October 28, 2010 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Rojo Mexican Bistro excels with native fare

Sour cream and Rojo’s signature red sauce drizzle a chicken burrito. The menu also holds surprises like pan-seared salmon. )

Rojo Mexican Bistro is a real success story. The first of the colorful Mexican restaurants opened in Novi in November 2008 in space where another restaurant had failed to generate interest.

It was a different story when chef Luis Garza of the Andiamo Restaurant Group debuted his authentic Mexican menu in the glamorous Fountain Walk setting. The Novi Rojo, something of an experiment for the company known for its Italian restaurants, flourished.

So much so that just two years later, the second Rojo has joined the restaurant scene. It has a distinctive, non-cliché setting (starring impressive displays of bottles of tequila used as a decor element throughout the many-windowed room), but what is the same is chef Garza's touch with the cuisine.

Just about everything is made in-house under his direction and from fresh ingredients. And that includes the freshly squeezed juices for the margaritas and other cocktails.

The menu doesn't neglect the popular tortilla dishes — and why would it? — but it goes well beyond with selections from the native of Linares, Mexico's repertoire, all served with the niceties expected of an upscale restaurant, including linens, attractive tableware and attentive service.

Rojo signatures include some dishes that will surprise those expecting a typical Mexican bill of fare: pan-seared salmon accented with spinach and cream sauce brightened with roasted poblano peppers; a hefty pork chop served in sauce made with roasted tomatillos and serrano peppers and topped with a frizzle of onions; and tacos taken to a luxurious level with fillings of lobster or seared scallops in tomatillo sauce.

The salmon is one of several dishes accompanied by fresh vegetables and Garza's favorite redskin potatoes.

Two dishes with contrasting styles show the range of flavors here. Chile rellenos (roasted poblano peppers) filled with a blend of three cheeses — cocija, Chihuahua and asadero — and topped with roasted tomato sauce, could certainly be called comfort food. Meanwhile, mole de gallina, chicken in a smoky sauce that includes three different chiles — ancho, pasilla and mulato — delivers more intense flavor.

Traditional beans and rice accompany these dishes and these fresh, housemade sides are not the kind you'll push out of the way.

Among the appetizers, several of which involve calamari, shrimp or mussels, the standout is guacamole prepared tableside in the traditional mocajete y tejolete (mortar and pestle) from the peeling of the avocados to the sprinklings of fresh cilantro and lime juice. The unmistakable freshness gives the dish extra appeal.

Service by a staff in head-to-toe black shows not only expertise but enthusiasm, and it lives up to the fare and the clever Ron Rea setting.

Two more editions of Rojo are already on the drawing board, one at the Andiamo Lakefront location in St. Clair Shores and the other at the Mall at Partridge Creek.

Quite a success story indeed.

Harriet Jacobson, left, and Peggy Schodowski wait last week for fresh ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
The guacamole is prepared in the traditional mocajete y tejolete (mortar ...
Mike Racicot makes up fresh Guacamole tableside at Rojo Mexican Bistro . (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
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