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We had the fortunate opportunity a few months ago, thanks to local foodie and PR extraordinaire Linda Kavanagh, to enjoy a complimentary press dinner at Cactus Rose Cantina in Wilton, CT that would prove to be a record breaking number of courses. And now we want to share that experience with you. Here’s how it went down:
We were struck by how bright and fun the interior is, with beautiful, bright tiled mosaics along the walls, perfect lighting, and an adorable fireplace. They even have a fireplace outside on their huge patio that’s perfect for kind weather dining. You could really tell both owners, Maria Pertesis and her mom Katerina love what they do too because they’re usually found greeting guests, making the rounds, asking customers how the food is, talking, chatting, and even helping to bring dishes to tables from time to time. We love when we see that!
Before we sat, we had some margaritas at the large bar. They have four signature margarita concoctions, so it was our duty to try them all out, you know? Danny started with the Dali, a margarita with Sauza 100 yr reposado, triple sec, lime
juice and simple syrup with a splash fresh orange juice. I had the Apache, a spicy margarita that hit you at the end with a nice heat from the serrano. All and all, they were pretty delish! We also started with some beef empanadas in a light ranchero sauce and dipped into some vertical nachos that were smothered in chihuahua cheese (no, they didn’t milk the dog, it’s a yummy Mexican cheese), refried black beans, and guac. Both were hardy apps filling enough if you’re looking to just get a bite at the bar.
As we sat down, we saw the tasting menu, awaiting us like Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Danny and I didn’t know what to order from the 14 dishes available, as usual. Well, that problem was solved for us because apparently we were trying every. single. one. Holy crap, I didn’t wear an elastic band skirt, haha. Well, let us take you on the tasting tour, so you know what to order when you hit up Cactus Rose.
Seafood cocktail shooters (lobster, crab & shrimp with citrus, chile, & tomato): This was a cross between a ceviche and a seafood cocktail. Must love cocktail sauce here for sure or you won’t dig this! Seafood was fresh and the chile added a fun kick.
Wilted greens (warm chorizo vinaigrette, orange, jicama, organic sunny side up egg): The dressing was very light and the oranges added a nice contrast with the greens and the crispiness of the jicama. And the egg? Well, everything’s better with an egg on it.
Corn & poblano chowder (applewood smoked bacon, potatoes, cilantro): Great chowder (actually won the Critics Choice Award at Chowdafest IV) with chunks of corn and a smooth after heat. The smokey bacon was a really nice addition. This was my favorite.
Tuna tostada (watercress salad, pickled jalapeño, cilantro aioli): A bit too much aioli for us, but the tuna was seared nicely and served with a bright and herbaceous salad. Good for summer.
Chile relleno (goat cheese, black beans, red chile salsa): Loads of goat cheese, though thicker and milder than the goat cheese Kristien is in love with. It was fried in a batter that was too thick for us. We prefer a lightly fried chile relleno.
Mini wagyu burger (poblano pepper, applewood bacon, Monterey Jack): Cooked close to well, which is more cooked than we like it causing it to be a bit on the dry side. Shoestring fries were crispy and were nice. Bacon flavor really came through with the thick cuts.
Seared salmon with chorizo cream: All agreed the salmon was cooked great and the sauce was a nice, unique complement. I was proud for picking up Executive Chef Lisa Varnberg’s use of cardamom in the dish. A unique salmon dish I actually enjoyed, and I usually don’t like salmon.
Grilled lamb chop with New Mexican ratatouille: The lamb chops were cooked appropriately and the ratatouille was good, but we were both hoping for more of a kick and flavor. The lamb was a bit fatty. Definitely not our favorite.
Chile chocolate pots de crème: Imagine a pudding, lighter than air, just floating into your belly. Yup, that’s this. Quite tasty!
Leche asado (queso fresco and maldon salt): Think custard, but on crack. Really filling, so make sure you’ve saved up some room in that gut. Delish!
Banana bandit (banana cheesecake “burrito” w/ chocolate ice cream): Danny’s not a big fan of cheesecake, but even he thought this was a great dessert. It “stole” our hearts, bah ha ha (yeah, we’re lame).
Jelly doughnuts (strawberry jalapeño jam and vanilla milkshake): Dear sweet beautiful lovely god of food. Seriously, some of the best donuts that we’ve ever had. The strawberry jalapeño jam sneaks up on you slowly but just mellows out behind things. The milkshake was frothy and makes you feel like a little kid again. This dish has to be ordered.
Cactus Rose Cantina is a cozy, friendly spot where you could easily kick back while laughing with friends. The drinks are creative and tasty. As for the food, you can expect to find some wonderful gems on the menu and some dishes that don’t quite make the grade. Yes, it can be a bit hit or miss, but if you choose carefully you could have a great experience. And you really can’t go wrong with any of the desserts, so it’s definitely worth trying for yourselves.
Cactus Rose Cantina
Address: 5 River Road
Wilton, CT 06897
Phone: (203) 762-8484