Mexican food was always one of my first favorite cuisines, because my family ordered it all the time. It was a weekend staple and I remember loving to go to our family’s favorite place and gorge myself on the bowls of salsa and trays of chips because it was one of the few times I was allowed to eat as much of something as I wanted, even if it spoiled my dinner. Or my dad coming home from work with Mexican take-out that my sisters and I would pair with lemonade poured into fancy goblets, then when we were older with super sweet sangria and when we were older still, with my mother’s enormous and dangerously boozy margaritas, always made with fresh squeezed lime juice and Grand Marnier.
Mexican food is my mother’s favorite and she is a woman who knows how to properly enjoy a meal. No matter what she’s eating, be it a handful of trail mix or specialty chocolates, she stops what she’s doing, sits down and truly savors every bite. If it’s really good she might close her eyes and throw back her head. So even take-out obtained because she didn’t want to cook on a Friday night was an event. The table was set, homemade guacamole was prepared and food was taken out of foil containers and put on real plates. This is a lesson that has stayed with me over the years.
I don’t always give my meals the same intense attention my mother did; I’m guilty of eating in front of the TV often, and sometimes hunger wins out over ritual and I greedily scoop food into my mouth directly from the take-out containers in a mild panic. But for the most part, especially for a dinner eaten on a Friday — always take-out night when I was growing up — I follow her example. I put everything on plates. I discard the plastic silverware and use the real thing. I stuff the paper napkins into my purse and pull cloth ones out of a drawer. And also like my mother, I could order Mexican food every week for the rest of my life and it would still make me close my eyes and throw back my head.
On a recent Friday night, we settled on Sobremesa Cuisine Y Cantina (555 Hwy 965 Suite E, North Liberty). Mike ordered a steak torta, I ordered a dish called Enchiladas Tres Amigos that consisted of three chicken enchiladas, each with a different sauce, and we got four chicken flautas to split between ourselves. As usual, our order arrived in less than an hour, delivered directly to our door by a driver who miraculously found our apartment in our labyrinthine complex without having to call us for help.
Usually I like to split things with Mike so I get a little bit of everything, but I’m territorial about Mexican food, I want all of mine and none of yours, thank you. So all I can report about the torta is that it was enormous and Mike looked really happy while eating it. The flautas, made of shredded chicken wrapped in corn tortillas and then fried and drenched in queso, were compulsively munchable, as any dish that is fried and covered with cheese must be. But the enchiladas were the main event.
Like my Indian order, my pizza order and my bar food favorites, I have had the same Mexican order for so long I can’t remember when the decision was first made. It is always chicken enchiladas with the only variation being what sauce they’re smothered in. This dish had three enchiladas with three different house made sauces: a red sauce, a green sauce and mole. They were all delicious. The red sauce was a classic enchilada sauce, rich and barely spicy, the green sauce was brighter, more acidic and a bit hotter, and the mole sauce was my favorite.
I was introduced to the idea of mole by a movie in my early teens (try as I might, I can’t remember which one) and was intrigued by the inclusion of chocolate in a savory dish. The fascination has persisted and over the years, I’ve ordered mole whenever it’s been available, with very mixed results. I’ve had moles that just tasted like unsweetened cocoa and I’ve had moles that were so sweet that they could have been poured over ice cream. This one was balanced, sweet, but anchored by the rich bitterness of the chocolate and smoky notes — chipotle maybe? — that kept it from veering into dessert territory and it had a texture like liquid velvet. I would eat that sauce on any and everything. The enchiladas came accompanied by rice and silky refried beans, large slices of red onion and an avocado that was at the perfect stage of ripeness.
This order of course came with the ubiquitous chips and salsa but I was too focused on the enchiladas to get to them that night. So I enjoyed them the next day with a leftover flauta — on real dishes, at the table with a boozy rum drink in a pretty glass. Just like Mom would do.
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