The Oaxacan Kitchen-Palo Alto
Continuing the quest for real Oaxacan Mole in the Bay Area, I noted an apparently new restaurant opening off California in Palo Alto called, the Oaxacan Kitchen. It has not yet opened. Palo Alto online had a brief article about it....i would be incredibly happy for a real Oaxacan restaurant in PA although I will confess to some fear based on restaurants like the nearby Sol being held up as the Bay Area mole gold standard. Yet....there appears reason for optimism. The owners are a couple...the wife from Oaxaca, the hubbie with much resto experience..and ...comments like "Oaxacan food is to Mexico like Parisian food is to France or Tuscan food is to Italy." and "Although there are tons of Oaxacan restaurants in Los Angeles, there are none here. None at all".
I have been disappointed before but it would be great not to have to go to LA or Chicago for a great mole......i will keep my eyes on its opening. Perhaps other like-minded mole fans can keep their eyes open for report when it opens.
I keep accidentally calling this place Oaxacan Chicken. It just rolls off the tongue better than Oaxacan Kitchen. And doesn't Oaxacan Chicken sound like a place with great roasted chicken and Mexican side dishes?
Not too many restaurants jam their patrons as close together as this one. Case in point: we were seated (without warning) at a communal table with people directly next to us.
My friend and I decided to share an assfull of apps. (Perhaps that's an appsfull?)
Our apps included:
-Molotes ($6) - corn masa filled with chorizo and potato, fried and topped with black bean puree, guac and salsa
-Memelas with grilled steak ($8) - crisp corn tortillas topped with black beans, mole, cabbage, guac and salsa
-Tamal de Pollo $6) - chicken tamale with mole negro
-Tamal de Calabasa ($6) - tamale with butternut squash, corn, zucchini, and guajillo salsa
-Salsa y Mole de la Casa ($4) - Roasted tomato, salsa verde, and mole coloradito with tortilla chips
-Guacamole with Tortilla Chips ($7)
My main complaint about Oaxacan Kitchen is that their dishes all sort of taste the same. (And we took ordering advice from our server.) The Molotes and Memelas were sort of interchangeable with the same ingredients, corn/black beans, guac and salsa, and then the Memelas also had mole like the Tamal de Pollo (which again used corn masa). (Mole is a dominant flavor whenever it's used.) I wasn't that impressed with either tamale; in fact, once we got full, the veggie tamale was the last dish that was uneaten. If someone put a gun to my head and asked for my favorite dish I'd say the Molotes. But the dishes were really hard to tell apart.
$11 for salsas and guacamole is pretty pricy. Both are already expensive on their own (and paying for salsa is one of my pet peeves) - they should offer a price break for both. The guac was pretty good. The salsas were fine but none stood out. Also, when you're already getting mole on your food you don't really need it as a salsa. (WARNING! BEEP BEEP BEEP! MOLE OVERLOAD!) A better option if you want salsa is their $2.50 version which comes with one type of salsa and chips.
It's too bad our salad (the Ensalada Mixta) never arrived since it would have given our palates a rest from the endless corn/black beans/mole, rinse repeat...
3 stars for food - 1 star for value = 2 stars out of 5
I finally ate at Oaxacan Kitchen. I have warm fuzzies for Oaxaca - it was a favorite vacation spot a few years ago, even though GF and I only spent a few days there. We brought back a suitcase of mole and chocolate, and we're not even finished with the hot chocolate fixings. The mole was from all the vendors I could find in the Abastos market. We ate that mole for about 6 months, based two parties around it, so I think my experience with oaxacan mole is greater than the few days we spent there.
As noted, the place is crazy busy. At 7:30 on a rainy tuesday the place was full, and we had to wait a few minutes (though no one was sitting outside). The place has a great cozy vibe that seems conducive to rain. Service was a little scattered with some gaps, but generally hugely friendly. It's clear the owner has huge pride of her place, and of Oaxaca.
We had the mole negro with chicken, and the coloradito enchiladas, and the carnitas hard-tacos.
RW mentioned the portions were small. No longer, or not us. The portions were huge, about what you'd expect at California Sol or similar. The carnitas in specific was almost a meal.
Mole: The mole might be the best I've had in california, but wasn't quite "right". The taste was actually brighter and hotter in both the coloradito and negro than I'd come acustomed to in oaxaca, almost like Oaxacan Kitchen had to "Americanize" by increasing the spice levels, which is funny when you think about it. I don't normally like Colaradito, but theirs had so much more punch in the cinnamon/allspice/clove area that it was pretty tasty. The problem with their mole was that it lacked what I can only think of as body. It was a touch watery as a sauce, didn't have that rich deep mouth feel I associate with mole. If I was going to guess, I'd say the mole was made veggie and the normal method has meat stock, but I don't know that. When I made it at home, I took the paste and added chicken stock, but one of the stall ladies lectured me about using fresh tomatoes as a base (unfortunately my Spanish isn't good enough to understand exactly what she was getting at), so maybe I was making it wrong.
