Friday, November 23, 2007

Eating Oaxaqueno

DJ Un-G and Christine contemplate their orders after the opening round of chips, salsa and pan dulce.

If there's anywhere in the United States that has to have good Mexican food, it's here in Los Angeles. With just over half the people in California of Mexican/Hispanic ethnicity, there's got to be some authentic food because these people have to eat and I cannot imagine that Taco Bell and Del Taco will suffice for that crowd.

With that in mind and a sense of adventure, we made our way to West Los Angeles to check out Restaurante Monte Alban in the citys' "Little Oaxaca" - a strip of Oaxacan style joints on Santa Monica Boulevard just west of the 405 Freeway. The interior is pretty simple. Nothing fancy. Nothing about the interior design really struck a chord. Although the case of pan dulce greeting you as you enter warmed my heart because I felt good things were about to come.

The nice thing about being here in L.A. is that my friends here love to eat. No food is "too exotic" for them. If it's edible, they'll put it in their mouths and who can fault anyone for that? Besides myself, it was Al and Polly. Anna and Christian brought Ian in tow down from Woodland Hills. DJ Un-G and Christine came down from Silver Lake and we had a full table.

Clayuda con Quesillo, Cecina y Tazajo - corn tortilla with black beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado, salsa, cabbage, cilantro, beef, pork and strip cheese.

The chips and salsa landed on our table right away. These were proper tortilla chips. Thick and freshly fried as they should be. The salsa was a bit thin and runny but had decent flavor.

Since my visit to Mexico City where Senora Garcia had introduced me to the custom of pan dulce before the meal, I've been hooked and was excited to start off with a couple conchas and a pretzel shaped bread with a cup of chocolate con leche. Ah, muy delicioso!

Quesadilla de Queso y Pollo - deep fried corn dough with black beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado, salsa and cheese, stuffed with chicken and cheese.

From there, we went right into the first courses of empanada con queso y pollo and a large clayuda, both of which were just delicious.

Main courses different for everyone. I had the Mole Negro, the house specialty and the supposed heart of Oaxacan cuisine. This was the reason I had traveled to West L.A.. The dish is a chicken breast smothered with the mole and served with rice. The sauce was thinner than the mole negro served at Fiesta Mexicana in Baltimore, but the flavor was rich, complex and beautifully balanced. Unfortunately, the chicken breast was over cooked and a bit on the dry side. Luckily, these was enough mole to help cover the dryness up.

While I liked my mole Anna, on the other hand with her Mole Amarillo came to the conclusion tht she really doesn't find mole appealing. I got to sample a bite of her mole and found it to be a bit flat on the flavor. There was richness but nothing about the flavor popped. Perhaps a nice application of salt would help.

The House Specialty: Mole Negro - Chicken breast covered with Oaxacan black mole sauce made from 30 spices, dry chiles, seeds, herbs and chocolate with rice.

Christine ordered the Chilaquiles, which is a favorite dish of mine (and hers as well). These chilaquiles were far different than what we're used to. This one was definitely more brothy and lacked the textural contrast that I prefer in chilaquiles.

Overall, I think everyone enjoyed their first foray in Oaxacan cuisine. Personally, I think it's going to take a few more trips to Oaxacan restaurants before I can develop an understanding and proper appreciation for the cuisine, but so far so good.

Our meal decided for us that I would make chilaquiles the next afternoon for a late lunch and since we missed the opportunity to use the turkey fryer to fry some fresh tortillas, I ended up buying a couple of bags of Monte Alban's very tasty tortilla chips. If only these kinds of chips were easier to source...

Amarillo de Res - Yellow mole flavored with dry chiles, pepper and cumin with beef and rice.

Enchiladas de Pollo - Three tortillas dipped in black mole, folded and sprinkled with cheese, onions, parsley with chicken on the side.

Chilaquiles con Pollo - Tortilla pieces in a spicy tomato sauce, sprinkled with cheese, onion and green salsa.


Restaurante Monte Alban
11929 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Los Angeles, CA 90025

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