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Tlapazola Grill ~ Marina del Rey

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4059 Lincoln Blvd. Marina del Rey, CA 90292 ~ 310-822-7561 ~ (TACO Map)

Everything about La Tlapazola makes it look like the rootsy-est little Mexican on the Wessside; a quaint, tiny structure boasting an indigenously-skewed name hidden in a whisper of Lincoln Blvd. It looked as though no one comes and the structure is lonely. There, there little one. There, there...

Upon entering, much to my surprise, La Tlap revealed itself as an upscale "gourmet Mexican" restaurant, complete with a wine display, linen tablecloths, professional-to-the-extreme waiters, and double digit prices. Special times call for special occaisions though, and after esteemed Taco foot soldier Darnell 'Hot' Sauce put in his valuable time helping me move from my3rd apartment in five months, the thought of gourmet Mexican dipping into my vault while $1 tacos could be lingering around any corner, mattered not. It was payback time.

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Most of the delicately prepared plates come kissed by the grill; the menu displays a lot of tantalizing choice that sizzles on its frontside. Adobado steak tostada topped with gaucamole, ranchero and jack; shrimp fajitas; grilled trout with salsa fresca; grilled salmon with mole pipian; sauteed tilapia with lime alcaparra salsa; along with gourmet takes on traditional favorites of our's like burritos, tacos, carnitas and carne asada made from rib-eye. Crab cakes with corn relish and a wild mushroom quesadilla are but a few appetizers that stress modern tastes using traditional ingredients. Everything uses dependably fresh and mostly homemade staples, while pushing the boundaries of a creative menu through standards and specials.

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Starting with tortilla soup, hot as can be but cooling on this blazing day of hard work. A thin broth, dotted with saturated chicken strips and swimming with cilantro, lemon, aguacate, and a small island of crunchy tortilla shreds. The soup base is tangy but balanced, and everything gets consumed in the broth, making the avocado more buttery and the peppery, cilantro flavors intermingle with the chicken nicely. There are many different flavors within eveyr bite, like the everlasting gobstopper of tortilla soups.

It was about soup time that the regulars started coming in, mostly upscale family-foursomes speaking Spanish or white couples with that collegiate look. Our waiter was a really cool dude, I forget his name, this was a while back. He recommended the chicken estofado, which is sevred with thier praised mole coloradito. Darnell got veggie cheese enchiladas topped with chile guajillo and tomatillo.

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The presentation reminded me of Xitomates, a restuarant in Vallarta that uses a lot of indeigenous ingredients in its modern takes on Mexican plates. My chicken's side came packed with carrots and green beans like rough stone-masonry, with a thin landing strip of green tomatillo rice in a wide pool of black beans. The chicken was juicy, in firm flavorful chunks that underscored the complexity of the coloradito. The mole is thin and rich, with smoky undertones and a chocolatey aftertaste. It hits the tongue with initial impressions of a glass of red wine sprinkled with pepper.

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Picante D's enchiladas were amazing, grilled to perfection with the veggies remaining sturdy, not overcooked. The plate has both a red mole and a tomatillo, spriknled generously with cotinja and jack. The room, a calming capture of peach, burnt sienna, and strawberry tones, very low lighting, milk chocolate suede booths, and wine shelves might feel a million miles away from San Marcos Tlapazola, the namesake village of chefs Samuel and Roman Cruz in Southern Oaxaca (the name might come from "tapa sol" for the mountains surrounding the viallge), but the Oaxacan bamboo mirrors, folk art, and occasional gourd or two shows a touch of the old way intact.

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Wine was flowing and we were back in fighting shape. Just to fuck that completely up, out came a Kalua Flan and a strawberry cake. The flan looked like an ancient mounment, a fat erupted volcano of coffee liquer drowning the jiggling dessert. It was gooey and indulgent. The strawberry cake looked more pastel than my wildest sexual fantasies, with fluffy insides and coating whipped light as egg salad, bleeding a yellow syrup dotted in strawberry seeds onto the namesake fruit. It was sweet, but still heavy on natural strawberry flavors, and the cake was as moist as it was fluffy.
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The Tlap might not serve your everyday utalitarian interests along the same line as the divine taco truck, which is available cheaply at all times. But when you hit the lotto, are trying to get laid out of your league, or just merely want to say thank you to a special long-time companion, Tlapazola Grill will sling your tortillas with a side of elan and a great big dollop of eclat.

Other location on 11676 Gateway Blvd. (@ Barrington)

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