September 10, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Diving into mole in Oaxaca (where dinner is chocolate-coated)
OAXACA, Mexico — Like the other kind of mole (popping out of a front lawn), the edible mole from Restaurante Los Pacos Santo Domingo popped into my consciousness and took immediate frontrunner status in the Mole Challenge. Of course, the first contender naturally does that, but there’s serious star quality here.
Perhaps the sheer volume and novelty constitutes an unfair advantage, but the Mole Combinado (combination) platter (164 pesos, or about $12.50 U.S.) stole my heart (and put a serious waddle in my walk).
It was a six-mole sampler, including three sweet (negro, coloradito and estofado) and three savory (chichilo, verde and Amarillo), with ample tastes of each arranged on a bed of rice. On the side: tortillas, pickled vegetables, lime wedges and a range of salsas. My one transgression: I ordered all with pork rather than chicken or turkey, which are most “typica,” as Mexican foodies say. I like pork, and it soaks up flavors better.
I couldn’t resist, I had to start with the negro — almost black in color, as its name implies.
It was like a hit of Theo’s darkest chocolate morphed into a pork sauce with a wood-smoke character and a slight aroma of earthy loam, almost forest duff. Dark, dark, dark, in really good ways.
I plowed on through the sweet sauces, experimenting with salsas — hot and not-so — until my tongue glowed and my fingers were sticky and leaving brown stains on my pad as I scribbled notes, and I was only halfway through. (The waiter offered a linen bib, I accepted, and it was wise.) Note: Though the restaurant is fancy and the waiter asked about wine, this is definitely a meal for cold beer.
I moved on to the savory. The verde tasted green, naturally, like fresh celery but with a punch. By the time I worked around the plate to the (yellow) Amarillo mole, my tastebuds had been thoroughly chili-zapped, as if by phasers set on stun. But you don’t hear me complaining. (Just remember: cold beer.)
So do you have a Oaxacan restaurant challenger to suggest? Tell me and I’ll try to get there.
- Restaurante Los Pacos Santo Domingo, northwest corner of Abasolo and Reforma, Oaxaca City.
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