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Grandma's Molé: The Secret To Arturo's Success



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Grandma’s Molé:

 The Secret To Arturo’s Success


Enchiladas may come and enchiladas may go. But when it comes to enjoying sweet success in the competitive world of Mexican food, Arturo Ortega says he owes it all to his grandmother’s molé.

“It’s got to start off sweet and finish hot. But not too hot, because it has to leave you with a taste for more,” Mr Ortega said when describing the most stealthy of secret culinary weapons in the kitchen of Arturo’s Restaurant, just to the west of the four corners in Stony Hill.

Growing up in the urban confines of Mexico City, Mr Ortega never envisioned himself a restaurateur. But once he relocated to New York City and took his first job washing dishes in a busy eatery, he started considering the possibilities.

Graduating through a succession of jobs from busing to waiting to bartending to managing, he eventually decided to make a go of it on his own, opening his first restaurant in New Milford. One day, however, during a casual ride through Newtown and Bethel, Mr Ortega spotted a sun-drenched storefront in Stony Hill, and it was up for lease.

It did not take Mr Ortega long to envision a brightly lit, sparsely furnished, tiled and colorfully accented nook for his next restaurant venture, and shortly thereafter Arturo’s opened its doors.

“This is a good location. Right near the four corners and just a few minutes away from Newtown, Brookfield, and Danbury,” he said while sitting down for a light, but hot, lunch one recent afternoon.

Digging into an eye-watering dish of puerco chipotle (apparently heavy on the chipotle that day), Arturo talked about the ways he decided to differentiate his establishment from the dozen other Mexican restaurants within a few miles drive.

He said many of his dishes are best served on the razor’s edge of hot, but more of a spicy hot than a burn — to bring out all the flavors of the meats and dishes on his diverse menu.

“You can really make sauce anywhere, but you have to get the taste just right to get the....,” he trailed off searching for the right word. “Not a burn, but something to burst out the flavor.”

Regarding the molé, Mr Ortega would only divulge that it contained the same 21 different spices and 14 kinds of chilies, the plantains, almonds and, yes, chocolate as everybody else’s.

“The secret to my grandmother’s family recipe isn’t in the ingredients, it’s in the way you mix it all up,” he said. “We mix it all up her special way, blend it on a low heat for two-and-a-half hours, and then we add the chocolate to smooth it out.”

His chef, Manuel Aguilar, visited the table with a three-sauce enchilada sampler featuring cheese with Arturo’s red sauce, chicken with his verde (green) sauce, and beef with the molé. Mixed or matched, the medley of sauces made the dish immediately appetizing to the eye, as well as pleasing to the palate.

Mr Ortega then offered shrimp Acapulco, with cilantro-sautéed jumbos served on a mixed vegetable medley — scrumptiously satisfying with a hint of olive oil but absent any heavy, oily consistency. He then showed off another house specialty — the humongous barbecue short rib, which was being prepped to marinade until the dinner hour, when it would be falling-off-the-bone tender.

“Our approach to barbecue, again, is not too sweet. We use the garlic, chili, tomato, and avocado. Your mouth is watering before you ever taste it,” he said with a smile. “Looks good...smells good. You have to make sure the presentation is appealing to all the senses.”

Occasionally he will go “off menu,” cooking up a batch of carnitas or tamales, neither of which is a regular menu staple.

“You got to do different things to make people go a little crazy about you once in awhile,” Mr Ortega said.

Vegetarian fare includes a stuffed portobello quesadilla, a veggie and bean stuffed burrito, or the spinach and mushroom chimichanga, all under $10 on the lunch menu. Bring an extra appetite for the “Big” taco salad, or munch on apps like the babychangas, served with a red sauce for dipping; the Aguacate relleno — a half avocado filled with a shrimp and veggie medley; or the fresh guacamole made to order at your tableside.

Those looking to bring the taste of Arturo’s home are invited to call in or fax an order to go, or call on Mr Ortega for pickup or full onsite catering services. Among his favorite items to eat in or take out are the flaky salmon burritos, his famous avocado sauce served with either lobster or the filet mignon, and the owner’s favorite — chipotle pork. The restaurant also bakes its own cakes, so Arturo’s can serve as a one-stop service for any occasion.

Visitors to the bar can enjoy margarita specials, karaoke on Thursday, ten-cent wings, draft specials, and in just a couple of weeks, Monday Night Football parties Arturo’s style. And a three-piece mariachi band featuring Arturo’s father, uncle, and cousin performs regularly.

“We have a full bar, and 15 flavors of margaritas,” he said. “People love the natural fruit flavors. If you think all margaritas are the same, you have to try them here. Let me tell you, we’ve had no complaints.”

In the mood for a Mexican coffee and dessert? Try the Ollita Dulce, a crispy fried tortilla filled with fresh sweet peaches or mango and topped with ice cream, traditional flan al caramelo, or the flaming yet chilly Helado Frito — crusty fried french vanilla ice cream served “al flambé!”

Arturo’s Restaurant is at 68 Stony Hill Road in Bethel, and is open Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 10 pm, and weekends from 11:30 am to 11 pm. Call 203-744-7700 for reservations or takeout.

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