Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Experiencing Modern Mexican At Momocho

Mid-week I received an email from Miss Penny (of Restaurant Dante fame) stating the obvious: It had been far too long since we had seen each other and we needed to get together now. Knowing by now to never question the sage advice that Miss Penny doles out on a semi-annual basis, a series of back and forth emails were sent between her, myself, and fellow foodie Edsel. While we knew that the jumping off point for tonight's festivities would be at the Velvet Tango Room for a few pre-dinner cocktails, it wasn't until Miss Penny made the wonderful suggestion of dining at Momocho Mod Mex that our path for the entire evening became clear. I called the restaurant to ensure a reservation and was given two options, 6:30 and 8:15 PM. Seeing as none of us had any place exciting to be on a Friday night, I went ahead and booked the three of us for the later time slot.

At the appointed hour, the three of us descended upon the VTR and promptly began to enjoy the spoils from another completed work week. In what can only be described as serendipity, who should walk into the bar around 7:00 PM but Momocho's very own Eric Williams and his wife. It seemed that the chef had taken the night off to celebrate his wedding anniversary. Edsel quickly leaned over to me, laughed and whispered, "Well, I guess the chef won't be making our dinner tonight!" Indeed not. I guess this would be a test of how well Chef Williams's staff had been trained.

Momocho Mod Mex was located at 1835 Fulton Road, Cleveland, OH 44113 and can be reached at 216-694-2122. Unfortunately, they are not on OpenTable.com at the present time, so you must call for reservations (and let me strongly suggest that you make one). Even though we had reservations for 8:15 PM tonight, when we arrived around 8:00 PM, the place was absolutely packed on both floors. While there was a small lot next to the restaurant for parking, we opted to park on a side street and walk to the main entrance.

Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:

Front Entrance to Momocho
Once inside, we checked in with the hostess stand and were told that our table would be ready shortly. We were invited to have a cocktail at the bar while we waited. The bar area was not in a separate room, but took up half of the first floor space, the other half being dedicated to sit down tables for patrons. While there wasn't a single seat available at the bar, it fortunately didn't take long before the hostess let us know that a table on the second floor was now ready. We discovered that the tables were also packed on the second floor, but fortunately, most of the congestion caused by restaurant patrons without a seat was left on the floor below.

Before going any further, gentle reader, I wanted to take a moment to tell you that our dinner tonight at Momocho was going to be the first real low light test of the new Canon PowerShot G12 that I recently acquired. It wasn't an inexpensive camera and from the research I had done prior to its purchase, I knew of its reputation for being excellent in low lighting situations. While there was an actual setting for low lighting where the camera made all of the decisions for you, I opted instead to select most of the other settings myself and let the camera decide the correct shutter speed.

The reason that all of this was important was because it was pertinent to tonight's dinner. Several Cleveland restaurants are well-known (I'm looking at you L'Albatros) for their incredibly dim interior lighting. This makes taking credible and useful pictures next to impossible and I learned early on that even as advanced as the camera was that came with my HTC Incredible, it would either be too dark for the auto-focus to work properly, or if it did, I ended up with a picture that was so dark that no usable image was post-worthy.

Momocho was another restaurant notorious for its lack of light. In fact, it was so dark that it wasn't unusual to see patrons grab the lone candle adorning each table and hold it up to the menu in order to read it. Since I refused to use the flash on my camera if at all humanly possible, I was in essence setting myself up to fail. At least, I would have been with my cellphone camera. While I certainly won't claim that the photos I took were magazine worthy, for a medium such as this blog, if the intent was to give you an idea of what the food looked like, I felt like I achieved my goal.

[Ed. Note: I have since gotten much better at the low light photography through the use of a tabletop tripod and user-selected lengthy shutter speeds. The following pictures should not be an indictment of the poor performance of the camera, but rather the ignorance of the photographer.]

