Friday, October 17, 2014

In Search Of a Good Steak

Growing up Catholic, I can't tell you how many times I was in the confessional because half way through a meal, I remembered it was Friday, it was Lent and I just ate a burger. 

Bless me father for I have sinned.

I am a die-hard meat lover. An unapologetic Carnivore. I'm an abstemious eater who doesn't get full unless I have meat. 

I respect Vegetarians...

My best friend is one and we gave up a long time ago trying to convert one another. 

At her wedding this past month, Hotel Matilda did a beautiful job with her vegetarian selections but nearly everyone who was there went out for a burger or a steak after it was over.

Yes, meat tastes incredibly good to me, especially when it's just off the BBQ and especially a smoker. 

Back in Chicago, I fired up the grill almost every day. To me, it was always worth the effort no matter how bad the weather. In fact, there were times when I would have to plow a path through 10' of snow just to cook. It was all part of my winter dining ritual. That and a glass of Kendall Jackson to take off the chill.

In San Miguel, good meat -BBQ or otherwise-is difficult to find because Mexican beef is generally not aged. 

I found this out on one of my first nights in SMA when I ordered what looked to be a beautiful steak at an Argentine restaurant only to find out it had no flavor what so ever. Even salt and pepper didn't help. 

It was a huge disappointment, especially since the steak was very $$$$. That's when I vowed to find a place to have one.

One thing I learned putting this short list together; it’s all about the quality of the meat and the method and timing of the cooking. 

For instance, Hansen's slow cooks their Prime Rib for five hours so that's why it's never available before 5 PM. Believe me, I tried to get them to give me a piece at 4:00 PM. When you're cooking low and slow, there is no hurrying the meat...

And like everything else in life, a picture says it all!

Buen Apetito!

Dying for a good Steak or slab of Prime Rib...

Hansen's
Calzada de La Aurora 12

The best meat dish in town? A heavenly piece of prime rib. Another Saturday after 5PM special. You have to reserve a piece in advance. Totally worth the splurge

How can you beat this early bird steak special, before 4 PM, for just $139 pesos? One of the best steaks in town. Be very specific about how you want it cooked.

The Bomb...

The Food Factory
Fabrica La Aurora
La Parrillada Factory $150

This towering stack of grilled chicken, chorizo and arrachera over fried onions and peppers is a meat lover’s dream. 

Challenge: Bringing home a doggie bag. How many times have I devoured it all in a single sitting? 

So much for tomorrow's lunch!


Best Chops around...

Paprika
Ancha de San Antonio N. 7

Want a cowboy sized chop for $190 pesos that is beautifully seasoned and cooked to perfection? Try Paprika's which is served with a small salad and crunchy, caramelized carrots.


Rack of Lamb. You'll love these mini-chops cooked in Paprika's own delicious orange sauce.

You don't have to say a prayer at their tiny altar in order for them to get it right. Either one of these two dishes will take the edge off your craving for quality meat. 


And the restaurant space will make you think you've just landed somewhere in the middle of Italy. 

Paprika is truly a beautiful place to dine.


A taste for BBQ...

Diablo Panzon
94 Salida a Celaya

This Cafe Rama property has a wall-to-wall Argentinean grill and dishes out thin cuts of meat that are grilled to your meat-lovers soft spot. 

The flavor is all in the grilling so ask for it without BBQ sauce. $149 pesos.


Craving a juicy burger...

Oliver's Burgers
Refugio Sur no. 28

When I eat a burger, I want to taste the meat and not be overwhelmed by the taste of caramelized onions or blue cheese. 

I know. I've had the discussion about how Oliver's Burgers were way back when but I wasn't in SMA to taste them.

Whatever they were in the past, not so this week when I had one of the best burgers I've had in a really long time for 50 pesos. 

Having moved around for many years because of increasing rents from landlords, they've found a little piece of heaven in the middle of a garden that is overflowing with fruit trees. I loved the atmosphere.

La Lonja Carniceria is their supplier now and the meat is delivered fresh daily.

The bun is as good as it gets, light and made locally by a private bakery. Whoever the mystery bakery is, they have the corner on great hamburger buns.

I also loved the fries -20 pesos- because they didn't taste like Mexican potatoes. Elley swears it's a matter of getting the temperature right before you cook them. I would have to agree after tasting them. They were extra crispy and delicious.


