It’s hard to say what’s more enjoyable at Kokopelli: the excellent food created by executive chef Gina Rodriguez, the relaxing futuristic decor or the tasty selection of mixed drinks and tequilas offered at the well-stocked tequila bar.
The fun is trying to find that delicate balance among the three. Diners at Kokopelli, 1904 Chestnut St., can definitely get an education on tequila if they are so inclined, with the knowledgeable staff guiding them through what can be an intimidating array of the exotic spirit with the colorful reputation.
For the record, we damn near got an advanced degree and lived to tell the tale. The specialty drinks are a fine way to kick off an evening. The blood orange martini ($13.50) and the Kokopelli margarita are both smooth and sweet (the martini more so than the margarita) and pleasantly potent.
As enjoyable as it was to put our livers through the paces, we came for the food and were more than pleased with Kokopelli’s selection of Southwestern small plates. Also, it helps to get some food in your system before embarking on one of Kokopelli’s tequila flights.
The yucca and plantain chips with a trio of salsas ($5) were an excellent start, with salsas ranging from fruity and seasonal to just this side of blazing hot.
All of Kokopelli’s seafood plates exceeded expectations. The shrimp tamales ($11) were creamy and flavorful with a rich texture. The fried calamari and rock shrimp ($8) are mong the best you’ll find in the city, thanks to the perfectly tender calamari crusted with blue corn and the shockingly good cranberry chipotle cocktail sauce that comes with it. The shrimp-filled piquillo pepper ($8) looks more dangerous than the vibrantly bright red pepper would have believe, but fear not. It is a well-seasoned but non-threatening dish that anyone can enjoy. Even people who have an aversion to the texture of oyster might want to take a chance on the grilled oysters ($7), which are perfectly cooked and benefit from the presence of mango, red pepper and tequila relish.
Not to be outdone, the meat dishes are powerhouses in their own right. The bison sliders ($8) were a juicy treat that should be on everybody’s Sunday menu for the rest of football season, as they put most burgers to shame. The chili-braised beef short ribs ($15) are simple, elegant and so tender, they qualify as some of the best we’ve ever had in the city.
Dessert at Kokopelli was simple and powerful. The orange flan was an irresistible piece of creamy sweetness that we were unwilling to share once it reached the table — so everyone should get their own.
If you’re looking for good times, good food and a hip, upscale atmosphere, you should make Kokopelli one of your regular hangouts.