Corn smut seduces at Mayahuel

Salmon with huitlacoche sauce

When I learned huitlacoche was on chef Jorge Omar Juarez’s Farm to Fork Restaurant Week  menu at Mayahuel, I skipped lunch and ate dinner early. Friday was the first day of the 10-day event sponsored by the Sacramento chapter of the California Restaurant Association, coinciding with the Sacramento region’s celebration of its role as the Farm to Fork Capital of America.

It was my first taste of huitlacoche — aka corn smut — in an upscale restaurant. Previously, I’ve enjoyed huitlacoche the down-home way — spread in tortillas, folded in tacos, melted in quesadillas. You savor huitlacoche for its ethereal, mushroomy essence — sweet corn meets ripe crimini. You savor huitlacoche despite its ugliness — a moist black fungus that invades ears of corn in the fall.

In culinary terms, huitlacoche is a delicacy, prized by field hands and trained chefs alike. It’s the Mexican truffle.

In agricultural terms, huitlacoche is a pesky byproduct. Most sweet corn and grain farmers in America would rather eradicate the fungus. Those farmers who know what huitlacoche is worth don’t have enough to meet demand.

So I can understand why the huitlacoche that stars in the seductive sauce beneath a salmon filet in one of Mayahuel’s Farm to Fork Restaurant Week specials came from Mexico and not one of our local farms here in America’s Farm to Fork Capital.

I’m just pleased and impressed to find huitlacoche in a Mexican restaurant that doesn’t have beer signs in the window. At Mayahuel, Juarez presents Mexican food as Mexican cuisine — refined dishes that showcase regional Mexican dining, a cut above the refried fare of far too many Mexican restaurants.

The huitlacoche sauce that Juarez pools beneath grilled salmon is a simple preparation: huitlacoche pureed with sauteed onions and olive oil.

Visually, huitlacoche is least appealing. Juarez’s huitlacoche sauce is an ashy black, like mushroom bisque without cream. But, really, that’s no matter, because huitlacoche will close your eyes. Take your first taste: Light sweetness. Earthy depth. Your mouth sighs. Your eyelids collapse to the pleasure.

Pacific salmon, farmed in Canada, had the fleshiness to match the sauce, and corn salsa on top of the filet brought the dish full circle.

The salmon preparation is a new addition to Mayahuel’s menu, but it is only being served with huitlacoche sauce for Farm to Fork Restaurant Week, part of a $30 three-course dinner special.

The other entree choice this week is pork chop in pumpkin-sesame seed sauce. For starters, choose between crisp taco with raw tuna and fruit salsa and Mayahuel’s signature poblano chile soup. Dessert’s a choice between poached pear with almond cream and jericaya, the Guadalajara-style creme brulee with dark sugar and cinnamon.

Add a glass of Napa Toro, a Mexican-food-friendly red wine blended for Mayahuel by Galvan Family Vineyards in Solano County, for $9.

Raw tuna taco

Poblano soup

My meal started with a surprise: micro-greens with pomegranate seeds and chopped walnuts dressed in a honey-sweetened walnut crema that floated on my tongue before the lightly nutty flavor landed.

For the starter, I’d recommend the raw tuna taco — sushi-grade yellowfin, sourced through Sacramento’s Sunh Fish Company, in a crispy fried shell, freshened with mango-strawberry salsa. The other starter — creamy poblano chile soup whose fiery punch relaxes as the soup soaks in — is on Mayahuel’s menu year-round.

I couldn’t decide on dessert so I asked for both.  Bosc pear,  from Martinelli Hood Ranch in the Delta, poached in red moscato, piloncillo (an unrefined Mexican brown sugar), ginger and cinnamon was filled with almond cream. My pear needed a few more minutes poaching (dessert shouldn’t require a knife) and the almond cream inside was thick and grainy, but the flavors were all pleasing. A scoop of almond cream that accompanied the tuile cookie garnish was smooth and creamy perfection.

The Guadalajara-style creme brulee was creamy — but eggier than silky French-style creme brulee. However, you won’t find cinnamon and piloncillo in Parisian burnt cream.

Micro-greens with walnut crema

Poached pear with almond cream

Guadalajara-style creme brulee

 

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