Just as he did two weeks ago, Pete Wells begins this week’s review with a sort of disclaimer, this one about his feelings toward and impressions of Texans. He likes them, and he knows they’re not to be messed with because he can, as he puts it, “read the bumper stickers.” He then explains that he was concerned that this appreciation for inhabitants of the Lone Star State would create a conflict with his mission to honestly review Tex-Mex eatery Javelina, located right off Union Square, but that, luckily for him, he has “only good things to say about Javelina.”
However, it very quickly becomes clear to the reader that Wells is exhibiting one of the most infamous characteristics of tried-and-true New Yorkers: biting sarcasm.
According to the critic, Javelina is crowded (“a godsend for anybody who loves to eat before 6 p.m. or after 9:30 p.m.; since opening two months ago, the restaurant has been talked up so much in the press that those are usually the only reservation times available, even if you book a week or two ahead”); Javelina is loud and filled with many rather uncouth customers (“Javelina’s 58 seats always seem to be taken by large groups of people shouting with youthful animation… How anybody gets drunk enough to act this way is one of several fun Javelina mysteries to keep you entertained”); and Javelina’s drinks are weak and warm (“the margaritas have a slight chemical taste that I was thankful for because it tended to keep my own alcohol intake to near-Mormon levels… the Tijuana Manhattan, made with tequila in the place of whiskey, [was] served in a rocks glass with no ice at all, even though it was the temperature of a freshly killed snake”) and its bartenders unskilled (“While bartenders elsewhere have become insufferable bores on the subjects of ice and proper shaking techniques, the ones at Javelina are refreshingly free of such pretension”).
Wells’ sarcasm, while entertaining, also serves a very important purpose; the literary style of his review mirrors his so-bad-this-must-be-a-farce experience at the eatery.
And he hasn’t even gotten to the food.
The main problem at Javelina seems to be inconsistency, as the queso is often accidentally served cold and none of the variations seem to deliver the kick of spice most look for in this type of cuisine. As Wells puts it, “Occasionally this Tex-Mex cheese fondue is served hot, but more often it arrives lukewarm, which prevents trips to the emergency room… Javelina’s traditional yellow queso is supposed to be flavored with serranos, while a white version is said to come with both jalapeños and roasted poblanos. But spicy food can be hard for many people to digest, so I am relieved to report that both colors are quite bland.” The service is also spotty and unfocused, which only further underlines the similarly erratic food (“One night after I left, I realized the guacamole I’d ordered had never arrived… Meanwhile, people at the next table were presented with a dish they insisted they hadn’t asked for… Black beans shouldn’t
be easy to lose in a bowl of white cheese. Where were they? About five minutes later, a server placed a bowl of beans on the table”).
Just when the reader thinks there will be no silver lining to this culinary tale of woe, the critic gives us just over 70 words of good news and recommends the puffy tacos, steak enchiladas with a sour cream sauce, mahi-mahi with a “comfortingly thick and rich” cilantro cream sauce, and the fajitas, which “are just what you’d expect them to be, with one difference: The flour tortillas are outstanding.”
So, while Wells’ well-executed satire makes us laugh, there’s no mistaking his sincere message: Don’t mess with the Tex-Mex at Javelina.