To be honest I was super excited to do this challenge. I lived in San Diego before heading out east. It was at this point in my life when I decided that tacos should be the staple of my diet. Whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner, I am a sucker for a fresh, homemade tortilla piled high with cilantro, fresh slaw, pico de gallo and some warm, golden brown beer battered fish. So naturally I was excited for this week’s taco challenge and food review of Espita Mezcaleria and Tacos Recipes and Provocations by chef Alex Stupak.
We started the challenge by heading over to Espita Mezcaleria. Located in Shaw, this brand new bustling restaurant serves a breathtaking (and quite overwhelming) number of mezcal. They even have a mezcal genius, Josh Phillips who proves that mezcal can be versatile and more than just “smoky”. The restaurant itself has multiple murals that were painted by Mexican street artist Yescka and the overall vibe of the restaurant could be only best described as “casual cool”
Not one to shy away from house specials. We immediately ordered a flight of mezcal. This happens to be a great option for those new to the plant based alcoholic beverage. The drink menu can be overwhelming due to the extensive list of mezcal. Don’t shy away from asking for suggestions and tips since mezcal isnt for the light hearted. After one sip the table let out a collective “woah”. That was one way to get our evening going that’s for sure. The flight came with sal de gusano and orange slices to balance the mezcal (think salt and lime to curb tequila). However, unlike tequila I would recommend to sip and not shoot if you want to leave dinner in one piece.
Next came our tacos – the menu is quite diverse, offering different moles, sopas, ensaladas,and ceviches. The food came from the kitchen promptly, each dish more eye catching than the last. The grilled tilapia was light and fresh. Drizzled in a bright, tangy chipotle mayo, the grilled tilapia was balanced perfectly with slaw, carrots, and my favorite: cilantro. Our second plate of tacos were skirt steaks. The steaks were perfectly cooked and drenched in a sweet and spicy salsa that delivered a sharp punch to my taste buds.
The last plate to come was our main dish. The reason we were here: Smoked pork jowl tacos. Pork jowl comes from pork cheeks which have been cured and smoked resulting in one knock out taco. From the first immediate bite you’re hit with smoky and tangy taste. The pork just melts in your mouth. The mustard oil mayo added a nice sweet balance. It was a strong contender for this weeks challenge.
Tacos: Recipes and Provocations is a beautiful memoir of Chef Alex Stupak’s journey as he divulges into Mexican cuisine. Growing up in suburban Massachusetts, Chef Stupak’s love affair emerged from a background that did not involve tomatillos, chicaharrones, and chiles. The world renowned chef first discovered Mexican cuisine while exploring the streets of Chicago (as a former chicagoan, I can attest to the amazing choices of Mexican food).
I could not have been any more excited to try this week’s recipe. Who doesn’t love tacos? Who doesn’t love bacon? The Salsa Negra was intimidating. The smell of morita chilles filling the kitchen, blended with roasted garlic and I could already feel my stomach rumbling. The slab bacon tacos took quite awhile to make. Total cook time hit well over three hours for me. Granted, the majority of the time was idle (e.x roasting a bacon for well over an hour). But it is quite a tease with such delicious smells wafting out of the kitchen. Once the bacon was ready and my salsa was cooling, we turned our attention to tortillas. This was by far the hardest part of the challenge. Granted, this was quite the oversight on my part. I didn’t think that making the tortillas would be difficult, and for the most part they aren’t. It was getting the tortilla on the pan in one piece that proved to be challenging time and time again. After several failed attempts we finally had enough tortillas to assemble dinner. The rest of the taco came together easily and beautifully. The end result was nothing short of show stopping. The smoky flavors of the salsa blended so beautifully with the bacon and to top it off, the warm tortilla added a sense of comfort with my dish. I was amazed at the mouth watering blend of flavors came from my cooking (of course with the help of Chef Stupak).
One disclaimer I should add to this review of Bacon Slab tacos is that the Salsa Negra is HOT. I’m a huge fan of spicy food but it should be noted that some people may find the dish inedible because of the heat. Granted, the cookbook does mention only a thin layer of salsa needs to be added to the tortilla but even what I thought was a thin layer was uncomfortably hot for everyone at dinner. Also, for those not familiar with cooking Mexican food, more photos with the recipes would help. There were some moments when I had to guess if I was on the right track with the recipe.
To Cook or Book?
I can’t say this wasn’t one of my favorite challenges thus far. If I had to choose my top 5 dishes, tacos would definitely be on it. Espita Mezcaleria’s tacos were delicious, perfectly proportioned and left me feeling satisfied. Chef Stupak’s taco’s were incredible (once I figured out how much salsa to add) and I was very impressed such complex flavors could develop from someone like me. I had such a hard time choosing. I don’t think you could go wrong with either one. I must say that this week I would have to cook and book it.
Do you have any to cook or book experiences? Or do you have any challenges that you would like to see us try? Leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you!
Tacos: Recipes and Provocations
Author: Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman
Hardcover: 240 pages