Stalking the perfect tamale

Eating out at any new restaurant that opens up is all well and good, but the true gourmand is on a quest, searching for the perfect dish, the perfect waiter, the perfect je ne sais quoi.  BJ called, and we have decided to try to find the perfect upscale Mexican restaurant, perhaps the perfect tamale.  Tonight, we began our mission at Comal, a very well reputed establishment on Shattuck Avenue near University.

The inside/outside patio in the back.


The owner of the place was the long-time manager of the band Phish, and Comal boasts a more than state of the art sound system brilliantly designed to complement rather than overpower level of conversation in the room.

Making all the tortillas the old fashioned way, by hand.


Executive Chef Matt Gandin has done a spectacular job of designing and implementing a menu using local and organic ingredients to create classic Mexican dishes raised to a level you just can’t imagine.

The food is good, but getting a table is somewhat dicey.  Comal only takes reservations for 5:30, at any other time you have to take your chances.  We got there early, but although there were many empty tables we were shunted to the rear patio, where there is no food service, you just have to take your drink from the bar and wait.  Nobody ever came to tell us that there was a table available, but neither Gail nor BJ is shy and they managed to express themselves sufficiently forcefully to obtain a table.  Once again the squeaky wheel got oiled.

The Comal version of albondingas, meatballs in adobo sauce.


On to the food.  We ordered a goodly number of dishes and proceeded to share.  The albondigas were wonderful, although they were only served with 3 small but perfect hot, fresh tortillas.   Not to worry, we squeaked some more and a more appropriate number appeared.


Little Gems, “diosa verde”

Putting lettuce on a plate does not a salad make.  The cotija cheese, pumpkin seeds and a marvelously subtle dressing brought this ensalada to an entirely new level of rabbit food.


Chicken tamale in mole.


I like mole sauce, Gail is not a fan.  For this mole, she makes an exception–it was delicate and subtle (hmm, that’s twice I’ve used that word.  This may be a trend.)  A hint of cinnamon but not an overpowering of chocolate.  They don’t know how to do this at Chevy’s.



Enchilada with heritage pork, mole coloradito, crema

I don’t think I have much to say about the enchilada.  It was good.  Very good.  I liked it.  You won’t find one like it anywhere else.

Then it was time for dessert.  We had the Oaxacan chocolate budin, but it was just an incredibly dense chocolate pudding with whipped cream, and not really my style.  Fortunately, we also ordered the arroz con leche, which was everything you could ever want in a rice pudding, with cherries on top.

Arroz con leche, rice pudding with cherries. Hard to believe that a dessert without chocolate can be this good.


Finally, we had the flan, that most classic of Mexican desserts:



Flan, perfected.

I’m picky about caramel, and often find it to be overcooked.  Not here.  The flan itself is often too eggy.  Not this one. A darned near perfect meal with a darned near perfect dessert.

Okay, there are nits to pick.  The iced tea is the cheap bottled kind you can find in the grocery store, so they can charge you for refils.  They don’t offer a decent sweetener, either.  Only that dreadful Stevia (it’s organic, doncha know?), or the ghastly Sweet-n-Low (pure chemical, not organic at all, but cheap).

But that’s all.  It was hard to get to a table, and then a huge success once we were seated.  Comal is close to Berkeley Rep, but I don’t know if I would want to take a chance on getting seated without a reservation when I had a curtain time to meet, so I sure wish they respected their customers enough to take reservations.

If you’re flexible on time, by all means go to Comal for the best upscale, gourmet Mexican food you’ve ever eaten.  I haven’t had better, but BJ still has a few places on her list and we’ll be trying them out.  Stay tuned.


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