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Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo (Watsonville) has me under its spell again...

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Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo (Watsonville) has me under its spell again...

Carb Lover | Jan 21, 2005 03:30 PM

Just had to write about our dinner at Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo (15 First St., W-ville 831.724.3492) last night since this is really one of the few places in SC County worth writing you hounds about. Hubby and I had firm intentions to check out Miyuki for sushi (thanks to Pablo's rec), but as we drifted down Main St. some mystical force derailed us, urging us to go to FTS again.

This was our third visit--first time was sublime, second time felt flat in comparison. Would third time charm? Not only did it charm but it seduced, tantalized, and conquered us. I write this to you now still hypnotized by our meal last night--fiery peppers, piquant herbs, the Mexican sun still raging through my body.

The culinary spheres were aligned perfectly for FTS last night--the place was moderately filled, toasty warm (I was bone-chilled last time), and lively. Being our third time, I expected to be more competent in navigating the extensive menu of regional, as close to authentic as I've seen, Mex. cuisine; however, I felt nearly as dumbfounded as the first time.

The fresh-from-the-fryer chips and spicy salsa foreshadowed the meal to come. Hubby and I shared the tamarind juice since one serving comes in a pitcher, too much for me alone. He ordered the Pitillal and opted for the mixed shellfish combo over the meat. Described on menu as "...shellfish in a marinade from El Pitillal and grilled getting a fantastic flavor." I wanted to order from their specials menu and waffled between the "Chiles Nogada" and what I eventually ordered, the "Recomendado": a vague description of shrimp w/ roasted guajillo, huitlacoche, corn, herbs, and fried cheese. Both plates came w/ beans, rice, salad, and choice of housemade corn or flour tortillas. Hubby's also came w/ their delicious corn tortilla quesadilla.

The food came out much more quickly this time than the last. Chef was on top of his game and ingredients were fresh. Hubby's dish came w/ a mix of shrimp, abalone, and squid that was lightly charred and smoky. It had a chewy texture that seemed inherent to shellfish and the chef's intent and didn't detract from our enjoyment of the dish. It was accompanied by a piquant tomatillo-based salsa.

My dish was truly spectacular though. Came in a bowl w/ a thick, guajillo stew laced w/ herbs and corn kernels w/ a blanket of earthy huitlacoche on top (whoever thought to eat corn fungus was a genius!). There were only about 5 or 6 shrimp swimming in the bowl, but the stew was more the star anyhow. The fried cheese (I think queso fresco) capping off the whole dish was like a huge, thick frico (Italian fried cheese) chip. Flavor was salty on its own but when eaten in tandem w/ the shrimp stew, it morphed into an entirely dif. and essential character. We oohed and aahed w/ each successive bite. Total w/ tax was $27+, a bargain for that kind of experience. We lamented that we could have eaten here twice for our one mediocre experience at Shadowbrook.

So, FTS has us under its spell again. We were already plotting our next visit before our meal was over. So many things to still try--the shrimp w/ rose petals, cactus fruit, and almonds (a Oaxacan dish) is calling to me.

Part of what makes the menu overwhelming is that the descriptions don't give you a good picture of the final product, so one needs to enter w/ some deference to and trust in the chef and his ingredients. Personally, I don't mind surrendering to FTS if we have more meals like that. Miyuki will just have to wait for now...

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