By Jessica Brant:
Elmwood’s former Blue Fin Asian Bistro is now home to an entirely different type of cuisine and a new group of inhabitants, hailing from the streets of Mexico.
Step inside the doors of this rustic saloon-esque space, and listen as a traditional mariachi band greets you. Watch as a Spanish dancer draped in ruffles twirls around in her long and flouncy skirt. Enjoy the vista of a most delightful fiesta from a corner disguised as a quaint little veranda.
Restaurateur and Buffalo resident Sergio Mucino intended for his latest dining venture, Agave, to serve as more than your run-of-the-mill watering hole. He wanted to create an authentic cultural experience.
“I was trying to open a restaurant that had a happy atmosphere, with vibrant colors, and more authentic food than the other location that I had opened (at Don Tequila’s in Allentown),” Mucino said.
Besides providing more authentic food options you won’t find on Don Tequila’s menu, such as tacos al pastor, “street tacos” made from pork, pineapples, and salsa (and a dish Mucino boasts as the perfect hangover cure), Mucino aimed to win over Elmwood’s young hip crowd not only through their stomachs, but through design and décor.
Envisioning a festive backdrop, Mucino sought the help of Jessica Saddleson, 30, founder of ArmCandy, an artist collective that paints and draws live to music in galleries, stores, and other venues in and around Buffalo. After viewing her works in an exhibition at Kleinhan Music Hall’s National Hispanic Heritage month this past fall, Mucino commissioned the young Buffalo muralist to render on the small space’s walls the sights and sounds of a Mexican street celebration.
“Sometimes people can go overboard with that (fiesta-type) theme, and I told (Sergio) it’s better right in that area, to not be so intrusive and in-your-face when someone walks inside the door of a restaurant that is right next to spot coffee, in that perfect, central location,” Saddleson said. “I said I’d really like to do a mural that showcases my style of artwork. The central mural with the woman dancing and the mariachi band… the girl’s actually done in my style, the tonal style.”
By using sharpie and implementing her tonal style, Saddleson created dimension throughout Agave by working with a select color palette of warm reds and yellows.
“Diego Rivera was a Mexican muralist… through (his art) he expressed his own values and beliefs. I thought it would be great for this mural to express myself and my values and things that I like to do… and I like to dance. So I showed off this silhouette.”
Agave, a plant native to Mexico and the base ingredient of tequila, is also displayed in the artist’s other works hanging inside the restaurant.
“The first thing I notice (when I walk into a restaurant) is the lines and the colors and the lighting, and basically the whole ambiance of the place. Sometimes, this is funny but, sometimes I’ll be turned off from eating somewhere if the colors are off or something is weird, and it makes the whole experience bad.”
Aficionados of Mexican cuisine have a lot to look forward to in the future from a culturally passionate Mucino. Aside from plans to host live acoustic performances at Agave soon, the restaurateur is bringing a taste of Mexican nightlife elsewhere. Don Tequila’s Dos will be open for business within the next month, and patrons will be able to sip margaritas at an even bigger bar and enjoy an even more energetic environment at its Union Road location in Cheektowaga.
“I’ve been (in the restaurant business) for twenty years. My brother went to West Virginia University and after college, he realized there weren’t any Mexican restaurants in West Virginia, so he decided to open one. I was in Mexico at that time and he invited me to come with him and open a restaurant,” Mucino said. “That’s one of the reasons why I moved to this area, because I noticed that there wasn’t that much competition and there was a need for Mexican restaurants.”
Photos: Jeff Kress Jr