Fandango 

A clear current of home cooking runs through the Oaxacan restaurants that are popping up around town. Part of the pleasure in scouting them comes from discovering the individual interpretations of theses regional dishes.Fandango in Lawrenceville also crafts tlayudas, but they are markedly different from the others I've tried. The tortilla is thinner, more crackery; black beans, rather than pintos, are used as a base; cabbage, not lettuce, lends crunch to the mix; the cheese is used more sparingly. Cecina is laid on the tortilla in lithe strips, with barely any sauce clinging to it. I like the tlayudas at Fandango, but I don't love them. They don't have the same measure of lusty, unabashed gusto as others I've tried. There's a prim, pretty variation with steak, cecina and chorizo sectioned off into quadrants that courts my affection. But in the end, I'd still rather run off with the wild child version at Taqueria La Oaxaqueña. What I have fallen for at Fandango, though, are the moles. Intricate, mysterious moles seeped into our culinary imagination in the '90s. There's something about chocolate as a savory component that makes us giddy with curiosity. Oaxaca is known as the "land of the seven moles," though it might disappoint chocoholics to know that only two of the seven actually include chocolate in the mix. The word mole has multifaceted meanings in the Mexican kitchen. In Nahuatl, the Aztec language, molli translates as "sauce." Moler in Spanish means "to grind," the essential technique used to prepare the sauces' numerous ingredients, among which are chiles, nuts, spices and thickeners like bread or tortillas. Food historians speculate that mole has origins tied to the sophisticated cuisines of medieval Islam, which migrated to southern Spain and was in turn brought to Mexico by Cortes and his ilk. Numerous Atlanta restaurants offer the most common version of mole, but Fandango is the only one I know of that lists three on its menu -- and others as frequent specials. Start your journey with the most famous, chocolate-infused creation: mole negro. The worlds of flavor discernable in its brown-black depths are almost daunting. You can perceive a hint of clove, the sweet musk of almonds, the gentle snap of poblano pepper, the unmistakable cocoa perfume of chocolate, a base note of chicken stock. The taste is ancient, a romantic mingling of the intuitive and the intellectual. The chicken in this dish? It becomes merely a vehicle for the beguiling sauce. Other moles may not inspire such florid musings, but they are equally worth exploring. Mole Coloradito is made with the impishly hot guajillo chile, as well as tomatoes and cinnamon. It makes an excellent partner for supple pork. Mole Amarillo (yellow mole), with its spark of cumin, has more than a passing resemblance to curry. If you're lucky, you may find mole verde listed on the specials blackboard in the restaurant's foyer. Fashioned from tomatillos, fresh green chiles and pumpkin seeds, this verdant variant provides a compelling left turn from the other moles -- less murky, more sprightly. Fandango also offers an extensive menu of Mexican restaurant standards: quesadillas, enchiladas, shrimp in Diablo sauce. Next to the accomplished majesty of the Oaxacan specialties, though, they pale. Oaxacan cuisine offers such intriguing, sophisticated vistas into Mexican food. I'm holding out for the day, though, when some enterprising restaurateur starts serving tlayudas and lesser-known moles inside the Perimeter. Quelling my Oaxacan jones certainly is racking up the miles on my quickly aging car.

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