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Food

Newsletter: This extraordinary, small-batch mole in Torrance won’t last long

The mole palenquero from Madre Restaurant.
The mole palenquero from Madre Restaurant.
(Patricia Escarcega / Los Angeles Times)

Last week, I wrote about how Los Angeles became a center for mole production.

One of the city’s biggest mole champions is Ivan Vasquez, owner of Madre! Oaxacan Restaurant, with locations in Torrance and Palms.

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Vasquez is putting his stamp on Mexico’s most revered and complex dish with a new, limited edition, small-batch mole made using Oaxacan fruits and agave that were recently used in the production of mezcal. The mole will be sold for $45 a plate starting Jan. 20 at the restaurant’s Torrance location.

A native of Oaxaca’s Valles Centrales region, Vasquez travels to his home state in southern Mexico about five times a year to cultivate relationships with mezcal makers and visit the palenques, or artisanal distilleries, whose bottles he stocks at the restaurant.

During a recent visit to the Oaxacan mining village of Santa Caterina Minas, Vasquez spent a few days with Edgar Ángeles Carreño, a fifth-generation master mezcalero at Real Minero, one of the region’s most well-regarded mezcal brands.

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Ivan Vasquez from Madre Restaurant shows off the Oaxacan chiles, nuts, spices and other ingredients used to make the small-batch mole palenquero.
(Patricia Escarcega / Los Angeles Times)

He watched Ángeles Carreño make pechuga, a traditional mezcal style that involves redistilling the finished spirit with local fruits, grains and nuts, and hanging a raw chicken or turkey breast over the open still. The chicken breast is said to counterbalance the bracing notes of fruit and spices.

Most pechugas use family recipes passed down through generations and call for local fruits. Ángeles produced a 100-liter batch of mezcal de pechuga using local oranges, plantains, apples, pineapples, plums, raisins, agave espadín and various seasonings.

Normally, the fruits are removed from the still after production is complete and enjoyed as dessert.

Recently, as he watched the smelted hunks of fruit being lifted out of the still, Vasquez got an idea: Why not use the deeply caramelized fruit to make mole?

Using a complicated supply chain involving at least three different delivery drivers, he arranged to have the pechuga fruit shipped to Torrance.

Vasquez and his lead chef, Marcelo Garcia, used the molten, mezcal-infused fruits to develop a mole made with chile ancho negro, chile cascabel and the fiery, marble-shaped chile canica.

The result is an extraordinary caramel-colored sauce with deep notes of citrus, apple and the rum-like sweetness of toasted sugar. It’s got a thick, silken texture and fruity smokiness that Vasquez says captures the scent of a working palenque.

The mole is served with either chicken or quail, along with sides of rice, corn tortillas and a soft corn tlayuda.

Vasquez believes he’s the first person in Los Angeles to make mole from fruit used in the production of mezcal.

He is calling it “mole palenquero de pechuga Real Minero,” or “mole palenquero” for short.

He only has two 32-ounce jars of the treasured Oaxacan fruit, so he expects the mole to sell out quickly. To order it, you will have to ask for it by name.

Vasquez hopes more people start making mole with pechuga fruits, potentially giving small mezcal farmers in Oaxaca an additional source of revenue.

He looked visibly thrilled as he talked about his mole palenquero.

“For me, putting mole and mezcal together is like these two deeply historic parts of Mexican culture finally getting married,” Vasquez said.

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Ask the Critics

I want to take my husband out for a steak dinner on his birthday. We prefer non-chain restaurants and will drive almost anywhere. Can you give me recommendations?

— Dolores P.

You are definitely in the right place: Los Angeles is the land of prime cuts.

Taylor’s Steakhouse in Koreatown (a newer location is in La Cañada) has good cocktails, a great French onion soup and an excellent culotte steak.

For expensive, flavorful beef prepared with exacting proficiency, there’s Cut, Wolfgang Puck’s modern steakhouse on the ground floor of the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel. The star of the menu is the lavishly marbled, Japanese pure-breed Wagyu beef imported from Miyazaki Prefecture.

I would take him to the retro-swanky The Arthur J in Manhattan Beach, which is on our list of the 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. My fellow critic Bill Addison’s go-to order is the dry-aged, bone-in Kansas City strip steak, which easily feeds two.

Have a question for the critics?

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Tortillera Julia Silva prepares fresh tortillas while working in El Ruso taqueria in Boyle Heights.
(Silvia Razgova/For The Times)

Bill Addison writes about the excellent Sonoran-style taco stand El Ruso in Boyle Heights.

— I reviewed Bebot Filipino Soul Food in Long Beach (try the Bibingka brûlée).

— Contributor Michael Snyder visits Mexico City’s Expendio de Maíz, a restaurant with a “puritanical zeal” for regional ingredients and rural traditions.

— In this special bonus episode of “Off Menu,” Food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson heads to Mexico City to sample some of the city’s best food.


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Eat your way across L.A.

Get our weekly Tasting Notes newsletter for reviews, news and more from critics Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega.

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