Blew into Watsonville (literally) last Fri. evening around 5 PM on the tail end of the storm. Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo was the perfect choice to get off the road for a bit, let the last few showers go by and wait for the traffic up Hwy 1 to Santa Cruz to die down. There were three couples finishing their early dinners when we arrived.
We were armed with two pages of notes from earlier Chowhound posts that we pondered on the drive over but still spent 10 minutes or so looking at all the interesting and creative items on the place mat/menus. As usual we decided to split our entrees and ordered the mixed shellfish Pitillal and the Recommendado. The Pitillal consisted of shrimp, ablone and octopus, and came with a great corn tortilla quesadilla straddling the baking dish it was served in. Beans, rice, a small salad and a dollop of guacamole filled out the serving platter. Rice was cooked perfectly, the beans likewise, whole and flavorful not mashed into oblivion, salad and guac fresh and tasty. The seafood had a slightly smoked quality and a hint of some exotic spice in the sauce that neither of us could identify. I was more fond of this than my wife since the texture was a little too much on the chewy side (octopus, not the shrimp and abalone) for her. We both loved the molcajete (mortar) roasted pepper sauce that came with the dish. The Recommendado was over the top, a thick shrimp guajillo and corn stew, black and earthy from the huitlacoche (corn fungus), a rare delicacy if I understand correctly. Served also in a baking dish it was topped with fried cheese, folded over like a quesadilla but without a tortilla, how can you go wrong with crispy melted queso? I've eaten Mexican food throughout the west for decades and still wish I had a better knowledge of the cuisine and ingredients, but even if I did I doubt that I would be able to come up with the vocabulary to describe what a great experience this was.
As we were finishing our meal a young man came out from the kitchen and went table to table talking to the patrons, asking how they liked their meals and answering any questions they had. When he got to our table my wife asked if he was the owner, he laughed and replied "Do I look like an owner?", and explained that his family owned the place. I guessed that he must be Jorge's son, which he affirmed and told us his name was also Jorge, and went on to explain that it is common in Mexico to name the first born males and females after the parents. Young Jorge was most personable and enjoyable to talk to, obviously honing his customer relations and English skills (both excellent), a diplomat in training.
Debating about whether to get back on the road or have dessert, we asked if they had flan, the waitress apologized and said no, but described what they were offering, a tortilla (prepared in butter and sugar?) topped with a caramel sauce and a scoop of ice cream. The road could wait, we split one. Nothing short of incredible, a warm caramel soaked tortilla folded in a quarter circle with a generous scoop of high quality maple nut ice cream slowing melting around the side of the ramekin, a perfect topper for a great dinner.
Ambiance: don't come here if you're looking for linens and polished service, it's a family place, a ton of Mexican kitsch on the walls and ceiling (I loved the 1916 "Wanted" posted for two outlaws next to me). Service is down home friendly and everyone we saw was really enjoying themselves. Four thumbs up from this duo.
This has become rather lengthy, so will report on the remainder of our trip to SC in a separate post.
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