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Do You Know Anything About Azul 17 in Columbia?

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In the midst of recession, someone has a pair of cajones to invest in a new restaurant that looks upscale and unique for Howard County.

The Azul 17 restaurant looks ready to open on Snowden River Parkway in Columbia. I don't know much about what sounds like a Mexican restaurant, and I'm trying to keep my expectations low because nothing beats discovering an unexpected treat -- like Bon Fresco's great sandwiches and bread.

But I'm piecing together hopes that Azul 17 is going to open something special. Talk of upscale Mexican. Ads for fine-dining waiters on the door. Glimpses through the window of modern furniture that certainly looks like it'll compete with Aida Bistro for classiest spot in a strip mall. The new sign says "Mexican Cuisine & Tequila Lounge." They registered the Web site http://www.azul17.com/ in mid-August.

Again, I don't know much. A few weeks ago, someone sent me an email that Azul 17 had been advertising for bartenders and servers on Craiglist. He mentioned a chef/owner named Damien. A few days later, someone else told me about how Lily Soto (owner of Lily's Mexican Market) and a restaurant to be opened by her husband Julio maybe in October. Apparently, Lily Soto said the food would be authentic but with a more contemporary preparation, offering over 100 tequilas, and live lounge djs on friday and saturdays. I am so excited to have a new and hip place to hange out on the weekends, Can't Wait!

I love Lily's Mexican Market -- ironically because it feels authentically local, like a place Mexicans would do their basic shopping. Modern banquettes, 100 tequilas and live DJs would be a very different feel. On Tuesday, we drove past on our way back from sushi, and it looked like there were televisions playing inside Azul 17. I caught only a glimpse from Snowden, but it got me excited. But trying not to be too excited!

What else do you know about Azul 17?

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I've been to Azul 17 twice before for drinks with friends. This time I went in a group of 4 and while we had all had dinner, we ended up sharing a bunch of apps. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of food and given that two of my friends are pretty familiar with Mexico (one is from Mexico and still has family there) and they were pleased, I think I can feel comfortable recommending it. But first, you have to know what you're getting into. The space is decorated with a very modern feel and I don't know about weeknights, but on weekends any time after as early as 8 a DJ will be spinning some music with some serious beats. It will feel somewhat ridiculous, especially given that the place won't be full and no one will be dancing. But then you'll sit down and see their huge list of tequilas, their flight options, their long list of margarita options and the menu and you'll decide it's okay. :)

As far as drinks go, the menu is huge. A whole list of margaritas, another long list of cocktails, several drink specials that change, 5 or 6 infused tequilas served in a drink or neat, and of course the large page (2 columns, tiny print) of tequilas - blanco, reposado, & anejo. Their margaritas are all made with fresh squeezed lime juice, milagro blanco, and agave syrup unless you request differently. The latter ingredients are pre-mixed earlier in the day and I find the pre-mix to be a little sweet, but the bartenders have never had a problem making mine a little less sweet by mixing it fresh. This past night I decided to try a few of the infused tequilas. I'm not a huge tequila fan, love margaritas but don't tend to drink tequila straight, but I really enjoyed the tamarindo infused tequila. The pineapple/vanilla not as much (not surprising, I found the vanilla off-putting), nor the prickly pear (just tasted like straight tequila). From the margarita list, I'm a big fan of the Lola - margarita with some guava puree and cilantro added. My friends had some of the straight tequila, including a flight of 3 blancos but they most enjoyed a newer small batch tequila that Azul had recently got in, Espolon.

To eat, we start with the seasonal ceviche, which was tuna, watermelon, heart of palm and jalapeno and was really good. Less acidic than some I've had, but it was refreshing and I would happily order it again. Guacamole is made tableside, which doesn't do anything for me, but certainly lets you know it's being made fresh. We ordered the rojo, which had the addition of chipotle chili and a little queso fresco sprinkled on top. Homemade chips and a REALLY good fresh salsa with a nice bite on the side were excellent. We also ordered tamales (I'm not a big tamale eater, but my friend really liked them), tacos (I didn't try the chicken or carnitas, but both the chorizo and lengua were good) and at the very end of the night to soak up some of the tequila, the taquitos. The latter were actually a pleasant surprise, served with a crema on top and on a bed of a dark sauce that looked like mole but tasted like it had a good dose of tamarind, which made them more interesting than I expected.

Ohhhh, did I forget to mention that they have Negro Modelo on tap (as well as the lighter Modelo, Dos Equis and several others I didn't catch)? I also had a nice dark brazilian beer (bottled) that I really enjoyed.

For 4 of us, with a good bit of drinking aside from our DD, it was just over $50/person before tip.

Basically, HowChow heard right:

Apparently, Lily Soto said the food would be authentic but with a more contemporary preparation, offering over 100 tequilas, and live lounge djs on friday and saturdays.

It seems a somewhat strange concept for Columbia, sort of ill suited to the strip mall it sits in, but it's certainly worth the stop if you love tequila, mexican beer or food, or a hip joint where you will have the dance floor all to yourself. :)

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