Tacos and I have a strained relationship.
My first ever taco, about five years ago, was a cactus taco, and I hated it. However, most people assured me that this must have been because it was cactus.
So, for one of my earliest columns, I gave tacos another chance, which also ended poorly. This disappointing experience was all that I’d ever known until this September, when I took my first trip to Taco Bell and, yes, this time, I loved it. Now, I’ve gotten back on the horse and gone on a journey with a lovely friend, Emily, to Ox and Stone to tackle tacos once more.
Ox and Stone impressed me from the moment I stepped inside. The interior is a stunning mixture of comfortable, modern, and a bit upscale with a touch of cozy Latin flair. Gorgeous decor mixed with dim lighting and a warm color palette makes the restaurant both fancy and inviting. It’s a wonderful atmosphere for any sort of special event, whether it be a birthday, dinner with parents, or saucy date.
To start off our meal, Emily and I both ordered, of course, tacos. And, I have to say, my butternut squash taco helped mend my strained relationship.
Even though I had to order the taco without the cheese and crema to make it dairy-free, I was not missing anything in the overall flavor. The squash was lightly spiced but offered a ton of lovely natural flavor. The kale brought a light bitterness to balance out the sweet squash, as well as a beautifully light crispiness. The corn tortilla held together nicely and had the same warmth and freshness that were themes throughout this taco.
Emily’s choice, the baja fish taco, was also a hit. The flavor of the fish itself was well-balanced. It had a sweet, clear fish flavor without being too “fishy.” The rich spices, slight heat, and acidic slaw also contributed to the flavor balance of this dish.
Texture-wise, the mixture of moist, flaky, lightly-breaded fish with crispy cabbage made for a wonderful bite. Emily said that she survives off of this taco and gets it every time she goes to Ox and Stone, and I can see why.
Onto entrees, I could not resist the temptation of the traditional paella. Every element shone. The shredded chicken was moist, texturally pleasing, and well-spiced. The andouille sausage packed tons of flavor and a bit of heat. It was seared gorgeously in a way that made each bite pop in the mouth, and it had a smokiness that enhanced the overall warmth of the dish. The mussels were tender and strong in flavor. There was a stunning overall depth of spice to this dish. Bitter notes, acid, heat, and salt danced on the tongue and were then cleansed by rich, creamy rice. And, even though the flavors of the dish were intense, the natural bright flavor of the seafood managed to shine through. In fact, the delicate seafood and the meaty punch of the sausage coexisted in blissful harmony.
Now to point out a couple of missteps: I thought the shrimp could have been a touch more tender. Some of the moist rice was burnt at the bottom of the pan, creating a noticeable crust of unpleasant bitterness. A little bit of bitterness is great for balance and depth, and I love a good char, but this was an overwhelmingly burnt flavor. Thankfully, it wasn’t too difficult to eat around it. Overall, I still think that this dish’s many successes greatly outweighed its shortcomings.
To briefly discuss Emily’s entree (which I could not taste for dairy-related reasons), the pork enchiladas with verde sauce were also appreciated. The presentation was beautiful and suggested a rustic charm that this dish embodied. There was a slight heat from the verde sauce that was balanced out by a vinegary cabbage slaw. The queso fresco was a “nice equalizer,” as Emily described it, for the other bold components. Additionally, although the pork didn’t have much flavor on its own, it was well-cooked, as were the beans. The dirty rice on the side was also well-spiced and packed tons of lovely veggies.
It was exciting how almost each element of each dish, no matter how small, packed such a punch of its own. Everything we ate on this outing was a wonderful example of both flavor and balance. With so many bold elements in each bit, I find it impressive that everything served to enhance the surrounding components without conflicting. As Emily put it, at Ox and Stone, even a tiny taco is “its own little world.” So, if you’re looking for not just a party, but an entire freaking world happening inside of your mouth, definitely take a trip to Ox and Stone.