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The Dish: Yellow mole over chicken with masa dumplings
The Location: Casa Oaxaca, 2106 18th St. NW, (202) 387-2272
The Price: $17
The Skinny: When the waiter brings my main course to the table, I toy with the idea of temporarily changing the name of this blog feature to Half Plate, since the dish looks like an antojito that’s been prematurely promoted to entrée status and slapped with a $17 price tag. Granted, the server warned me—-after I had already ordered the mole—-that the kitchen couldn’t deliver on the accompanying masa dumplings advertised on the menu because they were out of the corn flour. No biggie, I figured; I’d be satisfied with the chicken-breast meat covered in yellow mole. I didn’t realize my kekas appetizer would make the entrée look like a plate of smothered scraps. Once the dish arrived, I took a deep breath and tried to remember that Casa Oaxaca, the recently opened project from Guajillo owners Rolando Juarez and Karen Barroso, was bound to have problems. My frustrations with the place evaporated as soon as I took the first bite of the mole: It was spectacular, a complex, orange-tinted sauce front-loaded with the subtlest hint of sweetness and finishing with a pleasant, pulsating heat. The shredded breast meat was moist and studded with toasted sesame seeds that added just the right bit of crunchiness. I could have consumed three times the amount provided. Still, I was perplexed: What ingredient was supplying the sweetness? The waitress I stopped offered no help; she seemed surprised that I even suggested the sauce was sweet. Chef Alfio Blangiardo cleared up the matter when he stopped by the table: It’s yellow corn that adds a touch of natural sweetness to the sauce, which also includes seven different peppers, tomato, a number of seeds, and peanuts. They make the stuff from scratch at Casa Oaxaca, and I’d be willing to say it’s worth the price—-but only if they have the masa dumplings to help soak up every last drop of that delicious sauce.