At Home...

So how do I cook meat at home? Either hot and fast or low and slow. Is there any other way?

You can make a good burger in your own kitchen. Two great butcher shops are:

La Lonja Carniceria, since 1953, at Mesones #33, is immaculate and that's where I go to buy almost all of my meat. If they don't have it they can order it. It's a bit more money than some of the other places in town but always safe and has really great quality.

Los Tres Huastecos at Carlos Del Castillo 4 in Colonia Guadalupe. Ask for the Molida Especial which is fresh ground flank steak.


Ask me after cooking one of the BEST STEAKS EVER and I will tell you that I can be convinced to give up my Weber grill for a cast iron pan.

The recipe is from Prime Steakhouse in Las Vegas and was featured on the cover of Saveur Magazine's April 2012 issue. 

The Le Creuset grill pan is essential to the recipe but make sure it's insanely hot so that it seals in all the juices the minute it hits the pan. 

1 2” thick porterhouse steak
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tsbp. Canola oil
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
6 sprigs thyme
1 lemon

Season steak with salt and pepper and let sit 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 500 degrees.

Heat a cast iron skillet on high. Add canola oil and when the pan almost smokes, add the steak and cook 5 minutes.

Flip the steak and place in the oven for 7-10 minutes longer.

Note: Watch your cooking time carefully. I determined the perfect cooking time for my oven was 5 minutes on the stovetop and 7 minutes in the oven. Get the timing down to a science.

Pour off the pan drippings and return to the stovetop. Melt butter. Add thyme and lemon and brown for about 4 minutes.

Serve butter and lemon over the steak.

Notes:

Beef in Mexico is not generally thick cut so you may have to adjust the cooking time. 

If you find a good butcher, a thicker-cut steak is sometimes called a chuleta, while the bistec is usually cut thin.


I heard a rumor that a local BBQ great may teach a class sometime after the first of the year. I just tasted the ribs done on his locally made smoker. They were sensational. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Scandinavian Connection

So who are the happiest people in the world? According to Forbes Magazine, Norway takes the crown, followed by Denmark and Sweden. 

Could it be because Scandinavians have some of the best food in the world?




Sweden’s Faviken, one of the world’s top 50 restaurants, has only 12 seats and is on a remote farm 600km from Stockholm.


Faviken photo  from scissorspaperspoon.com  

Denmark’s Noma, ranked as the Best Restaurant in the World by Restaurant magazine, has a daily 1,000-person waiting list. 

Here in San Miguel, two new Scandinavian owned restaurants have opened up in the past month and both of them have quickly made their mark.

And what you'll love most? The atmosphere at these two restaurants will make you feel like you've just found another place to call home.

Buen Apetito!

Cafe Oso Azul 
Zacateros 17

This cafe is the place to go for breakfast when you're looking for a healthy dose of fresh-made-daily food and great conversation. Jockey for a spot at the communal table in the courtyard.

The cafe looks typically Scandinavian with its white walls and blue-washed wooden tables and chairs. You might even think for a moment you're in Denmark.

Bo, one of the owners, has a coffee plantation in Veracruz. Check it out as they roast the beans right here in the restaurant. Their coffee is one of the best brews in town.

The hot chocolate is delicious too with just a hint of cinnamon. You can also request a tropical version with coconut.

They are in a perfect location if you’re coming from either Centro or the Ancha. 

My favorite things on the menu? The homemade goat-milk yogurt and granola for $45 pesos and Mexicans eggs for $40 pesos. The eggs are perfectly cooked in a little, cast iron skillet. All of the dishes are plated and have a beautiful presentation.


True to Danish tradition, try this open-faced tuna sandwich for lunch with a pile of freshly baked bread served on the side.

Yes, Denmark's diet is among the healthiest in the world so no surprise that Jens and Bo are trying to create a totally wholesome menu. And like in Denmark, the food is simple and they make everything from scratch.

Tapas sma
Umaran 36
Opens: 5 PM

Delicious mini-sliders $95 pesos. Asian Spring Rolls $45 pesos. Banana Fritters $45 pesos. I guess I don't have to convince you the prices are great.

I love this cozy spot that does everything right including the Margaritas. 

