The Real Oaxaca
Yatzeche delivers authentic flavor.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
At Yatzeche, authenticity involves more than flavor: it’s an atmosphere, a texture and an enthusiasm. It’s the guy working on a picture frame at a table and later getting rewarded with dessert. It’s the basic wooden tables and spartan place settings. It’s the woman in the long skirt with sun-honored skin flattening hand-formed tortillas with a metal press. It’s the fact that in the open kitchen of the small converted house, her smiling co-chef has an instinctive, eager reply highlighted by a flash of gold teeth when asked if she is indeed from the south Mexican state of Oaxaca: “Pura Oaxaqueña.”
Not that the flavor is anything to sneeze at: The memelas are rich, the chorizo tasty, the mole fresh, bold and nearly black in the true Oaxacan tradition. When my colleague ordered the mole as part of an office takeout order, it was also everywhere, coating the inside of his to-go box like someone had detonated a mole-mortar inside of it.
I had ordered the chile relleno with pork ($9.95) on the recommendation of the woman who answered the phone. It was different, with tender and straightforward chunks of pork piled inside a big imported chile de agua (the milder chile pasillo is also available) that lent the dish a surprising but ideal amount of spiciness. The batter, though, was thick and eggy and a bit bland, and the pork felt lonely inside.
The enchiladas Oaxaqueñas ($9.95) that I sampled that afternoon were respectable: the tortillas had the right texture, and the sauteéd onions, ample queso fresca and parsley on top were delicious. The sauce was a reddish, sweet mole, which worked well—I just wished there was more of it.
Other colleagues loved the small tasty tacos ($1.50 each). They told me the chicken taco played nicely off of its cilantro; in the veggie taco, the spicy guacamole salsa earned accolades.
The mole ($9.95), though, predetermined my order for the next visit. Like all great moles, Yatzeche’s Negro Oaxaqueña enjoys a enchanting kaleidoscope of taste: A balanced, rich and spicy dried pepper complexity chases the first smooth flash of subtle sweetness. But it’s in the transition from the rich and spicy focus of the flavor to the light and tasty finish that this sauce differentiates itself—many great mole are so strong and full-flavored that they’re hard to polish off. Not so here.
Hence, despite my duty to cover as much of the menu as possible, when Alex and I came upon the frame-tapping, tortilla-shaping scene on a Wednesday night, it was mole for me. (Alex chose the enchiladas and asked for extra sauce.) From the “desayuno/breakfast” section of the menu, we also tabbed the memelas ($6.50). A Mexican Jarrito Mandarina ($1.50) for me and a big jamaica (or hibiscus) agua fresca ($1.75) for Alex offered refreshment in lieu of beer or wine (our young server told us the license is on the way).
Our ample orders hit the table with minimal delay and their girth indicated a sequel on the way come Thursday. The memelas, a Oaxacan tradition, were big, thick corn tortillas topped with savory brown beans (which come with all entrées along with Spanish rice), shredded lettuce and crumbled queso fresca. Together they were tasty, but a unifying smoky pork asiento smeared on top of the tortilla made me think two things: 1) Damn that’s good; and 2) Oaxaquaños must love mornings.
Meanwhile, the generous amount of mole sent my tastebuds swimming between the subtle tones of bitter chocolate and roasted pepper all over again. The moist white chicken breast gave perfect contrast to the potent sauce. Simply put, the mole’s a must get. Across the tiny table, Alex’ super-sauced enchiladas satisfied.
A later run at their breakfast burrito line-up completed a
virtual day in the authentic vida Oaxaqueña. I found a
pound-plus Mexicana ($3.95) peppy thanks to the diced
jalapeños scrambled in with tomato and egg and joined by white
rice, whole pinto beans and chopped lettuce. It was ready
right on time for pick-up along with the chorizo breakfast
burrito ($3.95), which was excellent thanks to small-ground
and wonderfully light and ungreasy sausage. I aspire to get
more ethnoadventuresome on the next dawn patrol (they open at
7am) with the nopalitos (cactus paddles) or ejote (green
beans) breakfast burrito. It seems the smart play: here,
YATZECHE RESTAURANT 400 Palm Ave., Seaside. 7am-10pm daily • 393-0348.