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There are other sauces here, but none as ass-kicking as the tomalata. The slightly greasy, delicately thin bacaladitos — fried pancakes made with salt cod — come with a pretty pink (and, again, mild) habanero mayonnaise. The puffy platanos rellenos, made of sweet fried plantains stuffed with black beans, are meant to be dipped in crema fresca. It's all very nice and very safe. The most satisfying surprise among these often superb small plates is a dish of "pepita-crusted scallops," which dresses two plump scallops, coated in crushed pumpkin seeds, in a creamy corn picadillo that's sweet and searing at once.
The rest of Sánchez's botanas arrange the familiar (sautéed shrimp) with the offbeat (soft veal sweetbreads encased in a crunchy fried crust but left to languish in a tamarind sauce dappled with smoked bacon). I fell in love with a bowl of full-bodied pozole soup, generously laden with big chunks of tender braised pork and airy little hominy balls. It's served with accessories — lime, cilantro, slivers of radish and dried oregano — but requires none of them.
The six entrées now on the menu include outstanding braised short ribs — some of the best I've tasted — in an ancho chile broth. I liked the grilled sirloin (a little chewy but, you know, it's sirloin) smothered in a brassy adobe sauce with peppers, onion and ribbons of soggy cactus. Carnivores really score here. The beef-tongue tacos are extremely tender — and really rich.
There's very little for vegetarians to get hot and bothered about at Mestizo, unless one cobbles together a reluctant meal from the veggie quesadilla and the wax bean salad. I wave two thumbs down on the gloppy "Mexican-style pasta," a side dish of tepid orzo in a glum roasted-tomato sauce. I pushed my bowl away after a couple of bites. (The combination of shaved Brussels sprouts, cranberries and manchego cheese might work, if it weren't dotted with meaty chicharrones.)
The savory side of the menu offers nothing with mole, but a neat cacao fix awaits in the pretty little "molten chocolate cake." It isn't novel — every restaurant except Denny's seems to offer it these days — but the eggy coconut flan, topped with a spoonful of mango-and-mint relish, is delicious.
You can build a flight of good tequilas, if you're so inclined (a friend scoffed at some of the offerings on the "super premium" and "ultra premium" lists), and one of my tablemates was all but knocked off her feet by the unexpected potency of the strawberry caipirinha cocktail. It's the same shade of red as the walls at Mestizo and it has the same effect as the restaurant as a whole: If you take it in too quickly, you'll miss the nuances. Mestizo, with or without chef Sánchez in the house, has star quality.