There are so many good things on the menu, it’s nice to try multiple dishes and not have to pick just one. That's one of the benefits of small plates.

Anders Litzen and his wife Kajsa of Los Senderos Bistro fame opened this little gem that has already hit #1 on Trip Advisor in just 5 weeks. That's got to be a record.

Many restaurants encourage diners to share what would normally be considered an appetizer for one. Not this restaurant. With the exception of the Calamari, portions were all very generous. 

Ask for Antonio who will give you better than good service. He's one of the best in SMA.

The only problem I had with sharing was the dessert. I never go crazy about calories when I love something...and it's usually a dessert.

So to all my friends who split tapas with me the other night, be forewarned. 


I'm not sharing the Banana Fritters with you next time around. Get your own!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chasing DF

Mexico City...it never says the same thing to me twice. 

If I could use one word to describe DF, it would be INTENSE. The colors, smells, tastes and scents are a contrasting mixture where culinary options are endless. 

Talk about diverse. One minute you are sitting at Pujol, one of the top 50 Restaurants in the world, savoring every remarkable bite and the next day you're at La Jersey Deli in Mercado de San Juan having an incredible, multi-course meal for 65 pesos. 

It's my idea of food heaven where markets and street food are just some of the layers that make DF the food city it is.

In fact, Chefs are really pushing the boundaries these days. Restaurants infuse traditional tastes with contemporary techniques to come up with their own version of Mexican. 

And what's with the bread? I wondered this trip if Mexico City was undergoing a baking renaissance. From the baguettes at Delirio to the lighter-than-air signature bread at Rosetta to the delicious, crispy, hot baked-as-they-should-be Bolillos at Restaurante El Cardenal, the bread in Mexico City is nothing short of divine. I would go back to Mexico City just for the bread.

I was amazed recently when a DF based foodie friend of mine rattled off 17 new restaurants to try...and that was just his starter list.

Some of the restaurants I've been to recently and loved are:

Maximo Bistrot Local - Calle Tonalá 133, Roma
Pujol - Francisco Petrarca 254, Polanco
San Angel Inn- Delegación Alvaro Obregón, San Angel
Azul Condesa- Calle Nuevo León 68, Condesa 
Rosetta (Roma) - Colima No166, Roma
Rincon Argentino Polanco  -Presidente Masaryk 177, Polanco
Contramar- Calle Durango 200, Roma

Colonia Roma... 

I usually stay in Roma because many of my favorite places to eat are there. Like Mónica Patiño's Delirio.

It's hard for me to grasp that a glass of good white wine in a restaurant like Delirio is just 45 pesos/3.43 USD. 

At this sidewalk café, there is nothing sweeter than watching half of Roma wander by at 2:00 PM. A number of people actually stopped to chat when they realized I was a solo American.

I really like the feel of this restaurant. It brought back great memories of sitting outside at the cafés in Paris.

Ask what kind of kitchen Mónica Patiño, one of the most celebrated chefs in Mexico runs, and most people would tell you a market kitchen. On a daily basis, Delirio puts out a great torta sandwich made of European-style charcuterie and Mexican cheeses. Most everything offered in the restaurant is both Mexican-made and organic.

The biggest surprise? Instead of my sandwich being heavy like most baguettes, it was really light. The bread is baked in-house and really makes a difference.

You can find Delirio at Monterrey 116 on the corner of Alvaro Obregón in Colonia Roma.

I also saw their new restaurant, Casa Virginia, in the space above Delirio and have it on my list to try when I come back next year. Its stately elegance reminded me of an old mansion in the South.

Mercado Roma…

A trendy market at Queretaro 225, I felt like I was back in Chicago at Eataly or in New York at the Chelsea Market, but on a much smaller scale.

There is a wall garden in the back of the market and the space is lined with picnic tables packed and people, both young and old, sampling the wide-variety of market offerings including the wines.

It's strictly for food lovers and includes Chocolates Qué Bo!, Mexico's best chocolatier. 
I found it difficult getting past this stand but eventually went on to taste other good eats including Cochinita Pibil at Azul Antojo and Chicken Mixotes at Barbacoa Del 23.

This is also a great place for a drink housing a select wine bar and a German-style beer garden on the roof. 

Panadería La Silva also offers many items to delight bread lovers like me.

