Monday, April 21, 2014

Tasting the Difference

When I was back in the states and on an expense account, I still looked at menu prices. I know people who didn't. With the exception of all-you-can-eat buffets in Vegas, the price of hotel food was often more than double the cost of a meal at an outside restaurant. So when I hear people dismiss hotel restaurants as a good dining option, it does not surprise me.

But that was the states. This is Mexico where more than ever, quality matters when you talk about the price of food.

Just ask Chefs like Enrique Olvera and take the Mole madre at Pujol as a prime example.

The preparation requires the sauce to be reheated for weeks... around 170 days in fact in order to achieve its distinctive, aged flavor. The foundation behind this recipe? Quality ingredients.

Take my breakfast at Hotel Matilda...

After being pleasantly surprised with a bowl of thick, Greek-style yogurt, homemade fruit and honey, a beautiful plate of seasonal, fresh fruit but most of all a bill for 55 pesos, I ordered the same thing the following day at another restaurant where all of the same ingredients were mixed together. The bill was 70 pesos. The other restaurant's yogurt was thin and runny, the fruit was day old at best and the granola was not homemade.

So which breakfast would you rather have?

15 pesos is not a sum that most people would ever pay attention to. What I did notice however was the difference in both the quality of the ingredients and the eating experience.

In addition to the high-quality food, the breakfast at Moxi was served on beautiful tableware with fresh flowers, homemade breads and marmalades. My view was the hotel pool.

My experience at the Sierra Nevada has been pretty much the same. Beautiful surroundings and high-quality food are expected but many people think it's too costly.

Think again. The pancakes with Cajeta butter are just $77 pesos and Eggs Benedict with homemade, fresh-out-of-the-oven Chorizo is $145 pesos. In fact, the Chorizo is some of the best I've had in Mexico.

What made their breakfasts so good? The quality of the ingredients they use. You can taste the difference. And by the way, the surroundings didn't hurt the experience either.

Having just come from Mexico City and Oaxaca where the food is exquisite more often than not, I had the same experience again this past week at 1826, a restaurant in the Rosewood Hotel.

Without question, 1826 was one of the best meals I've had in San Miguel. Why? Sorry to repeat myself again but quality ingredients and I didn't need much convincing to return later in the week for lunch. Finally, fish tacos worth writing about.

So, did we get what we paid for?

Ask Barry. I didn't have to pick up the tab which was another reason worth celebrating.

Dinner:

Argula Roasted Beetroot and Dates

Carmelized pumpkin seeds, rocket lettuce, marinated cherry tomatoes, fine herbs vinaigrette and Granny Smith Ice Cream, Medjol dates
170 pesos

I split this dish with a friend. Half a salad was the perfect portion.

The magic was in the ice cream, the ingredient that really worked and pulled all of the flavors together.

Moro Crab Salad

Habanero pepper, cilantro sprouts. Sweet lime juice
160 pesos

Crispy Unshelled Crab

Organic Vegetables in "escabeche", Saffron Aioli and onion rings
160 pesos

I'm now asking myself if I will ever be satisfied with Hank's Softshell Crab sandwich again after eating this? Seriously, you'll have to convince me.

Homemade Fetuccini with Lobster

Basil Cream, Roasted Garlic, Guajillo chilies and Reggiano Parmesan Cheese
330 pesos

Dessert:

Apple and Cinnamon

Roasted warm apple tart with Cinnamon Crumble, Meringue and Vanilla Ice Cream
105 pesos

Cajeta- Goat Milk Caramel

Creamy Cajeta Caramel Custard enhanced with Lemon Grass and Pecan Crocant
105 pesos

Lunch:

    Antique Taco 

Crispy Red Snapper Tacos

190 pesos

Actually, I haven't had a good fish Tacos since I last ate at Antique Taco in Chicago. These two plates were very similar and about the same price.

Copa San Miguel

Vanilla, Chocolate and Goat Milk Caramel Ice Cream, sauce with Baileys, Caramelized Banana and Creme Anglais.
96 pesos.

This dessert was served in a large glass. It was good but I expected a little more after the fabulous desserts we had earlier in the week.

...but then any excuse is a good excuse to try another dessert.


Buen Apetito!

SMA Shorts

How To Tell When It's Done?

Did you know that professionals use touch to gauge doneness?

Touch your index finger to your cheek. When the meat feels this way, the steak is rare.
Touch the tip of your nose. That firmness equates to medium.
Your forehead is well done.

Bon Appetit to whosever nose you are using!
 

Geek and Coffee

In addition to great coffees and waters, Geek and Coffee has baked goods and even offers a blanket so you can picnic in their own back yard.

One thing I can say about this place: Tranquil and peaceful. It's a great space to write.


Just walk through the red gate at Aurora. It's magic...even the ducks swimming by think so.

The Geeks are on hand to fix your computer, iPad or solve any of your technical problems. Hourly charge is just $250 pesos.

Monday - Wednesday you get a free AM Newspaper with a purchase. AM's office is on the far side of the property.

The Road to Oaxaca:

I took the bus just once - a grueling 7 hour trip - from Mexico City to Oaxaca to experience the hairpin turns and breathtakingly beautiful scenery.

