The train might not stop at the old Wilmette Depot anymore, but the place is certainly still hopping. Built in 1873 and once home to the “Old Ouilmette Depot Restaurant,” the space has been reborn as Depot Nuevo, serving “fresh fare” with “Latin flair.”
Owners Rob and Ann Garrison (proprietors of local favorite The Noodle, located just around the corner) have been hard at work creating a neighborhood restaurant with a much more contemporary feel. The walls are splashed with vibrant colors; the gorgeous wooden bar beckons with its warmth. Although the interior only seats about 45, during the warmer months they double capacity with seating outside on the spacious (newly expanded) porch. Currently only open for dinner, lunch will be added Monday-Friday beginning in July.
Given the size of the bar, it’s no surprise to find such an extensive “Libations” menu, including 18 wines by the glass (and more by the bottle); 15 imported tequilas; 16 different beers; and a number of non-alcoholic choices like Jarritos (try the Tamarindo!) and freshly squeezed Limonada. But the big news is the killer Margaritas, made with your choice of tequila. The Pomegranate Margarita (Don Abraham Blanco, Pama Liqueur, pomegranate juice and limonada) was perfectly balanced: not too tart, not too sweet, and served nicely chilled in a huge margarita glass. I’d go back just for that!
Luckily, there’s plenty of tasty food to keep it company. Chef Alvaro Chavez has come up with a menu full of full-flavored Latin food to complement those delicious beverages. House-made chips are brought to every table along with two salsas; the tomatillo version was especially tangy. We started with the fresh Guacamole ($7.50), nice and chunky, expertly seasoned. We requested our Queso Fundido ($8) without chorizo, and our waitress was happy to comply. It arrived golden brown on the top, and we quickly stuffed the warm corn tortillas with the gooey mess. Just under the crusty surface, however, we found that not all of the cheese had melted; the server whisked it away and returned with a larger portion that was cooked through, thoughtfully replacing the tortillas. The Roasted Corn Bisque ($4) was a popular starter, with just the right amount of heat, and a natural sweetness from the corn that was happily not cloying.
The entrée options are nicely balanced between meat, chicken, and seafood, but with only one vegetarian option. The Vegetable Burrito ($12) was roughly the size of my son’s head, filled with grilled veggies, beans, lettuce and cheese, and drizzled with salsa and sour cream. The herby green rice was a fine accompaniment. While I marveled at the size and number (6) of the Sauteed Jumbo Shrimp with Cumin-Garlic Sauce ($18), I found it under seasoned, so I added some of the tasty tomatillo salsa and a little salt and pepper to make it more flavorful.
The Chipotle-Rubbed Trout ($15) was moist and not too spicy, but was billed as “stuffed with bacon-cabbage confit,” which it was not. The creamy Jalapeno-Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes did live up to their billing, and were as good as you would imagine, although to our taste, they could have been spicier. The serving of Soft Chicken Tacos ($12) was both plentiful and colorful, but the chunks of grilled chicken were on the dry side. Again, that salsa came in handy.
When it came time for dessert (as it inevitably does!), we were disappointed to learn that they were out of the Mexican Chocolate Cake (served with a chocolate-pecan glaze and Homer’s cinnamon ice cream), the Pineapple Upside Down Cake with Strawberry Sauce, and (sob!) the Churros, fried dough spirals dusted with cinnamon and served with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Happily, the Mango Flan was still available, and it was delicious. Note to Depot Nuevo — easy on the mango sauce; a light drizzle is all it needs. The other sweet tooths (teeth?) at the table were sated by cinnamon ice cream and warm, gooey caramel sauce… not a bad way to end a meal.
Service throughout the night was well-intentioned, but a bit on the slow side. Luckily, the friendliness and warmth of the staff made our somewhat lengthy stay very pleasant. What a great place to go this summer, sit on the front porch with a frosty margarita and watch the world pass you by.