Getting Around…

Mexico City is a walking city. Most of the time I was on foot.

During my stay, Insurgentes, Mexico City's longest street running north to south was my main route for getting around the city. It took me to San Angel, Colonia Roma, downtown Mexico City and my meetings at the World Trade Center. 

Insurgentes is 28.8 km or 17.9 miles long. Between this and the Paseo de la Reforma, the principal east-west traffic artery extending for a total distance of 15km or 9.3miles (and home to my favorite monument, the Angel of Independence), I did the distance walking well over a marathon while I was here. 

I also discovered, when not on foot, that getting around Mexico City by Metrobus or the Metro are as easy as navigating your way around Chicago. 

I prefer walking or biking but taking the Metrobus is a great way to see the city. Go in the off-hours as 'packed like sardines' will have a new meaning and you'll not see anything...but you will get a free Luis Miguel concert. 

People watching? Take the Metro.

Except for PM travel, bad weather or a lack of time, taking a taxi is an unnecessary expense. I would much rather spend my $$$ on food and there is plenty available everywhere, especially on the streets.

Biking…

EcoBici, the city's bike sharing program, with 275 stations around the city, is now available to tourists. 

Best day to take a ride? Most of Paseo de la Reforma is closed to traffic from 9AM to 2PM on Sundays. On the last Sunday of the month, try the 30 km. traffic-free route that takes you around the entire city. Bikes are also allowed in Chapultepec Park. 

Got to love a city who is working diligently to eliminate your car.

DF Expensive?...

Who said things are more expensive in Mexico City? A small coffee at the Starbucks on the corner of Xola and Insurgentes near the World Trade Center, is only 25 pesos where in San Miguel it is 30...but then you have to add an extra 7 pesos for the half and half.

Certainly much of the food is pricier than in other Mexican cities so tap your bank account for plenty of $$$ before you go.


The Reason I Was Here In The First Place... 

Six food trade shows were going on at the World Trade Center and Cupcakes and Crablegs was invited to photograph them. 

Wine 

Dedicated to promoting culture and wine consumption; Participating were wineries, importers and distributors of wines including Valle de Guadalupe Mexican wines and wines from South America.

My favorite: Hacienda Wine Cellars.

Agave 

Dedicated to promoting all products Agave: Knowing the types of agave, Appellations of Origin, Myths and Realities, processing, beverages and products made from Agave. Also to promote the producers of Tequila, Mezcal, Sotol, Bacanora, Raicilla, Pulque and Agave based products.

My favorite: Mezcal 8ViBoras.

Beer 

One of the biggest beer events in Latin America, Cerveza Mexico brought together a variety of over 150 beers, both domestic and international, tastings and competitions to recognize the craft beer industry.

My favorite: Baja Brewing Company's Baja Black.

Chocolate: 

Dedicated to promoting a culture of Chocolate, identity and market trends.

My favorite: Everything! Never send a chocoholic to a Chocolate show. I will admit it was difficult to be objective.

Coffee 

Expo offering Coffee courses, workshops, conferences and tastings. 

Favorite: too many brands to narrow it down to just one or two.

Gourmet

This was a specialized exhibition, which promoted good eating in Mexico, bringing together those involved with food, drinks, accessories and ingredients for gourmet cooking.

My favorite: Enamelware from Malinalco Home.

Tradex did a great job coordinating the shows and keeping the participants on schedule, offering an array of both new products and vendors.


Since I was one of the few gringos in attendance, using my Spanish was not an option. I ran into very few people who spoke English. Globalization, with it's free trade agreements, has shrunk the business world. I did fine and concluded that I just need to get out of San Miguel more often.

Some of my favorite products at the shows included:

Xaquixe

A beautiful glass innovation studio in Oaxaca. From the Tequila and Mezcal keepers to shot glasses, the designs were amazingly unique and exquisite.

Definitely a place worth checking out when you're in Oaxaca because they also teach classes.

Mezcal 8ViBoras 

8ViBoras won the double gold at San Francisco spirits show in 2013 and Gold in 2014 for their Blanco Joven Espadin Agave Mezcal. They also won 2013's Best Mezcal and Best Unaged White Spirit.

My new favorite Mezcal. Unbelievably smooth. And trust me...one small glass will drastically improve your Spanish.

