gracias madre winter empanadas

Gracias Madre – West Hollywood

This past Sunday, a few of my college friends and I headed out to Weho to try Gracias Madre for Dine LA’s Restaurant Week. Gracias Madre, Spanish for “Thanks, Mother,” is an eclectic Mexican-inspired restaurant. The menu’s outlandish choice of ingredients would probably make any conventional Mexican flinch with confusion, with its generous use of non-indigenous (and perhaps outlandish) ingredients like kale and tempeh, and perhaps more importantly, lack of meat.

Curbside
Outside the restaurant, off Melrose Avenue

Metered street parking is available in the streets running off Melrose. However, we chanced upon a public parking lot (El Tovar Lot, 8752 El Tovar Place) just 2 blocks away, for $1/hour. Saved us the trouble of having to go back to refill the meter with coins.

Gracias Madre's indoor bar
Gracias Madre’s indoor bar

The restaurant actually has both beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces: luminous, inviting and spacious. The crowds eating here were definitely on the trendier and more monied side. I’d even venture to say that the a good number of them were self-proclaimed hipsters.

Gracias Madre's outdoor patio
Gracias Madre’s outdoor patio seating space

Unfortunately, we weren’t given the choice of being seated indoors and had to endure the brutal California winter sun, shielded only by a feather-thin umbrella. But in all seriousness, it was nice to have an outdoor lunch for once, basking in the sunlight (I’m not sure if the same could be said for Alvin and Clifford who bore the brunt of the sunshine, what troopers). Gracias Madre’s outdoor seating was surprisingly big, perhaps even dwarfing the indoor seating.

Outdoor bar
The outdoor bar

Like the restaurant’s moniker suggests, there were a lot of icons of the Virgin Mary scattered throughout the restaurant. One, oddly enough, was placed behind the outdoor bar.

Quite a few menus to choose from.
Quite a few menus to choose from

After we were seated, the waitress handed us a handful of menus for lunch, brunch, Dine LA dinner and drinks. It was quite confusing to navigate all this text, to say the least. We had gone there in anticipation of ordering off the $20 Dine LA lunch menu, which is unfortunately unavailable on weekends. So we instead had to choose from a more expensive $30 menu with different items. So weekend Dine LA patrons, you’ve been warned!

Crab cakes - hearts of palm, chipotle aioli, micro cilantro, bay laurel
Crab cakes – hearts of palm, chipotle aioli, micro cilantro, bay laurel

The arrival of the appetizers truly irked me. We made two orders of crab cakes only to find a single plate arrive. I could distinctly recall the Dine LA menu pluralizing crab cake”s.” Clearly a second order would come, so I asked the waitress when the second one was arriving. Nope, she replied curtly, the Dine LA menu offers a modified portion size, meaning each order was downsized to a single crab cake. Not cool. It’s never cool when a menu misleads.

All that said, the so-called crab cakes were nicely plated and by all accounts, pretty tasty, filled with kernels of corn and hearts of palm. The chipotle aioli doused onto each crab cake really gave the cakes their flavor, with a smooth, creamy taste–quite surprising, considering all the ingredients are plant-based.

Sopes con piña - two masa cakes, pineapple habanero salsa, guacamole, pickled cabbage, black beans, cashew crema, escabeche
Sopes con piña – two masa cakes, pineapple habanero salsa, guacamole, pickled cabbage, black beans, cashew crema, escabeche

Next came the actual entrees. Rosalie’s sopes con piña actually arrived in plural form, in accordance with the menu. This was honestly my first time trying sopes, which are flat masa cakes that reminded me of a thicker and smaller tortilla. Each sope came with a black bean spread, and a mountain of other toppings layered on top. On the side came Mexican pickled carrots and jalapeno. Surprisingly, this dish was pretty delicious too. The pickles certainly gave the sopes a spicy kick, but the pineapple habanero salsa, with large pineapple chunks and all, was mighty fresh and crisp.

Winter empanadas - roasted root vegetables, kale, tomato habanero jam, cilantro tamarind chutney, cumin lentils
Winter empanadas – roasted root vegetables, kale, tomato habanero jam, cilantro tamarind chutney, cumin lentils

My order of winter empanadas looked especially mouthwatering, looking like a piece of artwork. As winter empanadas were an exclusive Dine LA offering, it wasn’t a hard choice for me to make. And I wasn’t the least disappointed. Interestingly enough, the empanadas were drenched in a cilantro chutney reminding me of the mint chutney that accompanies Indian samosas. Along with the cumin-spiced lentils, I had to remind myself I was eating Mexican, not Indian.

Enchiladas con mole - spicy mole enchiladas, grilled mushrooms, cashew crema, sautéed greens, black beans
Enchiladas con mole – spicy mole enchiladas, grilled mushrooms, cashew crema, sautéed greens, black beans

Clifford’s enchiladas con mole ($16) came with 3 mole enchiladas covered in a cashew-based crema, alongside sauteed greens (kale, if I’m not mistaken) and black beans. The kale was sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and had the consistency of cooked seaweed. Interesting. As for the mole enchiladas, I’ve had better. The mole sauce was on the dry side.

El plato - butternut squash, cashew nacho cheese, chorizo mushrooms, cilantro pesto, escabeche, rice, pico de gallo, black beans, housemade tortillas
El plato – butternut squash, cashew nacho cheese, chorizo mushrooms, cilantro pesto, escabeche, rice, pico de gallo, black beans, housemade tortillas

Alvin ended up ordering el plato ($16), which Yelpers had raved about. Unfortunately, it ended up being the least favorite of our meal. Consisting of 4 tortillas and a medley of different fillings, the dish felt confused and disconcerted. I will say, though, the butternut squash and chorizo mushrooms could’ve stood on their own.

Mexican wedding cookies - chocolate coconut ice cream - toasted pecans
Mexican wedding cookies – chocolate coconut ice cream – toasted pecans

Now for the real treat: dessert. Both Rosalie and I ordered Mexican wedding cookies, which actually includes a bowl of chocolate-covered coconut ice cream on top of 2 cookies. The wedding cookies were nutty, delicious, and everything I expected from a butterless cookie. But the real surprise was the coconut ice cream, which came covered in a velvety chocolate coating that was neither too sweet nor too bitter. Had I not been privy to the fact that were no dairy products (i.e., butter) in our desserts, I would’ve been none the wiser.

Gracias Madre ended up being quite pricey. The tab came out to be over $120 for our party of four. To say the least, the food was a dramatic pace of change from anything you’d find at your local Mexican joint. An interesting experience to say the least and definitely solid and healthy-tasting dishes, but I doubt I’ll be back for a second round anytime soon.

Gracias Madre
8905 Melrose Ave.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

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