Chiles and Chocolate

December 26, 2009 Columns, Food & Dining

by Wendy Taylor

Chiles Y Chocalate in Park Slope

Roberto Lopez cares so much about keeping his dishes authentic that he makes frequent trips to Oaxaca in southern Mexico for the ingredients.

Roberto recently opened Chiles and Chocolate Oaxacan Kitchen on Seventh Avenue and many of his customers are already familiar with the food that’s made his home town a food lover’s destination.

The menu states, “We are not a Mexican restaurant,” which sounds somewhat confusing until Roberto explains that people tend to expect Mexican food to be all about the style of cuisine known as Tex-Mex, and his is what you’d expect to find if you were magically transported to Oaxaca’s incredible central market.

The restaurant isn’t his first commercial venture in Brooklyn. He owns El Milagro and Artesana, two business on Seventh Avenue featuring furniture and jewelry “from around the world.”

When the opportunity arose to open the restaurant, Roberto was ready because “it was always in my mind, something I always wanted to have.” It’s a family affair: his sisters Rufina and Margarita work the front of the house and his brother-in-law, Francisco, runs the kitchen as the chef.

The dining room seats 16, but as soon as weather permits the garden area will open to seat an additional 40. Roberto expects the thirst-quenching drinks Mexicans call aguas frescas will be popular during the summer – home-made drinks such as tamarind, horchata – an infusion of rice in milk – and flor de Jamaica, or hibiscus. In July a license for beer and wine will arrive, and with it pitchers of sangria.

While it can still be chilly, hot Mexican chocolate with cinnamon and almonds helps you stay warm.

From the opening day Chilies and Chocolate “took off amazingly,” Roberto said. A six-burner stove was quickly installed as the four-burner couldn’t keep up with demand.

The menu is a family and friends collaboration and features traditional food as well as “platillos modernos,” the chef’s creations, but still using Oaxacan ingredients. The traditional dishes include guacamole chapolin which comes with or without fried grasshoppers, a local specialty. Roberto said several customers have ordered the “with” option. The grasshoppers are crunchy and taste like herbs, he said.

Oaxaca is known as the “Land of the Seven Moles,” and the menu lists three: negro, the most complex; verde, with lots of green vegetables, and coloradito, a lighter vibrant red mole. One version of the origin of mole, once translated as mixture, is that it was invented in a convent in Puebla de los Angeles, east of Mexico City. The nuns were asked to prepare a dish for a visiting bishop and each contributed something, hence the long list of ingredients, including chilies, tomatoes, seeds, tortillas, spices and chocolate.

The mole negro is the most popular dish on the menu, Roberto said. He buys the mole pastes, chocolate, and other hard-to-find ingredients on his monthly trips to Oaxaca. Other items he purchases locally; he tries to stay organic “as much as possible.”

Although many of the dishes contain meat or seafood, there are many choices for vegetarians.

Chiles and Chocolate: 54 Seventh Avenue between Lincoln and St. Johns Place, 718-230-7700. Take out and delivery available.

Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 pm.; Friday-Saturday: 12 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

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