Saturday, May 4th, 2013
The number five seems to be enjoying its day in the sun lately. In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan put forth some basic rules of eating. One memorable rule is “Avoid Food Products That Contain More Than Five Ingredients.” Soon after, clever, manipulative products and ad campaigns followed, most notably Häagen-Dazs’s Five line of ice creams featuring only five ingredients and Lays Classic Potato Chips boasting that they are made with “three simple ingredients” – neither of which are particularly healthy foods.
And in an unrelated but locally relevant example, there’s Five restaurant down the street.
Anyway, we didn’t necessarily set out to have five ingredients in Cinco de Mezcal, our special Cinco de Mayo cocktail, but that’s what we ended up with nonetheless: mezcal, lime, pineapple, chartreuse and hoja santa. The first three are no doubt familiar and require no explanation. Chartreuse is a French liqueur made by Carthusian monks since the 1740s that includes over 130 herbal extracts (there seems to be a long tradition of monks making all manner of spirits, but that’s for another time). Hoja santa is an oft-used herb in Mexico, whether for tamales, wrapping whole fish or mole verde. It is a plant with heart-shaped leaves that grow up to a foot in size and have a complex flavor, with notes of sassafras, mint and anise.
Matt Campbell’s idea for Cinco de Mezcal evolved from the Mexican flag, but we didn’t want to make a layered drink with cinnamon schnapps. The Chartreuse, lime, pineapple and hoja santa mingle to create a nice balance between earthy and fruity, and the mezcal adds some smoky intensity. The ‘flag’ on top is comprised of mint for aromatics and a pineapple chunk dipped in a salt of morita and guajillo chiles and tomato powder. As barman Matt says, “A little spice alongside a good amount of lime and mezcal is exactly what I want to beat the heat this weekend. It’s a good sweat. I’m starting to sound redundant but this drink is meant to be refreshing and quaffable-on the patio or in paradise-oh wait, it’s both.”
Hope to see you at Comal on this momentous weekend that includes both our one-year anniversary (on Saturday) and Cinco de Mayo.
Friday, May 3rd, 2013
May 4th marks the one-year anniversary of our opening night at Comal, and to mark the date, we will have a special delicacy on the menu that evening. Anyone who has wandered through the bustling markets of Oaxaca has heard the calls of the Chapulin vendors, standing behind baskets piled to the sky. Chapulines are the native grasshopper of Oaxaca. Traditionally, these grasshoppers are toasted on a comal with lime, garlic, agave worm salt, and sometimes chile.
Although eaten in other regions of Mexico, chapulines are so associated with Oaxaca that they are represented as the local professional soccer team’s mascot. They can either be popped in the mouth as a stand-alone snack like popcorn, or be found as the protein component of a taco, quesadilla or tlayuda. We will be serving them on memelas, along with black beans, asiento, and queso fresco.
Over the course of the last year, we have fielded many inquiries as to when these crunchy little critters would make an appearance on the menu. Mark your calendars, Saturday they drop like a biblical plague, shipped to us directly from Oaxaca.
We have one additional treat in store for Saturday night. We’ll be sending each dining guest home with a bonbon from our Berkeley neighbors at Casa de Chocolates, who make delicious handmade Latin American chocolates and other desserts. They offer a wide variety of bonbons – we’ve chosen Brazilian Sea Salt Caramel, Cajeta (like dulce de leche), Maracuya (passion fruit) and Tamarindo.
Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
Fresh picked corn from SoCal lands on the menu tonight as a chilled sweet corn-poblano chile soup with creme and cilantro oil.
Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
Tonight we host what we hope is the first of many pairing dinners in Abajo, our private dining room. I can think of no better winery than Wind Gap to kick things off. Pax and Pamela Mahle are good friends and make delicious wine, so when we opened Comal I reached out to them about occupying one of our tap slots, which they’ve done for the past year to rave reviews. Pax has cultivated relationships with some of the most legendary vineyards in northern California, from Paso Robles to Sonoma, many of which grow interesting, lesser-known varietals, and with these grapes he crafts distinctive wines with great finesse.
The dinner tonight has been sold out for some time, but I couldn’t resist sharing some recent rave reviews that Wind Gap received from the Wine Advocate for two of the wines Pax will be pouring tonight.
2010 Chardonnay Brosseau Vineyard, Chalone (95 Points):
…one of the great wines of the year. Crushed rocks, gun flint, graphite, lemon and green pears are all alive in the glass. The 2010 is ultimately all about energy, tension and pure minerality, qualities that aren’t often associated with California Chardonnay, but that are very much present here.
2011 Pinot Noir, Gaps Crown Vineyard, Sonoma Coast (92 Points):
Dark red cherries, flowers, mint, spices and licorice all flesh out in an expressive, generous Pinot Noir that captures the very best qualities of the year. In 2011, 75% of the wine was aged in concrete eggs, an unusual approach with Pinot that yielded stark, naked expression of fruit that is remarkable for its purity.
Congrats Pax and Pamela – should be a memorable night!
Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
We recently hosted renowned Mexican chef and cookbook author Susana Trilling for a special daytime cooking class at Comal. The class focused on Oaxaca, the region closest to Susana’s heart – she’s written two books about Oaxacan cuisine: Seasons of My Heart and My Search for the Seventh Mole.
Susana demonstrated several classic dishes, including memelas with mushroom “ceviche”, crema de chayote, barbacoa de pollo, arroz con chepil and budin de chocolate Oaxaquena. As she prepared the dishes, Susana shared numerous anecdotes and stories about Oaxacan food and culture.
After watching Susana prepare the various dishes, everyone sat down for a family style meal so that they could taste each dish. Ryan Fitzgerald from Del Maguey dropped by with a bottle of Santo Domingo Albarradas mezcal, which he shared with everyone in Del Maguey’s signature “copitas” – small clay sipping cups.
In all, an enlightening, informative and delicious way to spend a few hours! Thanks to Susana and Ryan for sharing their love of Oaxacan food and drink…
Thanks to Robert Trachtenberg and Sigrid Laing for the photos (below).
Preparing the barbacoa de pollo Warming the banana leaf
From left to right: (1) Sprinkling some queso fresco on a memela; (2) a completed memela; (3) Del Maguey Santo Domingo Albarradas served in clay “copitas” – also hibiscus agua fresca in the background.