Sunday, January 22, 2006

waiting for mole

The Red Iguana is a Salt Lake culinary institution. It's on the city's westside, near the state fair park, in a neighborhood where the other dining choices are Denny's and the like. By appearances, you wouldn't expect much from the place. It's tiny with garishly painted walls and ski and snowboard stickers covering the front door (inside and out). But you probably also see a perpetual line outside the door. Because to get the Iguana's famous mole, you have to wait--as my 5-yr-old niece says, a long, long day. The place is always packed and there is no place to wait inside (except for a tiny strip of walkway by the windows). Despite the crowds, the restaurant never expands, which adds to its considerable charm.

Last night, my sister and I trekked to Red Iguana and were met with a 50 minute wait. Anywhere else and the 50 minutes would have convinced us to pick a different restaurant, but mole can make a compelling argument. We waited 20 minutes in the car and then decided to brave the cold wait. Luckily, the owners have tried to make the wait a bit more tolerable by mounting heating panels on the overhang. These end up making your head very hot while the rest of you stays somewhat cold, but it's better than what you'd face without them. After 20 minutes in the line, the host came out with our clipboard and called our name and several others, so we started to follow him inside. "Oh no," he said. "Your table isn't ready. I was just checking." Apparently the cold and the wait generates a few dining casualities. Another 15 minutes, and he comes out again and calls my name with more affirmation. Finally! But no, he just wants to know if we'd like to wait inside. We have waited long enough that we now get a piece of the tiny strip beside the window. Only another 10 minutes and we're finally at our table.

Ah, mole. The wait was absolutely worthwhile. Shari had enchiladas suiza which is sour cream chicken enchiladas in mole poblano. I had mole negro, which in its most basic reduction is made with peanuts, walnuts, almonds, chile mulatto, and fennel. Most moles have more than 20 ingredients, so I can hardly tell you everything (even if I knew!). The fennel was sublime. It made the mole wonderfully aromatic, but it didn't overwhelm the flavor. And the mole is pretty--dark sauce contrasted with the pale chicken and sprinkled sesame seeds. I would show you a picture, but I had mole on my mind and not blogging. I was searching for mole negro recipes today, but I couldn't find anything with fennel, which surprises me because it seemed the most interesting element. Not that I'm going to make it anyway.

8 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

Reminds me of Big City Burrito in Fort Collins....

I have never enjoyed mole, although intellectually I like the idea of it. Your post may just push me to try it again!

7:53 PM  
Blogger Lisa B. said...

fennel seeds? or bulb fennel?

11:29 AM  
Blogger lis said...

I know I already told you this, lisa, but just in case anyone else is wondering: fennel seeds.

6:43 AM  
Blogger tara said...

Melissa, you should try the salsa recipe that was in CHOW a couple issues back. It has pumpkin seeds in it, which give it a slightly mole-like quality. We are hooked on it here at Chez Tara & Mark. Mark likes to take it in to work and make his coworkers guess the "secret ingredient."

(Just be warned that when the recipe tells you to add a full tablespoon of salt, they are on crack. Don't do it!)

11:34 AM  
Anonymous andrew said...

I agree that the red iguana is one of the best restaraunts hidden in the odd theocratic hamlet of Salt Lake City, and certainly worth the wait, even in the cold..

I really don't even like mexican food that much, but this place is so good, it transcends its genre, and everything I have ever had is insanely good, I am particularly fond of the tacos don ramon and the huevos rancheros...

my wife is the true mole-ologist, and is working her way through all 6+ different kinds, if you say to them that you are a first timer, they sometime will bring you a mole sampler plate with chips, so you can try everything...

red iguana is a cosimically different place than big city burrito, although they both hold first place awards in their respective categories, the only thing that is the same is the wait, and the food coma satiation afterwards...

(what are the chances that a random reader has eaten at both places! I have!!)

10:41 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hello random reader who has visited Fort Fun!

Speaking of CHOW, I just got an email they sent to subscribers, saying they're going on hiatus for another six months. :(

7:23 PM  
Anonymous andrew said...

I actually am not truly and purely "internet random" I actually know tara from the real world, and she pointed me to this blog O foody goodness....

6:42 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

There's a real world?

12:43 PM  

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