April 22nd, 2011 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (12)
Fly over Brookside by night and it’s a glittering string of diamonds. But head south of the Interstate and all the glitter’s gone. Forlorn, half-abandoned strip malls huddle by the road, and in one of them you’ll find Casa Frida. Step through the door, though, and you’re in another world. A tropical beach world of bright lollipop pastels. An artist’s distillation (Frida Kahlo perhaps) of the charm and flair of Mexico.
I didn’t come for the pastel, though. I came for the pipian. The glory of Mexican cuisine is its sauces, rich complex concoctions that can take days of hard labor to prepare. Mole pipian, made of ground-up pumpkin seeds (and a lot of other things besides) is one of the easiest to make of these, but it’s also one of the rarest, and each time a restaurant serves it in New York it gets featured in the papers. So when I heard it was featured here in Tulsa I ran to try it. Pipian is usually served over chicken, but on the menu here you’ll find it only with enchiladas. I persuaded them to let me have it over a pounded chicken breast. I’m glad I did! Here’s what I got.
It was, like the best moles, rich and complex, smooth, a bit oily, with a robust nutty flavor. I could taste peanuts. In fact it reminded me of Ghanaian peanut sauce. It was different from the pipian I was used to in New York. There, the sauce is made with tomatillos and is bright green. That’s how it’s made in Puebla, where most of New York’s Mexican chefs hail from. But the cooks at Casa Frida are from Tamaulipas, right on the Gulf of Mexico. In that part of Mexico, they make a variant of pipian, sometimes called pipian roja, that is indeed made with pumpkin seeds, peanuts and sesame seeds. That’s what you get here. You’d never find it in New York, and it’s well worth seeking out. The chicken itself was almost tasteless, and that’s how it should be. The meat is just an excuse for the sauce. But if you want it over enchiladas ($7), here’s what you’ll get.
Oh and if for some strange reason you don’t want pipian, there are five other ways to get your enchiladas. Green sauce, red sauce, and three other sauces I can’t remember. They all come with rice and beans, and you can request refried black beans instead of the usual brown. That’s what I did with the chicken, and it’s a good choice. But if you want something more Tex-Mex and commercial, be advised that Casa Frida has kick-ass fajitas.
That’s the deluxe version ($12), with shrimp, beef and chicken sizzling in harmony. “Best fajitas I ever had!” exclaimed Cathe and I am inclined to agree. Of course they come with all the fixin’s.
The guacamole is exceptional. And, best of all, they make the tortillas themselves.
Go to Casa Frida. You’ll leave stuffed and smiling.
5239 S. Peoria Ave.
open Tuesday through Saturday 10 AM to 9 PM, Sunday 10 AM to 3 PM, closed Monday
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.