In a very Signal v Noise sense, there’s a lot of noise out there about Bad Dog Taqueria, and not a lot of signal. Several sites have put up content on the new Emory Village taqueria, but most of said material is regurgitated cursory information. I’ll do my best to give that info one more spin in the blender.
As part of the ever growing trend to open up what I call “anything but” taquerias, Bad Dog aims to serve tacos that have little to do those tacos de cabeza Mexican purists identify with. These restaurants are a playful bunch and utilize America’s multiculturalism to produce taco menus consisting of internationally inspired inspired Tex-Mex.
Where Bad Dog aims to separate itself from the Korean tacos of Hankook Taqueria, the recently reviewed Big Tex Cantina, or the more identifiable cuisine of Perla Taqueria, is in simplistic diversity. In lieu of hanging tin cans or mounted steer horns, Big Dog has used lots of brick and hardwood along with white-on-white accents in attempt to do the minimalist thang. Like the gang at Local Three, Bad Dog’s bar top is salvaged tornado wood. Though a little rough around the edges and a little disorderly, Dog’s decor is a nice change from the kitschy kitschy taco bars elsewhere. And as of now, it sure is clean!
Additionally, this understated approach bleeds into the menu … sort of. While the ingredients for each taco ($3), burrito ($7), and salad ($8.50) span the gamut and create some very odd combinations, the entire menu does in fact fit comfortably on one page.
All this thought is the product of co-owners Bardo Arroyave and Tracy Mitchell, neither of whom hail from the restaurant business. Consequently, Arroyave and Mitchell secured Lis Hernandez to execute the aforementioned menu. Hernandez worked at Osteria 832 and the defunct Stella and now has Arepa Mia (web/tw/fb), an arepa concept that’s been floating around the Sweet Auburn Curb Market for the past few months.
Meanwhile, after a single sitting inside their first month of business, there appear to be two glaring issues with Bad Dog: service and food. The interaction with the staff is limited, but Bad Dog is having a lot of trouble out of the gates. Ordering is done counter side, after which, you find yourself a seat and wait for them to match your order to the little table sign they hand out. I can’t tell you how many times the food runner brought me someone else’s order. I’ve spoken with three other foodies, all of whom you’ve heard of, and during their respective visit, this type of screw up was rampant. I’d have been a little more understanding had they been really busy, but it was just me and four other tables. If this place gets busy once Emory is back in session, service better be remedied.
Relative to the food, service is as significant as history’s footnotes. The grub, on the other hand, is the Russian Revolution. Though Bad Dog utilizes some very good tortillas, courtesy of Los Amigos Tortillas (web), I had problems with most every aspect of the food.
All the tacos have these cutesy names, which do more to make the ordering process difficult than they do to elicit any connection with the food itself. The salads, with five proteins and five sauces (you choose one of each), felt more like menu place holders than anything else. Each salad contains black beans, corn, avocado, onions, tomatoes, pecans, crispy plantains, and queso fresco. Adding chickpea croquettes and some balsamic vinaigrette [sic] sounds anything but appetizing. And while many of you abhor my casual approach to grammar and spelling on this little journal, I do actually have a problem with them not doing something so simple as running a spell check against the word vinaigrette.
Even though I went for tacos so that I had a better scope of the playing field, I see the most potential in the burritos. 14-inch tortillas are filled with rice, lettuce, tomatoes, a signature sauce and your choice of one of eight proteins. Still, options like the aforementioned chickpea croquettes and samosas sounds downright silly to me. Though as we come to find out, it’s not samosas, but simply samosa filling.
I ultimately decided on the salsa trio ($4 – fresca, plantain pineapple serrano, and smoked tomato) and some tacos. The salsas were all bright, fresh, and unique enough that a trio actually made sense for once. Though they were served with a yucca, plantain, and bonito chip mix, I didn’t really pick up on any of the nuances there. I guess I was distracted by all the problems, but I do remember thinking the chips a little dry (but not quite stale) and somewhat nondescript.
The tacos on the other hand shoved this straight out of “An Inconvenient Meal” and into a telling of “Ham-let.” [Meh – that doesn’t sound as funny as it should … but it’s late …I’m tired and can’t think … so it stays]. Anywho, three tacos arrived over wax paper in a plastic basket. Simple, to the point, and functional. Two grilled soft flour tortillas, slightly overdone, and one hard corn tortilla held the fate of my meal within.
A sucker for a good Korean taco (and I have yet to find one in this state), this serving might have been the worst example I’ve had in town. Listed ingredients of Korean BBQ pork belly, kimchee slaw, and cilantro sauce sounded like a bad idea to start, and it only got worse as time went on. The entire getup was so mushy, sloppy, and had such a dysfunctional collection of seasonings that I don’t know where to begin. It looked weird and tasted weirder.
The Yo Mama’s Taco was just a Yo Basic Taco. Ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes in a hard corn shell. While discernibly better in product quality than something from Taco Bell, I’m not sure I would make a run for the border if this was the alternative. No pop, no statement, just plain beef.
By this time I looked at my little Indian buddy (Welcome to Bollywood) and my heart just flat out sunk. It was oozing out of the tortilla long before it ever saw my taco basket and was an absolutely disappointment. First of all, it’s not traditional Indian samosa. It’s samosa filling, so the menu needs to be reworded. It was drenched in liquid and oozy from the tamarind coriander chutney. It was like putting firm baby food in my mouth. Need we beat a dead horse?
You ever see any of those food ads versus reality comparisons? I guess I might not have been so disappointed in Bad Dog had I not walked in expecting this, but I doubt it. I don’t think a clear conscience walking in would have tempered the disappointment, but it couldn’t have hurt. Bottom line, these menu items don’t need to be thrown out per se, but they do need to be re-conceptualized.
So while there were some glaring holes in the experience, I don’t think Bad Dog needs to be the next Frontera grill to be successful. I’m pretty sure they can survive on the life blood of the area (college kids) with something that’s simply average. But the food and service seem a far cry from that at this juncture. [total aside: they accept EmoryCard for all y’all Eagles]
It’s great that there are plans to get involved with Atlanta Public Schools and produce an iPhone app. But to even be contemplating any one such endeavor at this juncture is simply ludicrous. All I can tell you is I sure as hell wouldn’t feed this food to any kid I know. Maybe as a punishment for the older of my two nephews if he picks on the little one, but they’re one and three and have no attention span, so I’m not sure that would have the desired impact.
If Bad Dog’s owners and operators forget those for the time being, focus on their promise to deliver small-batch liquors and craft beers, and remedy the menu, food execution, and service issues poste haste, they’ll be just fine. The rest, is just a dot, dot, dot.