MOLE LA TIA: I WAS FED IN EAST L.A.
One of the great tastes of the EAT MY GLOBE tour came towards the end of my time in Mexico City. My good friend and Mexican food expert, Cristina Potter (check out her superb blog MEXICO COOKS) had suggested I visit a restaurant, called Azul Y Oro housed on the campus of Mexico City’s university. The chef there was one Ricardo Muniz, also the author of a breeze-block of a book called “The Dictionary of Mexican Gastronomy”.
It was an unassuming place, more canteen than restaurant like in appearance, but the food was astonishing. Particularly splendid was a small portion of chicken covered in a deliciously rich, dark Mole Poblano, that classic sauce from Puebla. So good in fact was it that I literally licked the plate clean and could still feel the lingering remnants of the incredible smokey tastes on my tongue hours later. I have been craving a repeat experience ever since.
When my L.A. based chum Aaron Tell invited me to join him for lunch last week, I was delighted when he suggested I join him at Mole La Tia a restaurant in East Los Angeles who specialise in dishes from the Oaxaca region and particularly in a wide range of different mole.
I knew little about East L.A, other than as the subject of a fun little song parody by uber-1970’s pot heads Cheech & Chong, but the restaurant was easy enough to find and after pulling up into the small parking lot, I entered to find a small, comfortable dining room with terracotta painted walls decorated with Mexican art.
The cooking of owner/chef, Rocio Camacho has become well known enough in the city to attract considerable praise. However, it was obviously a quiet afternoon and only a handful of tables were occupied. I took a seat with and began to work my way through the extensive menu, until Aaron arrived a few minutes later. A large basket of warm tortilla chips were placed in front of us along with a red-hot salsa, zingy with fresh lime juice. We attacked them in rapid fashion as we decided what dishes we wanted to share for lunch.
While we decided, we were presented with a small bowl of Chayote and Potato soup to whet our appetites. It was creamy, smooth and had a depth of taste from the use of a great stock. It augured well for the rest of the meal.
Some pre-lunch research had told me that their Botana Mestiza was a good way to begin. This consisted of three Oaxacan style quesadillas stuffed with calabacitas (a Mexican squash) and quesillo, a Oaxacan cheese. They came served with guacamole and drizzled with crema. For anyone who has been unfortunate enough to experience London apologetic and polite attempts at Mexican food, these quesadillas would be a revelation. They outer casings were light, crunchy and perfectly examples of grease free frying. The insides oozed their light, tangy cheese and squash filling onto the plates and the crema added a delicious extra touch.
Aaron is no fan of guacamole, which left it all for me. No bad thing as the small ice cream scoop sized portion was as creamy and delicious a version as you are every likely to experience and I scooped it from plate to mouth with the last of the tortilla chips.
The menu offered a wide variety of moles made with everything from coffee to passion fruit. It also offered the chance to create a tasting plate allowing you to choose four different main ingredients along with four different moles and our selection was brought to the table soon after our starter plates were cleared.
I was slightly disappointed by the cooking of the protein element of our meal. A duck breast was tough and on the dry side, like wise a chicken leg & thigh portion was over cooked and greasy. Amends were made by a juicy portion of quail and by two moist and delicate frogs legs. We portioned them out and began to create various combinations with the four bowls of mole sauces that accompanied them.
My own favourites were a deliciously hot, sour, sweet tamarind mole and the traditional Oaxacan mole, black, smoky and redolent of the one I had loved so much at Azul Y Oro. Aaron particularly liked a brick red mole thickened with pistachio nuts, while the least favourite was a “Mole De Finas Hierbas” which came over as little more than an insipid pesto. As utensils, we used a basket or two of soft and warm handmade corn tortilla, as good as any I tasted and thankfully in plentiful supply as we began to clean out the bowls of our favourite sauces.
Added to a mound of rice, so many carbs left us too full to consider desserts. I sipped on a mint tea while we waited for our bill, which came to $60 including a decent tip for helpful and incredibly friendly service.
Mole La Tia is certainly a few notches above a joint, but still offers up this cuisine in a way that is accessible both in approach and pricing. In that, it reminded me of its Peruvian equivalent in South L.A, Mo-Chica. As a newcomer to the L.A. dining scene, it is this aspect of the ethnic dining which strikes me as the most exciting. I am sure I shall be returning to Mole La Tia soon to check out more of the menu.