Here were three shots of Momocho's menu, top, middle, and bottom:

Momocho's Menu Top
Momocho's Menu Middle
Momocho's Menu Bottom
I came to tonight's dinner knowing that Momocho was famous for their guacamole. Not only was the guacamole by itself good, but the myriad of variations on that one dish made for an interesting assortment of flavors. Tonight we decided to start with the Guacamole Sampler:

Guacamole Trio
From left to right was the goat cheese guacamole; a pickled corn, jalapeño, and crab guacamole; and finally a smoked trout guacamole. Adorning each bowl was a lime wedge that added a wonderful brightness to each of the samples. As far as guacamole goes, Momocho makes it just the way I like it: a little chunky. So often I see guacamole that has been pureed until it is baby food smooth. What struck me about each of the dishes tonight was that even though they were three totally different flavor profiles, the basic guacamole flavor was never lost. At the same time, each dish was distinct and unique. The pickled corn, jalapeño, and crab version, while well balanced, was probably the least favorite among my tablemates because of the slight chili heat. Personally, I absolutely adored all three.

Accompanying our guacamole appetizer was a basket of freshly fried, still warm corn tortilla chips that had been lightly salted:

Warm Salty Tortilla Chips
Eaten by themselves, the chips were dangerously addictive. Add in some of the cool, creamy guacamole to this crunchy, salty platform and several of us at the table experienced the eyes-rolling-back-into-the-head phenomenon. If there was one complaint, it was one of excess. The bowls of guacamole were fairly large and since there were three of us and three of them, we each essentially ate one bowl. I think a fourth diner would've alleviated that problem. Not that it was a bad problem to have, per se, just something to note.

While I was tempted to order another appetizer (the roasted butternut squash and goat cheese empanadas ... the description just made them sound fantastic), instead I decided to go with one of the taquito dishes for dinner tonight. While they all looked interesting, the chancho (braised wild boar) really captured my imagination.

After a much needed break after our appetizers, our entrées finally arrived. Here was my chancho:

Chancho with Salsa Verde and Pickled Jalapeno Mustard Crema
Here was a close-up of the wild boar:

Chancho (Wild Boar)
Accompanying the meat were two condiments: salsa verde and a pickled jalapeño mustard crema:

Salsa Verde and Pickled Jalapeno Mustard Crema
Finally, in order to eat all of this wonderful looking food, I needed a way to get it to my mouth. Warm flour tortillas solved this problem nicely:

Stack of Warmed Flour Tortillas
To eat, I simply took a pliable tortilla from the stack and used a fork to line the center with the braised boar and some of the vegetables from the bottom of the dish. I then added a line of salsa verde and the mustard crema, folded up the sides and took a bite. I experienced my second eyes-rolling-back-into-the-head moment for the evening.

It. Was. Divine.

The meat was rich and tender without being the least bit gamey. The salsa verde added a wonderful acidity and herbaceous brightness and the mustard crema added creaminess and a bit, just a bit, of chili heat. While the flour tortilla didn't add much in the flavor department, it was soft and pliable and served as an excellent mechanism for getting the food into my mouth. If I could only have this dish for the rest of my life, I would never get tired of it. It was simply that good.

Unfortunately, having finished our trio of guacamoles and chips earlier, I could only eat half of my entrée. You can be sure, however, that the remainder was boxed up and taken with me. I did try both Penny and Edsel's dishes (picadillo and albondigas, respectively) and while both were quite tasty, neither in my mind matched the pure brilliance of the chancho. Any thoughts or worries about Chef Williams not being at the helm of his own kitchen tonight were completely and thoroughly quashed by the food tonight.

Wanting to finish out the evening on a sweet note, the three of us decided to split the Flan:

Flan
Once again the kitchen showed great restraint and balance. While, yes, it was sweet, it wasn't overly so. The texture to the flan itself was neither too runny nor too rubbery. For those who don't care for "eggy" desserts, you will be happy to note that Momocho's version had a hint of egg without being overpowering. All in all, this was a fantastic way to end a fantastic meal.

Since Penny and Edsel had paid for their margaritas at the bar when we first arrived, when the check came, it was just for the food (and my water). For the three of us, with all of the food we had eaten, the bill came to just slightly under $74, including tax. With tip, each of us got out of there tonight for just shy of $30 a piece. With leftovers. Given our incredibly tasty meal, it was well worth the money. I honestly can't recommend Momocho enough. The food was inventive, fresh, reasonably priced, and most importantly, delicious. For some reason, this was only my second visit to Momocho Mod Mex in three years. You can be certain that it will now go on my regular rotation from this point forward.

Momocho Mod Mex on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

twohundred said...

Eating at Momomcho's at happy hour is down right inexpensive, Love, Love, Love!

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