Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Herschman in the Heights

Professionally, Michael Herschman is a rolling stone and you never know where will show up next. Since his former bosses at Menu6 didn’t seem to appreciate what this talented chef brought to the table, he moved on once again. He’s recently resurfaced as executive chef at Lopez on Lee and I stopped in for a first taste. My friend and I ordered four dishes — the line up is perfect for graze and share meals. Every one was a winner.

We had salmon ceviche-tiradito style which means it's almost like sashimi — with a crispy jalapeno pinon praline and some crema limon; sweet and sour calamari — the Asian influence is a Herschman signature — dusted with chile and cumin; and an eggroll stuffed with chipotle braised chicken that’s now been replaced with a lighter spring roll (he calls them cigars) featuring a vegetarian filling of smoked gouda, charred corn and black beans. The charred Caesar just might be the absolute best version of this ubiquitous salad I’ve ever had: he grills romaine hearts, dots with shavings of manchego, and replaces the croutons with anchovy masa corn fritters.

Lopez is a local dining institution, serving the community for 29 years. I’ve eaten there more times than I can count and can say with some authority and great confidence that Herschman has put together the most interesting, exciting and energized menu this restaurant has ever had. Never really a traditional Mexican or Tex-Mex place, Lopez calls itself a Southwestern food kitchen. He runs with that concept but ups the ante with a distinctly personal style, sense of imagination, antic humor (think chicken and masa-ball soup), and the kind of commitment to quality that means smoking bacon, brisket and tomatoes in-house.

He’s still tweaking the offerings, but it’s already clear that Herschman is reinventing Lopez as an exceptional dining destination. Some new additions that have me in a hurry to get back are beer braised ribs in a spicy mango mop; a bison burger with gaucho sauce and buttermilk onion rings; a Portobello and arugula taco; lobster enchiladas and a squash version made with pepitas; and a wet pulled pork burrito.

Lots of specials planned for Cinco de Mayo tomorrow night. If you’re a fan of margaritas, Tuesdays and Thursdays are always a good time to visit because tequila drinks are half price from 5-9 p.m. The bargain typically attracts a lively crowd. I predict Herschman's food will keep the place hopping every night of the week. And if warm weather and clear skies ever arrive again — and I’m starting to lose hope that will ever happen — the patio is a really nice spot to enjoy it.

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