Monday, November 08, 2010
One of the things I love about running my dining group, Pleasure Palate, is being able to introduce my members to cuisines they may be unfamiliar with as well as to restaurants I enjoy dining at. That's why when I set up a Oaxacan Food, Ice Cream and Raspado Tasting at both Guelaguetza and Natura Bar, it was a win-win situation for all.
By the way, since this tasting, the Guelaguetza location we dined at is now Pal Cabron, a wonderful Cemitas Sandwich Shop, that along with Guelaguetza and the Natura Bar is also owned by the Lopez Family. There are still two Guelaguetza locations, one on Olympic Boulevard and one in Lynwood.
At the beginning of our tasting, Fernando Lopez was there to start our meal with a little Guelaguetza history plus some small bowls of Fried Chapulines aka Fried Grasshoppers. Some of the group didn't want to partake, but those who did, whether it was their first time or not, enjoyed the grasshoppers' salty-crunch. Fernando also mentioned that the grasshoppers could be quite big depending on the season, but I think most of the group were fine with sampling the mini me versions.
Also on hand were bowls of tortilla chips topped with red mole sauce and cotija cheese. If you've never had mole before, it's a great way to try it with something neutral like tortilla chips to see if it's something you'd like. The fact that those tortilla chips disappeared as soon as they hit the table spoke volumes.
As a part of our meal, we could choose from one of two drinks, an Horchata or a Chilacayota. An horchata is a drink that can be made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice or barley. I'm not sure what Guelaguetza uses to make their horchata, but I do know that it's topped with a cactus fruit syrup, nuts and cantaloupe (or other type of melon).
I've had Guelaguetza's horchata before, but the chilacayota was completely new to me, so of course I had to have it. It's a drink made up of pumpkin pulp, pumpkin strands, small chunks of cantaloupe and a mixture of cantaloupe and tamarind juice as well as piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar). I really liked the sweet and slightly sour interplay of flavors and believe me, I ate every bit of pumpkin and cantaloupe left in that glass.
After the chapulines and the tortilla chips, our main meal started and first up was a plate that included Tamales de Mole and Tacos de Barbacoa de Chivo.
The Tamales de Mole was a banana leaf wrapped tamal with white chicken meat topped with a black mole sauce. I liked that the masa for the tamale itself was moist because chicken breast as a whole can be dry, but wrapped in the masa it was just right. As for the black mole sauce, it can contain anywhere from 20 to 25 ingredients or more, including chocolate, various nuts, seeds and spices as well as chili peppers, onions and garlic. With all that going on, the sauce itself has layers of flavors and can be quite intense with a slight bitterness and smoky and earthy undertones. That's what I got from the black mole sauce on my tamal and I loved it.
On the other half of the plate were the Tacos de Barbacoa de Chivo, which were deep fried taquitos stuffed with barbacoa seasoned mutton and covered in guacamole sauce. What I enjoyed was the tiny bit of heat that came from the meat, perhaps due to the addition of some chilies. It definitely paired well with the sweet, chunky guacamole.
Our next plate consisted of a Chile Relleno de Picadillo and Empanadas de Huitlacoche con Quesillo.
The Chile Relleno de Picadillo was a fresh Oaxacan-imported green chile stuffed with shredded chicken breast, raisins, peanuts, tomato and onions. When I've had Chile Relleno in the past, it's usually with a panela cheese or some other type of cheese. The only other non-cheese chili relleno I've ever had was at a Guatemalan restaurant and it had a filling of ground pork, beans and carrots and I enjoyed every bite of it. I also enjoyed every bite of this chili relleno and I didn't miss the cheese at all. What also did it for me was the spiciness of the filling. The heat made this dish even better.
Our final savory dish was the Empanadas de Huitlacoche con Quesillo, which are hand made empanadas stuffed with Oaxacan string cheese and corn truffles aka corn fungus. The flavor is similar to a truffle in that huitlacoche can be woodsy, earthy and even a bit smoky. It's definitely an acquired taste, but it's something I've always enjoyed eating whether in a taco, quesadilla or in this case, an empanada.
Now that we were done with the savory part of our tasting, it was time for something sweet from the Natura Bar, which is right next door. The Natura Bar is the newest member of the Lopez Family group of restaurants and it features Oaxacan-inspired drinks, juices and ice cream.
We started with an ice cream sampler of the following flavors: Burnt Milk, Cactus Fruit, Mamey, Vanilla, Walnut, Lemon, Pineapple Blossom and Coconut. It was an interesting variety of flavors. The burnt milk was a little smoky while there was a mild-kiwi sweetness to the cactus fruit. I was most intrigued by the Pineapple Blossom ice cream since I didn't know that anything could be done with pineapple blossoms in general. To see what one looks like, click here. Although it was subtle, I could still taste the pineapple flavor without the tartness that's usually present and it was a nice change.
Along with the Mamey ice cream, we also sampled a Mamey Licuado. A licuado is a drink that is made up of milk, ice and a fruit or a mixture of fruit. It's equivalent to a smoothie. The mamey is a tropical fruit that is similar in texture to a papaya or avocado. I'm not quite sure how to describe what it tastes like although some comparisons have been made to pumpkin or sweet potatoes in that it has a sugary taste to it.
From ice creams and a licuado, we go to raspados, which is the Mexican version of a shaved ice dessert. We sampled 4 different flavors: Coconut, Rompope (egg nog liquer), Lime and Mango. My favorites were the Mango because it came topped with fresh mango and the Lime because of its tartness.
Our finale was a Lemonade, which was refreshing and a great palate cleanser for the entire meal.
Overall, it was a great dining experience. We were shown wonderful hospitality by everyone at the restaurant and Fernando was always on hand to answer any questions about the food we were enjoying, as well as about Oaxacan food in general. From the chapulines all the way to the lemonade, everything we had was tasty. Even better, I was introduced to something I've never had before, the Chilacayota. That was a wonderful new find that and something I'd order again.
3014 W. Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Guelaguetza in Plaza Mexico
11215 Long Beach Boulevard #1010
Lynwood, CA 90262
3335 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005