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Popping Up

Flavors of Mexico make an appearance at Sebastopol's Ramen Gaijin

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MEXICO VIA SONOMA COUNTY  The corn at Polanco will feature an ancient variety from Oaxaca.
  • MEXICO VIA SONOMA COUNTY The corn at Polanco will feature an ancient variety from Oaxaca.

If the folks at Sebastopol's Ramen Gaijin are throwing a pop-up dinner, it's worth taking note.

Ramen Gaijin, as you may recall, was born as a pop-up at neighboring Woodfour Brewing Co. It was such a hit founders Moishe Hahn-Schuman and Matthew Williams set out on their own in 2014 to open their own place, now one of the busiest—and best—restaurants in town. It's not Hahn-Schuman and Williams behind this pop-up, but one of their more adventurous cooks, Ruben Alcaraz and his buddy Raul Mendez, a sous chef at Napa's 1313 Main.

The duo are creating a rootsy, eclectic ode to the flavors of Mexico City, particularly the street food from the city's upscale Polanco neighborhood. That's what the one-night-only restaurant will be called: Polanco. It run 5–9pm June 5. For fans of Mexican food willing to travel far beyond burritos and quesadillas, it's not to be missed.

Let's start with the corn, one of the foundations of central and southern Mexican cuisine. The corn (or hominy in this case) Alcaraz and Mendez will be using comes from artisanal growers in Oaxaca. Alcaraz says the variety is more than a thousand years old and GMO-free.

"To eat something that's been handcrafted by the Aztecs and Mayans from a thousand years ago is pretty unique," he says.

They'll be grinding the grain on-site for tortillas and tamales, and it will also used in a pozole rojo, a chile-laced pork and hominy stew.

Other dishes on the nine-item menu include roasted corn with a powdered grasshopper aioli, birria tacos made with goat meat marinated for 10 days and tamales served with duck confit and a 120-day mole made with more than 100 ingredients.

"Every week my partner gives it a stir to get the mole to emulsify, age and keep fermenting," Alcaraz says. "We don't know how people are going to take it. Some people might really dig it, but some people might be like, 'Wow, this is too much for me. I've never exposed my palate to those kinds of flavors.'"

There will be cocktails, too, but don't expect Margaritas. Alcaraz has created four tequila and mezcal cocktails, and borrowed the Oaxaca Manhattan from New York's Death & Co. One drink he's created features jicama juice with mescal and another is a riff on a White Russian made with horchata.

Alcaraz is taking a wait-and-see approach to future pop-ups, but the effort is clearly a passion project for him. He did a taco-centric pop-up at Ramen Gaijin last year, but Polanco is more ambitious.

"It's something I always wanted to do. I just had it in me, and I was tired of having to go to El Molino Central all the way in Sonoma just to get some good Mexican food. Why can't we do it here?"

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