It’s getting Haute in here

In case you missed it, here’s my review of The Haute Enchilada Cafe that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

Most of us probably don’t consider Moss Landing a dining destination. If you’re like me, you’re usually just passing through — not going to — Moss Landing. But there really are some great hidden gems here, like The Haute Enchilada Café.

The cuisine at The Haute Enchilada was as vibrant and artistic as the decor.

The Haute Enchilada Café is the younger, hipper sister to The Whole Enchilada. The Whole Enchilada features traditional Mexican favorites; The Haute Enchilada specializes in creative, modern Mexican fare made with organic and sustainable ingredients.

Just walking in, I felt the dreary fog outside lifting — vibrant art, colorful tables and the gentle beat of salsa music made the perfect escape.

I started with a couple of appetizers — the Dungeness crab empanadas (four for $10.95) and an artichoke and cheese tamal ($5.50).

The empanadas were crispy, with a light stuffing of Dungeness crab.

The empanadas were crispy, not doughy, and filled with Dungeness crab. The accompanying chipotle cream gave a good kick to the empanadas.

The tamal included a unique combination of artichoke and cheese.

The tamal was served atop a corn husk and blanketed in fire-roasted salsa. I thought the pairing of artichokes and cheese was unique — a combination you probably won’t find at many other Mexican restaurants in town.

Inside were tender artichokes and gooey cheese. The fiery salsa was smoky and spicy. (Good thing I like my Mexican food spicy!) The masa was a little crumbly, but I was willing to forgive the texture with such a unique blend of flavors.

For my entrée, I ordered the Arroz Cataluna ($21), basically a Spanish paella. The saffron rice was cooked in a lobster broth and served with chorizo, chicken, sautéed onions and peppers, peas, roasted asparagus and a mix of seafood — prawns, clams and mussels.

The Arroz Cataluna truly was a work of art.

It was plated beautifully: seafood — including some of the biggest mussels I’ve ever seen — arranged around a heaping portion of rice.

The saffron rice was superb!

I was a little worried that this dish wasn’t served in the pan — I just love that crispy crust of rice at the bottom of a paella pan. After one bite, all my worries wilted away — the rice was crispy and flavorful, with a good dose of saffron. (Though I have to admit the seafood was a tad overcooked.)

The accompanying roasted artichoke dressed with basil pesto was unexpected. While flavorful, it it felt a little out of place, honestly.

After letting dinner settle, I dared to attempt dessert. They have such a unique assortment of desserts, several made in-house and others custom made for them by Claudio’s Specialty Breads in Castroville.

The artichoke cake ($4.95) — basically zucchini bread made with artichoke hearts instead of zucchini — intrigued me, but it was sold out for the day. So I ordered the ginger sticky pudding ($6.95) instead.

The ginger sticky pudding was perfect for the dreary weather outside.

The sticky pudding was like a dense gingerbread, full of spiced ginger flavor. It was the right balance of gooey and crumbly, served with whipped cream and pecans. This warm dessert was perfect for fighting off the fog outside, especially when paired with Mexican hot chocolate ($3.75).

The Mexican hot chocolate has a generous sprinkling of cinnamon on top.

Tucked away in Moss Landing, The Haute Enchilada dishes up cuisine that’s fresh and modern. And I like how unassuming it is. The owner insists on calling her kitchen staff “cooks, really good cooks” and not chefs. But I’d argue they’re easily some of the best chefs in town and serve up inspired dishes that combine the best flavors of Mexico, Latin America and Spain.

From beautiful presentation to unique flavor pairings, the food at The Haute Enchilada was humble and unpretentious, but at the same time elegant and gourmet.

The Haute Enchilada Café is located at 7902 Moss Landing Road in Moss Landing. More information at 831-633-5843 or www.hauteenchilada.com.

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