The star of the mole negro w chicken was actually the chicken. It was tender and flavorful like actually fresh chicken. There's a tendancy to overcook the chicken to get more mole taste soaked in, which they didn't fall prey to. The chicken in the enchillada was more normal - I must have gotten lucky.
Carnitas: interesting stuff. Their style was terribly moist and flavorful, more so than normal, but had no crisp to it. So in some ways like their mole - good, but different.
Drinks: limited wine/beer. Didn't more than glance at it. No hard liquor, which seems very suitable. Had an agua fresca, which was watery.
Deserts: list looked good. They claimed they had just pulled a tart out of the oven, and I bet they had. Churros, too. GF had hot chocolate, and it was also on the watery side, which I think is more normal for oaxaca. I wished they had the same selection of chocolate as in oaxaca - choosing between an Oro or a Special or straight chocolate.
Price out the door, two people, no alcohol and a box of leftovers - $50.
It'll probably be in the twice-a-year rotation, about on par with B. del medio and Cafe Brioche in the same Hood (del medio is worth a trip because of Mastitas and dark-rum manhattans, Brioche is cozy, tasty, and never a wait - love those artichoke begniets).
Thanks for the update bb, I still haven't made it to Oaxacan Kitchen but would still like to try it.
You got my attention with the dishes you like at Boguedita del Medio, specifically "Mastitas" - I read it wrong the first time as Mastitis.... made part of my upper anatomy hurt!
And then again, maybe I'm the only one who doesn't know this dish. According to a menu I found, it should be: Masitas: spicy roasted pork, white rice, black beans, cilantro, rioja carmelized red onions...
Just tried it tonight. I was hoping that the restaurant setting would be better than the farmers market setting. We had 3 appetizers and a main dish for $42 wihtout tip and no drinks. Two adults and two kids ate, but adults left hungry. Portions are adequate, but I felt like the value wasn't there.
The restaurant was very busy for a Wed. night early.
The masa is very good and fresh - the highlight. It is a white corn masa and so not so corny if you like corny masa. It could use some salt IMO.
We had the melotes - this dish my husband has had at the Farmer's Market and has flavor. Overall pretty good. Masa stuffed with potatoes and chorizo in a black bean sauce. Small roll for $6.
Empanadas - my son loves the empanadas at Poc Chuc so was insistent that we get these. We got the mushroom. These were fairly good - light not fried. 3 3" tortillas stuffed. $7.
Tlayuda: This looked good, but fell flat. large plate sized corn tortilla, comal grilled until crispy, topped with some (but not enough to flavor the rest) black bean sauce, queso fresco (good), poached chicken (bland) and avocado. Desperately needed more flavor - salt, spice - I ate mine with the mole we got. $10.50.
Coloradito mole: A decent but not jaw dropping red mole - good dried chili flavor mild spice, liked it better than their other moles I have tried at the farmers market. But in reality this is fairly easy to make too. Served with a chicken breast that was slightly overcooked, and bland. Small amount of rice - kids ate most of it - my bite was meh. Black beans - decent, and two corn tortillas. $16.
The food was edible with some salt, but I am unlikely to return. It was a nice light Mexican meal, which is a nice change of pace, and I really like the owners, but I just want more complexity to the moles and flavor to the dishes. I love regional Mexican food, much more than the TexMex or rice, beans and cheesy main that so many restaurants serve, but this just doesn't do it for me. IF the chicken had been high quality and well cooked for instance, I may have felt differently, but they didn't seem to have particularly high quality ingredients.
It would be nice for a light lunch - lunch menu looks like a better value.
I stopped by Saturday evening to see if they had any specials for Day of the Dead. They didn't so I moved on. It was crazy crowded that night with people waiting in the monsoon-like rain ... and even eating outdoors I was surprised how small the portions were. It is festive though and might be fun to sit at the counter and watch the action in the kitchen.
It is open now and most everything is quite good, the moles can be outstanding, but...
Oh I like these people so much, why does there have to be a "but"?
But the ceviche came with tortilla chips. Really bad from-the-bag tortilla chips. It's little things like that which ruin an experience.
But I'll keep eating here and avoid anyhting with tortilla chips until I see somebody get them fried fresh.
Ron? Por favor?
Guess I am going to be a bit of a contrarian here. Ate there over the weekend and we were disappointed in the moles to be honest. In one case, the poached chicken breast was bland and overcooked. The Mole Negro had a touch of heat but the layered complexity just wasn't there. To be honest it just seemed to lack flavor other than the chilies. In another, the Enmolada, there was almost a bitter taste at times. To use a wine comparison, if a great mole is comporable to a great Bordeaux, in its complexity and looooong finish, this was more of a non-rustic Vin de Pays.
