On Your Table: Mexico City cuisine blooms at La Piña

By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

The Mole Chicken at recently opened La Pina Restaurant marries a hint of chocolate sweetness with a spicy back-bite of flavor.

While we usually think of dishes made with chocolate as sweet, sometimes decadent candies, beverages or desserts, chocolate in Mexican foods can be a spicy ingredient that enlivens sauces and savory dishes.  There’s a long history of this, Mexico being the birthplace of chocolate.

And they’ve been making spicy dishes with it including the beloved Mexican Mole for hundreds of years. In those dishes chocolate is a transforming ingredient.   It lends a hint of sweetness, silky fullness, spice and complexity to its dinner partner, which can be chicken, turkey or other meats.  And like many main dishes in Mexico, ones made with Mole are called by the name of the sauce.

Here in the US, Mole dishes grace most Mexican restaurant menus.  But many folks shy away thinking they are too spicy. Not so.

Here in the Chester County area, Mexican places which describe themselves as serving comfort food abound in West Chester, Kennett Square and elsewhere.

But a new restaurant, La Piña, has just hit the scene with authentic northern Mexican cuisine.

Opened just in February in the Garnet Valley shopping center along Route 202 near Delaware in nearby Bethel Township in Delaware County, its menu offerings have been devised by Executive Chef Angel Dias based on those of his chef mother and sisters and his own experiences in Mexico City.  He comes to La Piña after stints with Philadelphia restaurant luminaries such as Stephen Star and Jose Garces and culinary education at the Escuela de Artes Culinarios de la Ciudad de Mexico.

The Mole Chicken entrée is made with 35 ingredients including a few secret and somewhat surprising ones.  He told me that success with Mole depends on the kind of chocolate used and how it is treated.  For instance the chocolate in his Mole is a dark semi-sweet variety ground so that it remains grainy.  The dish is served with poblano-studded rice.

Other enticing offerings include seafood of the day ceviche; posole, which is a Mexican pork stew with hominy; short ribs; and a variety of familiar appetizers, tacos and tortas.  The restaurant features a considerable bar selection as well.

Owner David Steiger, formerly general manager of nearby Harvest Seasonal Grill, told me that Mole is easy to prepare.  How easy one can guess with that many ingredients.  I’ll take my chances with an entree made by one who knows how.

Try it.  La Piña hours is open for lunch and dinner every day.  To learn more visit their website at http://lapinacantina.com/.

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