Reforma Cocina & Cantina: Refine and Reform

Reforma Cocina & Cantina almost hits several high notes with upscale Mexican eats in St. Phillip’s Plaza

The pato is one of Reforma’s best dishes with guajillo duck confit, mole poblano, fried plantains and chorizo.

Grant Krueger’s Union Public House at St. Phillip’s Plaza has its devotees so when he announced he’d be opening a new joint inspired by the cuisine of Central Mexico right next door, it seemed like a pretty smart move. Promising an encyclopedic agave distillate list with over 200 options, as well as unique takes on Mexican fare as imagined by Union’s chef Patrick Malarchik, Reforma opened its doors late last year.

As with Union, Kreuger made sure to make Reforma a very pretty place to eat. From floor tiles with a hypnotic geometric pattern to lush furnishings featuring dark wood tables and chairs and cozy semi-circular booths in grey leather, the spot definitely has a wow factor visually. Heck, even the bathrooms, which are covered in marble and ornate tile flooring, are lovely at Reforma.

Weekends and weekdays alike fill up with customers, though the clientele does tend to skew much older for the latter. I only mention this because there is a tendency for restaurants to try to pander to older customers with toned down dishes lacking any semblance of heat in hopes they (and their money) will return. That’s not to say that’s what the customers want, necessarily, just what tends to happen.

Interestingly enough, Reforma doesn’t do that at all—it actually does the opposite. Turning up the flavor in almost every way possible, especially in those tart and spicy ways.

Although the tequila selection is as large as promised, the wine, beer and cocktail menus are a much more manageable size for anyone not looking to dive too deeply into tequila tasting on a night out. While the beer list features draft, can and bottled options with a focus on Mexican beers and unique flavors like mole and more, the wine offers up 30 options including a cabernet sauvignon from Mexico.

The cocktails mostly showcase tequila and mezcal, even offering some of the drinks in a pitcher to share. The tamarindo margarita ($10) was light on the fruit itself, which served well not to overpower the drink. The Maestro Gentry ($12), on the other hand, was heavy on the pomegranate molasses to the effect of almost completely drowning out the Del Maguey mezcal—no easy feat for such an in-your-face spirit.

The restaurant also offers red and white sangria ($8 for a glass, $40 for a pitcher). While the sangria blanca says it includes “marinated fresh fruit” on the menu, at the table it came with two lemon wedges, an orange wedge and a lime wedge in the glass.

Starting out with the appetizers or “antojitos,” the flautas and sopes were immediately eye catching. The hibiscus flautas ($11) could have been a meal on their own with six large flautas covered in crema with guacamole in the center. While the flaky pastry on the outside was near perfect, it should be said that there was little to no hibiscus flavor on the dish, which is kind of the reason anyone would order it. The sopes ($11) were a much heavier starting point with tender, moist braised beef cheek, manchego cheese and a bone marrow salsa. Unfortunately, unlike the flautas, the masa base of the sopes was a little tough to chew through.

The restaurant also offers three soups, one of which changes daily. Reforma’s tortilla soup ($5 for a cup, $7 for a bowl), with its rich roasted chicken consommé, is one of the better bowls of tortilla soup in town. The salad list was unfortunately a bit of a letdown. For a Mexican restaurant, I was confused as to why the berro y arugula ($10) salad was even an option. The combination of watercress, arugula, roasted apples, bleu cheese, cherries and candied peanuts doesn’t make sense with anything else on the menu and might find a better home next door at Union. The completa salad ($10) was more genre-relevant, but was overall an ill thought out dish with piles of extremely tart confit peppers, salsa fresca, guacamole, crema, cheese and tortilla strips on large leaves of Romaine. It wasn’t so much a salad as just an assortment of random ingredients put on a bed of greens.

The torta ahogada ($13) suffered similar composition issues. While the beautifully toasted bolillo bun was packed with explosively flavorful cochinita pibil, pickled jalapenos and carrots and cabbage, the halved sandwich was inexplicably placed cut side down so that when you picked it up, no matter how intentionally you did so, everything fell out onto the plate. While that made it easier to mix the sandwich filling in with the intensely spicy four-chile broth on the plate, it also made it not so much a sandwich at all.

The main event, as it were, offers up dishes in the $16 to $22 range, which are actually well worth the splurge if you’re willing to spend it. Spicy carne de res, a fish of the day and carnitas braised in Mexican lager are all up for grabs, but the must-try off this list is the pato ($22). Guajillo duck confit falls right off the bone, mixing with the chorizo, crispy fried plantains and decadent mole Poblano that accompanies it. For vegetarians, the chile en nogada ($16) serves up mock chorizo with dried fruit, quinoa, walnut cream and pomegranate arils in and around two roasted Poblano chiles—a satisfying blend whether you’ve sworn off meat.

To finish off, flan with orange ($7), churros with chile de arbol and Mexican chocolate ($7) and seasonal paletas with ($6) or without ($4) alcohol will end the meal on a high note. However, you’d be silly not to get the pastel de elote ($7). While the cake itself was a nice sweet masa cake studded with corn, the incredibly smooth and creamy housemade dulce de leche ice cream on top is some of the best ice cream texturally that I’ve seen in Tucson.

Although some dishes were pretty heavy handed on spicing and some others could use tweaking in terms of composition, for the most part, Reforma delivers what it sets out to: fancy Mexican fare with unique options. Plus, it is tempting to revisit time and time again just to work your way through that tequila list. ■