Dont know if there is too much of an attempt to steer the flavors to local sensibilities with oils and such.
I ate there a few weeks ago and liked it but wasn't blown away. I had the 4 moles with poached chicken. I agree the flavors were kind of bland. I also really wish they served Jamaica which is the best beverage to go with mexican food. I'll give it another chance, there was much more of the menu I would like to try.
We made it to Oaxacan Kitchen tonight and had a delightful meal. The star of the show were the two moles - the Coloradito and the Mole Verde, both served with perfectly-poached chicken breast, rice, and black beans. Both were full of vivid, complex flavors. The guacamole was very good but perhaps could have used a touch of lime or salt for added verve. The sliced radishes provided some great contrast.
Things are still in progress, as you might expect for a place only open for 3 weeks. There were no desserts and no wines, but both should be ready to go next week. The wines will focus on local Santa Cruz / Santa Clara / San Mateo producers, occasionally veering as far away as Monterey. (No Mexican wines at this point.) But the beer selection is good with Sierra Nevada on draft and Czechvar in bottle - I guess that's the name that Czech Budvar uses in the USA? - along with a few of the usual Mexican bottled beer suspects.
We'll definitely be back to try out more of the menu. I have not been to Oaxaca but I thought the moles we tried were very satisfying.
Saturday morning I had a chance to try the Oaxacan Kitchen booth at the Palo Alto farmers market.
I have to agree that the food could use a flavor boost, and especially more salt and oil. My memela was more like a thickish tortilla. Wish I'd looked at the overhead photograph before ordering and then I would realize that the "fresh masa" in the description would be flattened and dry-griddled instead of a plump and browned masa cake. The tortilla thingie was tough and undercooked and hard to cut with a plastic fork. Its integrity was further insulted by the run-off from the inadequately drained pair of poached eggs. On the plus side, the queso fresco was fresh as can be, the eggs rich and runny-yolked, and the spicy mole was indeed that. It was not however very "negro" nor complex. The other two sauces, an avocado-based one and the other seemed like tomatillo, were undersalted too. The whole plate took a turn for the better when I went back to the stand and asked for a salt shaker. A liberal sprinkle over the whole thing made it taste much better. I'll mention that I'm one who almost never adds salt at the table.
Memela con huevos
I also tried a hot chocolate and that fared much better. I liked the directness of the chocolate without a lot of butterfat.
I had a chance to ask the proprietor when the restaurant would open. He said that the inspection by the fire department was completed on Thursday and he hoped to open in two weeks. He also told me that the restaurant would feature churros with chocolate. I asked if the churros would be fried to order and he said, "YES."
re: Melanie Wong
re: Melanie Wong
Went there for dinner tonight: it was excellent. In reverse course order:
I had the churros. Fresh'n'hot from the fryer, coated in cinnamon sugar. Tender and moist on the inside, with a pleasant saltiness. Went perfectly with their Mexican hot chocolate, which was served in a bowl. My only comparison of this dessert is the churros+chocolate from Bistro Luneta (Filipino resto in San Mateo), which was also delicious, but of a different style: slightly more dense churros and thicker, less spiced chocolate than Oaxacan Kitchen's.
My spousal unit got the Chocolate Experience, consisting of a molten chocolate cake, chocolate-corn ice cream and hot chocolate. He really enjoyed it, but I preferred my own dessert. ;-)
For the main dish, I had the chile relleno with picadillo. Oh. My. Wow. Now, I do like chiles rellenos in general, but the usual version stuffed only with cheese and deep battered fried gets a bit a heavy and unexciting at times. But the picadillo one is filled with shredded chicken, nuts and raisins. It came with red Spanish rice, and some of the best refried beans I've ever had. I usually feel just so-so about beans, but theirs consisted of black beans puréed into something like a flavorful dip, much more interestingly spiced (more epazote? other spices?).
My SU got the enmoladas, consisting of chicken chunks on a large corn tortilla generously topped with their mole negro and queso fresco. He was quite happy with it, although I found the side of zucchini and winter squash somewhat undercooked. Again, another case were I found my dish superior to a companion's. ;-)
For a starter we shared 3 sauces and chips, called "salsas y mole de la casa," featuring a chipotle salsa (smokey), a tomatillo salsa (tart yet sweet), and a mole I hadn't had before, coloradito. The Oaxacan Kitchen's mole negro is probably my favorite of its kind that I've had (e.g., I don't like the mole negro from La Fiesta, Fiesta del Mar, etc., way too sweet-bland for me). But their mole coloradito just might surpass their mole negro! It's nutty and spicy with a wonderful creaminess from plantains.
