friends and an attentive, knowledgeable staff and you’ve got what we ultimately want when we eat out — a good time. It’s a simple concept, but it’s the one that keeps us coming back. S
2922 Park Ave.
Monday through Friday lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday dinner 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Closed Sunday
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