Clayuda at Los Molcajetes (Oaxacan) in Watsonville
Some months ago, inspired by Nathan's report on Los Molcajetes Oaxacan restaurant in Watsonville:
I stopped by for lunch and ordered the same items as Nathan and had pretty much the same positive reaction. I'd been meaning for some time to return with my wife and try some other items, so when I noticed a thread over on the SF board about tlayudas and remembered that Los Molcajetes had them on their menu (although with the alternate spelling of "clayudas") I decided it was time for another visit.
Thus it was that last Saturday evening my wife and I made our way to Watsonville for dinner. We arrived at Los Molcajetes at about 7:30PM to find it completely empty of customers (and insanely brightly lit - something I obviously didn't note on my previous daytime visit). We were greeted warmly by the gentleman who I assume to be the owner. Two children, presumably related to him, sat at a table coloring and watching the television.
Although I had come for a clayuda, on my first visit I had particularly liked the molote and, having talked it up to my wife, insisted on ordering one to share as an appetizer. I then ordered the clayuda mixta, and my wife, who was craving a chili relleno, ordered a combo of a relleno and two chicken enchiladas verde. (They don't have a liquor license, so we had to forgo the beers we had been planning on.)
While waiting, we were brought the two salsas I'd had on my first visit, a fairly spicy roasted red salsa and their unique (in my experience) cactus salsa. Unfortunately, the chips that accompanied them were excessively oily and cold. We used a couple to taste the salsas, but left the rest of them untouched.
Don't you hate it when you promote a dish to someone as being great and then the reality doesn't bear out your description? So it was with our molote. While the one I'd had on my first visit was as Nathan described, fried to a light crispness, not at all greasy, and filled with creamy mashed potato, this one seemed like it just wasn't well-fried. While not exactly soggy, it had none of that light crispness and the potato in the center was barely luke-warm (and definitely not creamy).
I was explaining to my wife that it had really been better last time when my clayuda arrived:
Admittedly, our first impression was simply the size of the thing (it may not be obvious in the photo, but it was well over a foot in diameter). This was my first experience with a clayuda, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I had done a bit of research so at least had an idea of what to expect. The base is a corn tortilla that has been baked to crispness on a comal or grill. It is traditionally spread with aciento and black beans and then topped with cabbage, cheese and various meats. I couldn't tell if there was aciento on this one, and the only evidence of beans was some splotches of black here and there on the tortilla (visible in the photo) - definitely nothing that registered a flavor. Instead of cabbage (which I definitely think would have been preferable) was some just-on-the-verge-of-being-tired lettuce. On top of this was a generous pile of cheese and the mixed meats: tasajo (beef), cecina enchilada (pork coated with chili powder), and the Oaxacan chorizo I knew form my last visit's gordita zacatecana.
Of the meats, the tasajo was completely without any discernible flavor or character. The pork, thanks to the chili coating, was a bit better, while the stand-out was definitely the chorizo. The cheese was mild but with just a bit of pleasant tang. The thick tortilla itself was extremely (and I mean *extremely*) crisp, but with very little corn (or any other) flavor. I'm not sure how one is traditionally supposed to eat one of these, but after poking at it for a bit, I finally settled on cutting a piece of one of the meats, then breaking off a hunk of the tortilla with lettuce and cheese, putting my piece of meat on top and picking it up to eat like a piece of very crunchy pizza. Frankly, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but overall, the whole thing was definitely less the the sum of its parts (which given the weakness of some of the parts, was not good).
While I was involved with this, my wife's meal arrived:
While I was too busy with my chayuda to taste hers, she reported that the relleno had some nice chili flavor but was otherwise unremarkable (and pretty oily). The enchiladas were disappointing, filled simply with rather dry chicken and covered sparsely with green sauce and some cheese. (She also had some hunks of the chayuda with the various meats and was equally unimpressed.)
Throughout the meal, the owner was consistently attentive and very friendly. However, by the time we left at around 8:30PM, there had still been no other customers. Given that the place had been almost deserted on both my and Nathan's previous visits, one wonders when, if ever, are their busy times.
On balance, after the promise of my first visit, I was pretty disappointed (on our way home my wife gave it a grade of C-). With Tepa Sahuayo only a block away and other Watsonville discoveries yet to try, barring reports that this visit was only an anomaly, I'm afraid Los Molcajetes probably won't be getting a return visit anytime soon.
51 E Riverside Dr
Y and I finally tried Los Molcajetes for a weekday lunch last week. We entered around 12:30pm to find a barren restaurant (not surprising since every report seems to mention this) w/ the owner chatting on the phone. Not interrupting his call, he waved hello to us from across the room and motioned for us to sit down at a table of our choice. We opted for a four-top close to the window to soak in warm rays from the sun since the interior felt very chilly.
