People often ask where I get my ideas for restaurants. The answer is everywhere—word of mouth, suggestions from friends and colleagues and simply walking into places that look intriguing. The story about how I found Tu Mero Mole, a Mexican restaurant I review in this week’s issue, is a little more involved.
When people learn that I review restaurants for a living they often tell me how lucky I am to get to go out to eat all the time. And I am fortunate. As someone who loves to eat and try new things, eating for a living is a real privilege. But as much as I enjoy dining out, some of my favorite meals are at home.
A few months ago I started a “Sunday supper club” with a group of friends. The idea is that once a month we meet at someone’s house for supper, a leisurely, slow-cooked meal served nice and early at 4pm. This month, we had the dinner at my house.
I actually didn’t do the cooking. My friend Jane did. She grew up in a mountain village in Oaxaca where her parents were missionaries. For our supper, she cooked mole negro from a recipe she got from her mom. Mole is a complex sauce made from dozens of ingredients that’s generally served at weddings and other special occasions. I love it and Jane’s version was superb, thick and rich like melted chocolate, spicy and complex. Served over boiled chicken legs with warm tortillas, it was fantastic.
I think Jane got the idea to make the mole after I showed her my new copy of Diane Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy (University of Texas; $50). The book is a wonder and clearly the product of a life’s work; it is as much a cookbook as it is a document of history and culinary anthropology.
Kennedy is the Julia Child of Mexican cuisine, and the book is likely to be her last one given she’s over 80 and the amount of time and research she puts into her work. While some of the recipes call for obscure mountain herbs and impossible-to-procure ingredients like flying ants, iguana and wasp nests, there’s are enough recipes that can be reasonably made north of the border. And the photographs are superb.
Anyway, still buzzing from the delicious mole, I ate I set out to see if I could find the ingredients to make it myself. Part of the challenge to making mole is finding the right ingredients. I remembered there’s a little shop on East William Street in downtown San Jose called El Oaxaqueno that specializes in food from Oaxaca—chiles, herbs and chocolate. Trouble is it was closed the day I went by. And it was closed the next day, too. I Googled the place to see if I could learn any more about, and I read a few posts on Yelp about it. People seemed to love it, but I couldn’t find out if was closed for good or when it planned to reopen. The sign seems to indicate that it is open only on Mondays, but that can’t be right. (Anybody know?).
What caught my eye, though, was the lists of Oaxacan restaurants Yelpers had compiled. I don’t put much stock in Yelp reviews, but the restaurant lists are useful because they sometimes bring new restaurants to my attention. And so that’s how I heard about Tu Mero Mole.
I’m still hoping El Oaxaqueno will open, so I can stock on hard-to-find ingredients to make my own mole, but in the meantime I’ve got the excellent version at Tu Mero Mole and dwindling supply of leftovers from the batch Jane made.