Salsa 17 offers mix of moles

May 4, 2011 9:39:32 AM PDT
Thursday is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday that is more popular in the U.S.

Most Mexican restaurants in town are having special dinners for the occasion. But if any of them are to be taken seriously, they have to serve mole.

They come for the guac and margaritas, obviously, but at Salsa 17 in downtown Arlington Heights one of the most important menu items isn't salsa, but rather, the mole.

"Mole is a really old tradition, it's a sauce. The French call demiglace, we call it a mole," said Jose Luna, the Chef of Salsa 17.

Each mole requires several steps and more than two dozen ingredients. Take the mole amarillo, for example. Luna starts by lightly grilling some dried guajillo and ancho chiles, along with red and green tomatoes and onions. Once they're significantly charred, they go into a giant pot of chicken stock, and are left to simmer for nearly an hour. Then it's into a blender, to pulverize and puree the mole. The result? An earthy, complex sauce with an amazing depth of flavor that pairs well with grilled pork chops and rice. He'll also serve a darker, mole negro, with New York strip, roasted cactus and oozy panela cheese in an earthenware molcajete.

"If it's red meats, you definitely want a mole negro or things like that; something seafood, we do fruity moles, like mole blanco," Luna said.

That blanco begins with grilled poblanos and jalapenos, which are combined with toasted almonds, walnuts, cashews and cloves. That's mixed into a chicken stock with some white chocolate to balance the heat and spice, and the result is a creamy-smooth mole that goes with grilled shrimp. Luna says part of the reason he's able to offer so many moles, is because his staff considers them comfort food.

"I have a phenomenal staff, from different regions as well in Mexico; they definitely, they know the recipes very well from years and generations of their families," said Luna.

There are seven different types of moles they have at the restaurant at any given time; each one vastly different, from the spices and the seeds and the nuts, to the different kinds of chiles they use. It's certainly one of Mexico's most complex and famous sauces.

The restaurant also carries a number of wines by the glass and whips up some killer margaritas featuring a wide range of imported tequilas.

Salsa 17
17 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights