Generally speaking, Molé Restaurant is a new Mexican dining option in Kendall Yards, but specifically? It's Oaxacan with a few fusion dishes, offering diners a delicious learning curve if they've never experienced the cuisine of Mexico's southernmost region, and a warm return to the tastes of the area if they have.
"I cook the same way as my grandmother and mother," says chef Fredy Martinez, who opened Molé with chef Tong Liu of neighboring Umi Kitchen & Sushi Bar, where Martinez used to work.
"What makes the difference in foods from Oaxaca is our kitchens use not just seasonings but a lot of herbs," he explains.
Avocado, for example, is ubiquitous in many regions of Mexico, and it appears on Molé's menu in various forms: sliced atop the house salad ($14), mixed with cilantro, lime and serrano pepper in a dipping sauce for the fish and chips ($16), and mashed into guacamole for the carne asada plate ($25).
But Oaxacan food also uses the leaves of the avocado plant in both dried and fresh form, says Martinez. The barbacoa de borrego lamb, for example, uses avocado leaves in the marinade ($25) for a hearty, tender stew.
Molé Restaurant introduces diners to many new terms and tastes like the guajillo chiles that add a smoky kick to aioli served with fried calamari ($13) or vegetarian tacos ($15). The herb epazote defies description — its Nahuatl (Aztec) equivalent includes the word skunk — but it nonetheless helps cut the richness of the esquite callejero, a "street corn" dish combining off-the-cob corn, mayo and queso fresco, and sprinkled with very scant but very potent pequin chili flake ($11).
Another characteristically Oaxacan food item is molé, the restaurant's namesake that's deeply rooted in Oaxacan history. It means "sauce" in Nahuatl, an ancient language tied to the Aztecs. The restaurant's décor channels an Oaxacan vibe with an aged-looking, two-story interior mural and jungle-like greenery on walls and hanging from light fixtures.
The restaurant serves only two of many regional variations of molé, which is thick, rich and typically complex in both process and ingredients — a thin, dry cookie called galletas Marias, for example, goes into the molé puree to add sweetness and texture. The restaurant's rojo, or red, molé served over pork ribs ($24) or chicken ($23) has roasted, smoky and spicy elements, while its negro, or black, molé features traditional chocolate for a kiss of sweetness.
The menu is ambitious. In addition to a dozen house specialties, Molé serves tamales, tacos, tostadas, soups, salads, vegetarian plates, burritos, quesadillas and a dozen appetizers.
And the menu is still not complete, says Daniela Roller, front-of-the-house manager. She notes the addition of more conventional Mexican comfort foods like burritos, plus an ease into lunch service, is coming in 2022.
In the meantime, some dishes hint at another of Martinez' culinary interests: Asian cuisine. Prior to Umi, Martinez led the kitchen at Ginger Asian Bistro and Wasabi, which is why Molé Restaurant is mostly Oaxacan, but not just.
Salmon ennegrecido (blackened), for example, includes ingredients more likely to be found in Asian food, like ginger, yuzu sauce and tamari ($17). Don't be surprised to see more fusion foods on Molé's menu in the future.
Also in the future: live music and outdoor dining on the patio with an enjoyable view of the river, downtown Spokane and Peaceful Valley any time of year.
Molé Restaurant's full bar offers even more about which to smile, including craft cocktails like the mezcalini ($10) with lime, cucumber, mint and cointreau or a grilled pineapple margarita ($11). ♦