Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Sit Down with Aaron Sanchez at Mestizo

The thought of getting a chance to have a sit down meeting with Chef Aaron Sanchez is the type of thing that will get even the most even keeled food blogger's heart racing. Not only was my heart racing, but I was as giddy as a school girl, when I got a chance to meet Chef on Thursday afternoon. When I first got the confirmation email for my meeting with Chef Aaron, I couldn't believe it, I even questioned if it was real. It was in fact real and he could not have been any more personable!

Therealjohnleach with the real Chef Aaron Sanchez
(not the winner of the Mestizo anniversary look-alike contest)

When Chef walked into his Leawood restaurant, Mestizo, he exchanged pleasantries with every person that he passed. Before he came and sat down at the table with me, he even complimented a waiter's new shoes (granted they were MOZO shoes, but the point is that Aaron noticed such a small detail). I believe that is just the way that Chef Aaron is, a nice genuine guy that cares about others.

I had completely geeked out and typed out all of the questions that I wanted to ask Chef Aaron, but when he came over and sat down with me at the table we began to have a conversation like old friends just shooting the breeze. After I thanked him for taking the time to sit down with me and apologized for being slightly (okay, maybe a little more than slightly) star struck, he thanked ME for coming in and asked me about my blog.

My biggest question for Aaron: Having multiple restaurants in New York City, what brought him to KC? It turns out that one of his business partners is from Wichita and told him that KC's culinary scene was where it was at. They put together a "kickass" team, and now they are celebrating their first anniversary at Mestizo. We then went on to talk about everything from our favorite places in Mexico (check out Chef Aaron's new show, that he just finished taping, where he visits multiple destinations in Mexico) to the awesomeness of the tongue tacos at Mestizo.

Chef Aaron is far from an absent owner that simply puts his name on a sign and cashes a check. He is in KC for about a week each month. The menu is comprised of many items that will be familiar to anyone who has read his most recent cookbook. He even went on to say that he enjoys the Food Network shows that he is on, but that he is a chef and restaurateur first and a Food Network star second. If you met him on the street, and did not know who he was, you would never guess that he is a celebrity (or even a professional chef with his apparent lack of stereotypical chef ego).

It was such an awesome experience getting to sit down and talk with Chef Aaron, although I had much more that I wanted to ask him, I am very thankful that he took time out of his busy day for me (just some schmuck with a keyboard and internet access). And to be fair, I could probably spend a whole day with the man and still not have time to ask all of the questions that I would like to ask. All of that being said, here is the reason for the meeting, the food.

The Food:

Everything I have had from Mestizo has been awesome!

The chips and salsa are fresh (and as you know, I don't judge Mexican restaurants on chips and salsa, but will make note of it if it is really good). The table salsa has a very distinct (but not at all overpowering) taste of garlic that is undoubtedly cooked as described in the Garlic-Chipotle Love recipe in Aaron's book Simple Food, Big Flavor. Mestizo serves 6 different salsas, that can all be purchased in to-go containers (if you just can't get enough), ranging from mild to sweet to spicy.

The Corn Chowder is perfect on a cold fall day, it warms your insides and is like Mexican comfort food. The sopa (yes, we are doing Spanglish for this post) is creamy (but not too thick) with crunchy corn, small chunks of potato, and poblano chiles, garnished with ultra fresh cilantro. As you can tell from the before and after pictures, I didn't really like it.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, the tongue tacos are awesome (and a subject of conversation between Aaron and I). Beef tongue, when done correctly, is one of the most tender meats you will ever eat. However, when done incorrectly, it can be very chewy. Aaron says that the tenderness of the beef tongue is directly related to the time taken in the braising process, a slow braising (in water or lard) is the best method Chef says that a perfectly done beef tongue is the definition of the word "unctuous", a word that those in the biz often misuse. When the time is taken to do it right, the end result is magnificent (like the tongue tacos at Mestizo). The tacos are served on made to order corn tortillas with tomatillo-avacado salsa (which is like a very thin guacamole with the deliciousness of roasted tomatillo), cilantro, a fresh lime wedge, and what I believe to be radish pieces (instead of the onions that you would typically find with the cilantro). You can even watch the corn tortillas be made at the cold station while you wait for your food. The tacos also come with Drunken Beans, which are delightful smokey flavored beans cooked in Dos XX. (Please pardon the scatterbrainedness of this paragraph, I just get so excited about tongue tacos)

I was also able to preview three new menu items, that are being unveiled this week. The first of which was the citrus salad. The citrus salad features in-season citrus (today was tangerine, but blood orange is also in the future plans), lightly pickled onions, and bleu cheese that has been aged with figs. This bleu cheese would make even the realist of bleu cheeses say "THAT is some real bleu cheese!". This is not the cheese form the Cheezit commercial that thinks trick candles are funny. I love strong blue cheese, so this salad is perfect for someone like me, but if you do not like bleu cheese, then this salad may not be for you.

Then came the pork cheeks. The pork cheeks come served on a bed of rich creamy pozole. Pozole is sort of a ground hominy soup, if you will, that can be tomato based or cream based (this one happens to be very creamy, insert smiley face emoticon here). This dish is amazing! The tender pork cheek meat and the creamy pozole are a match made in culinary heaven.

Last, but certainly not least, the roasted quail stuffed with chorizo cornbread (yes, that is right, chorizo cornbread). When I first read Simple Food, Big Flavor, the recipe for chorizo cornbread was one that I pointed out to my wife that we had to try. And let me tell you what, it is just as good as it sounds! Awesome compliment to the quail meat! It is served on a bed of wilted spinach and roasted cherry tomatoes.

If you are like my friend Adrian and love the flavor of the food at Mestizo, but need some more heat, tell your waitperson that you want your meal made "En Fuego".

You still have a couple days to get out and partake in the anniversary festivities at Mestizo. Do yourself a favor and go do that, you will have a great food and an awesome time! (Also noteworthy, the wait staff could not be more awesome!)

Mestizo on Urbanspoon

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