Sunday, January 31, 2010

Holy Mole!!

After a day of snowboarding in the Sandia Mountains, Julie and her best friend, Mandeep, and I were ready for a warm meal. All the talk about red enchiladas with an egg over easy, sour cream, guacamole and onions last Sunday had Mandeep and me craving some dank Mexican food. But following my six year stint in Las Cruces, its hard to find the same kind of Mexican eats you find closer to the border. The salsa was spicier, the chiles were heartier and it seemed like the meats were much more savory. 

However, the thing with most Mexican restaurants is that they close on Sundays–being a day for worship and time with family (or at least that was my reasoning behind it). So we ended up driving around to a bunch of different places that were listed on Mandeep's cell phone when we googled some places. I think the first five places on the list were closed and we ended up just driving around in search of a place to sit down. Destiny had apparently lead us to El Sarape, the restaurant right next door to my former place of employment, Fuji Yama. Ironic yeah? Perhaps. Fate? Not so much. 

At first we lingered in the car trying to decide if this was where we were going to eat or not, then we dragged our feet from the car to the building where we were pleasantly greeted by a mad who spoke little english but was very friendly. He sat us in the corner and gave us some time to look the menu over. With thoughts of many of the restaurants in Las Cruces racing through my head I perused the menu hoping that something was going to pop out at me–and it did just that. 

The menu was primarily written in Spanish with an English translation following each menu item's description. Hurray! This just brought me back to living in Zacatecas, Mexico while I studied Spanish a few years ago. For me it was also a confirmation that the food was going to be stellar. Thinking back to one of my first dishes that I ate in Zacatecas I looked for a mole plate and sure enough there it was. I was so excited. I haven't had mole since I visited my friend, Josh, in Harlingen, Texas in October and before that since I cooked it at home with Dusty during school. 

Since we were all starving too, we decided to get a small shrimp cocktail and a small bowl of the Azteca soup—bad idea for our bellies, great idea for our tastebuds. The soup was simple considering it had four basic components: toasted tortilla strips, cheese, avocado and a chile sauce. That was all it need too. The cheese and the avocado provided a slightly creamy contrast to the spicy sauce and the tortilla strips gave a nice textural component to it. 

The shrimp cocktail was equally satisfying. It has a typical cocktail sauce for a Mexican-style cocktail–a slightly runny mixture with lime juice, cliantro and avocado (sometimes cucumbers) with whole shrimp chilling on the bottom. None of that popcorn shrimp that you find at other place either. The sauce comes together with a sweet but salty tasty with just enough acidity to work with the avocado's mild flavor. It was a refreshing combination too, reminding me of summer. 

Our dishes came shortly after we had admitted that we were getting full and had no more room for our tacos, enchiladas and mole. But we were thinking, "If the soup and the cocktail were that good, the other food must just as good if not better, right?" So we dug in—at least as far as we could. My mole was great. Totally brought me back to Zacatecas and home with Dusty eating chicken mole (not that I know of any other kind of mole). The shredded chicken was served in the mole sauce accompanied by a side of rice, refried beans and warm corn tortillas. Despite the description saying that there would be sesame and pumpkin seeds on top, I was still excited for was lay ahead. I took a bite of the chicken and was taken to a state of nostalgia. 

For those of you who have not had mole, I suggest giving it a try. Its a different taste than what most people are used to when it comes to Mexican food–or at least the connotation of Mexican food. Though there is chile in the sauce, it has a range of flavors including chocolate and other spices. Though chocolate is almost always the first flavor that comes to mind, it is not an overwhelming flavor. The sauce has a slightly savory, yet sweet taste to it. As far as I know, the process of making mole at home takes a good amount of time and patience. I've also heard that its an all-day process of slaving over the stove and putting a lot of love and care into making it right. I'll have to keep that in mind for another post. 

I'm glad that we decided to go there for dinner, it was great. We were seriously stuffed—in a good way at that. And now I know where to get some good Mexican eats when I have a hankering for it. 

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