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road trip, last LA meal: chiles en nogada, mole

moto | Jan 7, 200603:56 AM

thank you, christine and all the great LA area 'hounds for your kind words. A little caveat on Laguna Coffee Co.,as virtually a one-man operation(Sylvain might have help for the a.m. rush, but never during the times we were there),I think it's closed Sundays, a popular cafe-hopping day for the rest of us. Trekking around on Boxing Day we looked for a late lunch. With the regular holiday falling on a Sun. many places observed Mon.,and we were in those afternoon hours when places close between meals. But the kitchen gods smiled with La Casita in Bell serving continously, and more so when I found the seasonal specialty,chiles en nogada, on the menu, my order of which bringing another smile from our waiter. It wasn't until I read the articles posted in the restaurant that I found out that seasonality has an added dimension there, with a city garden dedicated to their needs. My wife, who makes 20+ ingredient moles herself on occasion, ordered chicken with granma's mole.The appetizers included with the meal were some fresh chips, lightly sauced with two contrasting moles, pipian and "black"(granny's)with a few toasted sesame seed sprinkles, so they had a pleasant variation between soft and crispy,shortly followed by cups of a delicate lentil soup. These aroused our appetites perfectly rather than blunting them. Also included were fresh limeades,sweetened very lightly just to balance the tartness, with chia seeds suspended in them.Our plates were impeccable. This was my introduction to the Independence Day specialty, and it was only subsequently when I studied the recipe variations did I learn how wide the range of interpretation can be, and how much labor is involved. The 'nogada' creamy white sauce alone demands soaking and peeling very fresh walnut or pecan meats among its other components. From what I could discern, La Casita blanched the poblano peppers, rather than roasting or frying them. Their meat/nut/fruit filling was a softer nuanced contrast to the pepper's sharpness, and every bite was a little different, according to the proportion of sauce or pomegranite seed or the part of the peppers in the bite.Both of our dishes were remarkable in the absence of any excess oil or fat; their richness came from complexity and concentration of flavours. Service was likewise impeccable and my wife received a huge complimentary refill of limeade. In ignorance of the wonderful limeade to come, we had ordered a champurrado and horchata,leaving us unable to try the desserts.The menu had other specialties also inviting us back,and there was an impressive 24 hr. panaderia right next door. Our bill was just over $25. You fantastic So.Cal.'hounds had again graced our trip and we'll be back. Salud!

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