Another Saturday night and me and the SO have signed up for one of those underground dinner things that occur in the Bay Area every now and then. This one was through Canvas Underground which is an off shoot of Ghetto Gourmet. Basically they are pop up, one night only restaurants where a chef comes in to an establishment and experiments with some new foods. Foods in this case that Chef Peter Jackson discovered during his travels in Oaxaca. This one was held at La Borinquena in Oakland, a place well-known for Tina Tamale.
Up first on our dining adventure was sopa de flores de calabaza y elite--cream corn soup with deep fried squash blossom.
While I enjoyed the slightly sweet, milky flavor of this soup it still needed a few things. The corn was pureed not leaving any chunks of corn and while there fried squash blossoms that were tasty there were not enough to give the soup some texture which is desperately needed. I also use the term soup loosely as this was more corn broth since it was so light. Personally, I might have liked more of a thicker consume type dish, but to each his own.
Next up was tlayuda de nopal, bongos y quesillo--a large corn torta with mushrooms, cheese, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, black bean paste, avocado and Oaxcan chiles.
I really enjoyed the taste of the toppings on this and the mushrooms added a great earthy flavor. It could have used a bit more spice and cheese and the corn tortilla on the bottom sat just a bit too long in the oil it seems and was tough to break apart and was not crispy. Perfect that part and this dish would be a winner.
After that came amarillo de camarrones---boiled spot prawns on top of a spicy chile sauce with leafy greens and squash.
The sauce was the star here, it was a spicy, tangy, hint of sweet mix of different chiles and I could eat it up with a bunch of corn chips. The shrimp however wasn't right for this sauce. They were unpeeled and normally I'm down with that and eat the whole thing--shell and tail--especially when they are flash fried or salt/peppered like at restaurants in Chinatown. These were boiled and tiny and the shells were too tough and didn't come off easily, breaking apart the the shrimp into bits and becoming a mess to eat. Spot prawns or delicate, sweet shrimp and were totally overwhelmed by the spice in this sauce. Maybe deep frying them may have helped or better yet using bigger heartier prawns to withstand the sauce.
Then came pechuga de pavo con mole negro--chunks of turkey with mole sauce and rice.
Traditionally mole is served over chicken but here he used turkey and I liked the choice. This was old school traditional mole sauce. It had a roasted almost burnt flavor due to the sesame seeds which were burnt to black then ground into the sauce. Some folks were not be fans of the smoky burn flavor but it is what brought this home for me. There were decent undertones of chocolate and chiles giving it a real kick. So much so that the gentleman next to me was sweating bullets. I enjoyed it and wanted more which was brought out to us but with shredded chicken. It was a totally different texture, more akin to pulled pork with sauce but the flavors still came through as really the protein isn't important--it's all about the sauce.
Finally we ended the meal with nieve de duranzo con chile pasilla de Oaxaca---peach ice cream with cinnamon, a sugar cooke and fresh raspberries.
Ice cream is not the right word for this, more like ice milk and if there were peaches in here I didn't taste them. Considering my enjoyment of desserts this was more like a pallet cleanser for me than an actual dessert. (I honestly almost had the SO stop at a donut shop on the way home--but it was too late) I know this is traditional and it would be highly refreshing if it were hot outside but it wasn't and I felt a little unsatisfied, but even the finest restaurants have let me down on dessert before.
As with most of these "underground meals" many dishes were hit and miss but that is part of the deal. Chefs are experimenting with new foods out of their normal comfort zone and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. Part of the fun of attending these dinners is trying something new and meeting new people--like a guy who actually reads hieroglyphics!! And that alone made the whole evening a success and worth the price of admission.