Monday, May 28, 2007

Oh-My-God! New Rebozo: "The Best of Casual Mexican Cooking"

Happy Memorial Day. To those of you here in the states for whom it's a holiday, I hope you're enjoying it. To those of you for whom, like me, it is a day off, I hope you're enjoying that as much as I am. To those of you who have to work today, I hope you are getting paid time-and-a-half for it. For those of you who have to work and don't get paid time-and-a-half, isn't that illegal?

Life has been distracting me again and I haven't felt like posting. I have been cooking a little, but I don't really have anything to show for it yet.

My friend Lynda and I have been trying to get together for about 3 months now, but things have kept coming up that have caused us to reschedule again and again. Our schedules finally cleared up this past week and we decided to meet for dinner after work on Tuesday night.

Lynda suggested a Mexican restaurant in Oak Park called New Rebozo. I checked out the link she sent me and it looked pretty good so we agreed to meet out there. I was a little concerned about how long it might take to get there, but it's about a half-mile walk down Harlem from the Blue Line to Madison Street so it was convenient and easy to find. Of course, once I got to Madison Street I turned the wrong way first, but that's because I'm an idiot and ignored Lynda's directions so I can only blame myself for that. But I saw some other restaurant possibilities on my little detour, so it wasn't a total waste of time, and I still managed to get there just before Lynda.

We were there early in the evening; the restaurant was virtually empty when I walked in and I waited about five minutes (long enough for me to step back outside to check their hours to make sure they weren't still closed) before the hostess came to seat me. But when she did come out, she was nice and friendly and seated me right away. Lynda walked in less than a minute later. After that our service was fine.

Lynda ordered a margarita and, while I was tempted, I opted for iced tea instead. But Lynda let me have a taste of her margarita and it was excellent. The drinks had just arrived and we barely had time to dip our chips into some salsa when an energetic, smiling man practically hopped over to our table with two plates in his hands. I had already read about this from Lynda's link so I realized that this was Francisco Lopez, the owner.

"Oh my god! How are you tonight?" he asked. "Fine," we said. "Oh my god! Let me show you our specials tonight. Oh my god! They are so good!" He then proceeded to show us what was on the two plates.

On one plate was a form of chile relleno that, I must admit, looked as good as the ones I am used to eating in Texas and have not been able to find up here in Chicago. It was full of nuts, raisins, and cheese and looked truly delicious. But once I set eyes on the second plate (that Lynda had already told me about), I had made up my mind what to order.

The cuisine at New Rebozo is based on the cooking of Lopez's mother. The specialty of the house is 12 different mole sauces. They make six a week, and the second special consists of four enchiladas, each served with a combination of the six moles. The night we were there these were the moles:
mole poblano (what most people think of when they think of mole)- made with chocolate and poblano peppers
mole verde (mole pipian) - made with pumpkin seeds and ancho peppers
peanut mole
cashew mole
macadamia nut mole
chestnut mole

The first two moles were each served with a whole enchilada; the other four were split between the other two. The hardest choice I had was what kind of enchiladas I wanted. I have only recently realized that I do not care for chicken in most traditional Mexican dishes. It just does not have a strong enough flavor to hold up to the other ingredients. Beef has almost too much flavor, and I do not care for that much melted cheese in any dish. Pork has become my favorite taco and enchilada filler, but they did not offer pork. Oddly enough, one of the choices was guacamole, which I suppose is not that far of a stretch from avocado, but still seemed a little unusual. The last choice was chorizo, and while I am not a fan of Mexican chorizo (at least the greasy Tex-Mex version I was used to from home), I opted for two guacamole enchiladas and two chorizo, hoping that the chorizo would be closer to the Spanish version. They did not offer me choice of which enchiladas to go with which moles, so I hoped for the best (not that I would have necessarily known which flavor would go best with which filling anyway).

They chose well. One chorizo enchilada came with mole pipian, and the other was split between the peanut and the chestnut moles. A whole guacamole enchilada was served with the mole poblano, with the other split between the cashew and macadamia nut moles.

All were delicious. The mole poblano was a little sweeter than I was expecting, but the sweetness was immediately counterbalanced by one of the most deceptively complex mix of spicy and smoky flavors I have ever encountered. It was absolutely perfect, with all of the flavors swirling to the surface and back so there was no one overwhelming taste. It was the perfect combination of sweet, spicy, and smoky.

But as nearly perfect as it was, my favorite was the mole pipian. The more subtle flavors of this mole, which came with the chorizo enchilada, were truly sublime, perhaps because they were less familiar flavors to me and I could not identify them all. The most familiar was the musky flavor of the roasted pumpkin seeds. If I had to choose only one mole next time, that would be it.

The other moles were all delicious, but the flavors were all somewhat similar. The macadamia nut was my least favorite (in all fairness, it's also my least favorite nut, though), and the peanut was a little bland. The cashew mole was tasty, and the chestnut mole was rich and luscious. It was a little too sweet though (and I can't believe I'm the one who's saying that), but would have been something to behold as turned into some kind of dessertB.

Lynda chose steak that came with the mole poblano and the mole pipian. The presentation was exquisite - the steak was rolled and somehow placed vertically inside a ring of grilled onion which sat on the plate with the moles each on one half of the plate. It looked awesome and she said it was delicious.

There were some oddities, however. The salsa was good and spicy, but the chips looked and tasted like they were baked, and I did not care for them very much. Each entree was accompanied by a plate of Spanish Rice and black beans. The black beans were rich and flavorful, but the rice looked like it was made with frozen mixed vegetables and I wasn't even tempted to try it.

After we had finished our dinners, Fernando Lopez came running back to our table. "Oh my god!" he exclaimed. Are you ready to try the oh-my-god delicious dessert?" If I hadn't been so full I would have tried something, but I will have to save that for my next visit.

All in all, this is a truly unique restaurant that, even with the few not-so-great chips and Spanish rice, will definitely have me going back for more.

And in the meantime, I plan to find me some mole verde recipes.

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