Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cafe Ena's chicken mole yields subtle flavors

My heart sunk when Indio closed. I had enjoyed two nice meals at the Lake Street locale of Restaurateur Hector Ruiz, and although the service started a bit rough (pretty standard) it improved quickly, and the food was always imaginative and flavorful. I saw it coming (2 weeks before it closed it was near empty as I scurried in to Tum Rup Thai to pick up take-out), but it still hurt to see another good place crumble. Thankfully Ruiz and his team are still at the helm of their original outpost, El Meson, and the still-young Cafe Ena.

My first impression of Cafe Ena was that the space had a pulse and was well-managed. The service was brisk and friendly, with customers receiving just the right amount of attention (IMO). The decor wasn't as loud as you would expect from a Latin Fusion shop, offering an environment that was comfortable to sit in over the course of a long, leisurely meal, yet festive enough to stimulate your senses.

Now, there were a couple of elements that seemed to have carried over from Indio. I'm not sure if Ruiz is enamored with stuff or not, but just like at Indio there was a huge rosé push in their wine arsenal. Maybe they just had a load of leftover inventory from Indio, but if I were a betting man, I would not bet on the Twin Cities as a huge market for rosé. The other carry over would be the almost standard pickled onions - more on that below.

An unassuming bread basket was dropped off shortly after our beverages arrived and we dug in as we reviewed the inviting and vibrant dinner menu. Soon, we had lost interest in the menu and we fighting with our knives to get into the small ramekin of honey-chipotle butter that accompanied the bread. It was a nice twist to what is typically the most boring part of the meal. Jess and I decided to order the same thing (never happens) opting for a cup of black bean soup for a starter followed by a chicken mole with beans and parsley rice.

The soup was pretty typical yet satisfying for a cool June night out on the patio. It was both light and smooth for a bean soup but not exactly outstanding. The thick soup was topped with a little pico de gallo and crema to add a little heat, texture and a smooth finish. It was the kind of dish that you eat, analyze and then torment yourself with how you could do improve upon it at home (I've got a few ideas!).

Then the mole arrived. The reason we loved Indio and the reason we were looking so forward to dining at Cafe Ena was because of the big, bold Mexican and Latin inspired flavors. Mole is a generic name for a traditional Latin sauce that I typically associated with loud and intense ingredients. However, this version was surprisingly subtle. The sauce was smooth with just a bit of grit that actually contributed a nice bit of texture against the big, juicy and nicely grilled chicken breast. I was expecting the dish to be a bit more compelling in all honesty, but it was still far from bland. The mole had a number of elements pulling in different directions, but nothing really rose to the top to make it exceptional. I will note that the pickled onions (which I didn't have in the first few bites) did manage to tie the flavors together a bit better. The tang supplied by the thin pink strips seemed to bring something special out of the sauce much like some cheesy scenario in a brutal Ben Affleck flick where the characters realize (I've heard) they work better together then apart. Regardless, I thought the mole would have brought a bit more to the table. The parsley rice was pretty dull, and the beans were disappointing - the colors and textures were exciting, but much like the mole without the pickled onions, it felt a little flat.

I'll go back to Cafe Ena as it's a nice little neighborhood retreat with some menu highlights and a lot of potential. Although I wouldn't order the mole again I would definitely try out some of the other dishes and will be back to try their jerk chicken sandwich sometime in the near future (I'm a complete sucker for Jerk Chicken - if anyone has any area recommendations, please pass along). I encourage you to check Cafe Ena out for yourself, I think you'll find something you'll like and if nothing else a cool glass of sangria is the perfect way to cool down as we start to heat up for the summer.

Happy Eating,


1 comment:

kat said...

I think mole is so tricky & everyone has their own version. Love that they served pickled onions with it, we've been doing that too

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