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Last year, after suffering through a painful prix fixe at a shall-remain-nameless eatery on the Upper West Side, Gothamist was felled by a distinctly unromantic case of Valentine’s Day food poisoning. The year before, after preparing a feast fit for Saint Valentine himself, we suffered the indignity of being dumped while the bourguignon over which we had so tragically labored scalded our Le Creuset. But this year, things will be different. We’ve got a flashy little number, a pre-dinner bottle of Gaja, and a fellow who claims…claims…to have everything under control.

But just in case, we’ve lined up a few last minute alternatives should his judgment prove to be woefully shortsighted (if wholeheartedly conceived). Topping that list is Chiles & Chocolate Oaxacan Kitchen, a quaint southern Mexican eatery that recently took up residence in Park Slope.

Incidentally, if you’re tossing the dice this Valentine’s Day, Chiles & Chocolate is a fine choice for a first date. The space, which could easily fit inside even the most modestly proportioned New York apartment, obligates closeness and the moles, each expertly spiced, are guaranteed to generate a blush, even without your roster of teasing, Rabelaisian one liners.

But owner Roberto Lopez has made fine use of the space—an almost chokingly narrow storefront on 7th Avenue. The walls are lined with thickly framed mirrors, the tables and chairs are both intricately carved in deep, dark wood (likely an offshoot of Mr. Lopez’s other projects, El Milagro and Artisan, two Mexican furniture shops also in the neighborhood).

The menu reflects the authenticity Mr. Lopez pledges (his menu proudly asserts “we are not a Mexican restaurant”): his appetizers range from Shrimp Ceviche and Memelas de Alcádia (masa tortillas filled with beans and a mild Oaxacan cheese) to Ensalada de Nopal (a cactus salad cooked with Epozote, a carminative (!) herb resembling coriander in flavor) without a chalupa in sight. Perhaps the most potent testament to the restaurant’s authenticity is the chapolín, or pan-fried grasshoppers, that top Lopez’s guacamole. They were salty and crunchy, not unlike a sunflower seed, not entirely unpleasant, not entirely unlike eating a cockroach. But insect consumption isn’t really Gothamist’s bag…

The main event at Chiles & Chocolate is the moles—a Mole Negro, Mole Verde and Coloradito, each with its own uniquely nuanced flavor. We loved the latter, a burgundy-toned sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and poured liberally over a generous helping of stewed pork. The sauce had a satisfying, almost grainy mouthfeel and a lingering heat that did much to improve the meat (it could have been more tender).

No trip to Chiles & Chocolate is complete without a creamy disc of flan. Lopez’s kitchen does right by the custard, turning out a charmingly sweet, dense, and fragrant version with a texture 2007_02_everybodylovesflan.jpgthat quite literally melts on the tongue. Other desserts include Plátano con Chocolate (caramelized baby bananas served with chocolate sauce) and Tamales Dulces (two tamales stuffed with sweet corn and spices or Oaxacan chocolate with golden raisins), as well as a selection of hot beverages like Champurrado (a corn-based drink with chocolate), Atole with vanilla, almond or cinnamon and Horchata, a cold rice drink made with condensed milk, lemon peel vanilla and melon. Taken to-go during last week’s cold spell, the Mexican Hot Chocolate, redolent of chipotle, warmed our walk home and very nearly compensated for Gothamist’s half-staff holiday season.

Successfully waging its bets on an ancient flavor combination, Chiles & Chocolate is a refreshing addition to a neighborhood whose Mexican presence is dominated by Uncle Moe’s, Mezcals, and a sprinkling of vaguely authentic, but dismally executed joints. Welcome to the neighborhood Mr. Lopez.

Chiles & Chocolate Oaxacan Kitchen
54 7th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217
718.230.7700