I eat at Anepalco's Cafe in Orange enough enough so that I've gotten to know chef-owner Danny Godinez pretty well, the kind of relationship where he tells me things months in advance, then swears me to secrecy because he knows I won't blabber about it to everyone until he says it's nice and ready. So the new Anepalco's at the Ayres Hotel in Orange? Have known about that project for months. Am glad to report it's opening today, Godinez's platters are awesome–and he has created the best new burger in Orange County, topping even the much-lionized Umami Burger, which opened this weekend to a collective county shrug.
Godinez had a packed preview dinner this past weekend, a four-course meal with more than a few highlights showing what a chingón he already is and will become in this new spot.
The meal started with a rich, buttery lobster bisque enlivened with bits of habanero and cebollitas, which added a hint of heat and crispiness. Straightforward, and a good starter before the…
badly named, wonderfully tasting Ayres Spring Mix salad. It was more than just a bunch of greens tossed together: think beet puree, roasted peanuts, and a creamy, fluffy requesón sauce, simultaneously light and hearty.
For a third course, eaters got to choose between a Mexican ratatouille (which is at the original Anepalco's off Main Street in Orange), a tilapia that was marvelous, or Godinez' take on al pastor via pork tenderloin. I chose the latter.
Damn that Godinez! I'm trying to eat light these next couple of weeks to counter-balance the gluttony that will ensue for my Taco USA book tour, but the pork: perfect al pastor marinade, topped with a cilantro gremolata that mimics the cilantro in a taco perfectly. Even better, however, was the pineapple puree. Most gabachos only know al pastor for its juiciness and frequently miss out on the hint of pineapple that's supposed to go with each bite. Godinez addressed that by creating a lake of the stuff, a beautiful sauce from which to smear the meat again and again: spicy, sweet, wonderful. The gratin was great as well, but cold, an oversight excused by the fact that only Godinez and another chavo were working the kitchen for a group of about 40 that was increasing as the night was coming.
Rompope creme brulee: good, but not the best Godinez sweet treatment (the consistency was more flan than creme brulee, although the rompope shone through).
But just as I thought the night was over, Godinez came over to our table. "You want the burger?” Belly as big as a bowling ball, I nevertheless said sí, as I knew this was the debut of his huitlacoche burger.
Godinez had told me about his plans to incorporate huitlacoche into a burger months ago, while we drank at the Crosby, and I about fell out of my stool and not because I was four Manhattans into the conversation. Huitlacoche, the truffle of Central Mexico, the bane of Midwestern farmers, in a burger? Outrageous, audacious–and I couldn't wait.
Behold the best new burger in Orange County: a hell of a potato bun, patty medium-rare, cheesy milky, served with a chipotle-laced ketchup and a huitlacoche aioli. Godinez didn't fuck around: although not full-blown huitlacoche, its musky allure shown through, seeping into the patty, into the bun, into your pores. Here's the REAL umami burger in Orange County–savory, sensory overload.
The second Anepalco's Cafe opens today for lunch and dinner, whereas the original will continue to concentrate on breakfast and lunch. If Godinez could impress on a harried night, imagine the genius that'll come out once he settles in? Early candidate for best new restaurant of 2012…NEED THAT BURGER NOW.