Limster hit town for a brief visit so we threw together a little dinner of ten last night at Dona Tomas. I had been looking for an excuse to make a foray into the East Bay to this restaurant which has only gotten great reviews. We had a lovely dinner. Below are my notes and information from the menu...
Our waitress started us out with chips dusted with a dry Mexican cheese and bowl of hot sauce (not a salsa fresca like most places, this sauce was cooked, had a nice kick and roasted chili flavor).
Next we did a little tequila tasting. We ordered 3 margaritas with rocks & salt; one made with Chinaco Silver, one with Chinaco Reposado and one with Chinaco Anejo. I think it was educational. As is common, the reposado was the favored margarita with its not too raw, not too sweet flavor.
Then we got a couple of orders of Quesadillas de Huitlacoche huitlacoche, corn, onion, garlic, queso Oaxaca folded into a fresh tortilla and topped with a roasted poblano cream. These were a nice, mild starter. Personally, I like huitlacoche and order it whenever I see it on a menu. But its a very mild flavor so I dont really understand its status as a weird food or a delicacy. Its just a fungus that tastes nice sautéed.
Next we got a couple of bowls of Pepitas con Chile de Arbol toasted pumpkin seeds with garlic and chile. These went well with the margaritas. They had a kick that woke up our tastebuds and got us ready for the feast ahead.
In true chowhound form, we ordered every entrée on the menu.
Entradas ($13.95 - $16.25)
Carnitas pork rubbed with oregano and slow roasted (served with grilled scallions, lime wedges, sliced radishes, green rice & refried pinto beans). This dish was excellent. The pork was juicy on the inside, dark and crispy on the outside.
Enchiladas Verduras enchiladas stuffed with zucchini, peas, spinach and queso de requezon and topped with a creamy tomatillo sauce (served with verdalogas and refried black beans). This was another excellent dish, it was very light and fresh tasting, a great blend of flavors. We got this plate last, but still managed to gobble it up.
Tacos De Camarones al Mojo de Ajo sautéed shrimp in butter, onions, garlic, jalapeno & parsley (served on tortillas with refried black beans). This dish was so excellent that it was voted Best Dish by the hounds at our end of the table. The onions were caramelized well-done, the shrimp was sweet and the jalapenos gave a BIG kick about 30 seconds after you swallowed. These were some seriously yummy shrimp tacos.
Carne Asada con Salsa Verde thin sliced beef topped with a salsa of parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, chiles, olive oil, vinegar (served with heirloom tomato salad & refried pinto beans). This dish was very good but after the other excellent dishes, I found it a little disappointing. The tomato salad was a nice fresh touch. But since I can get excellent renditions of carne asada in SF, this isnt a dish I would cross the bay for, even in the best of circumstances. FYI - in my opinion the #1 Carne Asada (plate, not burrito) in SF is Tommys Mexican on Geary and in second place is Panchitas #3.
Atun de Veracruzano grilled tuna in a sauce of tomato, onions, garlic, pickled jalapeno, capers & olives (served with corn & zucchini pudding). This was a very nice dish and a reminder of how different Vera Cruz cuisine is from other regions of Mexico. Michael thought the capers and olives overpowered the delicate flavor of the albacore tuna, others disagreed. We all thought the tuna cooked just right and had a lovely texture.
Garnachas con Hongos y Nopales griddle cooked masa pockets with mushrooms, nopales, salsa rojo, queso fresco, and black beans topped with cabbage and radishes (served with green rice). This was a very good dish, but since it was the last to be finished, I dont think it showed as well against the other dishes. I liked it a lot but though it was more suited to being a side dish instead of an entrée. It was like a large sized sopa those masa boats you cook and top with whatever you want. Anyway, the masa just right, sautéed veggies were good and the shredded cabbage added nice crunch.
Pollo Coloridito pan roasted Hoffman Gamebirds chicken breast in a Oaxacan red mole (served with green beans). This dish was excellent. The chicken was probably moist and delicious on its own but in this case it was sauced with one of the best moles I have had in the Bay Area. It was rich, thick, not too sweet and had a heat that built. Yummy!
Pescado de Yucateco seared sand dabs in an achiote marinade, topped with picked red onions (served with refried black beans). This dish was very good. The marinade was delightful. But I was getting full so I only had one bite.
Verdalogas sautéed purslane with tomato. I cant even recall the last time I had purslane. I fell in love with this tasty green all over again.
Elote y Calabacita Budin corn & zucchini pudding. This dish was a hit with everyone. Yummmm, pudding .what a great way to get your veggies in.
Frijoles Refritos Negros a tasty rendition basic side dish
Frijoles Refritos Pintos not as popular as the black beans, but still good.
Arroz Verde green rice. What can I say? It was rice. It was green. It was good, but there was a lot of other stuff to eat.
