Monday, June 29, 2009
Authentic Mexican in Portland
It's probably no secret to anyone who reads this blog, but I love Mexican food. And I'm not talking about burritos or chimichangas or anything piled with yellow cheese or sour cream.
I've waxed poetic (apologies to any poets out there) about Cafe Azul before, Claire Archibald's much-missed Mexican restaurant where nary a "burrito-sized" flour tortilla could be found and the only yellow on the plate came from stuffed squash blossoms, where there were richly flavored chile sauces that had simmered for hours if not days and authentic preparations were de rigeur.
And though there are other spots in town presenting Mexican food "inspired by" the cuisine of that country, much to my dismay no one has stepped into Ms. Archibald's admittedly hard-to-fill dancing shoes. So when I heard that Autentica, chef Oswaldo Bibiano's paean to his beloved Guerrero, was once again open for lunch and that it featured Mexican street food, I had to run over to give it a try.
Guerrero stretches along the Pacific Coast of Mexico from Michoacán on the west to Oaxaca on the east, and includes Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and the silver capital of Mexico, Taxco, within its borders. With its coastal location, I was hoping for seafood to predominate but, sadly, fish only appears once on the printed lunch menu in a fish taco, albeit a mighty tasty one. There are several fish items on the dinner menu, so you can be sure we'll go back and check them out.
The good news for lovers of this cuisine is that all of the ingredients are authentic, including the corn tortillas hand-rolled and pressed by the beautifully mature hands of a woman I was too shy to photograph. The smell of those warm, fresh tortillas rising from the cloth-covered basket that arrives on the table is swoon-inducing, especially when accompanied by Bibiano's trio of salsas: red chile, tomatillo and avocado.
My friend Jennifer and I started with the creamy horchata (above left), one of the best I've had in Portland, a silky cold drink made from rice, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla that you would swear was made with milk. The guacamole (right) was a simple, fresh bowlful that needed no dressing up except for maybe a dunk in one of those salsas.
The quesadilla con nopalitos (top photo), a house-made corn masa quesadilla stuffed with strips of roasted cactus, oaxacan cheese and onions was infused with epazote, the smoky-tasting green herb often found in regional preparations, especially black beans. The tortilla was stuffed with the aforementioned ingredients and then topped with roasted chunks of tomatoes with the traditional cabbage salad alongside. Nothing like the flat, lifeless and cheesy versions found at most places in town.
The fish tacos came piled with chile-rubbed grilled fish and covered with cabbage salad, and a squeeze of the lime wedge that came with it was like a flashback to the beaches of Mexico, the soft breeze blowing off the ocean and the fronds of a palapa waving overhead.
Completely stuffed, we had to stop there, but it's certainly not going to keep me from making Autentica a regular on my lunch circuit. And I definitely want to get in for dinner soon to see what seafood Oswaldo has cooking on his grill.
Details: Autentica, 5507 NE 30th, just north of Killingsworth. Phone 503-287-7555.