Sabor y Caracter 

A young and dynamic group of French "affineurs de fromage" in Mexico since 2009, they
offered a variety of gourmet products from imported extra-finos, Ofrecemos Cheese, Wine, Sausage and Ham. 

Their sausage was the best taste of the show.

Enamelware from Malinalco Home 

Who knew that a coffee cup could make you smile every morning? Adorable tableware with both traditional and lucha libre designs. 

Pineapple and Chili Popsicles by Tequiletas 

What's better than the combination of pineapple ice and chili? 

Intensely fiery and totally refreshing.

Mezcal Real Minero 

What I liked besides the taste? The label. 

Each label is handwritten with the number that corresponds to the LOA, the production number and the signature of Don Lorenzo Angeles, a fourth generation Mezcal-producer. 

This would make a wonderful Mexican gift to take home.

mune Ceramics 

Beautiful white ceramic tea cup and tortilla warmer. 

The tortilla warmer has won multiple design awards. Think it's time for the tea cup to score one. Very unique design.

Ni paper 

Creative Textiles...not paper! 

Especially loved their totes.

Morning Power 

The main ingredient: Globefish, which has long been known for its hangover reducing virtues. It dissolves the alcohol and improves your liver functions...

and everyone needed a can of this after all of the alcohol tastings this week.

Cerveza Mexico 2014

Cerveza Mexico is the largest beer event in the Latin American with over 150 brewers, importers, exporters, and supply chain services participating. 

Stiff competition was evident but this year the Baja California brewers swept up many of the medals in just about every category. No surprise.

Cervecería Wendlandt from Ensenada took home three medals: a gold, a silver and a bronze.

Lúdica Artesanal won a silver medal with their Aura brand.

The ever popular Cervecería Agua Mala took home the gold in the High Alcohol Content category for their internationally recognized Astillero IPA.

Cervecería Insurgente got gold medals with their La Lupulosa, Brown and Golden Strong, each in a different category. They also won Best Beer of the show and were crowned the Best Brewery.

My choice among the winners? Baja Brewing Company's Baja Black. This black beer had no bitterness at all which really surprised me. The ale is brewed with a special carafe-roasted malt which creates not only a toasty flavor but also a very clean finish. I've never liked dark beer but this brew totally changed my mind. 

You can check Cumpanio Restaurante y Panaderia, Correo 29, here in San Miguel as they are now serving a variety of craft beers.

San Angel Is A Place That Stays In Your Mind... 

It's been in mine since the first time I came here over 25 years ago. 

With it's cobblestone streets, tree-lined plazas, and beautiful haciendas, it's home to the famous Saturday art market. 

Like me, many people also come to San Angel to eat. Many of the restaurants are classics. 

Years ago, I made the San Angel Inn, Diego Rivera 50 y Altavista, a weekend stop because the food was and still is fantastic and the margaritas are my favorite thing on the menu. They are made hours in advance to meld the flavors. And who else serves them out of silver flasks and pours them in a Martini glass. Tradition.

Eloise...It's All About Service

I made a short stop at Eloise, Revolución 1527, San Ángel.
This place was highly recommended for their French food and I'm sure it's great but their service...or lack of it...was not.

I eat out a lot. In fact, it's my favorite form of entertainment. I'm a great customer. I'm never rude nor do I show up 10 minutes before a restaurant is closing expecting to eat. I'm friendly, respectful, on time, say my please and thank you, rarely complain, always try to make a reservation and tip very, very well. 

Today, I didn't make a reservation. They had a table; they sat me in the back, in a very dark corner. It made me wonder if the old saying that solo women get inferior tables was true. It never happened to me until today.

I was there for 15 minutes, I was the ONLY ONE IN THE RESTAURANT and I was ignored.This really surprised me as waiters in Mexico have always been both charming and attentive. 

After asking for the internet password and being told that it was not working, I very politely got up and left.

There's nothing I love better than good food but service can make or break your experience. I was just lucky that I didn't have to spend $$$$ to find that out.

Restaurante El Cardenal...

A short trek down the hill in San Angel, Restaurante El Cardenal (Av. de la Paz Núm. 32, Colonia San Ángel) was a different story all together. It had also been recommended to me. 

