SD #13: Squash Blossoms & Corn Smut, y’all!

I love this time of year.  I have Fridays off, which means I have a chance to have a nice, leisurely lunch with Allan– the perfect opportunity for serial dining!  Last week’s Friday lunch was at Masala, which was really spectacular.  How to top that?  Fortunately, the next restaurant on our serial dining list was De Mole, 4502 48th Ave on the far western edge of Woodside.  We’ve been there many times before and we love it.  It’s my go-to place for enchiladas verdes con pollo.  The restaurant is cute and clean, with friendly staff and good service.  We’ve never, ever had a bad time there.  And today, the forces of alphabetical order decreed that we must go there for lunch.  Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

De Mole

De Mole

I included two shots of the exterior because I want you to see the intricate brickwork on the outside of the building.  This has nothing to do with food, but I must give a shout-out to all the Italian-American bricklayers who built so many of the gorgeous brick buildings in Queens and the other boroughs of the city.  Obviously I don’t know for sure that my fellow Italian-Americans built this exact building, but truly beautiful, lasting brick edifices are one of the many fruits of the labor of Italian immigrants, and once in a while I like to point that out.  But I digress.

Before I get back to De Mole, I want to include this shot of China One Taco across the street, for people who live in the suburbs and don’t see this type of place.  China.  Tacos.  You just don’t expect it, you know?  But it happens a lot in New York.  The street between De Mole and China One is, I believe, the dividing line between the Woodside and Sunnyside zip codes.  So we won’t cover China One in our serial dining adventure, but it’s fun to look at, so here it is:

China One Taco House

So.  Back to De Mole.  They serve Mexican food, including a lot of southern dishes in the Pueblan style.  There are lots of reviews of De Mole online if you’re interested, mostly raving about the food and its authenticity.  In fact, when I Googled before we went, I was surprised by how many times it’s been reviewed– far more than any place we’ve been to so far.  You can read about De Mole at Yelp, Urban Spoon, Chowhound, the Eating in Queens blog, Shauna Eats Sunnyside, New York Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and even Zagat and Michelin, which often overlook a lot of outer-burrough restaurants.  I can’t post links to those last two because they require paid subscriptions, but if you subscribe, go read– I bet they’ll tell you De Mole is fantastic.

The menu had some staples you see in any Mexican restaurant in the city like burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, plus a variety of more unusual items.  The chef is from the state of Puebla in southern Mexico, so if you’re used to northern Mexican food, you’ll notice some interesting surprises.  There are also vegetarian-friendly dishes; I noted many favorable comments from vegetarians and vegans among the comments around the web.  Here’s the interior of the restaurant:

De Mole from the inside!

Also, check out their super-colorful menus:

As I said, this is my go-to place for enchiladas, and I also love their guac, which is fresh and chunky.  However, this being our official serial dining visit, I decided to try something new.  For a starter, we ordered the Ceviche Vera Cruz.  They make it with either fish or scallops.  We chose the fish.  It was fresh and tangy with a variety of finely chopped vegetables to go with the fish.  They serve it in a little tortilla bowl, and you can eat it either alone or on the tortilla chips that come with the complimentary salsa.  We added a bit of salt to it to bring out the flavors.  Overall, I liked the Ecuadorian-style ceviche at Braulio y Familia better, but I definitely enjoyed this dish.

For a main dish, I chose quesadillas and Allan chose a carne asada burrito.  Our server could tell from our discussion that we both intended to taste both dishes, so he helpfully cut the burrito in half and brought it out on two plates.  Like I said, the people are nice and the service is good.  There are two types of quesadillas at De Mole:  tradicionales, which are made with corn tortillas, and sincronizadas, which are larger and made with flour tortillas.  Tradicionales come in four varieties:  corn mushroom, shredded Pueblan-style brisket, squash blossom, and Oaxaca cheese.  They’re not huge, so we decided to try all four.  If you’ve never had this type of quesadilla before, I highly recommend this strategy– you’ll taste some amazing new things.

The burrito was great.  One of the better ones I’ve had.  However, the quesadillas tradicionales were mind-blowing.  First of all, I’m accustomed to quesadillas that are basically two flour tortillas stuck together with melted cheese, with or without chicken or some other type of filling.  These are not that.  They actually look more like tacos– corn tortillas folded in half, with shredded lettuce and other fillings, always including cheese.

“Corn mushroom” is a euphemism for a corn fungus called huitlacoche in Mexico and “corn smut” here in the U.S.  I had never even heard of it before, much less tasted it, but I found this neat article from the Huffington Post explaining it, complete with a smutty photo.  All I can say is, whoever was the first person to taste a smutty ear of corn was either desperately hungry, very brave, or both.  However, I’m glad they did, because the stuff tastes good, and according to the Huff Post, it’s extremely nutritious and economically advantageous to grow, because you can charge more for the smut than the corn it grew on.  How cool is that?

The brisket quesadilla had a nice smokey flavor and just enough saltiness.  Oaxaca cheese is basically Mexican mozzarella, and it goes perfectly with a corn tortilla.  However, the squash blossom quesadilla was the real standout.

Here’s my squash blossom story:  My father’s people are Italian.  When they immigrated to New York from Naples in the early years of the 20th century, if they had a a house or apartment with access to a patch of dirt, in addition to tomatoes and figs, they had a grape arbor and let the vines grow up over everything including the house.  You still see grape arbors here and there in the city, and a handful of families still make their own wine.

For more recent immigrants from Latin America, apparently squash vines are the new grape arbor.  Last summer I was fascinated to watch a family just north of the 69th St stop on the 7 subway grow squash vines in their tiny yard and let them grow up the side of the house onto the roof.  I wondered what would happen when the squash themselves got big; wouldn’t they roll off the roof?  Well, I never had a chance to find that out, because apparently the squash weren’t the objective in the first place.  The blossoms were.  Once the flowers bloomed on the vine, they were quickly harvested, and the vines eventually withered away.  I thought that was weird– wouldn’t it be better to have the squash?  After today’s lunch, I get what the big deal is.  I actually took pictures of the flowering vines from the subway platform, but this was more than a year ago and I seem to have deleted them at some point.  I mean, how could I know those pics would actually come in handy someday for a blog post on squash blossom quesadillas?

Anyway, here’s our food:

Complimentary chips & salsa

Ceviche Vera Cruz

Steak burrito

Quesadillas tradicionales: Oaxaca cheese, squash blossom, brisket, corn mushroom

Obviously, after all that food we skipped dessert.  However, I have to make a plug for the flan at De Mole.  We’ve had the coconut flan and the orange flan, and both are absolutely amazing.  If you go, as difficult as this will be, try to save room for flan.

Total price for all of this delicious food plus a Coke for me and a banana licuada for Allan:  $34.57 plus tip.

De Mole on Urbanspoon

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