Monday, July 11, 2016

Cielo Has “Sky”-High Culinary Aspirations

                If you’ve ever tired of the Tex-Mex dining invasion that seems to have overtaken the region (like walkers inhabiting the earth on The Walking Dead), then look no further than Braintree’s Cielo (Spanish term for “sky”) for the most authentic Mexican cuisine I’ve discovered in quite some time.

                Cielo’s authenticity can be traced to its ownership team, led by cousins Martin Gonzalez and David Marquez, whose families grew up in Jalisco, Mexico. Their eatery, recently voted Best New Restaurant – South Shore by Boston Magazine, occupies a bright purple building in Braintree Highlands (corners of Washington and Plain Streets), a remote location at the outer reaches of the town that is starved for a successful restaurant following several closures in the past few years.

                Cielo’s festive ambience is as vibrant as its building’s exterior, as customers are warmly greeted into the intimate, slightly cramped dining room, which only holds 12 tables with an 8-seat bar (on pleasant evenings, be sure to grab one of the 16 outdoor patio seats). Wood floors, stone walls, well-placed plants and artwork, and Mexican music blaring on the sound system all make for a homey, relaxed setting. Waiters can also be heard warmly conversing with Spanish-speaking customers.

                A complimentary basket of warmed tortilla chips is brought tableside by our affable waiter (“Sunday is Fun Day,” he jokes). While the chips are decent enough (not greasy, but a tad too salty), the texture of all four salsas (black bean, traditional, salsa verde, and a spicier version) is far too soupy, making scooping a challenge. This only made my wife and I more envious of a nearby table who order a mammoth version of guacamole ($8.25) prepared by a server in a stone bowl.

                Entrees are noteworthy, beginning with huevos rancheros ($7.99), a traditional Mexican dish that Americans may more readily associate with breakfast. Its components come deconstructed: eggs with chipotle and tomato sauce, rice and avocado, but don’t be ashamed of melding everything into a rich mess of flavors. While the eggs are requested over easy – better for the rice to absorb the eggs’ runny yolk – they are disappointingly prepared over medium. No bother, as the dish remains sinfully, spicily delicious, nonetheless.

                Even better and not to be missed are the enchiladas mole poblano ($12.59), consisting of three slim soft tortillas drenched in mole sauce and stuffed with warm chicken. The mole itself is sensational – neither too dense not too sweet like so many inferior versions – packing just the right blend of bitter chocolate and spicy notes, while sliced fresh onion provides a much welcomed textural counterpoint to the soft tortillas.

                Desserts (postres) once again lean toward more traditional, yet well-executed Mexican fare such as cinnamon-dusted churros and wonderfully refreshing, light vanilla custard flan ($7), beautifully punctuated with sweetness by fresh berries and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

                Cielo boasts an impressive selections of tequilas along with nicely flavored, albeit not-all-that-potent margaritas ($10), which include unique flavors such as tamarind and hibiscus. Bypass the inauthentic, tepid coffee.

                Overall, Cielo proves to be a welcomed entry into the local dining scene, filling a much-needed gap in true Mexican dining. Given its above-average cuisine, very affordable price points, fun atmosphere, and friendly service, the “sky” appears to be the limit for this exciting eatery.