Dining Review: Mole that will change your life

I love it when readers send restaurant suggestions. A few months ago Joe Ramirez, a man who claims to be picky about Mexican cuisine, told me about Rocio's Mole de los Dioses in Sun Valley. It took me a while to make the trek over La Tuna Canyon pass but now that I have, I think it's fair to say my life is permanently changed.

Nothing to look at from the outside, Rocio's is set in the proverbial mini-mall. Inside, it's charming. Punched-tin lamp shades and Zapotec artwork create instant ambience. The moment we walked in the door we were greeted warmly, escorted right to our table, and given menus. It made me realize how unusual it is to get such good service. The menu is well organized, yet the number of unfamiliar dishes made our heads spin. Our waitress patiently guided us around. We settled on the five-mole sampler as an appetizer ($9), requesting Chef Rocio Camacho's advice on which five (of 12) to choose.

Before they arrived, complementary mini-tureens of shrimp broth arrived for everyone in our party. Spicy and aromatic with tiny bits of onion and chili, there was just enough to stimulate the palate and stomach. The beautiful moles arrived next served with warm nopaltillas, bright green tortillas made from cactus. Each bowl had a doily under it with the name of the mole: pipian, poblano, oaxaqueno, dioses and sikil-pak. Spooning a little onto a corner of tortilla, we marveled at the unique flavors.

Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold declared the 31-ingredient Oaxaqueno mole "Best in L.A." and it is indeed mind-boggling, complex yet harmonious, with an overriding flavor of raisins. However, each of us claimed different ones as our favorites. The poblano was like liquid chocolate with sesame seeds. The numerous peppers and pumpkin seeds of the pipian rojo tasted slightly sweet. The house specialty, mole de los dioses ("mole of the gods," if you haven't already figured that out), is like a perfect cocktail, its parts unknowable but its flavor divine. The sikil-pak is actually a salsa, not a mole. The habanero may be too much for some but we found the overall coolness refreshing. I could go on all day describing flavors but it's best just to come and experience them.

If you still want more mole, which I did, you first choose your meat, then your sauce. A filet of beef, veal, pork, fish, chicken or Portobello sits artfully atop a mound of garlicky rice and julienned vegetables ($15-$19). Mine, for instance, was a pounded round of chicken breast smothered in mole verde, a bright green sauce of serranos with crunchy pepitas throughout. More tortillas fill out the meal, these ones different, dense like an artisan whole-grain bread.

Rocio's doesn't stop at mole. There are scores of Oaxacan specialties, each as delicious as the last. Enfrijoladas oaxaquenas ($13.99) delivers a punch of cotija cheese with every bite of enchilada, black sauce and steak. The shrimps in the diosa jaguar ($16.99) are huge and juicy, with a heavenly barbecue scent and a delicate garlic sauce. Every plate at our table was licked clean. My son said the quality was an 11, the quantity a 6. The rest of us were stuffed.

Table service continued to be excellent throughout the meal. Draft Dos XX was an unexpected perk and a perfect accompaniment. All in all, it was a memorable experience and one I'll be repeating soon.

What: Rocio's Mole de los Dioses

Where: 8255 Sunland Blvd., Sun Valley

When: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

More info: (818) 252-6415, moleofthegods.com


LISA DUPUY welcomes comments at ldupuy@aol.com.

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