Just at sundown last night, a total of 14 hounds/friends/SOs gathered at what has become a Watsonville hound favorite, Fiesta Tepa Sahuayo. Tepa's regional and rustic Mexican cuisine which showcases unusual sauces and preparations has previously seduced a number of us and inspired what I believe is the *first* Central Coast Chowdown since well over two years ago.
PolarBear and his lovely wife get Chowhound honors for traveling the farthest (from Fresno!), and a number of die-hard hounds bared rush hour traffic from the Bay Area and Carmel. Lesson #1: Chowhounds walk the walk--there are no obstacles to good chow, only lame excuses. Before I even had a chance to really settle in, a long-time hound interrogated me about a recipe that I mentioned I would post a couple months ago. Lesson #2: Hounds will call you to task on unfulfilled promises that you thought no one even remembered or cared about...I found this very heartwarming actually...
I have included pictures--just the non-incriminating ones--from our sensuous feast (link to KodakGallery once Ofoto--warning: server is acting up) and will do my best to list below all the items we ordered. My fellow hounds will subsequently fill in the gaps and share their personal impressions of the meal. We didn't spend too much time afterwards on recapping the meal, so I'm looking forward to hear what others have to say.
Chargirl, Nathan P., and I pre-ordered everything hoping to touch on varied and unique aspects of chef-owner Jorge Rivas' menu. In retrospect, it was a rather dizzying array of flavors and food which is certainly true of the menu, but it was great to sample so much. We made a few alterations but everything but one dish can be found on the menu.
Before I go into the menu and share a few of my impressions, I'd like to thank everyone for coming and showing interest and support for this chowdown. Thanks to Chardgirl and Nathan P. for teaming up w/ me to organize the event. Lesson #3: Pre-ordering for a large group of hounds isn't as easy as one would think, but *always* err on the side of overordering. Also thanks to the Rivas family for hosting us in their second home. Total for food only, tax, tip was $21pp.
Here are the dishes we sampled. All served w/ sides of pinto beans, rice, salad, and housemade corn and flour tortillas. Same descriptions are under my photo captions:
1. Huitlacoche (corn fungus) empanadas w/ mortar sauce
2. Squash blossom quesadillas
3. Chiles Nogada Special (traditionally made by nuns): Roasted poblanos stuffed w/ mixture of ground turkey, seeds, dried fruit w/ almond sauce (featured in Like Water for Chocolate)
4. Pipian Special: 3 different tamales (shrimp, huitlacoche, ground turkey) stuffed in roasted poblano chiles atop 3 different pumpkin seed sauces (red, green, white). White sauce is said to have been an important part of meals of Mexican artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
5. Mandilon (Acapulco-style) dry red pepper marinated shellfish combo of grilled shrimp, abalone, and squid
6. Oaxacan shrimp in rose petal sauce w/ cactus fruit and ground almonds (featured in Like Water for Chocolate)
7. Cargado Pescado: deep-fried whole tilapia w/ grilled shrimp and mortar sauce
8. Recomendado Special: Roasted guajillo stew w/ shrimp, corn, herbs, huitlacoche, and fried cheese
9. Romeritos Special: not yet on menu but shrimp w/ roasted pepper sauce and special herbs
10. Chiludo (Durango-style) guajillo marinated grilled meat combo (beef and chicken)--not pictured
My impressions: since I had already tried a few of the dishes, I really concentrated on those that I hadn't tried. My favorites last night were the more subtle dishes like the shrimp in rose petal sauce, squash blossom quesadillas, and Chiles Nogada. The creamy mauve-colored rose petal sauce spoke of romance and had a surprisingly muted floral, nutty flavor that enchanted me. The quesadillas were so simple yet so lusty w/ blossoms and oozing cheese.
I wasn't as wowed by the Pipian as I had hoped nor the Recomendado this second try. However, those two dishes were particularly hard to share, and I want to go back for the full experience of them. I was least impressed w/ the whole fish. It was fried well IMO, but really paled next to the other dishes.
All in all, it was a very festive night and I enjoyed meeting the faces behind the computer screens just as much as sampling the food. Lesson #4: Chowhounds are a diverse, stimulating, knowledgeable bunch who are brought together by a common zeal for all things food and gather around a dinner table like family.
Fiesta Tepa Sahuayo
15 First St.
Watsonville, CA 95076