You'll recognize La Sandia by the crowded patio and open air bar, offering over 200 tequillas, half a dozen margaritas and Mexican beers, Mojitos, Capirinhas and Sangria pitchers.
The food is well-plated, with good sized portions. All the sauces, flour and corn tortillas and salsas are made fresh daily.
The molcajete is used in the presentation of many featured dishes.
Attention to details is a standard of good cooking.
Looking at the dish you assume the word "tacos" in the menu description is a mistake. There is a container of freshly prepared flour and corn tortillas next to the molcajete but surely this is a hearty stew not a "taco."
But you would be wrong. The molcajete contains the taco filling. Possibly the most elaborately constructed "filling" I had ever seen.
To finish the dish, you will ask your waiter for more flour and corn tortillas....many more. Dig deep into the stone bowl to discover its hidden, secret wonder: molten hot fundido cheese.
Tear a tortilla into quarters, put a spoonful each of the Spanish rice and charro beans (black beans simmered with chorizo and onions), a fork-full of caramelized steak coated in liquid cheese, add a piece of charred scallion, a tasting of the roasted tomato and green chile salsas and pop the tasty packet in your mouth.
As your mouth enjoys all those flavors and textures, your eyes close and you begin to mumble. Your friends at the table will wonder what you are muttering about. If they could hear you clearly, they would understand you are saying, "Oh my god that is wonderful."
When the plate of chile en nogada, the holiday dish, appears on the table, everyone will lean forward to inhale the wealth of aromas rising from the poblano pepper, split open to reveal the crumble of sauteed pork. One bite and your eyes close again and if you are all sharing bites together, all eyes will be closed and mouths will be moving as if speaking through sealed lips. A passing waiter will wonder if this is a group seance.
Chef-owner, Richard Sandoval generously shared his recipe for Chile en Nogada so even after Mexican Independence Day, you can continue to enjoy this delicious dish at home.
CHILE EN NOGADA
Ingredients for the sauce
1 tablespoon shelled walnut pieces
1/4 cup almonds, blanched
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup goat cheese
3/4 teaspoon each granulated sugar, salt and black pepper, to taste
Place the ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Set aside covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
Ingredients for the filling
1 3/4 pounds combination of shiitake, button and portobello or crimini fresh mushrooms, cleaned, de-stemmed and sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon almonds, blanched and finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 medium apples peeled, cored and chopped
1 medium ripe pear, peeled, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 medium ripe peach, peeled, pitted and finely chopped
1 tablespoon of oloroso sherry
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground pork picadillo
In a large frying pan, heat the oil to medium high and sauté the onion until translucent; add the mushrooms until golden on all sides. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to cook until all ingredients are heated thoroughly.
Cool enough to handle easily.
Directions for final assembly
6 poblano chiles, roasted and peeled, stems kept attached
1 fresh small pomegranate, seeded
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Make a slit in each roasted poblano chile from the stem to the tip. Remove the seeds and placenta carefully and divide the filling equally to stuff the chiles. If not serving immediately, chill in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a few hours before heating.
Before serving, cover and heat through in a 300 degree oven for a few minutes or under the broiler until hot. When ready to serve, spoon the sauce over the stuffed chiles and garnish with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.