Midtown hot spot Zocalo is exporting its high-end Mexican menu and artful style into a Roseville space where another south-of-the-border restaurant bit the dust. Will the second time be the charm? It sure looks—and tastes—like it.
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A perennial midtown favorite, the arrachera los altos—a tender, zesty skirt steak served with portabella mushroom and accompanied by Zocalo’s signature cilantro-lime rice and subtly spicy black beans—has already made a name with the Roseville crowd. The tacos—especially the Dos Equis Ambar beer-battered fish served on handmade mini tortillas—have also been receiving full-mouthed nods of satisfied approbation.
But while the menu is the same (minus the “chef’s table” specials which will be added in the near future), Roseville visitors will notice some slight differences in the flavor of certain proteins. That can largely be credited to equipment they inherited from the previous tenant—namely a wood-fire grill and a rotisserie, cooking devices they don’t currently have in the midtown location.
“It’s that extra flavor that the smoke gives it,” says Rose, who now works from an open kitchen—another difference from the midtown locale. “That’s one of the showstoppers for me. We’ll dim the lights down a little so you’re getting that glow from the grill and the rotisserie. It’s pretty cool.”
Surprisingly, dishes that can fly under the radar in midtown are making the hit list in the new restaurant, including the chile relleno (battered poblano chile filled with rich queso and red chile pork, resting on a black bean purée and spicy tomato sauce), a development that Rose credits to the dish’s familiarity, which seems to matter to a Roseville clientele, that skews a little older—and more traditional—than its central city cousins.
But it’s the cochinita pibil—or pork shoulder—that Rose says shows the kitchen firing on all burners. “It has a little bit of achiote, which is one of the main basic spices that you’ll find in any cochinita dish,” Rose explains. “We glaze it and we’re using agave nectar. We cook it down with orange juice, cinnamon and clove and a lot of garlic and bay leaf and just let it simmer down. We smoke the meat. When we get an order, we’ll sauté it with a little bit of butter and then we’ll finish it off with a glaze. It takes a long time to prep the dish, but once it comes to order, it’s pretty good.”
The same can be said for the 26-ingredient, savory-sweet mole—which combines chocolate, nuts, fruits and chil-es, as well as other indigenous spices—that Rose learned to prepare on multiple trips down to both Oaxaca and Puebla. “In Sacramento, your No. 1 comparison is someone else’s grandmother or mother,” he says. “If you make mole, it better be better than Mom’s, or you don’t know how to make mole.”
That adherence to elevated authenticity can also be found in the drinks, including the house margarita (pure blue agave tequila, hand-squeezed lime and a splash of agave nectar for sweetness) and the desserts, including the cinnamon-and-sugar churros oozing vanilla cream.
“Mexican food—it’s culture,” says Rose. “Sometimes when you first get into cooking, you want to change things up, put twists on things. You can do it, but you still have to hit the flavors. You don’t want to think too far outside of the box because then you’re not really cooking Mexican food.”
It doesn’t get any simpler than that. S