Monday, August 23, 2010

A Feast of Pre-Hispanic Mexico at La Huasteca

Apparently it has been a long time dream of Chef Rocio Camacho to bring to life alta cocina, fine Pre-Hispanic Mexican cuisine to Los Angeles, and her current position at La Huasteca has allowed her to do just that.

Recently she and her team at La Huasteca invited a few people (or rather, asked The Glutster to invite a few people) to taste her new pre-hispanic menu. Keep in mind, this tasting was not just for marketing, but also for her to receive feedback about her new menu. We suggested some things she could improve on and most likely by now these dishes would be even better (I won't be going through all of them here, but most).

This was my first time at Plaza Mexico in Lynwood and I must admit I was very impressed. It felt as if I was really in an old plaza in Mexico. This old style building even had two caged parrots up on those balconies!

The interior of La Huasteca did not disappoint.

There was even a mariachi band making its round in the restaurant towards the middle of the night.

There were three aguas frescas already waiting for us on our table: nopal con pina "Xochilt" (cactus, pineapple), Agua Preciosa "Atlaquetzalli" (honey, unsweetened cacao, aciote), Jamaica con Fresa "Chabela" (hibiscus, strawberries).
The jamaica con fresa is the one most familiar to the tongue and most drinkable, but the nopal con pina was probably my favorite. It's refreshing with a bit of a grassy note, bitterness and spice from the nopal/cactus. The agua preciosa reminds me of a cross between Milo and a horchata.

We were served two different salsas with our tortilla chips:
Salsa Maya (pina, cilantro, jalapeno, serrano, tomato)
This was a good combination of flavors and a nice balance between spiciness and tartness.

Salsa Especial "Molcajete" (tomatillo, cilantro, jalapeno)
The molcajete refers to the stone mortar that it is served in. This smoky salsa had a full bodied mouthfeel.

Empanada de Flor de Calabaza (squashblossom)
Chef Camacho has a way with her masa (corn flour) and I don't know what it is but the texture of her empanada was simply amazing. It has a crispy coating yet still manages to be moist and fluffy, definitely more so than others I've had before.

Tamalito Michoacana "Corunda" (sweet corn tamal)
Sweet corn tamal filled with spicy cotija cheese. It was firm, moist (a little oily even).

Aguacate relleno de ceviche "Estilo Huasteca" (shrimp and fish ceviche, lime, jalapeno, cilantro)
A ceviche mixto with shrimp, fish, dressed simply with lime, jalapeno, and cilantro. The creaminess of the avocado really cuts the acidity of the ceviche wonderfully.

Our three appetizers were followed by three soups:
Puchero Vaquero (sweet potato, tomato, chaya - Yucatan greens, carne seca)
This was apparently a traditional Zacatecan stew.

Huatape de Camaron (shrimp, tomatillo, serrano)
The broth was thickened with masa and gave it a chowder-like consistency, though the mouthfeel reminded me more of yucca cream. The shrimp are a little overcooked but the flavors were otherwise amazing.

Caldo de Piedra (made with hot rock. Shrimp, vegetable, scallop, octopus)
Deep, complex flavor and aftertaste. Everything from octopus to carrots were cooked until very tender.

Ensalada de Nopales con Chapulines y Tuna Vinagreta (cactus salad with grasshoppers and cactus fruit vinaigrette)
The cactus has a nice pickled flavor and the grasshoppers/chapulines added a great smokiness and spiciness.

"Tikin-Xik" Pescado estilo Yucateco
"Basa" (Vietnamese fish) cooked in banana leaf. The sauce was made with habanero and achiote. A nice balance of tart, spice, sweet, and smoke. Very good.

Camarones Isla Mujeres (shrimp, mashed beets and potatoes, plantain, sesame seeds)
The shrimp in this dish was cooked perfectly. I found the shrimp better with just the plantain as the beet/potato mash tobe a little dry and worked with the sauce but not the shrimp.

Camarones al Café (sauteed shrimp served with coffee mole)
It probably would've been better on a different protein but the coffee mole is a great sauce: rich and complex with a slight bitterness but enough sweetness.

Barbacoa "Platillo del Jefe" (lamb braised in mezcal, served in an amazing gordita)
The lamb has been marinated in mezcal, cooked in its juice, and served in another of Chef Camacho's amazing, fluffy masa - this time a gordita.. Served with a side of consomme with garbanzo beans

Frida Kahlo (chicken, pumpkin seed pipian mole, peanut pipian mole)
Pipian is a type of mole which has some sort of nut/seed as its main ingredient and usually served over chicken, as is the case here. The two sauces here serve as a good representation of pipian (be warned, the green pipian has more heat).

"Poc-Chuc" Filete de Puerco estilo Yucateco (pork, bean, grilled onions)
Despite looking like a jerky, the pork was quite tender and the glaze has a great smokiness, reminiscent of chorizo.

Mole de Los Dioses (Portobello mushroom, huitlacoche mole)
This, my friends, was a huitlacoche (corn fungus) mole. I loved the deep earthy flavor of the mole, though I would've preferred it on some type of protein instead of the mushroom (it is actually served with filet mignon on the regular menu, so worry not!)

Desserts here deserve a try as well.
Beso de Angel ("Angel's kiss". Pecan, coconut, almond, cherry, vanilla)
A simple looking dessert that actually contained quite the list of ingredients. Fragrant, sweet, refreshing.

Guayabas con Rompope
I do believe this was everyone's favorite dessert and deservedly so.
These sweet, tender and juicy guavas are soaked in the rich creaminess of eggnog. Amazing.

Crepas de La Casa and Platanos al Tequila.
They had crepes in pre-hispanic Mexico? Who knew? OK, I don't really know if they did or not but either way the crepe was a nice, lighter dessert filled with fresh, sweet blueberries. I found the plantains a little dry (but perhaps only because I am used to bananas as desserts).

This was my first time both dining at La Huasteca and trying Chef Camacho's creations (other than at fundraising tasting events). I have to say I was quite impressed. This type of fine Pre-hispanic cooking is still a rare find in Los Angeles and Chef Camacho has done a great job bringing this exciting cuisine to life here. While the proteins are occasionally overcooked, there's no doubt that Chef Camacho has mastered her sauces.

Chef Rocio Camacho

La Huasteca

3150 E Imperial Hwy
Lynwood, CA 90262
(310) 537-8800
La Huasteca on Urbanspoon
La Huasteca in Los Angeles on Fooddigger



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