Sunday, March 18, 2007

3 days of Mexican

This was not planned, but I've just completed a three day Mexican series - sort-of . . .

After the Of Montreal concert at First Avenue, my companions and I dropped in at the Chevy's "Fresh Mex"; downtown for Margaritas and snacks before braving the "Y'all Come Back Saloon" - a local institution that never ceases to be popular with the boys. I had eaten dinner earlier in the evening, so I ordered the "Guac My Way" which was promised to be a table-side fresh preparation of Guacamole just as I wanted it. The cheerfully flirtatious server bounded over with a tray of fresh avocados and various accoutrements so that he could try to match my taste preferences. I asked for it chunky, spicy, a touch garlicky and a some salt for good measure. To my horror, his bowls contained garlic powder, very sad looking chopped tomotoes and no salt to speak of. In the end, it ended up bland and tasteless despite his best intentions. After sucking down the 12oz "Blue Agave" margarita, I decided to forgive him and Chevy's for their transgressions. It was just confirmation that if I want a good bowl of Guac - My way - I have to make it myself.

In preparation for my Sunday dinner, we decided to drop by the Midtown Global Market to pick up some things that I didn't trust my local grocery store to carry in good quality (ripe plantains, Mexican queso fresco, and fresh tomatillos). We were pleasantly surprised to see how busy the stalls and shops were on a Saturday night. We opted to cap off our shopping with dinner at "A la Salsa"; - one of the few sit-down establishments in the market that has been getting rave reviews. I started the meal with the first of my 2for1 Mojitos which tasted much like the kind I get when I'm in Mexico or the Caribbean - light on the lime, balanced on the mint and sugar, and just enough rum to make it worth the while. We moved on to the first course of Tostones con Camarones where they took thick fried planks of plantains and topped them with perfectly grilled shrimp topped with this delicious spicy mango salsa. My main course, a Pollo en Mole Poblano - a delicious quarter chicken covered in a rich, ever so slightly sweet mole sauce with two savory tamales on the side - was a delicious exercise in simple complexity. I love a good mole poblano that can balance out the sweet, the chocolate, and the various spices to make it a brain-tingling experience. The A la Salsa folks did not disappoint.

I cooked for us tonight and reached for my friend Rick Bayless for inspiration. I live and die by his "Mexican Everyday"; cookbook so I picked two recipes for this meal: Gulf Coast Rice Pilaf with black beans and plantains supporting Spinach/Mushroom Enchiladas in Salsa Verde. While the pilaf was very good, the enchiladas again stole the show. The sauce is a simple mixture of fresh tomatillos, garlic and jalapeno chilies reduced and then balanced with some stock and crème fraiche. Although the assembly is messy (you dip the tortillas in the sauce, roll in the filling and serve, rather than rolling in the fillings, saucing and baking before serving) the result is fresh, fragrant and intoxicating. I paired this meal with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon that I opened yesterday, but kept fresh in my newly refurbished "Pek Supremo" wine preservation system. More on that in a future update.

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