Review: Tico

Sensational small plates and tequila done right
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  May 31, 2011
4.0 4.0 Stars

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POTENT PAIRING Like much on the menu, everything about the shishito peppers small plate is done well — and done to go with tequila.

It turns out that the tequila-bar thing can be done right. You can assemble a list of agave-based liquors that bring out the smoky character of Mexican "cactus whiskey," and you can devise salty, sour, smoky, and/or spicy foods that complement the liquor. Not so many of these foods are necessarily Mexican, or even Nuevo Latino (which is the easiest summary of Tico's mainly small-plate menu), but they almost all fit a certain flavor profile.


Even Japanese shishito peppers ($9), which I first tasted at Estragon as Spanish tapas, have the slight bitter edge, the hint of heat at the stem end, and the clever little touch of crisped bits of shallot — all to go with tequila. A small plate as revisionist as "crispy fried chicken with fennel slaw and spicy buttermilk dressing" ($10) bursts with the flavor of each of those things, but in the end the surprising spice of the white sauce matches up with the fiery spirit.

Of course, you can dine perfectly well at Tico without touching tequila or a margarita, but it will be mostly on a tequila-friendly flavor spectrum. Like shrimp with chipotle ($6), from a small menu of "a la plancha" and served in an individual red-ware casserole — the shellfish nicely underdone, the sauce rich with heat and smoke. "Roasted cauliflower with creamy chipotle and crushed, crunchy fava beans" ($7) brings a lighter version of the sauce, the cauliflower intensified by slow roasting and some caramelization. For the sweet corn with bacon, chiles, and Thai basil ($8), surprisingly off the cob, the dominant flavor is again hot, smoky, and rich with an herbal aftershock of cilantro, as well as the anise-scented basil. Crispy sweetbreads ($8), the most delicate innards, are overwhelmed by the frying, and by a red-pepper sauce underneath. But a chorizo risotto with chiles ($11) is an unexpected winner — although I think of risotto as subtle, the hot, smoky sausage flavor is very effective with creamy rice, and the little dish is another great match.

Tico's initial masterpiece, though, is a "Spanish tortilla with morcilla, potatoes, green onions, and roasted poblano" ($8). Morcilla is blood sausage and, by itself, that's what it tastes like. But cut into small pieces in the thick Spanish potato omelet, it lends a complex and addictive layer of richness. Tell everyone else at your table what's in it, so there will be more for you.

Tico has entrées, although not everyone orders one. They are generally as shareable as the small plates, though, so you might well want a " 'golden' chicken with Peruvian asparagus, crispy potatoes, red chiles, and scallions" ($22) or a "tender pork with white beans, smoked bacon, kale, and cumin" ($24). The former is a sliced breast with deeply browned skin and jus, grilled asparagus (I can't discern the Peruvian part, unless that is where early spring asparagus starts its journey to the Back Bay), and a dandy potato cake. The latter is slow-stewed and falling apart like beef brisket, with fully cooked white beans and bacon, and well-sautéed kale. "Gulf Shrimp with toasted vermicelli, local shellfish, lobster stock, and saffron aioli" ($22) is a token pasta casserole. Vermicelli don't have enough texture to make me really happy, but the shrimp, squid, mussel, and clam meats in the lobster broth make this a nice little dish to fill up on. Our fish of the day was trout ($26), nicely broiled, but notable for Israeli couscous with a bunch of cilantro in cold salad underneath.

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