I treated two friends/neighbors of mine to an early dinner at Sol de Mexico
tonight. I'd not been back to SdeM since last year's LTH get together. Though I thought the food served during last year's event was excellent the large crowd (of LTHers) present didn't allow for a very careful examination/tasting of the food. What we had during tonight's much smaller dinner was excellent - some of the best I've tasted in Chicago (and comparable to some of my favorite places in Mexico).
When we arrived at about 4 p.m. there were (in addition to our table of three) two other tables occupied (of two persons each), the restaurant was otherwise empty. During the course of our 1.5+ hour meal 4 more people came and went, and when we left at about 5:45 p.m. the restaurant was empty. The food quality here is too good for the place to (seemingly) be ignored this way.
Service was not a problem - the one waitress (and the bus boy) was very attentive and one of the first things she asked was whether or not we'd been to the restaurant before, if we needed help understanding the menu, etc. She also said that the restaurant launched a new menu last Thursday.
My guests aren't familiar with Mexican food as good as is served at SdeM and as I was explaining the use of condiments - mole, salsa, etc. - the waitress overheard me (as she filled our water glasses) and asked if we'd like to order a sampling of four mole's accompanied by some house-made tortillas. It was a great idea and it's a great introduction to mole for people who may be unfamiliar with them. The mole's were exquisite.
Along with the mole I ordered an agua fresca
- Agua de Jamaica
(made from the hibiscus flower). Though I enjoyed the agua fresca
, my friends didn't.
During the sampling of the mole, restaurant owner Carlos stopped by our table to answer questions about the different mole's - he was very specific and gracious, and my friends thoroughly enjoyed the attention he gave us.
Sampling of Mole, and Agua de Jamaica
My guests were a bit indecisive - understandable because they don't often eat Mexican food - so while we further studied the menu and asked the waitress for some explanations, we ordered some starters: an order of Guacamole
and an order of Quesadillas Norteños
. The guacamole was very fresh - probably prepared to order - and the flavor of both the cilantro and lime juice made it enjoyable. I was convinced the totopos
(nacho chips) were home-made.
Accompanied by fantastic and well-presented black beans and flavorful white rice with kernels of corn and diced carrots, the chicken quesadillas (which are presented with flour tortillas instead of corn, as is the custom in the north of Mexico) were excellent, also. We were batting 2 for 2.
Trio of Starters
We'd already been filling-up on the starters, so we decided to order two entrees and share them. I'd asked the waitress if there were any house specials for the day, and she replied no. When I asked her about dishes coming out of the kitchen that looked good and/or about which customers had complimented today she mentioned one: Dorado al Mojo de Ajo
(Mahi-mahi) - and we ordered one of those.
Since my dining companions don't eat pork and weren't interested in the ostrich, quail and other offerings - I went with a safe, beef choice for our second entree: Tampequeña
The Dorado al Mojo de Ajo
was prepared with roasted garlic and virgin olive oil and served with a salsa-like preparation of avocado, green onions - and a pyramid-shaped helping of the white rice with diced carrots and kernels of corn. The fish was nicely firm, but I don't know if it was grilled (I sensed it was, but I forgot to ask). The salsa-like condiment which was cooked with the fish was excellent - without it I don't think I would have wanted to try the dish. The recommendation of the waitress was appropriate for our group.
Dorado al Mojo de Ajo
We ordered the Tampequeña
"medium," and medium it came out of the kitchen. One of my dinner companions remarked how flavorful the meat was - a grilled/charcoal-like taste delayed reaction once you let the meat set on your pallate, and when working your way through the skirt steak. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I sensed a rub or sauce had been applied to the meat, also. Maybe some of the mole negro
As is typical with Tampequeña,
the platter included a healthy scoop of guacamole, the great black beans and the healthiest (largest) chicken enchilada
I've seen in a long time . . . smothered by a helping of SdeM's fantastic mole negro
. We created our own version of "Surf and Turf."
Though we were stuffed with fantastic food, none of the three of us was about to walk away from the table without having dessert. Again, we chose to share two desserts: Crepas con Cajeta,
. I'm a huge fan of cajeta
, no matter what you pour it over - and though I found the crepes thicker than I prefer, this was an excellent, and enjoyed by all, choice. The star of the evening though - the most raved-about thing we tried - was the Natillas
I must have been hiding under a rock for all of my 58 years, not to have tried Natillas
before tonight. When Carlos heard our "ooh's" and "aaahs" when we tried the Natillas
he came over to the table and explained how the restaurant prepares it. One of my guests is a fantastic cook/baker and she took notes - and I fully expect to be eating some home-made Natillas
in the not too distant future. Creme Brulee is what came to mind when I had my first spoonful. The one negative to the dessert, though, was the not-yet-ripe mango used to dress it. When I commented on that to Carlos he said it was difficult to get ripe mango's. Not true. Ripe mango's are all over the place and he should have found them for this otherwise fantastic dessert. Now, having said that: the custard, and the flavors of vanilla and cinnamon - WOW! Talk about a rich dessert, this is it.
The crepes, as I've already mentioned, were thicker than I'm accustomed to - but the cajeta and the garnish of pieces of walnut and fried banana's - well - desserts really don't get much better than this. Had it not been for the impression the Natillas
made, I'd have raved more about the Crepas con Cajeta
. The cajeta
was thinner than I'm accustomed to having when I visit Mexico - but it worked very well with the crepes.
Crepas con Cajeta
The three of us feasted for a cost of just over $70.
Though Sol de Mexico features some dishes and preparations from parts of Mexico other than the state of Guerrero, the Guerrero influence seems predominant to me. Guerrero cuisine, and in particular the fantastic mole's prepared (and originating) in that state (not to forget mention of pozole
, which originated there), often gets overlooked in Mexican food discussions . . . by talk of Oaxaca. Given the choice between food from these two interesting Mexican states - I most enjoy what I've eaten in Guerrero.
It's a shame - disgrace - that a restaurant of this quality isn't being patronized by more people. The food quality/freshness, the presentation, the ambiance, the excellent service and attention to detail . . . what's the wider (other than LTH) dining public waiting/looking for?