Thursday, August 31, 2017

Chasing Mexico City: Some Food for Thought

Mexico City has stolen my heart. Similar to Chicago, it's a city of contrasts. With so many different neighborhoods to explore, each with their own alluring identity and collection of restaurants and street food, it’s difficult to know where to begin. So we just started walking and although it’s an enormous city, when you get into any of Mexico City’s neighborhoods, it feels a lot more like a small town.

Like Chicago, Mexico City is our kind of town. Here’s why:
Without a doubt, Mexico City has one of the best food scenes in the world. From 5 star venues to street food, we’re discovering many new restaurants while we’re here. In previous visits, we’ve done 4 and 5 star restaurants. This trip, we’re taking them all in, finding both remarkable food and great prices.
You can eat well here on any type of budget.
Maximo Bistrot
Tonalá 133, Roma

Chef Eddie Garcia and his wife Gabriela aim to please with classic, French dishes done with traditional, Mexican preparations. The results put Maximo Bistrot in a class by itself. I always eat at Maximo Bistrot when I’m Mexico City and I'm never disappointed. It's one of my favorite restaurants. If you only have one night in the city, this is the place to come. The menu changes daily. Sit outside for some interesting people watching. As far as I’m concerned, everything goes with Natal, a Valle de Guadalupe favorite; it’s now my # 1 Mexican, white wine. Always order dessert; we'd say it's the best part of the meal but then again, we love every course that Maximo Bistrot creates.
Try Chef Garcia’s other restaurants: Harve 77 and Lalo!
San Angel Inn
Diego Rivera # 50, Álvaro Obregón, San Ángel, 01060

The last time I ate at San Angel Inn was 30 years ago. This hacienda was converted into a Carmelite monastery and later into a hotel and finally a restaurant. It's still, after all these years, one of the most beautiful places to eat in Mexico City. The food is really good but the margaritas are spectacular—in fact, I think they are still one of the best things on the menu. It comes in a sterling silver pitcher, in its own sterling silver ice bucket. I was so appreciative when they gave me one for celebrating my 30 year anniversary, I forgot to photograph it and I didn't want to order a second one because I had to find my way back to Roma. In fact, both their martinis and margaritas are legendary.
Like a true gringa, I ordered their classic Eggs Benedict, with a perfectly flavored hollandaise sauce. Yes, I like mine with a slight hint of vinegar. If you go for an afternoon meal, try the chicken in mole sauce or the red snapper in Veracruz sauce: onion, tomato, capers and olives. Almost everything on the menu is delightful.
La Docena
Alvaro Obregon 31, Roma

La Docena (The Dozen) is an oyster bar and grill, from Chef Tomás Bermúdez of Guadalajara, serving grilled seafood, po'boys, shellfish, Spanish ham and Angus-beef burgers, drawing a lot of locals and celebrities. This is my new favorite, casual restaurant in Mexico City; you'll swear you're in New Orleans. I sat at the outside bar and watched one of the chefs shucking oysters all afternoon. He had it down to a science. Everyone around me raved about this restaurant. I loved the crowd, the service, the atmosphere, the food and the energy.

My seat mate: a very famous musician from Paraguay who was in town to give a concert. 
Zacatecas #173 , Roma

What's not to love about Lalo's! ? I ordered a Torta of Lechon - suckling pig - with cilantro, onion, jalapeños, avocado, and beans with Salsa Tatemada. Charring the chilies, onion, and tomatoes in this salsa added a slightly, smoky flavor. The Lechon was sensational; the only other place I've had Lechon this good was at Maximo Bistrot, Chef Eddie Garcia's other restaurant along with
Harve 77.

Colima # 183, Roma

I can't tell you how good it is to get great Asian food again and I was surprised at the prices. Everything on the menu was between $85 - $260 pesos. I watched food being carried to tables and it all looked great. Chef Josefina Santacruz, who came over to tell me to be sure to enjoy the short rib with the Thai sauce after noticing the waiter forgot to give me a bowl, makes fantastic Asian street food at Sesame: Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and Chinese. One of my favorite places to go for Asian food.  In fact, we’re such a fan, we’re going to her other restaurant, Paprika, next week.

Colima #166, Roma

This is Chef Elena Reygadas's restaurant, where I've eaten numerous times. It's also one of my favorite restaurants in Mexico City. Today, I stopped for a Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend and a Panna cotta with lemon ice cream, nanches, and izote.

Chef Reygadas received the 2014 Veuve Clicquot Prize for Latin America’s Best Woman Chef, a recognition Restaurant magazine bestows as part of its “Fifty Best Restaurants in Latin America” list. She remains a stand out chef in Mexico City.

Although we wouldn’t suggest going today without a reservation, Rosetta was the first restaurant we went to in Mexico City. We showed up at their door tired and hungry, after hours of traveling. They we’re ridiculously busy on a Friday night but still found us a table and treated us to one of the best meals we’ve had. With an impressive environment and even better food, we remain a loyal customer.

Try her other restaurants: sharing-plate eatery, Lardo  and Panadería Rosetta, which serves some of the city’s most amazing pastries and breads. The bakery also supplies bread to restaurants throughout Mexico City.

Caldos Animo
Calle Pennsylvania # 205, Nápoles

Chef Antonio de Livier of restaurant La Panga del Impostor in Guadalajara makes a spicy and delicious dish called Birriamen: a fusion of Guadalajara birria and Japanese ramen. The birria is a simmer of guajillo chili, pasilla, cumin and other spices and adds beef and ramen noodles. I have to say this soup has my vote for the best soup in Mexico City; or Mexico for that matter. Open daily from 12-9 PM. What really surprised us is the price: a 62 peso bowl of Birriamen and a 22 peso Corona put  our lunch at 84 pesos/$4.74 USD.  And who said Mexico City is expensive? 

