Welcome back to Chef in the Kitchen, a recurring Eater photo feature. Eater photographer Rey Lopez boldly goes where few diners have gone before — into D.C. restaurant kitchens — to get a sneak peek of the chef du jour hard at work.
Espita Mezcaleria knows its mole — the restaurant boasts seven different varieties of the traditional, sauce-based Mexican dish on its menu. The chichilo version, served at the restaurant with short ribs, avocado leaf, tomatillo, and chiles, is the most popular one on the menu right now. Chef Alexis Samayoa says Espita sells about 25 orders of the dish each evening.
The chef preps toasts a mix of spices and ingredients, including black pepper, guajillo chiles, salt, sugar, Mexican oregano, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and tomatillos, to bring out their flavor. He adds oil to a big pot and fries a puree of the ingredients in the pot. "It starts caramelizing and gets a little darker," he said — Samayoa has to vigorously stir it with a spoon so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
Eventually it is ready for a long simmer, either on the stovetop or in a low-heat oven. The cooking time varies by the size of a batch — a small portion might only take an hour, but a larger batch (which is how the restaurant usually approaches it) could take up to 12 hours to simmer. He says they usually make about a gallon of the sauce each day. The sauce, like most of the moles at Espita, is vegetarian.
As the sauce finishes, Samayoa turns his attention to the short rib. He marinates the meat in a red chile paste made from guajillo and ancho chiles. He'll heavily sear the ribs, and divide them into 8 oz portions. The fond created on the bottom of the pan is hit with onions, garlic and thyme. As the vegetables caramelize, he adds red wine, water, and stock. The ribs simmer for a few hours until they reach a "beautiful, dark, dark brown color," he said.
After the sauce and ribs are done, it's just a matter of getting the dish on the plate and adding its garnishes. While Espita is developing a reputation for its moles, the chef says many customers still come to the restaurant unfamiliar with what the dish is. But he's still pleased it's one of the way the restaurant has managed to distinguish itself, along with its freshly-made corn tortillas and its delicately-made ceviches. Find the chichilo mole on Espita's menu for $26 at dinner.
Editor's Note: The chef's name in this piece was initially misspelled.