August 2nd, 2013 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (5)
I’ve never written a review of a Mexican restaurant that doesn’t contain the word “authentic”. I’ve rarely written a review of a top Tulsa restaurant that does. Tim Richards’ whimsical, sophisticated weekend fish specials over at Doc’s Wine & Food, for example, are beginning to look a lot like what you’ll find at one of the world’s top French restaurants, such as Le Bernardin in New York, but I don’t know or care if they are authentic French cuisine. Authenticity derails creativity.
Meanwhile, far south of here in Mexico City, it was the same thing in reverse, at least until about ten years ago. Mexican food snobs couldn’t care less about authenticity, or about Mexican cuisine for that matter. They wanted French food. But within the past decade or so, top Mexican chefs rediscovered the glories of Mexican cuisine and devised dishes that mixed Mexican and European techniques and ingredients. Sophisticated Mexico City restaurants such as Pujol and Izote (which closed a few weeks ago incidentally) offer dishes such as duck carpaccio with pipian vinaigrette and mezcal foam.
As you can see from this photo, El Molino too prizes creativity above authenticity. No, El Molino doesn’t reach Mexico City’s level of refinement. But the brothers who own it were, according to the Tulsa World, born in Mexico but spent almost their entire lives in Mexico. “We’ve created our own dishes just for Tulsa,” one of them told me, and indeed they have. They are not Mexican moles either; they look like classic French. So let’s step inside their spiffy new restaurant.
The decor is a mix of tradition and modern. Or, rather, it’s a modern artist’s riff on tradition, with bright wall paintings some of which mimic brick and adobe. Sit down and if you’d like they will prepare guacamole tableside for $6. We skipped this and focused on entrees. Much of the huge menu is what you’d expect: burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas. (I’ve seen a photo of one, the spinach and chicken enchiladas, and it comes covered with a spectacular lime-green spinach cream sauce with zig-zags of white queso sauce on top.) All reasonably priced; burritos are $7 to $9 and enchiladas range from $8 to $11. In fact, it’s hard to find a menu item over $12. And then there’s the section devoted to gourmet dishes. Lots to choose from. Seafood in a roasted tomato chipotle sauce a lot like Italian marinara($15). Mole poblano on chicken ($11). What we got is in the photo above. Steak Chipotle ($12). Strips of ribeye sauteed with tomatoes, onions and zucchini and served with a rich chipotle cream sauce. I didn’t taste much chipotle but the sauce satisfied. It was a lot like one of the French mother sauces and probably made much the same way, with a roux. The zucchini was pleasantly crunchy and the tiny pieces of steak had good flavor. I liked this dish best, but there was a close contender.
Grilled chicken breast ($11) with roasted corn and peppers on a bed of mashed potatoes and a spicy cream sauce. Actually it wasn’t that spicy but the sauce was yummy and the homemade potatoes (and everything else) was fine. Like the steak, this dish came with black beans, good enough that we ate every one.
Strangely, only one dish was a disappointment and that was a traditional Mexican dish. Cochinita Pibil ($13).
Cochinita Pibil comes from way south, in the Yucatan. A big chunk of pork (traditionally the whole pig but today more often shoulder or, as here, loin) is marinated in some sort of citrus juice (preferably Seville oranges) together with annatto and a bunch of other spices, such as cumin and cinnamon. Then it’s put in a sealed pan lined with banana leaves and slow-cooked for many hours. It’s a very famous dish and can inspire obsession. I had a fabulous version in Owasso at a wonderful restaurant that has since, sadly, closed, read about it here. The owner of El Molino assured me that they prepared the dish in the traditional way right down to the banana leaves and maybe they did. But what I got was simply chunks of pork with an unremarkable albeit pleasant taste. They better hope that Sheldon Sands, the murderous pibil connoisseur from the film “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”, doesn’t pay them a visit. He would make his displeasure known in a most unpleasant way.
Still, El Molino deserves a visit. The food is fine and aspires to be haute cuisine. No it doesn’t reach the stellar level of Juniper or Bodean, but the entrees at those top restaurants cost three times as much as a fine meal at El Molino.
El Molino Mexican Restaurant
4532 E 51 Street (where the Green Onion used to be)
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Brian Schwartz: Author
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.
Tags: Mexican Food