El Malecon, tucked away in a Rohnert Park strip mall, is my new Salvadoran top pick. As this sign indicates, local produce and local wines are featured.
Here’s a look at the bright and cheery interior. http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...
Dining here alone, three times so far, I’ve been offered the day’s newspaper to keep me company. The vibe feels like a neighborhood café combined with your favorite auntie’s kitchen.
Sitting at my keyboard now thinking about how to describe El Malecon, I wonder if I should lead off with the wonderful pupusas. Maybe the carefully crafted tamales, the delicious atoles, or the sublime empanadas de plátanos? Perhaps the best introduction is to talk about the lovely proprietress, Sra. Sanchez, behind all the delicious and nurturing food here. This is a woman who radiates a beatific joy and calm. Soft-spoken, a little bit hesitant in English, yet so soothing as she lovingly describes the specials featured on the chalkboard in a manner that makes you want to order every single one of them. This level of care is amplified in her cooking. She’ll peek out from behind the counter several times during the course of the meal to see if I look happy, and later checks in to make sure all is satisfactory. No need really, as everything I’ve tasted is so fresh, pristine and well-crafted.
I asked Sra. Sanchez about her path to restaurant ownership. She explained that her husband was the vineyard manager for Peterson Winery in Dry Creek Valley for many years. At one point Fred Peterson asked her to be the crush cook for his harvest crews and she found she enjoyed cooking for others. Peterson’s wines and other Sonoma County labels are featured here.
My first time here, I noticed a business card for custom cakes offered by Evelyn Linares. Why did that name sound familiar? Then I remembered the perfect pupusas at the Cinco de Mayo fiesta in Santa Rosa three years earlier. As it turns out, Evelyn is Sra. Sanchez’s daughter and she was there helping Evelyn with the booth that day. Imagine my delight that these masa cakes of love could now be enjoyed at a local restaurant!
Pupusas by Evelyn Carolina Linares
This photo shows the pupusas revueltas and Salvadoran-style creamy horchata from that my first lunch at El Malecon.
The pupusas, filled with a combination of beans, pork and cheese, were a bit different than I remembered but equally good. Made-to-order these corn cakes had a fresh crispness at first bite yielding to a creamier interior. Sra. Sanchez explained that rather than rice flour, she has found a very finely ground corn that is close to the rice texture with better flavor. The fresh, crispy curtido of cabbage with some carrots was well-seasoned with oregano and tangy for a nice lift. It was a special treat to have a true Salvadoran-style horchata with sweet spicing and richness from ground nuts and seeds.
So happy with this find, I was back in less than two weeks to give her tamales a try. Shown here: Tamal de chipilín, tamal de elote and atole.
The tamales were made with an uncommon precision, symmetrical and uniformly filled from stem to stern. Served with the wrappers peeled back, the tamales were presented just so to show off their form. The banana leaf-wrapped tamal de chipilín came with a jalapeño-inflected pico de gallo; the corn husk-encased elote (sweet fresh corn) served with a buttery and salty crema Salvadoreña. Obviously freshly steamed, the masa was so light and fluffy. The atole, made with milk, hit just the right level of sweetness to highlight the fresh corn without being sugary.
My third time would be much later, a cold and stormy day in January. Sra. Sanchez greeted me warmly almost like her prodigal child saying, “I am so happy to see you again. I had a dream about you and now you’re here.” I asked for an atole, explaining that I’d not eaten yet this day. A cloud passed her face as she apologized that the atole de elote on the board was already sold out and offered me one of the aguas. “Señora, I am chilled to the bone and need to drink something hot”, I replied. She thought for a moment and said that she had some chocolate on hand if I wanted a hot chocolate or she could make me atole de piña. The complimentary basket of chips with the excellent salsa casera and avocado-based salsa verde came out quickly. Here’s what my lunch of atole de piña and caldo de pata (mondongo) looked like. http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...
The caldo de pata, served with very fresh garnishes of cabbage, chiles and lime and made-to-order, fat Salvadoran-style tortillas, was brimming with fresh vegetables and tripe. The stewed soft rind, tendon and meat of the pigs foot were all neatly pulled off the bone for easy eating. Nearly greaseless, the complex stock had a sticky mouthfeel from the dissolved gelatin. So good, at El Malecon one can polish off a big bowl of tripe and pigs feet and feel revitalized rather than bloated.
For a sweet ending to this love letter, now the dessert. The empanadas de plátanos, milky pudding encased in aromatic plantains are the best I’ve had. Fried to a beautiful brown and dusted with just a bit of sugar, the natural taste of the ripe plantains shines through beautifully.
Each time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen more than two other tables occupied. Sra. Sanchez said that business has slowed down and now El Malecon is closed on Tuesdays. I hope that chowhounds will support this family-owned gem.
217 Southwest Blvd, Rohnert Park, CA 94928