I've been watching the progress of the fitting up of the new Oaxacan restaurant, Mezcal, on San Fernando between First and Market in San Jose. It looked pretty inside, and I read somewhere that the owner was bringing in his mom from Oaxaca to do the cooking. It opened a week or so ago, and yesterday I went there for lunch.
The interior is pleasantly done in rich warm colors, with Spanish-style furniture and pretty blue and white china on the tables. The service was equally warm and pleasant.
The menu gives you a quick rundown of a few Spanish culinary words so you'll know what you're ordering, like tasajo (thinly sliced salted beef) or cecina (ditto pork). There are eight antojitos, all of which sounded intriguing, especially the memelitas (hand made corn tortillas, spread with pork cracklings, black bean puree and cheese). However, I only had room for one platillo. I ordered enchiladas with cecina.
Brought to your table are chips and, rather than salsa, three homemade moles so you may sample the cook's saucemaking talent. There's a mild tomatillo and peanut mole, and deep brick-red mole coloradito, and a mole negro. All were wonderful, though they could have used a bit more salt. The mole negro was particularly fabulous, deeply complex with chiles, chocolate and spices.
The enchiladas were just like I saw on Rick Bayless's show: tortillas fried slightly, napped in mole coloradito, and served folded over and sprinkled with that crumbly salty cheese and sliced raw onions. They are unstuffed. The cecina was a thin pork steak served on the same place. This platillo was accompanied by a three-compartmented side plate, which contained plain white rice, homemade pickled jalapenos and carrots, and a black bean soup sprinkled with more cheese.
When corn tortillas and mole are this good, this is just how I like my enchiladas. The tortillas have a tender but chewy bite, and that rich complex slightly spicy mole made it a perfect combination. I could eat a dozen of them. The accompaniments were good but not particularly remarkable, except for the homemade pickles. These made their canned equivalents seem just nasty by comparison.
A diner at the next table had the tamales de mole, which were chicken tamales with mole negro. These were those banana-leaf-wrapped flat packet style tamales, and the diner looked dreamily pleased as he was eating. I think I'll get that next time! Someone at my office also dined there, and he said his chile relleno stuffed with picadillo (shredded pork and chicken) was wonderful.
My arroz con leche for dessert, however, was entirely forgettable, as the rice was hard and waxy and there was no flavor other than milk and sugar.
I'm going back very soon, perhaps for dinner, and I hope they have an expanded menu for the evening. This is a delightful addition to downtown San Jose.