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Nov 28, 2007 05:40 PM

Eat Nopal & Kare Raisu take on a Block in Napa

A bite of the restorative Chileajo de puerco and a swig of cooling agua fresca de pepino is what you need on your next Napa trip - so forget your sip of wine and nibble of crumbly cheese.

That ying-yang of a pair is all I can think of - hours after having had a great lunch at La Mixteca with the incredible Eat Nopal - a restaurant I and others have reported on.

The block we hit is the eastern side of Jefferson - just north of the High School and the town proper.

>>Taqueria Jerezana<<
For our amuse bouche, we hit the newly opened Taqueria Jerezana with out fingers crossed for some specialities from the North-central Mexican Colonial Silver state of Zacatecas.

It was nice to see a completely open kitchen and some interesting things on the simple straight forward menu including pork mole, lengua, Zacatecano Quesadillas (with ham), meneudo, etc. But what caught both our eyes was the Gorditas of Cactus in Red Chile. We both ordered this.

The chips were really good - thick and fried on site. Our cute demure gorditas soon arrived. I had only had a fried masa gordita before - so this griddled puffed masa little bread was a nice change of pace. The dough was delicate but I wished it had been cooked slightly more - as it still carried a slight raw masa taste. The filling - was quite spicy - and was according to EN - guajillo based with perhaps a slight canela component. The Cactus were cubed little pieces -def. not from the jar.

I felt the gordita was good - but both EN and I agreed - there was something missing to lift it. Suggestions included queso anejo or strips of panela and some sort of pickled onions or lime.

>>La Mixteca<<

A stone's throw away is the restaurant which was our destination for the trip: La Mixteca. We entered a restaurant filled with people during the busy lunch crowd. Seated were a couple both dining on some compelling looking chile rellenso baroquely awash in a pool of simple tomato caldillo. Near them were some kids downing the dish recently made famous on CH boards by rworange, duro con ensalada de cueritos. [ ] This was the special of the day.

We ordered:
- Chileajo de puerco (Simple red mole [literal:"Chile-garlic"] with pork spare riblets
)- Two Suadero Tacos (more on this later!)
- The Duro con Ensalada de cueritos (Sandal - shaped Fried wheat crisp topped with salad spiked with pickled pork skin)
- Two Agua frescas de pepino (Cucumber-lime waters)

This was the first time I have had the duro - which I really wanted to try after rworange's post. This is one of those great dishes that I admire for its symphony of contrasting textures and flavors. If you can get beyond the pickled pork skin- and I hope you do - you will be rewarded! Generous slices of avocado, juicy tomato, crisp duro, chewy cuerito, warming jalapeno, rich crema and chopped cabbage.

Suadero Tacos!
First Read this post if you have not already:
'Thank you once again rworange].

On the ride back home - both Eat Nopal and I were confounded! What is suadero! First of all - they are great and I implore you to try it. They are killer little tacos with verde. It is strange because - I was really checking these out - they look like pork tenderloin meat chunks with one crisp side but apparently they are beef. See the bull:
They are really tender and a pleasure to eat.

Chileajo - stunningly good - just order it! If I was alone, I would have licked the plate clean - no joke. You get about 4 riblets awash in this absolutely sexy deep brick red sauce nuanced with clove and peppercorn.

>>Lucy's Panaderia<<

Awesome Panaderia just south of the two restaurants. You are smashed immediately upon passing by the gorgeous smell emanating from this place - if you dont turn around and enter you are possibly cold afflicted. I think possibly slightly better than La Reyna in Windsor.

Get the:
Pumpkin empanda
Apple filled circular-rectangular, powedered sugar dusted flaky croissant (sorry...
)French rolly cruller things (help...)
Small anisey conchas in an empanada shape.

Then follow our lead by high tailing it to a cafe downtown and ordering up some coffees, expressos and chow down...

Awesome day spent with an individual whose knowledge and passion for mexican cuisine is both greately admired and appreciated - could not think of a better person to dine with.

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  1. Given the general downbeat reporting on Mexican dining by Napa Chowhounds... I came away quite impressed... a very good day of chowhounding.

    > I liked the Gorditas.... specially because they served nice, fresh squeaky Nopales (among other fillings). In addition to your suggestions... I think some Cilantro or Spearmint could have lifted the flavors nicely.... I have no idea why they left these traditional garnishes out (other than they are new & still trying to get a rhythm)... but a encouraging start here.

    > La Mixteca was great... very different menu than typical Oaxacan places in L.A. (which focus on dishes from the Valley of Oaxaca region). This was my first Duro & Cueritos Salad... my doubts dissipated quickly when I saw it on a high school student group's table.. it was pretty impressive. A textural orgie... I can't get over how well the Duro's work. (I am saying this as the son of a Master Tostada & Pickled Pork Skin artisan). The cueritos were almost certainly from a jar, so they lacked the depth of flavor of what my dad used to make... but the over balance was stellar. I previously speculated that this might not be a traditional dish... but now I am changing my opinion... it seems like it is a common kid snack in the Mixteca region (where Oaxaca & Puebla share a border).

