One Bite: salsa de molcajete at Masa Azul



Salsa de molcajete
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  • Salsa de molcajete
Who didn't have high hopes back in August when it was announced that Jonathan Zaragoza had been hired to take over the kitchen at Logan Square's Masa Azul? Up until then it had been a great tequila bar and a middling southwestern restaurant. That's all changed now. Zaragoza, scion of the clan that runs the great Birrieria Zaragoza and a veteran of Sepia, has brought the menu up to par with a lineup of tacos: pork belly, shrimp, mushrooms, a superjuicy Yucatan-style cochinita pibil, and of course the mole-rubbed roasted birria his family is known for. These take top billing on a menu that also includes a handful of quirky small plates and a trio of larger entrees, led by what's emerged as something of signature: a gooey soft-boiled ovum jacketed in panko-crusted chorizo—the Mexican Scotch egg. You'll also find a Caesar salad with cotija cheese fritters, a squash soup with duck confit, a grilled flatiron steak with mashed potatoes dotted with cubes of lime jelly, and a Chihuahua-cheese-stuffed chile relleno with cilantro-lime rice.

But it's one of the simplest things on the menu that's the clearest bellwether for the degree to which Zaragoza has improved things. Birrieria Zaragoza also serves an outstanding roasted tomato salsa that was developed by Zaragoza Jr. He's offering a variant of it at Masa Azul; this one a roasted tomatillo salsa with arbol chiles and roasted garlic that he pulverizes in the basalt stone molcajete. It has a terrific acidic, almost meaty flavor, and an unusual, slightly glutinous texture. It's served warm with house-made totopos. I fully expected these to be made from the leftover house-made tortillas but it turns out he sections fresh El Milagro corn tortillas, whose internal layers separate and bubble in the hot oil. They're airy and light and just the right simple snack to order when you're sipping your way through the dozens of agave spirits housed behind the bar ($5).

Masa Azul, 2901 W. Diversey, 773-687-0300

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