At this point in the meal, we realized there was intrigue brewing at the other end of the table. Apparently, someone was craving a certain unordered appetizer. Well, then it must be ordered! Our waitress quickly brought us to steaming hot plates of Costillas de Puerco and all grumbling ceased ;-). These baby back ribs were roasted in a spicy and sweet sauce of ancho and chipotle chiles. As the plate made its way down to me, the aroma of cinnamon and chile was delightful. I only had one bite (leaving room for dessert) but it was heavenly sweet, spicy, tender and juicy. A definite winner.
In another display of glutany oops, chowhoundedness, we ordered every dessert on the menu
Postres (all were 5.95)
Pastel de Chocolate con Nieve Mexican chocolate brownie with dulce to leche ice cream and milk chocolate sauce. This dessert was too rich for me, but was a huge hit with the choco-holics.
Flan de Vainilla vanilla flan served with pumpkin seed brittle. I loved this dessert, the flan was thin and the sauce had a slight burnt caramel flavor that I like, also the round of brittle on the side added nice crunch.
Nieve de Aguacate con Chocolate y Nueces avocado ice cream with Mexican chocolate sauce and toasted pistachios. The ice cream was, well, creamy with a slight avocado flavor. The chocolate sauce was nice but some people felt it overpowered by the avocado-ness of the ice cream. Not one of the favorite desserts but it was good.
Sorbetes de Atun con Galletas cactus fruit sorbet with Mexican sugar cookies. This was the most refreshing of the desserts, especially in comparison the chocolate brownie. It grew on me and I liked it more after each bite.
Pastel de Tres Leches white cake soaked in sweetened milk and vanilla with whipped cream and fresh berries. Light, sweet and rich, this was another quite popular item. In fact, Michael watched in distress as it disappeared spoon by spoon at the other end of the table, outside his reach, until at last he was forced to demand it be returned (with an erudite waving of his spoon and a loud Hey! Hey! Haaaay).
Sangrita Y Tequila
Last, I realized I have forgotten to order the Sangrita y Tequila. Sangrita is a spicy tomato chaser that is drunk with tequila in Mexico. You get a shot (or snifter) of tequila & a shot of sangrita. First you SIP the tequila, then you sip the sangrita. Some of you may remember that I make my on sangrita but that I dont feel my recipe is perfected yet so I am always on the lookout for the perfect sangrita. Alas, Dona Tomas does not have the perfect sangrita or even one that I would order again. It was way too thick and too tomato-y and there was no orange or citrus flavor even in the background. It also seemed like it wasnt mixed well because the last sip was substantially spicier than the rest of the glass. But we all shared it and everyone got to taste the sensation of sipping tequila and following it with a sangrita-like beverage. As they say - you have to play to win.
One thing that I found very interesting was that corn in all of the dishes didnt seem like the sweet corn you get at the farmers market. After the meal, it was one of the things I kept pondering how are they cooking their corn to keep it that firm, crunchy and corny without being sugary? Then it hit me --- could they possibly be using field corn? I haven't eaten field corn in a while or even seen field corn for sale in the U.S. in years but it is the preferred corn in Mexico. Hmmmm. I really wish I had thought of it at the time and asked.
The have a very good tequila selection. They use fresh lime juice. They offer all the main recipe variations (except for those frozen slushy things) for margaritas so you need to know your preferences when ordering.
Salt or no salt? My choice is salt.
Up or on the rocks? I always get on the rocks but last night I ordered on up to try it. Although margaritas that are served up dont get watered down by melting ice, you have to drink it fast or the last sip isnt cold enough. I think I prefer on the rocks.
Do you like citronage, triple sec, Cointreau or nothing? I usually do cointreau or naked. Last night I tried one with triple sec. Triple sec provides a nice bright flavor, but I prefer the smoothness of cointreau. I also like just plain juice & tequila, although at home I usually add a little simple syrup if the limes are particularly tart.
Dona Tomas is a real winner. It serves excellent food and excellent margaritas which is a rarity in the Bay Area. Many of the best food places either dont have a hard liquor license or use sweet & sour instead of fresh lime in the margaritas, which immediately eliminates them from the excellent category. And the many of the best places for margaritas serve that dull, bland, over-processed, cheesy stuff that was served everywhere in the 1970s (for example, La Rondalla). I call it 70s Mexican or Old American-Mexican. Is there a real name for that genre? Michael loves it as comfort food and I enjoy as campy food but I prefer fresh spicy Latin American cuisine.
Anyway, I totally fell in love with Dona Tomas and plan to go back as often as I can afford. By the way, this is not a find, it has been discussed on Chowhound numerous times and the place was packed last night. When we got there around 6pm, the outdoor patio was full and there were people at the bar, but the inside dining room was only lightly populated. When we left (9ish?), the bar was full, the waiting area was full and every table (except a two top) was seated. The natives know and love Dona Tomas.