Last night my girlfriend and I made carnitas tacos. She's made them before, with a slow cooker recipe, and they're one of our favorites, with tomato, red onion, cilantro and a big squeeze of fresh lime. This time I Iearned how and had some ideas for revisions. I had my reasons. I'd been inspired.
We've visited one of Carmel's newer restaurants a few times lately. And had the same thing twice. And I wanted to try making my own. Cultura is an Oaxacan-inspired restaurant in the former Jack London's space in Su Vecino Court on Dolores. Although it still retains some vestiges of its former existence, the stained glass ceiling in the bar, for instance, the new owners have made plenty of decorating changes to give it a more south of the border vibe. With its dark wood and subdued colors, it has a dusky, intimate character.
After having visited on a Sunday afternoon to take a look and see the new bar and try some mezcal and more traditional margaritas, we put it on our list to come back for a real meal. So one recent rainy Saturday night we decided to stop in for a "light" dinner. We wanted to share, and the Cultura Mole, smoked pork with sesame and orange, advertised as a specialty, sounded like a great choice. I ordered a side of cilantro rice. We opted for their Little Margaret, a tequila version margarita, having decided on our previous visit that we weren't really fans of mezcal.
For starters I ordered chips with all three of the salsas. The chips are giant and colorful and homemade. Each of the salsas is unique and obviously fresh. The charred jalapeño salsa was rich and earthy. Margaritas were small but tasty and bright. The mole arrived in a small enameled pot with tortillas and a small side of marinated coleslaw with carrot, cabbage and cauliflower, all presented on a wooden plank. Rustic and elegant. The pork mole was smoky, chocolatey and rich with citrus overtones. Wrapped in the tortilla with the cilantro rice, a bite of the coleslaw and the jalapeño salsa, this was the ultimate in sensual comfort food. I think my girlfriend moaned.
With the last bit of mole licked out of our little pot, which held surprisingly more than I would have guessed, we declined dessert. The check was presented in a bowl that I think was a dried gourd, an original touch. And the complimentary hot chocolate... wow. Stepping back out into the rain, we remained deliciously happy and toasty on the inside.
So, I told you we came back and had the same meal. Exactly. And it was just as good. Next time I'll try some of the other wonderful-looking choices on their menu, maybe the Squash Blossom Quesadilla and the Monterey Red Abalone. But this particular meal was so memorable, I wanted to try to replicate it at home. Although our carnitas were good, I have a looong way to go on my mole recipe. I think I'll just let Cultura do the cooking.
Cultura advertises themselves as an "upscale bistro for adventurous snacks & shareable Mexican mains served in elegant environs." They are in the Su Vecino Court on Dolores between 5th and 6th in Carmel. You can visit their website at culturacarmel.com.