Several people over on PortlandFood.org got me excited about a new place opened by a Mexican former sous chef at the now-closed Basilico: Autentica.
It's just north of Killingsworth on NE 30th. Nice large windows offer a warm glow onto the sidewalk. The interior is simple, but pleasant with nice lighting and art. The room is fairly small, but you can also sit at the bar overlooking the open kitchen.
The menu is split into six parts (plus a dessert menu): seafood cocktails, small plates, salads, soups, large plates, and sides. Appetizers range from $1.50 to $8, things like a seafood tostada with octopus and shrimp for $7 or tamales with chicken and chiles for $3, a nopales salad for $6, or a chicken and vegetable soup for $5. Prices for entrees range from $11 to $16. These include pork tenderloin in green mole, roasted fish in adobo sauce, and panela cheese grilled in banana leaf served with green chiles. Sides, such as guacamole or chorizo, are $3 each.
They brought us a pitcher of water, a basket of bread, and a bowl of what appeared to be vegetables in escabeche, essentially pickled vegetables. The bread was exactly like what you get in Mexico. Personally, I don't think that's necessarily a good thing. Mexican versions of baguette are very soft and insubstantial without a lot of flavor, nothing like the artisan breads Portlanders have become accustomed to. The escabeche was fine, consisting of carrot slices, cauliflower, garlic, chiles, etc. They weren't very tangy, though, or very spicy. Mostly they tasted of oil, though each had a really nice flavor and texture. But I missed the zestier pickled veggies I'm familiar with.
We ordered four appetizers, one side, and an entree: ceviche acapulqueno con pescado fresco camarones y aguacate ($8); tamales de pollo chiles poblanos y crema agria ($3); tosta con tinga de pollo ($3); sopa de tortilla ala autentica con aguacate y queso fresco ($6); guacamole ($3); pollo en mole teloapan ($13).
Ceviche: This was more like a cocktail, like a gazpacho with nice chunks of salmon and whole prawns topped with slices of avocado. It was relatively sweet. I don't think it was made with ketchup like cocktails in Mexico often are, but it had that sweetness, but with a much more straightforward tomato flavor. It was served in a glass with saltines on the side. It was rather addictive with a very fresh flavor.
Tamal: Nice texture to the masa, not overly dense. High ratio of filling to masa. The chicken was lightly coated in a red sauce, but the flavor of the chiles dominated. They were quite mild, but had a lot of flavor. Sour cream and a tomatillo-avocado salsa (I think) were served over the tamal. Very tasty.
Tinga: Perfect balance of cabbage, chicken tinga, cheese, and tostada. The cabbage had a slightly bitter flavor and nice fresh crunch, while the tostada had the earthier fried corn flavor and a crispier texture. It was a very good tostada. The cheese added a little creaminess and tanginess. The tinga was light on chipotle but still tasted good having more sweet dried chile flavor.
Sopa: The only truly disappointing dish of the night. A thick tomatoey broth held soggy tortilla strips. The soup was topped with cheese, sour cream, radish slices, and avocado. I would guess this is a vegetarian dish because the broth has no meatiness and the dish comes with no chicken. The broth is tangy, but without much complexity or interest. Not very similar to other tortillas soups or sopa aztecas I've had. I'd suggest that if they're going to do it this way that they make a tomato consomme, though that would raise the cost of the dish, so that the broth is lighter. They should also serve it with the tortilla strips on the side so that at least some of them can remain crispy. Or they could pour it at the table. The cheese and crema worked very nicely, though, and they're using a good queso fresco.
Guacamole: Creamy and fresh tasting, but overly salty.
Mole: A huge dish, especially for only $13. A half chicken -- tender, juicy, but a little undercooked in spots -- covered with mole and sesame seeds. It's a well balanced mole, dark and complex. Very smooth. I think it could be more intensely flavored, but I don't feel strongly about this. It was very good. Served with white rice nicely presented in a corn husk rolled at each end.
The meal was also served with handmade corn tortillas. They had a good thickness, charred spots, and were cooked through while still being soft and tender.
The dessert menu had six items, including two ice creams. The churritos and chocolate wasn't available because the chef wasn't pleased with the quality. We ordered the calabaza con piloncillo y atole de maiz ($5). The atole was served in a cup on the side. The atole (essentially a drink thickened with masa) was served warm in a cup. It wasn't thin, but it's flavor was. It tasted too watery. Atoles usually have a stonger corn flavor and often have some seasoning. The squash was roasted with Mexican brown sugar and served cold. It looked wonderful. We were a bit surprised that it was served cold, but I'm not sure I would prefer it warm. It may have too mushy a texture. Either way, though, it tasted great. Very simple, but very good.
Overall an enjoyable meal and a very good value. I think this place is comparable in quality to the other good midscale Mexican restaurants in town. Given the menu items, I suspect the chef is from Guerrero, probably near Acapulco. I hope to see even more regional specialties. The menu notes that they have pozole on Thursdays. Since that's a specialty of Guerrero, I hope to give it a try. Maybe he'll do all three colors eventually.
5507 NE 30th Ave