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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Authentic Regional Mexican Food...In LA?

Surprising to some, but burritos are not authentic Mexican cuisine! I know it must be a shocker to some people, but authentic, regional Mexican cuisine is much more complex than what you'd normally find in most LA Mexican restaurants.

Because of what Javier of http://www.teenageglutster.blogspot.com/ described as serendipity, he had the opportunity to meet Chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin Del Campo, both of La Casita Mexicana. Jaime and Ramiro were two chefs Javier became acquainted with while watching Univision's Despierta America. Gathering up his courage, he walked up to these two television personalities one day at the Gold Standard and began a new friendship. After a lengthy conversation on food, specifically regional dishes of Mexico, the two chefs generously offered to host a dinner for Javier and some of his pals. So, a special night was born at La Casita Mexicana, where a lesson, and amazing Mexican cuisine, were had.

Javier sent out an email, and we all converged on this tiny restaurant in Bell. As we all settled down in our seats, the chefs began the evening by showing us ingredients used in different regions of Mexico. Dried chiles, black corn, cactus...there were so many things I've rarely or never seen. It was evident, though, the chefs' passion for their food. They inspiringly conveyed their desire to showcase what Mexican food is truly about.

They then began the meal by making three salsas in thier molcahete, or mortar and pestal.

-Salsa de Jitomate con chile serrano y cilantro Mexicano.

-Salsa de Tomatillo de Milpa con semillas de calbaza y chiles de arbol tostados.

-Salsa Cruda de Tomatillo y Hoja Santa.

All three were beautiful. However, the chefs would not allow for chips, as they were concerned that we would fill ourselves up too quickly. They planned on serving 18 dishes that night, so they were so right!

The dishes were:

Sopa de Pescado con Hoja Santa(fish soup with Hoja Santa leaf)-A clean fish soup with a squeeze of lime.

Chile Jalapeno Rellenos de Atun-Jalapeno chiles stuffed with Tuna. Very good, with the spiciness muted by the removal of the seeds and the veins.

Queso Azteca-4 different types of cheeses blended with Epazote, and baked in a fresh banana leaf, then grilled on flame. A bit salty, a bit tangy...bested any queso fundido I ever had growing up. Served with fresh made tortillas.

Tomalitos de Huitlacoche-small tamales filled with corn fungus. My 1st experience with huitlacoche...definitely not my last. The beautiful earthy flavors of the fungus opened my eyes to what was once considered a pest to corn harvests.

Enchiladas de pollo con tres moles-Three enchilas, each topped with a different mole.

Each mole, consisting of well over a dozen ingredients, was painstakingly created by the chefs. Experts in mole, the chefs served up six different types of mole this evening.

Enchiladas Rojas de Queso Cortija. Made in the Michoacan style, these simple enchiladas consisted of tortillas dipped in chile sauce and filled with grated Cortija cheese. Really simple, yet marvelous.

Mole de Almendras con carne de puerco-Almond mole with slow cooked and shredded pork.

Mole Blanco-made with white chocolate over chicken breasts.

Puerco Adobado-reminiscent of a Filipino pork adobo. The smokiness from the dried chiles made this dish a winner.

Cochinita Pibil-Pork roasted with achiote and habanero, wrapped in plaintain leaf

Pescado en Salsa de Tamarindo con Chile de Arbol-Sea bass with a tamarind sauce. One of the weaker dishes, but still quite good

Cecina al chipotle-dry cured beef sauteed and covered with a chipotle sauce. By far my favorite dish, as the concentrated beef flavors from the curing really came through. The chipotle only accentuated the flavors of the beef. Dish hails from Veracruz.

Chiles en Nogado

These stuffed poblano chiles topped with a mile cream sauce were indescribably delicious.

Churros Rellenos de Cajeta-Churros stuffed with caramel. Not anything you'd find normally in LA...or Baja, for that matter. Crunchy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside. Paradise in a bite.

Flan de Calabaza de Castilla-Pumpkin flan. The massive flan served 20 of us, and was only half gone!

Ponche de Jamaica con Jacotes y Nuez-Hibiscus punch with chopped pecans and Jocote fruit. Sweet and nutty...a great drink.

Flan de Calabasita-Zucchini Flan

Toronja Grajeada con pasta de Chocolate Mexicano-These were crystallized pieces of grapefruit rind, with a dipping sauce of super thick Mexican chocolate. To create the dried grapefruit rind requires a 24 hour process involving multiple techniques. Originally served to cardinals of the Catholic Church. A truly religious ending to a religious meal.

Throughout the evening, the chefs answered any and all questions and were amazingly gracious. They not only enlightened us on what true Mexican cuisine was, but they showed us their passion with the foods they created. Our evening at La Casita Mexicana will not be one soon forgotten. Many thanks to Javier for having the huevos to begin a conversation with these two super chefs, and many thanks to Ramiro and Jaime for an unforgettable night.


Unknown said...

Wow! Looks and sounds amazing! What's the address of the restaurant, and can you find any of those dishes on the regular menu?

FoodDigger said...

Hey Brian. It was a truly touching meal. The address is 4030 Gage Ave, in Bell. It's listed under Cenaduria La Casista Mexicana on our site. I do believe most of the items are offered on the menu. They specialize in moles and salsas. You've got to check it out!