Remaking Mexican cuisine
It’s not all tacos and tequila at Sabor in Henderson
Wed, Apr 14, 2010 (12:58 p.m.)
Photo: Beverly Poppe
Of the handful of new Mexican restaurants that have popped up around the valley in recent months, I prefer Sabor. Most importantly, it is a delicious, upscale-yet-casual restaurant in Henderson, and I think we can all agree Henderson needs more of these. Also, the service is friendly and outstanding, the kitchen is confident, and the food is well-portioned and leaves you feeling satisfied and healthy. When was the last time you ate several courses of Mexican food and didn't require a wheelbarrow on the way out?
Located in the giant parking lot that surrounds Sunset Station, this building used to be the home of El Jefe's, a restaurant more in line with the Mexican food Vegas is familiar with — tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas.
Sabor is decidedly different. This kitchen focuses on "California cuisine with Oaxacan influences." The influence comes from chef/owner Scott Sousa, who operated a restaurant in Oaxaca, the south Pacific Mexican state, for years. The region's cuisine uses more seafood and vegetables than most of us are used to seeing on Mexican menus, not to mention a vast array of spices and sweet, earthy and spicy flavors.
Oaxaca also is known for mole, and so should Sabor. Our server bragged on it, we took the bait, satisfaction ensued. You can get it with the chicken mole tamales, but we highly recommend the entrée Mole Negro Oaxaqueno, a generous portion of deep-brown mole over tender braised chicken with rice and vegetables. Mole is labor-intensive and seems to have infinite ingredients, and the rich flavors in Sabor's version hit you in waves: slightly sweet, chocolaty and bitter, nutty and earthy. It's hard to order something other than this dish, but we also sampled a decent seared ahi in a delicate coconut cream. Another interesting entrée is Shrimp Sousa, which involves a tequila-fueled flambé and a smoked tomato sauce. Sautéed scallops also play with spicy and sweet, with guajillo chile and a creamy corn sauce.
Fresh opening dishes are impressive. Tableside guacamole was just fine but not as unique as Sabor's twist on chips and salsa, which includes little dipping bowls of toasted coriander and cumin and soft sopes with the standard crunchy corn chips. Of the soup selection, slightly smoky Sopa Azteca with avocado and Oaxacan cheese is a gentle, pleasant opener for the intense tastes to come. And the simple Nopales Salad — tender segments of the prickly pear plant atop greens, sweet corn, pico de gallo and more of that salty cheese — is perfectly refreshing.
The dining environment is comfortable and open, even if it looks like what it is — a restaurant that has been made over into another restaurant. But there is a nice variation around the room and plenty of seats at the bar, which is a good thing because they make some great drinks at Sabor. The quintessential cocktail is Zicatela's Revenge, a pineapple- and habanero-infused beauty. These elements create an entirely new experience at the restaurant, a laid-back spot to enjoy well-crafted Mexican food and drinks that don't have to be tacos and tequila. It's pretty encouraging to see refined restaurants opening in our recession-slammed neighborhoods. I recommend you stop by Sabor to say thanks.