Although Comal is a Mexican restaurant, I have always taken inspiration from other cuisines. While some of our dishes are deeply rooted in tradition, I certainly don’t treat the menu as an historical document. We are a Bay Area restaurant, and it is my desire to use the bounty of amazing local produce that we have available.
An example of this philosophy in practice is a new dish that made its first appearance on the menu this week. Although there is asparagus grown in Mexico, almost all of it is exported, rather than eaten by the farmers who grow it. Our San Joaquin River delta is the largest asparagus growing region in the world, producing roughly 90 percent of the world’s asparagus crop. It is one of my favorite vegetables, and I would not let the season pass me by without using asparagus, just because there isn’t a tradition of eating it in Mexico.
There are two different directions that I can come from when creating a dish that features an uncommon ingredient. I can ask myself, “If someone in Mexico were transplanted to the Bay Area and handed a bunch of asparagus and full pantry of familiar ingredients, how would they prepare a dish?” Or, as is the case with this new dish, I can look at a preparation that is common in another cuisine that uses asparagus, and put a Mexican spin on it with flavors that are familiar in Mexico, and complementary to the asparagus.
Asparagus gratinado, with cauliflower crema, arbol chile, and Manchego cheese takes inspiration from the classical French technique of creating a gratin of asparagus topped with a sabayon and cheese. In this case, the sabayon is replaced with a lightly creamy and spiced cauliflower puree, and topped with a sprinkling of chile arbol and Manchego before being browned on top. The end result is a dish that is familiar in both technique from one culture (France) and flavor from another (Mexico).