I didn't have a reservation but they welcomed me anyway. When I asked for a table by the window, they could not get me to that sunny seat fast enough. The place was full.

From the front of the house to the wait staff, everyone was very accommodating. In fact, it was some of the best service I've had in Mexico. The food was equally as good. 

I enjoyed the Lamb Mixotes $170, Black Beans and the Bolillos are worth a special mention because they were like none I've eaten before...really crispy, super hot and baked in-house. Definitely my favorite Bolillo anywhere and that was reason enough for me to eat four of them!

To my delight, their mimosa was more champagne than juice ($90) and the $100 peso glass of Chardonnay was well worth the price... a Casa Madero Chardonnay, from Parras, Coahuila in Northern Mexico. 

Of course I made room for dessert which was a Tres Leches cake drowned in cajeta. To my surprise, it was only $45 pesos.

Great food, prices AND service made for one of the best dining experiences in Mexico City.

The Markets...

Central de Abastos/La Nueva Viga 

The difference between Central de Abastos/La Nueva Viga wholesale seafood market and Mercado de San Juan was immense but I enjoyed them both.

Central de Abastos/La Nueva Viga was an overwhelming mega-space that offers the most fascinating sights, sounds and smells of any market I've been to. Lucky for me I had a guide (Chef Camilo took me when he did his shopping for the week) because these markets were a shoe-in for getting instantly lost.

The La Nueva Viga seafood market handles about sixty percent of all that is consumed in the country of Mexico. Everything was really fresh. 

 I was totally amazed at the size of this place; Central Abastos is a property that extends 328 hectares (810 acres), has over 2,000 businesses, 70,000 jobs and serve 300,000+ people per day. 
My find for the day? 100 gardenias for 30 pesos or $2.27.

Mercado San Juan 

Mercado de San Juan is the destination for Mexico City’s chefs and you'll find plenty of them wandering this market to find some of the best food items in DF. 

It's a primary resource for gourmet food products, imported specialty items and exotic ingredients. What is unique about the market is that you can find items that are not sold anywhere else. 

My favorite stop: Delicatessen La Jersey

A complimentary glass of wine, the Amigos over-stuffed sandwich with Serrano ham, Salami, Cocido, Lomo Canadiense, Manchego National, Cabra and Parmesano topped with Salsa Artisanal Botanera and a free Postre made with Mascarpone, strawberries, honey and chocolate was just 65 pesos. That's $4.91. When was the last time I had a fantastic lunch for under $5 USD? It's now on my growing list of cheap eats in Mexico City.

A bonus treat? The freshest tuna I've ever eaten.

Saving The Best For Last...Rosetta 

If I had one place to go for my last meal, Rosetta would be it.

I had a reservation at 1:30 PM...right when they opened. You actually get the best service when they first open before the crowds arrive. It's my favorite time to go.

It was Monday. No one eats out on Monday. I love eating out on Mondays.

Chef Elena Reygadas was recently named the best female chef in Latin America and she built Rosetta's reputation on using fresh, seasonal ingredients. 

Meals like this are nothing short of a spiritual experience. You know, the kind that you can still taste or dream about long after you've eaten them.

I started with an appetizer of ridiculously good Bone Marrow with a topping of capers, parsley and vinegar followed by Sweetbreads with an unusual but delicious sauce of yogurt and plum, a glass of white wine and a dessert of roasted figs, orange and hoja santa ice cream. The bill came to $516 pesos.
Their breads are legendary, made in-house and I promise you, once you taste them, it's a totally guiltless experience.

With so many interesting markets and restaurants, I plan to go back to Mexico City early next year for another round.

Good eats Mexico City?

I'm still savoring the aftertaste!

Buen Apetito!

Within walking distance of Rosetta at 166 Colima, are:

Contramar, 200 Calle Durango

Their tuna sashimi tostadas are renowned. They are served on chips smeared with chipotle mayonnaise and topped with avocado and crispy fried leeks. 

La Puerta Abierta, 226 Colima

A sweet patisserie where the owner, inspired by my favorite NYC baker Jim Lahey, creates the most fantastic cakes, almond croissants, pastries, and fresh-baked bread. 

Sesame,183 Colima

Renowned chef Josefina Santacruz, after traveling to India, China and Vietnam, found that the best food was often found on the street or in markets...just like in Mexico.