I've eaten in some very expensive restaurants before, and I have rarely left feeling that I got less than I paid for.
Expensive restaurants generally charge a lot of money because you get something very special. Sanford comes to mind and Lake Park Bistro. You have a very special evening when you go to those places.
I was shocked, however, when I stopped for lunch at COA while shopping in Bayshore Town Center on Friday.
I had heard about COA, operated by Marc and Marta Bianchini, who ran the outstanding Osteria Del Mondo for years. COA is billed as "The Heart of Mexican Street Food."
I just didn't know that the street they were talking about was Rodeo Drive.
I was stunned when I looked a the menu for lunch. A beef taco, it said, cost "5.1" which is a fancy way of writing $5.10. Ah, well, I figured that it was probably one of those big tortillas.
But no. It was your basic tiny taco shell, the kind you usually buy three of if you are buying from a real street vendor. And street vendors double up on the tortillas. That means if I wanted three little tacos for lunch, it would have cost $15.30. For three tiny tacos. For lunch.
I was scared, so I went for a Cobb Salad with shrimp. It came and there were a few tiny shrimp, the kind you get at those All You Can Eat places. And there was No bacon. I mean who ever heard of a Cobb Salad with no bacon?
The cost of the Cobb Salad was $14.50.
Nobody has ever called me a cheapskate. To the contrary, I've been faulted as being a spendthrift. But this place just seemed way, way out of line.
Fifteen bucks for a Cobb Salad with no bacon? Whew. Maybe I am a cheapskate.
COA is selling atmosphere, people. You won't see that kind of decor or staff at some cheap taco joint like Los Comales on 16th. Is the taco better at Los Comales? You bet, but does Coa reek of Favuloso or not take credit cards or make you just a little nervous that some vatos are going to break into your car or mug you on the way out? Guess what, that feeling of security costs money, which is translated to your plate cost. Marc is probably running at an 18-20% food cost and his LBW is probably just as low or lower, which is justified by the location.
The trouble begins when you fail to execute great service and delicious food, which is unfortunately true about Coa. The prices are irrelevant.
I agree with Artlvr, people are really coming down on the one place that isn't corporate in the mall. You think COA is corporate... walk around the corner to any other restaurant in the mall. I hate to break it to you, but the Cheesecake Factory isn't a local family owned business. And the idea that you have to drive to a specific area or certain people need to make food for it to be authentic? That's just odd. Plus, maybe I want some Mexican food when I'm at the mall. Every meal doesn't have to be some rewarding deep cultural experience. Oh, and on the $5.1 comment... I just hope Dave doesn't have me for Secret Santa.
So you're reviewing a Mexican restaurant based on a Cobb Salad and nothing else? I've eaten at COA and while its not my favorite place in town the food is good. It's street inspired, it costs more because they use higher quality ingredients, and you're not on the street you're at a table inside a restaurant.
Where to begin? Suddenly everyone is Ruth Reichel (Google her idiots). I've read stuff that a) they don't know what street food is; b) I like hard tacos so I'm old school; and c) its corporate Mexican.
Otheriwse, people seem to like it. It's a great space, in, yes, a mall owned by local people. So it's not "corporate." Corporate Mexican is Chipoltle, Taco Bell or Moes in the SE.
I'm old school so I like hard shells. No, actually, your parents hated you and forced you to eat ground beef in El Paso hard shell tacos from the oven.
Listen, it's inspired mexican food from the streets of Mexico; it's not an LA taco truck; the environment is the best you will get at Bayshore and feels great; ingredients (Nueskes pork belly tacos) speak for themselves.
We need to stop thinking Mexican food is peasant (ie cheap) food. It can be simple, good, moderately priced in a place that feels great.
DT really!?!! "I'd put only Cempazuchi above COA." Well, I would put Cempazuchi below Taco Bell...so where does that put COA? How is a steak fajita four pieces of tough, flavorless steak, with some green pepper? Oh, and I didn't know the microwave was the wauy to cook these days. Way to try and be hip and cool.
Show me the other 24 Talkbacks
29 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published March 12, 2014
Before the season began, I predicted - as did the conference coaches - that UWM would finish in last place. After last night's winning performance against Wright State, those coaches were proven wrong. And I was proven wrong.
Published March 11, 2014
Professional boxing is coming back to Milwaukee, and it's not a moment too soon as the sport has been absent for too long a time.
Published March 7, 2014
Elvis? The Beatles? Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle? John Fitzgerald Kennedy? Who is the most famous person to have stayed in a hotel in Milwaukee? While not a mecca for the famous, like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, Milwaukee has been a temporary home for many famous people.
Published March 6, 2014
Sometimes things sneak up on you and provide a surprise when you are least expecting it. The surprise I got last week at Turner Hall was that so many young people were, in three words, "very, very nice."
Published March 5, 2014
Think back to the famous 1983 movie "Flashdance" and answer the question, "What was it about?' You will probably respond that it's about a young girl named Alex, a steelworker who dances in an almost strip club and wants to get into an elite-level ballet school. But that's not the right answer if someone asks you about the busy stage musical adaptation of "Flashdance" that opened Tuesday night at the Marcus Center.
Published March 4, 2014
There are many on local sports talk radio who think the Milwaukee Bucks should purposely lose games so they ensure they will get the No. 1 pick in the draft. It's time someone took these crazies to task, and I am the guy to do it.
Published March 3, 2014
If you are going perform a play about women's professional wrestling, it's a good idea to determine whether the characters are going to be real people or caricatures. That's one of the problems afflicting "Cementville," the dark comedy by Jane Martin that opened at UWM's Peck School of the Arts over the weekend.
Published March 3, 2014
For decades, the people responsible for booking conventions in Milwaukee have cited the number of hotel rooms available as the primary obstacle to booking larger conventions into Milwaukee. And after a conversation with Paul Upchurch, the president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee, it's clear that the number of rooms is still an issue.
Published March 1, 2014
Great theater is about telling a story, and it's hard to find a much cooler story than "An Iliad," the epic poem by Homer. A retelling of that poem is the latest entry in the Milwaukee Rep season, and it's a performance that will leave you breathless.
Published Feb. 28, 2014
The highest grossing musical in history and a Tony award winning, laugh-a-minute riot highlight the 2014-15 season of Broadway shows announced by the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts Thursday night.