Puesto’s mole and mezcal dinner a journey to Oaxaca


With its heralded cheese, chiles, heritage corn, chocolate, mezcal, coffee and countless variations of mole, Oaxaca is considered Mexico’s culinary capital.

And as regional Mexican cuisine has grown in stature around the globe in recent years, countless chefs and tourists have flocked to this southern city to discover what Travel + Leisure in 2017 called “Mexico’s Hottest New Food Destination.”

Now, for one night only — May 2 — discovering it for yourself will cost you just $30.

Puesto La Jolla will hold a four-course Mole & Mezcal dinner that highlights not only Oaxaca’s prized ingredients and traditional recipes but two of its chefs as well.

Joining Puesto’s executive chef Luisteen Gonzalez, executive creative chef Katy Smith and executive pastry chef Erik Aronow for the dinner will be noted Oaxacan restaurant chefs Olga Cabrera and Aurora Toledo.

“Oaxacan cooking is one of our main cuisines from history. It’s very traditional Mexican cuisine. ... It’s a tradition from family, ancestors. There’s a lot of culture there,” Gonzalez said, adding that food in both the city and state of Oaxaca is still very much “handmade, totally from scratch.”

He said the visiting chefs, whom he met while making multiple trips to Oaxaca with Smith and Aronow, represent the enduring culinary history there, though they have distinct approaches to cooking because they they come from different parts of the state (inland Zapotec and coastal Istmo).

“Both of the these women coming (will bring) their traditions,” he said.

The menu for the dinner showcases a variety of moles — the complex, chile-based sauce of the gods that has given rise to Oaxaca’s nickname as “the land of seven moles.” Gonzalez said he’ll serve mole negro (traditional black), mole verde (with tomatillos and fresh green chiles), mole de fiesta (with smoky, yet fruity chile ancho) and guachimole (derived from a paste made from guaje seeds).

The first course starts with a passionfruit ceviche with Mexican white shrimp, followed by a salad with mini blue corn tlayudas, a thin, crispy Oaxacan-style tortilla-ish flatbread, with queso Oaxaca, organic local greens, shaved squash in a cotija-pepita dressing, crispy epazote (herb leaves) and pumpkin seeds.

The third and main course features your choice of three tacos: pork leg in guachimole, duck in mole de fiesta, wood-fired pork, beef barbacoa or spring vegetables in mole verde.

The meals end on a sweet note: a buttery pastel de elote, or Mexican corn cake, with caramelized bananas and Oaxacan chocolate ganache.

A mezcal pairing with every course will be offered for $20 and the smoky agave-based spirit will be served neat, to be sipped like how it’s done in Oaxaca, or as a specialty cocktail. Coffee from Mexico, non-alcoholic horchata de melon, Margaritas, beer and wine will also be available.

The affordability of the dinner — many multicourse pairing events featuring guest chefs and premium ingredients can cost $125 or higher — wasn’t an accident. Smith said the $30 price tag, even $50 with the mezcal pairing, is comparable to what the average cost of dinner at Puesto would be.

“We came back from Oaxaca so excited and inspired. ... We just really wanted to share it,” said Smith. “We’re hoping to get as many people as possible to experience this and not let the price point be a barrier.”

Gonzalez offered another reason to go: “It will be awesome food.”

Mole & Mezcal Dinner

When: 5 p.m. until closing May 2

Where: 1026 Wall St., La Jolla

Cost: $30 for four courses; optional mezcal pairing $20

Phone: (858) 454-1260 (reservations are required)