Coyote Flaco means "the skinny coyote" in Spanish. The reference, presumably, is to a ravenous creature, which it is good to be when you arrive at this newest restaurant in town. You surely won't be hungry — or any skinnier — when you depart!
The restaurant is one of several of the same name owned by the Lopez family, whose eateries in Westchester County and southern Connecticut have been in operation for a number of years. Expanding to Williamstown was more a matter of the family branching out than of creating a franchise.
Galo Lopez purchased the former Captain's Table on Route 7 this past autumn and opened in February. He serves as both chef and proprietor and has had considerable help during startup from his brother, Luis, and other relatives. Judging by the night we went, the extra hands must be welcome, as the place was busy when we got there and even busier when we left.
It certainly is not the new decor that is the draw. The former nautical accents have been replaced with what you might call hotel neutrals — faux-stone beige with aqua and beige linens and lots of blond wood. A bit of stenciling, a lone striped blanket, a few green plants and some small prints by Rivera, Picasso and others relieve the blandness with touches of color, but not decisively.
So, of course, it must be the food and drink that fills the tables. The Latin warmth and character, missing in the surroundings, is in full evidence in glass and on plate.
The ordinary liquor offerings are eclipsed by a dazzling lineup of designer margaritas ranging in price from $5 for the basic quaff to $15 for what must be celestial top-shelf tequila.
As one of the ingredients for a blue "Coyote Azul" was unavailable, I let myself be talked into a house specialty Margarita Patron ($12), which combined Patron tequila with Cointreau and fresh lime juice. The result was rather like liquid silver — smooth, shiny and elegant.
Drinks were accompanied by complimentary — and complementary — chips and salsa. The yellow and blue tortillas were crisp-fried but not oily; the red and green salsas were hot and sassy.
The seeds of contentment thus planted came into full bloom with the guacamole. Scooped into two avocado shells, this was the genuine article — unctuous, a little chunky and very fresh with a good balance of lime and cilantro. Although more chips were provided, it was delectable and slightly less filling just by the spoonful. It was served with a mesclun salad garnished with a crumbly, slightly sharp, parmesan-like cheese called cotija.
Another appetizer, the Tamal al Azafran, featured a cornmeal tamale stuffed with cheese and mild peppers, topped with a light saffron-scented tomato sauce and sided with a ruffled tortilla dish filled with black bean, onion and cucumber salsa. It was a lively combination of tastes but left too little room for the entrée.
Dinners range from south-of-the-border standards — burritos, fajitas, tacos and quesadillas — to the quintessential Spanish paella, concocted with savory rice, sau-sages and seafood.
An order of Enchiladas Oaxaca served up two blue corn tortillas stuffed with tender spicy chicken pieces (not tasteless shreds). The Tampiqueno Combo paired a small tender skirt steak doused in mole sauce with an enchilada sui-za, which was stuffed with chicken and had a piquant tomatillo sauce. Refried beans, saffron rice and more guacamole (never too much) filled out the platos.
Unless one is dead-set on sugar, there seems no real need to save room for dessert. Better to polish off all the tasty savories and finish with a good coffee or liqueur.
We did not know that though, so we packed up the rest of our dinners to give place to what proved to be a very blah flan — a milky gelatin enlivened only by a decorative garnish of strawberry and mango purees.
The chocolate cake was better — dense with a thick chocolate frosting, and the same swirls of fruit, but it wasn't worth holding back on the first courses for. We might have found the recommended apple or pineapple chimi-changas more exciting, but we couldn't face the idea of deep-fried turnovers at the end of such a generous meal.
The menu is seasonal, and the chef expects to add more salads, fish and lighter fare during the spring and summer months. There may be more grilled items and perhaps some seviche, a marinated fish dish that is a specialty of the family's native Ecuador.
The service was very courteous, if a bit breathless; it was only three weeks after opening and, with greater-than-anticipated numbers of diners, the waitstaff had not yet perfected the timing.
The appetizers arrived separately, the entrees too soon, and there was a longish wait for coffee.
However, this should resolve itself with a little more time, and the establishment can expect to get plenty of practice.
Its winning combination of good quality and reasonable prices should attract students, locals and tourists alike.