I have to admit, I was hesitant at first to go to Milagro. For one thing, Milagro is in Stonington, and I just didn't find myself out that way very often (although a trip to Water Street Cafe with Liz and her dad convinced me it was probably worth going to Stonington more often). But the main reason that I didn't want to take the trouble to visit Milagro is because I'm not a fan of Zavala, New London's Mexican restaurant, owned by the same family.
Zavala was the first restaurant I went to downtown. I wanted to like it. At the time, I was trying desperately to like New London in general. And I loved the atmosphere when we walked into the restaurant that night - but that was the last thing I loved. The food was bland and the service was poor. On return visits, the service got even worse - waiting upwards of 20 minutes during a slow mid-day meal to place a drink order - and the quality wildly inconsistent. Despite a delicious hibiscus margarita, I finally gave up on Zavala.
Yet I kept hearing great things about Milagro. Curiosity got the best of me when a new foodie friend, Amanda B., recommended it. So last weekend, Tracy, Amanda and I headed out for a Saturday night girls' dinner.
Milagro is much smaller than Zavala - only about ten tables and a small bar. It's also darker and a good portion of the soft lighting comes from Christmas-type lights. We took a table by the window and ordered house margaritas (on the rocks with salt).
We started with chips and guacamole. The chips were house-made - they were warm and crispy. They were salted for flavor but didn't taste salty. The guacamole had the consistency of sour cream (I was expecting chunkier) and tasted of ripe avocado, a little bit of lemon or lime juice, and a little kick, perhaps from some pepper or onion.
Entrees were harder to choose - everything on the menu sounded delicious. I eventually went with the tuna ceviche and fish tacos.
We were really too full for dessert, but the waitress tempted us with a margarita sorbet concoction that was on special that night. It was the perfect finish for the meal - the citrus flavors and icy sorbet (complete with a tequila glaze and some shortbread cookies) cleansed our palettes and left us feeling refreshed rather than laden down by a heavy finish.
The food and atmosphere at Milagro were both spectacular. I wish they could find a way to duplicate this experience at Zavala in New London. It could be that Zavala is too large for such an intimate dining experience. It could be that New Londoners aren't interested in Martin's authentic Mexican menu. I'm not going to ponder the why too much - for now, if I want quality Mexican, good service, and cozy atmosphere, I'll be driving to Stonington to dine at Milagro.