I look forward to going back. And to purchasing more moles at the farmers' market.
re: Hapa Dude
I just called the phone nbr on the web site and got a recording - still the same message re opening Spring 2008. I'll try to drive by in the next day or so and take a look...
website is fully up and running: http://www.theoaxacankitchen.com/inde...
The Oaxacan Kitchen
2323 Birch St, Palo Alto, CA 94306
They are at the Los Altos Farmers Market on State St on Thurs., 4-8 pm (not a year-round market). I was still full from lunch today so just had a watermelon drink, drooled over the offerings and asked about the restaurant: they are still working their way thru the intricacies of the city of Palo Alto building dept. - it's going to be a while according to the woman I was speaking with (sounded like she was one of the owners).
Yeah I happened to wander by that area yesterday and they looked like they are ready to go. I am always fearful when there is a such a delay in opening as the owners are just have their cash sucked away while waiting for the various and myriad government agencies to complete their tasks.
Here's the website
At first I was rolling my eyes because they seem to be playing to the local audiance with things like Ensalada Caesar
But wait ... the dinner menu looks really promising (pdf format)
First, for Senor Eat_Nopal ... Ensalada de Nopalitos Grilled cactus salad with onions, avocado, and tomato tossed in anise vinaigrette.
There are molotes, memelas, tlayudas, guacamole con totopos (Oaxacan crackers), barbacoa roja de chivo, tasajo, cecina o chorizo, Oven roasted chayote squash with garlic, onions and oregano.
Mole Negro Con Pechuga o Pierna de Pollo o Espinazo de Puerco 15.95
Our Mole Negro is made from over 23 different ingredients, some of which are chiles, nuts, seeds,chocolate, and spices. Served with choice of braised pork, chicken breast or thigh.
Estofado con Pechuga o Pierna de Pollo o Espinazo de Puerco 12.95
One of Oaxaca's special moles made from sesame seeds, tomatillos, chiles, raisins, olives and spices.Served with choice of braised pork, chicken breast or thigh. rice and corn tortillas.
Amarillo con Res o Pechuga o Pierna de Pollo 13.95
Chicken or Beef covered with Oaxacan yellow mole, colored with chilies and masa and flavored withspices. Served with rice and corn tortillas.
Coloradito con Pechuga o Pierna de Pollo o Espinazo de Puerco 14.95
Oaxaca's home made reddish mole from chiles, nuts, seeds, chocolate, and spices. Served with choice of braised pork, chicken breast or thigh. Rice and corn tortillas.
Mole Verde con Pechuga o Pierna de Pollo o Espinazo de Puerco 13.95
Green beans, chayote squash and potatoes in a mildly spicy broth with herbs, Yerba Santa, epazote andgreen chilies. Served with choice of braised pork, chicken breast or thigh. Rice and corn tortillas.
There are dishes that sound delicious that migh appeal to the local crowd like Farm raised Scott Boy Ranch rack of lamb, marinated in garlic, fresh thyme and chilies.
Desserts with possibilities
Nicuatole - Gelatin dessert made from corn, cinnamon and sugar.
Goat Milk Cajeta - With caramel sauce.
Oaxacan homemade ice cream. Flavors change seasonally, Tuna, lime, and burnt sugar.
They have sweet pineapple tamales (for five bucks that better be amazing)
Playing to the people who might not be into Oaxacan some plays on local favorites ... the first one cracked me up since I spent quite a bit of time in Mexico staring at that volcano
“Popocatepetl” Mexican Chocolate Lava Cake
Tres Leches Bread Pudding - Warm three milk bread pudding scented with frangelico liquor, candied pecans,vanilla cinnamon sauce.
There's also stuff like churros, Oaxacan hot chocolate and ... ice cream floats (?)
...mmmm Anise vinaigrette sounds intriguing. BTW... most people forget to mention it... but the Oaxacans really have a way with salads... people only talk about the Moles but some of the best salads I've had have been from Oaxacan cooks.
Overall, the menu seems typical of a Valle de Oaxaca / Zapotec menu which is what you get in L.A.... sounds promising.
The mole at the "Sol" restaurants (I haven't been to Palo Alto Sol), just the one on El Camino (Vive Sol) does have some complexity but it is too sweet. I find the mole at La Fiesta in Mountain view to be similar (flavors are there, but too sweet). I really look forward to trying this place.
These are the same folks that sell Oaxacan food at the Palo Alto and Sunnyvale farmers markets (may be at others too) - at least I heard them this summer say they had acquired space off of California Ave to open a restaurant. They do some things very traditionally, and I really want to love their food - they are so nice, but I find most of the food lacking in taste. The mole not complex, the masa bland. Things that are paired with the chorizo my husband says are good.
Anyone else have better experiences?