'Molcajete gordo' is a stew of steak, chorizo, chicken and shrimp at Plancha in Ashland. [Photo by Sarah Lemon]

Modern interpretations of Mexican food at Plancha

A “modern” interpretation of Mexican food owes much to traditions of old at a new Ashland restaurant.

Plancha opened earlier this spring in a sparsely furnished space on East Main Street. Touting his expansive tequila list, owner Tony Efstratiadis serves a streamlined menu with spirits and mixed drinks that are a cut above the blended slushies that pass for margaritas at many establishments.

Also notably absent from Plancha’s menu are the platters of sauce-smothered enchiladas and cheese-choked beans common throughout the Rogue Valley. Instead, diners encounter a half-dozen tacos, along with several entrees of grilled and slow-roasted meats.

Breakfast fuses such American favorites as biscuits and waffles with chorizo gravy and chipotle syrup. Billing Plancha’s breakfast — served Wednesday through Sunday mornings — as “fully traditional Mexican,” Efstratiadis also prepares “migas” ($10), a tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, potatoes and chilies, then deep-fried.

Freshly fried, house-made tortillas justify the $2 price tag for chips and salsa. Freshly made guacamole costs $8 but was a star of my recent meal with friends at Plancha. Simply seasoned with lime juice, cilantro and red onion, the guacamole pairs perfectly with the addictive crunch of Plancha’s chips, heftier and less salty than packaged versions. The kitchen kept pace with our chip consumption, too, cranking out enough — at no extra charge — to convey our entire portion of guacamole.

Similarly fresh and brightly flavored are Plancha’s cocktails. The RogueRita ($8), with its locally made ginger liqueur, fresh pear and mint, was a favorite at our table. I couldn’t pass up the “horchata borracha” ($7), a rum-spiked version of Mexico’s milky drink that cools the palate.

A searing-hot serving vessel defines Plancha’s most expensive dish, “molcajete gordo,” a mélange of steak, chorizo, chicken and shrimp simmered with chilies ($19). Named for Mexico’s ubiquitous stone mortar and pestle, which bears it to the table, the stew still bubbles long after diners take their first tentative bites. Studded with sliced chilies, the dish was just spicy enough for my tastes but maybe too intense for some.

By contrast, the “chupa chivo,” slow-roasted, locally raised goat ($18), verged on blandness. I appreciated the tenderness of the meat, less rich than lamb, sauced with yellow mole and avocado crema. But a dash of heat, or even acid, would have highlighted the goat’s savor. I’d likely hit all the notes I was craving in an order of chicharrones ($5), sprinkled with vinegar powder, smoked paprika and lime.

The grilled skirt steak ($17) warranted high praise from our friend, who also complimented the black beans and grilled corn selected from the side dishes. His wife was less enamored of the steak served as a taco ($5), but I would have favored the fried cod ($5) or pork with pineapple salsa ($4) for fillings.

Sampling a variety of dishes gets a bit tricky on Plancha’s tiny tables. Although it seats 40, the narrow dining room restricts some tables, including a communal one, to just a couple of feet wide. Patrons wanting a bit more elbow room may favor one of the sidewalk tables in warm weather.

Located at 165 E. Main St. (across from the Varsity Theatre), Plancha is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Tuesday hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and the restaurant is closed Mondays. See www.planchamex.com or call 541-708-0883.

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