So glad I did but next time: Interjet!

Getting around Oaxaca:

It's true. I have a very poor sense of direction but this handwritten map from my hotel helped me through the first few days.

As always, I walked everywhere. Oaxaca is a great city for walking.

Home Away From Home...


Casa Colonial
Calle Miguel Negrete 105

Just six blocks from downtown and a few blocks from Insurgentes -one of the main streets- this Bed and Breakfast boasts a good AM meal to get you started, no locks on the doors except for the outside door, a great staff and a family of frequent guests. Most are return visitors.

There was an impromptu concert Sunday with hot dogs and hamburgers, Margaritas and a medley of Beatle songs.

I discovered some classic Mexican Folk Art in the beautifully decorated library.

Every room opened up to the lush garden.

Best part of all? $40 US a day.

Mas Mezcal

My favorite Mezcal bar in Oaxaca was Los Amantes at Allende 107.

It's a very tiny bar that does not have tables but rather long benches, miniature chairs and an old wood bar to belly up to.

100-150 pesos a shot.

Serendipity:

My favorite word?

Serendipity...making fortunate discoveries totally by accident.

It also happens to be the way I find most of my favorite restaurants.

Crunch...

Insects are on the menus at many of Mexico's most celebrated restaurants.

Me? I prefer food that won't crawl off my plate.


La Sirena Gorda
Barranca 78

This bar is one of the oldest and most popular bars in San Miguel.


Get cozy because it's really small. I like small.

Don't forget to try a Ginger Margarita. It's one of the best in SMA.

A bargain at 65 pesos.


Camino Silvestre
Barranca 78

Want to grow some fresh herbs?

This little greenhouse is yours if you happen to have an extra 2000 pesos laying around.

Homemade Brine

Here is a brine recipe that can be used to wet or dry brine. I’ve tried it both ways and the results are magnificent.

2 Cups Sea Salt
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup White Sugar
2 Tbsp. Lemon Peel
2 Bay Leaves
Dash Cane Sugar
2 Tbsp Orange Peel
2 Tbsp Thyme
2 Tbsp Sage
2 Tbsp Rosemary
2 Tbsp Pink, Green and Black Peppercorns

Combine 3 cups of boiling water to the mixture above. When sugar is dissolved add this to 3 gallons of cold tap water.

Place meat in brine mixture. Refrigerate and brine meat for at least 12 hours.

Do you know: What has more protein than an egg? Dried Pumpkin Seeds

Too Many Carnitas?

You may not like the taste of this drink, but the people who have tried it swear it has helped them lose all those extra pounds. Let me know if you find lemons. Sources are scarce.

1 tbsp apple juice
1 tbsp ground chili pepper
Lemon juice and lemon zest (use 1 lemon)

Peel the lemon, and cover the lemon peel with 8 oz ( 240 milliliters ) of hot water.

After 10 minutes, add some lemon juice, apple juice and ground chili pepper. Stir well before every sip, and consume this drink after every meal.

Korean Tacos

This Taco recipe is from Cooking Light. It's so delicious and easy- a winning combination as far as I'm concerned.

It's been awhile since I've loved a recipe from Cooking Light. Seems like they are back on track as I've tried several in the past week and they were all really good.

This is a great alternative to your traditional Mexican taco. I used flour tortillas instead of corn.

1/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons chile paste (such as sambal oelek)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 ounces flank steak, sliced against the grain into thin strips (Arrachera)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Quick Pickled Cabbage
3 tablespoons sliced green onions

Combine first 6 ingredients in a shallow dish. Add steak to dish; cover. Marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, turning after 30 minutes.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Remove steak from marinade, and discard marinade. Thread steak onto 8 (8-inch) skewers; sprinkle with salt. Place skewers on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 2 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Grill tortillas 30 seconds on each side or until lightly charred; keep warm. Place 2 tortillas on each of 4 plates, and divide steak evenly among tortillas.

Divide the Quick Pickled Cabbage evenly among tacos; sprinkle with onions.

The Daily Meals 30 Best French Fries in the World...

I worked right down the street from Edzo’s Burger Shop so it was no surprise that they are on this list. 

Congrats to Eddie Larkin, a chef who works harder than just about any other chef I know.

The fries are cut thin. I always asked for them fried extra crispy.

By the way, the minute our office moved, I dropped five pounds.

Mole Ingredients

Dark Mexican Beer and Peanut Butter?

Two ingredients I've not tried in my mole but many chefs will tell you that they swear by them.

Observant? Where is this?

Don't Ever Want to Lose: My sense of TASTE!

Miss:

Mindy's Hot Chocolate
Black and Tan - 1/3 Hot Fudge, 2/3 Hot Chocolate
$ 6.00

Sunda's 32oz Sumo Mary...in all its garnished glory.

Semana Santa:

Being in Mexico for Semana Santa has been an awakening for me. 

I'll never look at Easter the same way again.

La Azotea:

Almost as good as their Jicama Taco? This tuna on a thick-cut potato chip with a balsamic vinegar reduction.


Buen Apetito!