On its website, Tico in Boston’s Back Bay is described as “a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously.” I think a more apt description would be “place that tries really hard to seem like it’s not taking itself too seriously.”
Here’s an example. On Saturday night, my friend and I walked into Tico a few minutes past six. When we walked in, at least half of the tables in the dining room were empty. “Great!” I thought, “Well get right in.” When we requested a table for two from the hostess, she told us they were all booked, but directed us to the packed bar area.
We walk back to the crowded bar area, awkwardly trying not to put our backsides too near to those seated at tables around the bar while dodging dish-laden servers. It seemed strange that there wasn’t one two spot available when the large dining room was so empty. So my friend pulls out an iPhone, whips out the Open Table app, and discovers that there are plenty of reservations for two available at 6:30, in just a few minutes.
So we made reservations online while inside the restaurant itself, ordered drinks, and prepared to wait 15 minutes for our table. The cocktail list was surprisingly small (about 3 or 4). Considering the vast tequila menu, it seemed like a squandered opportunity. I got a caipirinha and my guest got a tequila and grapefruit juice concoction. Both cocktails were good, but the $14 price tag was a bit steep considering these drinks weren’t particularly complicated.
At 6:30 we sauntered over to the hostess for the second time. She was a bit flummoxed as she checked the electronic reservation list and, lo and behold, the name and reservation appeared. She was pleasant enough but didn’t make eye contact with us as she quickly scuttled us off to another hostess who showed us to our seats.
Despite the inauspicious start with the front house staff, our server was fantastic–personable and attentive without being overbearing. Our table was situated right in front of the open kitchen, so I had a great view of the action. We both had the house margarita (on the rocks with salt) with dinner—which was very good—not to sweet, smooth, and well made–for a much more reasonable $10.
Tico’s menu is derived from Spain, Mexico, and South America, which is quite a few cuisines to cover under one roof. But Tico is able to bundle those cuisines because of their loose interpretation, mainly a variety of seafood dishes, lots of chiles and avocados, plenty of grilled meats, and of course, a plethora of tequila.
Careful not to label them tapas, Tico’s small plates are the main attraction. The few entrees on the menu didn’t seem very imaginative, so we skipped those altogether in favor of greater selection and more adventurous combinations on the small plates list.
The first bite was off the “a la plancha” or grilled menu. We ordered quail in a mango and chile sauce. The bird itself was not very flavorful—and the bigger pieces were a smidge overdone. The chile mango sauce was good—started sweet and then caught up to your nerve endings with a sharp heat. 2/5 noms.
Brussels sprouts with bacon, kumquats, mint and jalapenos were second. Let me preface this by saying that I love grilled Brussels sprouts (if you are dubious of this vegetable, please try them grilled). I thought the sprouts were a bit underdone (a little tough to get through) but the crispy leaves were delicious—that is until the liquid they were served in bogged down the leaves and made the whole thing a bit soggy. 2/5 noms
The lobster and avocado tacos came next. Though the lobster meat was tender and sweet, I didn’t find the dish on the whole very flavorful. I would have preferred to have my beloved baja taco at Olecito for about $3 rather than the $12 lobster rendition at Tico. My dinner partner disagreed and enjoyed it more than I did, though we both agreed the taco needed some crunchy texture to break up the creamy avocado and dense lobster. 2/5 noms.
The crispy fried manchego cheese with spicy pomegranate honey sauce was excellent. It reminded me of the fried cheese with honey at Dali, but I have to admit this was better. Fried perfectly with a coating of crispy breadcrumbs sweet and slightly vineagary sauce was the perfect accompaniment. 4/5 noms
The best dish of the night was the chorizo risotto. Now, I’m a chorizo girl. I love pig in almost all its forms, but I consider the smoky, spicy chorizo a work of high art in meat form. The best chorizo I’ve ever had is the Chorizo a la Sidra at Taberna de Haro that comes braised in sparkling cider. But this risotto was also wonderful–cheesy (but not overly so), spicy, but not hot–it was delicious. Though it wasn’t as creamy as a true risotto, I would have appreciated that as a main course. 4/5 noms
We did order the tuna tartar, though it was never delivered (they did take it off the bill when we pointed this out), which worked out fine in the end because those few extra bites might have pushed me over the edge from comfortably satisfied to engorged.
Neither of us were inspired by the desserts, so we went for the cheese plate that was very well done. Aside from a nutty Mahon, the three of the four cheeses were locally produced, including a Cashel blue, a Fiddlehead tomme, and a fourth kind that was very good though I’m unable to remember the name. It was served with thinly sliced green apple, Marcona almonds, and drizzled with honey all over. And our server made sure we had plenty of bread. Though I enjoyed all four cheeses, I thought it was curious that all were cow’s milk. 3/5 noms.
Including two drinks each, dinner cost about $130 total for two (including tip). So not a cheap night out, but not the most expensive meal I’ve ever slapped my AMEX down for. All noms considered, this Tico experience was a 3/5 noms (considering context of price range and the expectations that come with fine-er dinning).
If you don’t usually go for authentic tapas or Mexican, this might be a good place to explore if you’re looking for something a little different from the norm. But if you enjoy Spanish tapas regularly or are a Mexican cuisine purist, you probably won’t be wowed by Tico.