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Jalisco a refreshing change of pace

Jalisco the Mexican state is on the Pacific coast and Jalisco the restaurant (or Cantina) has a stated mission of “presenting the great flavors from south of the border with a new, fresh twist,” so we had an eye out for slightly offbeat seafood dishes as we perused the menu of Jalisco the restaurant. And we didn’t have to look any farther than the “Especialidades de la Cantina,” or specialties of the house, to you and me.

Tequila Sunrise Enchiladas del Mar ($14.95) didn’t contain any tequila as far as we could tell and didn’t look much like a Tequila Sunrise in the cocktail form or in life, but that was OK because it did contain plenty of shrimp and lobster. They were sauteed with tomatoes, onions and bell pepper in a cream sauce that was in the right place on the light-to-rich continuum, and tucked in tortillas that were sufficiently delicate to make us think more of crepes than enchiladas, which was appealing, in this case.

The dish was inspired, evoking a Mexican interpretation of the classic coquilles St. Jacques (which is tough to find these days, so maybe that’s why it popped into mind, but I digress). The only flaw, and it was a minor one, was that the lobster was on the strong side, as lobster sometimes is wont to be.

Although side dishes in most Mexican restaurants tend to be the forgettable, one-from-column-A-one-from-column-B beans and rice, that wasn’t the case here. The rice served with this dish was flecked with a multitude of cilantro, which added not only color but a good shot of fresh springlike flavor. And the beans were black beans, which always seem to have more flavor and substance — more soul — than pinto, and they were topped with crumbled queso fresco.

Our other entree was only half seafood, and that would be the “mar” part of the Mar y Tierra ($21.95), which paired deeply marinated carne asada with — wait for it — bacon-wrapped shrimp. The shrimp were so good that we can see why they offer them as an appetizer ($9.95) as well. They were sweet and plump, the bacon that enfolded them crisp and smoky, for great flavor and textural contrasts. Black beans with this one as well, but yellow rice, which seemed more suited to the beef and bacon flavors than the cilantro would have been.

We went back to the land for our starter as well. Jalisco Cantina’s nachos are listed as Miguelito’s Layered Nachos, and while we don’t know who little Miguel is, we sure liked the idea of layered nachos after being confronted by way too many naked chips over the years. We chose the Jalisco Signature Carnitas ($10.95; five other varieties are available), and frankly, I would have been happy to stop there. This was a large platter and the tortilla chips were truly layered, with the meat and beans and jalapenos dished out generously, and guacamole and crema on top. The carnitas itself was superlative, tender and deeply flavored.

We’d started with chips with a smoky chipotle salsa, medium in heat, and a garden-variety bean dip.

Service throughout was fine, our server needing an assist from the bartender to deliver our margaritas (we’re guessing he wasn’t 21), which delayed them a bit but nothing else.

I don’t know about Jalisco’s Durango Drive location, but the one on Sunset Road is a big barn of a place that may, if memory serves, have started life as a pancake house (and was Supermex more recently). At any rate it’s big and open, but efforts have been made to break up all that space with double-sided paintings suspended above the seating and Mexican art objects positioned around the room.

It’s no cozy little hole in the wall, but that, too, was somewhat refreshing.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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