    > The Suadero was very, very nice. It seemed different than what I used to have in Mexico City (thin pan fried medallions)... these seemed a lot like Pork Belly. Looking at the chart again... & keeping in mind the description made by the owner of La Mixteca.... its seems to me we had a strip of Suadero adjacent to the Pancita... so in other words we had Beef Belly! This is amazing because I have never heard any previous references to Beef Belly... but this might explain why the thin Suadero steaks in Mexico City used to realease a substantial amount of fat (I believe they were cut to include some belly trimmings). Also interesting to note... is that the owner tolds us... that she pickled the Suadero... this reminds me of the multiple steps the Japanese use to treat pork belly.

    > The Chileajo was stunning... and I think comparable in quality & deliciousness to the Duck Mole Verde we had at the Taco Max chow down. The dark pork meat was outstandingly tender & succulent... the sauce was simply addicting... spicy but elegant, balanced & complex (I believe it might have contained Anchos, Guajillos, Garlic, Thyme, Oregano & Pork Stock).

    > The cucumber agua fresca was as good as you had promised.

    Lucy's was stunning.... the Apple "Croissant" was one of the best Croissants I've had in years (even thought the apple filling was too subtle)... the Pumpkin in the empanada was great (not from can, not Sugar Pie)... the cinammon-honey cruller like pan was addictive... I don't remember much about the folded concha or the oreja (palmier).

    > Also the Espresso at the Italian cafe we hit was excellent... best I've had in a long time. I don't remember the name but it is directly across the street from the Ceja Vineyard's tasting room in Downtown.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Eat_Nopal

      by pickled - do you think she meant brined perhaps?

      1. re: Eat_Nopal

        If you'd like to try a whole different flavor of beef belly, check out the Sichuan dish, General Zhang's beef at China Village that is made with this cut. Thanks for the graphic of the beef cuts. Now I'm wondering if suadero might be the same as "navel cut" which is used to make the best pastrami (but not all). It's from the end of the short plate. Short ribs are also from plate beef and the taste and texture of suadero has always reminded me of short ribs.

        I had a suadero taco on Wednesday night from elsewhere and again, it was a bit on the light side. I've not had as rich a taste of suadero as my first one that left me quite infatuated with the cut.

        World Aids Day, December 1 2007

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks for the tip - but can you explain the almost veal like color? I havent seen this color on cooked short ribs. I am also wondering if the lime juice and salt marinade affects this at all.

          Why doesnt it translate? I even asked the Meat Dept head of the WF

          1. re: kare_raisu

            The brining or pickling might have something to do with it. But I'll also add that it's just been in the last year that the suadero I've been served has been so light. Don't know what's going on.

        2. re: Eat_Nopal

          Correction.... after reading Susana Trilling's "Seasons of My Hearts"... I believe the Chile Ajo uses Costeno chiles (the traditional dried chile of the Mixteca) instead of Ancho & Guajillo; and has Sesame Seeds (which would explain the richness of the sauce).

          Regarding the pickling of the Saudero... I just made a Chicken Vindaloo recipe from the Parsi lady that sometimes host Parsi menus at Chez Panisse it it brough me right back to my mom's Pollo en Escabeche (Chicken cooked in a combination of Pinapple vinegar... and the pickling juices from Jalapenos en Escabeche)... and reminded me of all the cooking done in vinegar based solutions (which are often used to soften very tough cuts of meat like pork skin etc or those with strong unpleasant aromas)... so my guess is that the Suadero is marinated then boiled in such a broth.

        3. Forgot to add how much I enjoyed the ambience at both Jerezana & La Mixteca. Jerezena - from the smells to the booths & open kitchen - was almost exactly what a typical Cenaduria in a dusty, sleep Zacatecas town would be like.... and La Mixteca with its sparse, ultra clean dining room with orange walls, humble furnishings & teenage customers reminds me of the typical Mexico City, blue collar neighborhood "cafeterias" that catered to the school traffic.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            I was hoping you would comment on this! In that light, its pretty unique to be able to sample and almost experience two varied styles of Mexican dining - a stones throw apart.

          2. Thank you all for posting on these places. I haven't tried either restaurants yet, but I love Lucy's!

            1. >The Duro con Ensalada de cueritos (Sandal - shaped Fried wheat crisp topped with salad spiked with pickled pork skin)<

              By an odd coincidence, after a supper of "molcajete" (which is another story, for the Mexico Forum) in Quiroga, Michoacán yesterday, we passed a bread vendor in a doorway. One basket was full of thin, brown ovals of crisply toasted bread. The señora called it simply, pan tostado". I walked away, wondering how it was used. I now think it may be the same as the duros you describe.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Anonimo

                Here's a photo of a duro topped with cueritos that I had at a street fair in Santa Rosa, Cinco de Mayo 2006,

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Ok, Melanie, thanks for that photo. Those are definitely different from the pan tostado ovals I saw. What I see in your picture looks like the puffy, crisp, rectangular things that I occasionally see sold in Morelia and Pátzcuaro on the streets. Strange that I've never inquired what they are nor tried one. I think the carne apache vendors use the duros part also. (I don't eat carne apache.)

              2. .

                La Mixteca
                2580 Jefferson St, Napa, CA 94558