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Posts Tagged ‘traditional cuisine’

When I’m in el norte, I usually turn down invitations to eat at Mexican restaurants.  However, over the years, I’ve learned to follow the advice of the late great Nat King Cole and “I’ll never say ‘never again’ again.”  Thus, last month, on a stormy Friday at the height of northbound commute traffic, my stepson, his wife, and I ventured up to Yountville, in the heart of Northern California’s wine country, to try out La Calenda, the newly opened Oaxaca inspired restaurant by Michelin star chef Thomas Keller.

I admit, I was extremely leery of this project when I first learned of it.  In fact, upon reading an article in the SF Chronicle, I wrote on Facebook,  “Hmmm… How about using his celebrity and empire to help finance one of the numerous talented Oaxacan chefs to open a Oaxacan restaurant in Yountville?”  Little did I know that Keller had made inquiries in Oaxaca and wound up hiring Kaelin Trilling as the executive chef.  Kaelin is the born-and-raised-in-Oaxaca son of cookbook author, cooking instructor, and Oaxaca resident, Susana Trilling.  A good start and so I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

Flavorful and picante salsas, fresh guacamole, and crispy warm totopos.

The menu features traditional Oaxacan cuisine, but also includes nods to other regions of Mexico.  I have to say, they had me at the tortillas!

Tacos al Pastor – a Lebanese-Mexican dish that has become traditional in Central Mexico.

Sourcing corn from Mexico and nixtamalizing it on-site, the blue corn tortillas, handmade and hot off the comal, brought me right back to Oaxaca.

Tacos de carnitas – pork, cilantro, onions, with a squeeze or two of lime.

Oh, and did I mention the black mole?  Silky smooth, with the rich complex flavors I have come to love and appreciate.  Though we didn’t order the braised beef cheek in mole chichilo, we asked for a taste, which was promptly provided.  I explained to my family that this Oaxacan mole is made from chilhuacle negro, mulatto, and pasilla chiles; blackened tortillas and seeds of the chiles; and avocado leaves, the latter imparting a subtle anise flavor.  It is only served on special occasions, such as weddings, christenings, and when the crops have been harvested, etc.  It was delicious and, as they should be, the flavors were multilayered.  Next time…

Pollo (chicken) in mole negro.

Everything on the menu tempted us and we ordered way more food than I thought we could possibly eat — but it was so good, we did!  (Photos are only a sample of what the three of us tucked into.)  And, the mezcal cocktails we ordered certainly got the evening off to a delightful start!

Traditional flan with caramel sauce — creamy, smooth, and divine!

When we went to La Calenda, I was nearing the end of a month-long visit in el norte and the sight of barro rojo (red clay) bowls from Oaxaca and glassware from Xaquixe Glass (the same glasses that sit on my Casita Colibrí kitchen shelf), along with the smells and flavors, had tears welling up, as a wave of homesickness came over me.  But, then it passed and the joy of feeling “at home” even in Yountville, California set in.  And, more good news:  The prices, were extremely reasonable for the quality and location — in the ballpark of upscale restaurants in Oaxaca, as opposed to upscale in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Seeing stars at the entrance to La Calenda.

(ps)  Though I’ve had this blog post in the hopper for a few weeks (ever since my return to Oaxaca), it was the recent article by food writer, Cristina Potters, The Traditional Mexican Kitchen :: Is It Authentic, or What?, that prompted me to finish and post it.  La Calenda can definitely be described as having its roots in the traditional.

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Oaxaca recently won the Food and Travel Reader Award 2018 in the category of Best Gourmet Destination in Mexico.  At last, the rest of Mexico, not to mention the world, is acknowledging what Oaxaqueños have long known — the eight regions of Oaxaca offer some of the best, most complex traditional food in the world.  From street food stands to food fairs to restaurants, I am almost never disappointed!  Here are a few of the traditional dishes I’ve had the pleasure of eating in the past few weeks.

Higaditos in Villa Díaz Ordaz – Oct. 28, 2018

The first is Higaditos from Señora Cristina Cruz — an additional reason blogger buddy Chris and I returned to Díaz Ordaz for the Festival del Pan de Muerto.  We have tasted many versions of this egg/chicken dish, but we agree that hers is the best — never mind that she has a smile that could light up the world.

Mole de Caderas at Las Quince Letras – Nov. 7, 2018

When chef Celia Florian announced that her restaurant, Las Quince Letras, would be featuring Mole de Caderas for a month, mi amiga (and cocinera) Kalisa and I made a beeline.  Mole de Caderas is a traditional Mixtec dish from Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca and nearby Tehuacán, Puebla.  It is made from the hip (cadera) and the spine of a goat that has been fed a salt-based diet to give the broth a unique flavor.  It is only served during the fall, when the goats are made to make the ultimate sacrifice — and was absolutely delicious!

Tlayuda with tasajo at Tlayudas “El Negro”

And, finally, Oaxaca’s celebrated tlayuda — it and pozole are my favorite Oaxaca comfort foods.  Neighbors and I decided to try out the newest location of Tlayudas El Negro on Independencia near Crespo.  As you can see above, I ordered one with tasajo (thinly sliced beef) and garnished with the aromatic and flavorful herb, chepiche.  Yummm… I will return.

What can I say?  I feel so lucky to have landed in this culturally rich and seriously delicious corner of the world!

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