Restaurant Review | Tu Y Yo boasts traditional recipes from old Mexico
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 08:11
The food scene in the Somerville and Medford area adjacent to Tufts has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 20 or 30 years, since the Red Line was extended from Harvard Square. Though the pickings are still not in quite the same vein as L’Espalier or Craigie on Main, the neighborhood does offer both new and established gems for dining. Call it gentrification, or call it a love of soulful cooking with locally sourced ingredients. Though the rotary just past the edge of campus houses student favorite Dunkin’ Donuts, it is also the location of steadfast local Mexican eatery Tu Y Yo, a restaurant so familiar that it’s often written off. As the weather drops to freezing, piping hot comfort food of a different variety than those found at a burger and mac and cheese joint will likely become more than appetizing to students.
The restaurant, which has been situated on the rotary for more than ten years now, exudes quaint warmth with booths by street-side windows and decor in deep purple and bright golden colors. In the front entrance, the walls are slightly cluttered with Zagat stamps of approval and “Boston’s Best” awards, as well as laudatory reviews. Inside, however, the space feels more relaxed.
Quiet for a weeknight, it was easy to slip in without reservation. This was amenable to a student schedule that is unfortunately ruled more by recitations hours than a biological hunger clock. The lengthy menu is displayed in the windows, along with weekly dish specials such as Mexican spaghetti and cactus margaritas. It’s doubtful that even a party full of the most selective eaters wouldn’t find some vegetarian or gluten-free option in this tradition of the Mexican kitchen. After some serious browsing, Googling — for those not fluent in specific Mexican spices and flavors -— and questioning of the patient waitress, several dishes were selected. Menus with too many options often indicate a desire to appeal to too many palettes instead of focusing on a few key ingredients and menu items. However, Tu Y Yo avoids this trap — despite the staggering list of appetizers, seafood, pork, beef, chicken and vegetarian dishes, each we tried had clearly been prepared with close attention to flavors.
To begin the meal, the empanadas de platano macho y queso satisfied every sweet and sour combination craving as they blended creamy, mild cheese into a sweet, pounded plantain pocket. The crescent shaped empandas were oilier than the flaky, savory sort found in South America, but they were nonetheless delicious when topped with the sweet cream garnish. For a salad lover, the Japoamore with spinach, celery, apples and cucumbers doused in yogurt-balsamic dressing provided a lighter fare for starters.
Tu Y Yo’s hearty platas, or main dishes, come in every meat, poultry, seafood and vegetarian variety that one could ever dream of. Chopped pork tenderloin sauteed with a peanut and jalapeno pepper sauce, cactus paddles stuffed with cheese, and tilapia filet prepared in a pumpkin seed sauce specifically stand out as exotic, especially for students accustomed to Somerville dining. If you’re erring on the safe side, the carnitas are a reliable bet, though inspect the pork loin to make sure it’s not too fatty. Last but not least, for the sweet tooth in every group, the dessert list is short and sweet. Avocado cheesecake and Pastel del Nopal — a cactus cake with tequila — should be the focus, though the latter was already gone by the time dessert time rolled around.
The kitchen takes well-deserved pride in its recipes. Dishes and asterisks on the menu indicate which recipes originate in old Mexico. Half of the dishes on the menu are followed by parentheses with a name and date. It turns out these items and recipes have been passed from generation to generation, dating as far back as 100 years ago. As modern diners, we often forget to inquire about the historical context of the food we consume; instead, we just sit, eat and text at the table before rushing out. This habit of subtly adding a name, a time and a proverbial face adds an authenticity, a personal connection with the kitchen. Even exquisite fine dining often lacks this touch. Tu Y Yo offers no facade of fine dining or pretention. Though it could use an interior facelift, the menu boasts some of the most authentic Mexican dining for the area. Anna’s Taqueria may be far cheaper, but in this case, you pay for what you get.