He brought us menus and proceeded to chat on the phone as we perused the lunch pages for the first time. Since this was an unplanned lunch, I didn't read up on reports and forgot what Nathan and ahclem recommended. Only thing I remembered was to not order the clayuda.
After waving the owner over and asking him a few questions, we ordered:
Mole Oaxaqueno w/ chicken (pork is another option):
Memelita w/ chorizo:
And some warm drinks to further fight the chill--
Complimentary chips and salsa were brought out before the meal:
Unfortunately, the meal was pretty disappointing across the board. The dark mole was fairly complex and silky smooth w/ a nice smoky balance; however, the lack of freshness and stringiness of the chicken greatly detracted from its character. The corn tortillas on the side didn't seem to be housemade and were pretty lifeless and stale.
The memelita was downright plain and not integrated at all. It was simply a very thin layer of masa dough (very "blonde" and barely griddled) topped w/ a smear of refried beans, chorizo, chopped onion, cotija, and cilantro. Dry and lacking soul overall, the masa foundation was flavorless.
Neither of us have had warm, masa-based drinks before, so I was excited to try the champurrado and atole since learning about them on CH. Y got his atole and immediately chirped, "oh, runny grits!" He plunked his entire piece of brown sugar into the mug to give it a little more flavor. I preferred my champurrado since the Mexican chocolate spices really came through; however, I was only able to drink about a third of it. I'm not sure if I just don't like these thick, savory-leaning drinks, but I'll have to try some other versions before I write them off.
The owner remained on the phone for the duration of our meal, pausing briefly when we walked up to pay at the register. It would have been nice to have a little more attention or enthusiasm from him since it felt like we were disturbing his daily routine of sifting through his mail pile and chatting w/ friends. Not one person entered during prime lunch time, which left us wondering how he stays in business. I may return to try the tamale or molote if I happen to be in the area, but I won't be surprised if the owner decides to shut down and put his energy elsewhere. It felt like he already had one foot out the door.
The bright spot after lunch was our visit to Yamashita Grocery across the street on Union. We discovered that they get fresh mochi delivered from the mochi shop in San Jose Japantown every Thurs. and bought a little dessert treat for ourselves.
I wouldn't write it off on one visit. I went a few weeks back and thought the tamale and gordita were still worth an occasional visit. I saw someone with the Clayda and could not believe how huuuge they were. Didn't realy make me want to order one though. FYI there is a little shop in SJ just down the street from Dalat that sells the shells if you want to make your own.
Also worth a try is Las Islitas for their shrimp empanadas if you have not been. Its on Main closer to the Target shopping center and you can probably find my write up in the archives.
Thanks for the detailed report w/ photos, ahclem. I've been wanting to try this place for a while and hope to give it a shot soon to add to the mix. Sorry to hear your second visit was a letdown. Really sucks when you boast about a dish and it doesn't live up.
Did you see the review in the Metro that came out 9/13?
I thought that the review would certainly boost their business. At the end of the article, the reviewer alludes to the emptiness of the place. Given that turnover may be an issue, I have concerns about freshness of food, consistency, etc. The location is not great--on a busy street but easy to zip by and not notice.
I def. want to try their tamale, chapulines (is it grasshoppers or crickets? I've seen it translated both ways), and have a taste of their mole. What kind of mole dishes are on the menu? Never tried a tlayuda/clayuda before, but not really interested in theirs after your report.
Off topic, but has anyone tried the Mexican take-out stand on the corner of Riverside and Main, a few doors down from LM? "Pollo" is in the name...
re: Carb Lover
You know, I saw the mention of the Metro review in your La Perla del Pacifico thread but couldn't find it online. Thanks for the link. I see that they say that chapulines are crickets, but pretty much every other source I found says grasshopper. Beyond that, I have no idea.
Since I came for the clayuda, I didn't pay much attention to the rest of the menu this time, but I did notice a chicken mole. Can't remember if there were a variety of moles or other mole dishes.
The oaxacan tamale is definitely a winner (or at least it was on my first visit). However, the Metro reviewer calling it the largest tamale she'd seen is a bit misleading. While it's definitely longer and wider than the typical tamale, it's also really thin. By the time you unwrap the banana leaves, I doubt that you end up with any more actual cubic centimeters of tamale that you'd get in an average size conventional tamale.
I'll look forward to a report of your eventual visit. I really do hope our experience was the exception rather than the rule.
BTW, not exactly OT, in checking out chapulines, I stumbled across this FDA alert about chapulines contaminated with an extremely high concentration of lead (discovered when some children in Seaside were found to have lead poisoning from eating them):
The alert dates back three years and I couldn't find any more recent info, so I don't know if this is still a potential problem.