Holy Mole! Dinner at Mole's new UES outpost
Last night, five local food writers were invited to a 7-course menu tasting at Mole's newest location on the Upper East Side. Upon arrival, the very first thing I observed was how much larger this location seemed than its 3 siblings (Mole has 3 other locations, including 1 in Brooklyn). Included in this observation was the rather spacious front patio for al-fresco dining/imbibing - quite the opposite from the miniscule outdoor space at Mole's Lower East Side outpost.
Similar to the other locations, Mole's interior space is decorated with rustic, tastefully authentic art, nicknacks, chandeliers, wall sconces, and mirrors. However, unlike the others, this particular location underwent a complete transformation prior to its opening. Literally, from a print shop to a Mexican restaurant! Nick, Mole's co-owner, gutted the entire space, from top to bottom, adding: Foraged wood ceiling beams and flooring - exposed brick walls (this was revealed underneath sheetrock) - and peppy, bold-colored paint hues (think orange and magenta).
Once everyone arrived and our party was seated, the table was promptly topped with bowls of warm tortilla chips and smoky red salsa, perfect hand-smashed guacamole, regular food/drink menus (for the purpose of perusal and to order drinks), and our special 'press dinner tasting menu.'
In true Lunch Belle fashion, I chose to whet my palette with a passion fruit margarita. "Frozen or on the rocks?" I told our server to surprise me. Hey, I was feeling playful and spontaneous!
Frozen Passion Fruit Margarita: Served in a glass rimmed with "chili lime" salt and hugged by a lime slice, my picturesque-frozen-passion fruit-margarita had a fantastic consistency, but it lacked the fragrant passion fruit flavor that I was hoping would pop out at me. Overall, I found the beverage to be too sweet. And this is coming from the mouth of a self proclaimed 'sweet tooth!' While I wouldn't consider it a fail, per se, I would not order this particular margarita flavor - or a frozen version of any margarita flavor, for that matter - here, again.
Sopa de Elote (Fire-roasted Corn Soup): A rich, fire-roasted corn "chowder" was topped with minced cilantro and strips of fried flour tortilla. This soup had me at first bite. Literally. Chock-full of corn kernel nibs, cooked cilantro bits, and crunchy, salty tortilla strips, there was a playful texture and addictively delicious flavor that had me yearning for another bowl.
Crepas con Huitlacoche (Homemade crepes with huitlacoche, creamy poblano sauce): Two mini handmade crepes, stuffed with corn and huitlacoche, were loosely rolled-up like burritos. Paired side by side, the crepes were smothered by a creamy poblano sauce and topped with a pinch of shredded white cheese and cilantro. This dish was another winner. The crepes, themselves, were thick enough to withstand a potential soggy situation from the sauce. Although the mild and earthy huitlacoche was a bit overshadowed by the poblano, the sauce was so drinkably fantastic that I didn't even mind. "Do you all use this sauce for any other dishes? It's incredible!" Nick, our host for the evening and Mole co-owner, informed me that the crepes were the only 'poblano sauce recipients.' "Seriously," I said, "it (the sauce) would be delicious on cheese enchiladas."
Pescado Veracruzana (Filet of flounder, "Veracruz" style): Encrusted by a light batter and pan-sauteed until golden brown, the flounder filet was plated atop a Veracruz-style sauce, chock-full of tomatoes, capers, and green olives. A single grilled shrimp and another ladle of the savory sauce crowned the fish. Of the entree courses that I sampled, this was, hands down, my favorite. I loved the salty components that made up the sauce (green olives! capers!) and found the flounder filet, itself, to be exquisitely fresh, flaky, and delicate. I would return to Mole for this dish, alone!
Cochinita Pibil (Yucatan-style pork baked in a banana leaf, served as mini tacos): Achiote/citrus-marinated and slow roasted pork shoulder was served atop mini blue-corn tortillas and topped with pickled red onion slices. A side of salsa verde accompanied. The pork was smoky, fork-tender, and succulent, however, the bite-sized tacos were so small that they ended up being a total tease! I mean, you could almost see each one of them looking up at you and laughing, like, "Hahhahha! I'm so sexy and delicious...and you can only have a small taste of me. Loser."
Enchilada de Mole Poblano (Chicken enchilada in Emilia's Mole Sauce): Shredded chicken meat filled the interior of a rolled corn tortilla that was blanked by rich and smoky mole sauce, a dash of sesame seeds, and finished with melted white cheese. While I found the corn tortilla to be a bit tough, I was pleasantly surprised that chicken breast, not thigh meat, was used. I found the mole sauce, itself, to be a bit too savory; I prefer a version with sweeter notes.
Bistec a la Mexicana (NY strip steak sauteed with fresh tomato, onion, jalapeno, and cilantro): A medallion of medium-cooked NY strip steak was served alongside a melange of perfectly sauteed white onions, tomato, and jalapeno. While I loved the sauteed veggies, I found the steak a bit tough and gristly.
Dessert: Pastel Tres leches - Pastel de Chocolate - Flan Mole ~
"Pastel Tres Leches" loosely translates to "cake three milks." Are you scratching your head? Stop. Here's what the dessert is composed of: White sheet cake that has been soaked in a three-milk mixture and, typically, topped with a whipped cream icing. Oh, and for those of you are wondering, this also happens to be my favorite cake in the entire world...And my birthday is August 6th.
Upon first bite, I could taste that Mole's version was homemade, which I very much appreciated. However, I did find that the cake, itself, was a bit dry. Typically, this can be remedied by the three-milk "soaking mixture," but in this particular case, there could never be enough of that liquidy goodness.
The chocolate cake, another house-made dessert, was decent. But, then again, I'm probably not the best judge of this particular treat, as I'm not much of a chocolate and/or chocolate cake aficionado.
Of the three desserts, I found the flan to be the most fantastic. Rich, sweet, and of the perfect dense consistency, this was among the best versions of flan that I've ever had. In NYC and beyond.
To conclude: Regardless of the fact that it was a press dinner, I loved my experience at Mole. The atmosphere reminded me of home - of the southwest - making me feel very comfortable and relaxed. While I wouldn't have otherwise ordered most, if not all, of the dishes listed on the tasting menu, I am so thrilled that I was able to sample each and every one of them. I mean, who would have thought that the "Pescado Veracruzana" would be my favorite entree? Not me. I never even order fish at Mexican restaurants! Hell, I don't really even like fish! And the "Sopa de Elote?" This bowl of warm, creamy goodness kinda' changed my life.
The Upper East Side should rejoice in having a new Mexican restaurant that serves delicious, authentic food and drink - and one hell of a happy hour - in a fantastic indoor/outdoor space. As they say in Spanish, "Bienvenido al vecindario!" That means "welcome to the neighborhood," for all of you gringos out there...