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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Holy Mole

By B.A. Nilsson

 

El Mexicano

208 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 226-0105, elmexicanorestaurant.com. Serving lunch 11-3 daily, dinner 3-10 daily. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Mexican-American

Entrée price range: $11 (tacos platter) to $20.50 (Mexican-style shrimp)

Ambiance: colorful

I’m wary of noting trends inarea eateries, but can’t help but note that this is Saratoga’s fifth Mexican restaurant. The city’s Hispanic population swells during track season, but these restaurants are year-round operations. So I draw no conclusions, but hope that this south-of-the-border-inspired efflorescence keeps the standards high for all concerned.

There’s certainly little to complain about based on my recent visit to El Mexicano, which occupies the former South Broadway home of Chianti (and a fast-food joint before that). Brighter and more spacious than its predecessor, El Mexicano is the second so-named place opened and operated by the Vazquez family, who hail from the mid-Mexican town of San Pedro Ocotlán.

After working for many years near New York City, they opened their own restaurant in Hudson Falls, adding the Saratoga location about a year ago. Gabino Vazquez, one of the owners, is also responsible for the colorful wall murals throughout the restaurant, illustrating scenes from his native country’s history.

There are dining areas indoors and out, but we chose the former in pursuit of cooler air. We were served the requisite chips and salsa as we looked over the dinner menu, which has as its most familiar grouping a series of seven combination platters ($14-$15) that give you a taco, chimichanga and burrito or a taco, enchilada and tamale or a taco, burrito and enchilada or . . . you get the picture. Each comes with rice and beans.

The magic word that caught my eye was mole. That’s a thick, dark sauce made from ground peppers and seeds and finished with unsweetened chocolate, a labor-intensive item that appears all too rarely on area Mexican menus. Enchiladas mole poblano ($15) are chicken-filled corn tortillas topped with the sauce in question, and it proved to be that elusive ménage à trois of bitter and sweet and rich. It’s presented nicely, if predictably, on a plate with its expected companions: soupy beans and tomato-hued rice. The menu promises that nothing is spicy unless so requested, and so I requested it. And, of course, I have nothing to compare it to, but it was still not terribly adventurous.

But when I initially mentioned my desire for more heat, a server brought me a pair of little bottles, each a habanero pepper-based salsa. For good measure, they threw in a dish of chopped jalapeños.

The starters include the usual fare of nachos, quesadillas (three) and guacamole ($8 apiece), with less-common stuff like shrimp ceviche (a for-two portion, $10.50), chilaquiles (fried tortilla strips covered with your choice of toppings, $10), and the one I selected, queso derretido con chorizo ($8), a dish of melted Oaxacan cheese with sausage swimming therein and a side of soft tortillas with which to navigate the stuff. It was fondue-like in its intensity, and I sampled it over the ray-gun glare of my daughter, who now studies the fat and carbohydrate contents of everything she eats and has decided to extend this study Dadward.

Three soups include black bean, chicken and meatball ($6 apiece). The non-combo platters explore different ingredients. You can get chicken or pork in the preparation of your choice, for instance, and several preparations of shrimp.

If you want to leave the taco-burrito-enchilada world behind, a couple of dozen dinner specials await, all priced in the $20 range, featuring preparations of beef, shrimp, chicken and pork. Sarape is described as a shell steak sautéed in garlic and topped with refried beans; the fiesta de camarones gives you shrimp in three styles (grilled, breaded, served in a white sauce); nino envueltos stuffs steak with cheese and bacon and won’t be on my daughter’s diet anytime soon. She had the pollo poblano, which stuffs sautéed chicken into a couple of big sweet poblano peppers and tops them with tomato sauce and cheese, rice and beans on either side. She marshaled her portion and suggested I do the same with mine.

Service was very attentive. A succession of waiters strolled the length of the room, always checking tables, which is a rarity among area restaurants. And there were some nice touches offered, like the complimentary appetizer of a small cheese quesadilla and the surprise dessert (we otherwise wouldn’t have ordered any) of a sweet chimichanga that I munched under the glower of the across-the-table Argus.

Each of the area’s Mexican restaurants has a different-enough menu and personality to satisfy your various shades of Mexican-meal craving. El Mexicano is low-key and low-priced, and serves high-quality food within its well-defined range, thus serving a useful purpose in Saratoga’s downtown.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s 11th annual fundraising event, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” will take place from 5:30 to 8 today (Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). The “more” part of the proceedings includes a cornucopia of food, including a carving station with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station, an hors d’oeuvres display and, if you don’t want to fetch your food, circulating trays with even more hors d’oeuvres, including sesame chicken, a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington, spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends. The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are $50 per person or $100 for honorary committee status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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