by Tana B.
Santa Cruz, California
February 21, 2005
Owners Jorge and Araceli Rivas are from Guadalajara. I learned that the food comes from "Antique Mexican Corn Culture Recipes;" the menu offers recipes from all over Mexico. Jorge came to our table to handhold us: having never been there, it was daunting to look at both sides of the 11-inch by 17-inch menu. He was both knowledgeable and courtly.
He made a handful of recommendations, most from the hard-to-find dishes, with one exception: white enchiladas, rendered unique by the presence of squash blossoms. His other recommendations:
• Rose Petal: with cactus fruit, almonds, and rose petals, a recipe from Oaxaca with shrimp or chicken
• Chiludo: Durango style with a combo of shellfish/meats or Guajillo style, which is light, spicy, and highly recommended
• Chiles Nogada: a plate created by Puebla nuns made of poblano peppers filled with ground turkey and seasoned with almonds, pecans, fine herbs, and dried fruits and topped with a walnut sauce
• Achiote: shrimps grilled with onions and pineapple in a mirror of achiote sauce, Yucatan style
Jorge then recommended something off the menu: homemade tamales with poblanos instead of corn husks. I ordered them (at $12.50, one of the most expensive items): "Three tamales wrapped in grilled poblano peppers, filled with Huitlachoche (Mexican black mushrooms), picadillo, and shrimp, mirrored in three different sauces, the Pipians (white, red, greens—these have in common pumpkin seeds but in each change the herbs and peppers)."
Bob ordered Chiles Nogada ($12.50); he was delighted to receive an additional crepe covered with rose petal sauce. Adorning the main course and the crepe were dried cranberries. As Señor Rivas explained, pomegranates are traditional but were not in season.
Our beers came in a galvanized tin bucket with ice. Bob's food arrived first—the tamales take longer, but we were sharing, so it was no biggie. There was probably a 10-minute or longer time span between the arrival of our plates.
The place is small, seating about 50. The walls are filled with Mexican folk art that constitutes a big part of the "fiesta" in their name. Attractive blue-and-white platters are about 16 inches across; they're laden with your entrée, rice, beans, guacamole, salad, and appropriate sauces. This food was out of this world. I've had enough food in Mexico to know that it was prepared with care and knowledge. Too bad you can't smell the aromas.
Short story: this was stellar. I can't wait to take visitors here.
Fiesta Tapa-Sahuayo is on the corner of Riverside (Highway 129) and Main (despite its address on First, it's on the corner of Main and 129!). Plates run from $3 for a regular burrito to $7 to $8 for three-item plates; special plates are $12.50.
From journal Santa Cruz, California