At Mole restaurant, new meets old
by Cynthia Via
May 10, 2011 | 2398 views | 0 0 comments | 90 90 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Not far from the Brooklyn waterfront one can find old-world Mexico. Blue-and-white talavera plates and tiles decorate the walls, masks hang from the ceiling above a wooden floor, and a bartender takes his time squeezing fresh lime juice.

Mole presents traditional Mexican food and drinks done in pristine fashion, like the salt and chili-rimmed Margarita, guacamole made fresh right in front of you, and a Campeche-style Ceviche de Pulpo (Octupus) cocktail.

In the spirit of rebelliousness, Mole’s design contrasts its surrounding cold and gray steel-buildings with a warm feeling, not unlike entering an old house.

Owners Guadalupe Elizalde and Nick Cervera have been bringing Mexican cooking to New York for 20 years. In 1991, they opened Taco Taco Cocina Tradicional Mexicano in the Upper East Side.

"We met in a restaurant years ago, and we decided there were too many Italian restaurants," Cervera said.

At the time, New York was lacking in Mexican eateries. “For that you had to go to Queens,” Elizalde said. Customers then would ask mostly for burritos, and “so it was difficult for the business.”

Five years ago, they opened Mole in the Lower East Side, then a restaurant in the West Village, and, as of April 3, in Williamsburg.

Cervera use to dress in suit and ties for many years but he told himself, “If I ever own a restaurant, I'll never wear a suit again.”

Now he wears Hawaiian shirts and serves strong margaritas made from 100 percent agave Lunazul tequila. The drink philosophy at Mole is to make sure the customer gets “a kick out of the tequila.”

Cervera, whose family comes from Naples, Italy, has a charismatic attitude. Often boisterous and exuding vibrancy, Cervera is very involved, greeting customer as they come in and often directing them to a seat.

By working as maitre’d and manager in upscale locals like Cipriani, Pino Luongo, and La Madri in the late 80’s, Cervera received the administrative skills needed to run a restaurant, while his wife gravitated towards cooking.

Elizalde studied cooking in Mexico for three years. Although much was learned through schooling, she received a valuable gift from her grandmother - the mole, a sauce made by her mother in Mexico City. It is a traditional sauce served on special occasions and because of its complexity, it is not considered an everyday dish.

To preserve the authenticity of the sauce, Elizalde’s mother makes the mole by hand and sends it to the restaurant.

For Cervera, mole is “synonymous with New York and its melting pot” – mixing all kinds of ingredients. Everyone has their own version and they tweak it to suit their taste. “No one really knows what goes in except the person making it,” he said.

But the main ingredients are dry chili, dry nuts, dry fruits and dried old tortillas. The ground mixture is brown in color and paste-like. When it’s made into a sauce, a base of oil and onions are added. After frying the sauce, it’s reconstituted with chicken stock. At the end chocolate is added.

“The sum is greater than the parts,” Cervera said.

The restaurant utilizes some locally sourced products. For example, the wild mushrooms in their Quesadillas are bought from Abingdon Square Greenmarket. They have regional dishes plus Tex-Mex staples like burritos and fajitas. Their most popular dishes are Baja-style tacos, Cochinita Pibil and Carnitas from Michoacán, Mexico.

As he looked around, Cervera couldn’t believe they created a space where people come to eat. “It’s difficult to open a restaurant from scratch,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

As a young man he knew he wanted to own a restaurant, but he did not anticipate how many restaurants that dream entailed. “We love it, it’s an adrenaline rush,” he said.

Mole is located at 178 Kent Ave., Williamsburg.
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