Parian Condesa
Av Nuevo León 107, Condesa

Parian Condesa, one of the city's  indoor food markets, offers fresh fish, organic produce, grilled meats and dishes from its 10 stalls and the famous Oaxacan restaurant, Pasillo de Humo. We were impressed by the quality and presentation of the food at this market. This Tortilla soup was from stall #7: Maiz. Perfectly seasoned, we also loved the attractive presentation of locally produced ingredients: Oaxaca cheese, crema, tortilla matchsticks, broth, avocado slices, chipotle peppers and Chicharrón. It's the first time we've had Oaxaca cheese added to a tortilla soup and loved what it did to the flavor and texture. The soup was followed by Chamorro, a roasted pork leg, which happens to be one of our favorite things to eat. This was attractively served with guacamole, a bed of black beans, a topping of pico de gallo and a smear of pasilla chili pepper sauce. This was one of the best meals we've had…and certainly the most attractive.

We went back one more time to try a fried, pork belly egg roll which was also delicious.
When we tried a dessert, Oaxaca Chocolate Ice Cream, at #9: Neveria - where they make a to-order, super- smooth, creamy frozen dessert using liquid nitrogen - we found the results to be rather astonishing. There's just something about the Oaxaca chocolate that taste so fantastic; so much so we went back twice and had the white chocolate with blueberries (highly recommended) and the vanilla with snickers. $96 pesos/$5.40 USD a cup but enough for two.

Asian Bay
Av. Tamaulipas # 95, Condesa

Chef Luis Alfonso Chui studied gastronomy in his hometown of Shanghai and it shows. Not only was the restaurant filled with all Chinese people but the menu was loaded with so many dishes I wanted to try. I selected a dish: Sichuan beef with bell peppers and Chile de arbol. When it came, I was surprised; instead of it being slightly peppered with beef, it was loaded with meat and had a small complement of vegetables. I really loved the flavor of this dish. Skip the ribs.
The second time I ate there: White glove service on the Peking duck. It's the only time I've ever seen it. On the weekends only.
Pizza Nasferatu
Juan Esculta #24, Condesa.

This restaurant proves you can eat well in Mexico City on a budget. The Queen Margarita pizza is made with basil, tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, garlic and blue cheese. The blue cheese did not overwhelm and the crust was cracker thin. They have many combinations to choose from.  Pizza Nasferatu is opening a restaurant on the beach in Tulum in about 3 months. We know why; it’s some of the best pizza around and we like the price - $45 pesos for a small pizza or $2.53 USA. We really loved the flavors of this pizza...and the super-thin crust.

Tamaulipas #103, Condesa

A picture of the Pork Belly Ramen from Yamasan was on the cover of the April, 2017 issue of Chilango Magazine. I salivated for 4 months waiting to try it. Was it worth the wait? Pork Belly - YES! The broth: not so much; It was shrimp broth and I'm not crazy about caldo made from seafood, especially with pork belly but the lines were long and there was a lot of slurping going on so I think everyone liked the broth but me. The price was right: $110 pesos

Fat Boy Moves

Tamaulipas 147, Condesa

Chef Allen Noveck's Korean restaurant with a limited menu but a great selection of quick bites, all around 100 pesos. I had the Korean chicken which was super-crunchy and served with a honey sauce.
At the table next door: Cauliflower in gochujang and Bibimbap: rice mixed with vegetables, meat, an egg, and chili pepper paste; ultimate Korean comfort foods.

Churreria El Moro
Michoacán 27, Condesa

We’ve gotten right into the Mexican habit of eating fried dough and drinking hot chocolate for breakfast. One order of churros - four or sometimes five - will feed two people. I like to dip them in cajeta. An order of four churros with a dipping sauce is just $27 pesos.

There are five locations; the original location in Centro Histórico is open 24 hours, seven days just in case you get a relentless craving around 4 AM

El Tizoncito
Campeche 362, Condesa

El Tizoncito started as hole in the wall in Condesa in the middle-sixties and they now have around 20 restaurants in Mexico. They claim to have invented tacos al pastor, and even if they didn't, they make one of the better al pastors in town. We love the queso fundido, served in a tiny pot with 3 flour tortillas. Enjoy them with a shake of salt and a heavy splash of salsa verde; authentic, just like they made them back in the sixties. A little more expensive than the other taco joints around Mexico City but when you taste them, you'll know why.

French Dip
Queteraro #225, Mercado Roma.

Many good eats to choose from in Mercado Roma but I was taken in by this beautiful, salted roast beef that was sitting on the counter, fresh out of the oven. I ordered the French Dip with truffle fries. I had to remind myself this was Mercado Roma, the fries were truffled, the portion was large (I only ate half so I got two meals out of one sandwich) and the flavor was incredible. $245 pesos or $13.80 USD was approaching US prices.

Chaen Cafe
Prolongación Eugenia 23, Nápoles

Filled to the brim with Japanese locals and tourists, this place has little in the way of atmosphere but much is to be said for their food and their excellent service. This is home-style Japanese food and you pick out the items to fill a bento box. The food was good; we liked the variety of items they offered. We also liked the price for so much good food. $150 pesos/$8.45 USA for a Bento Box, salad and green ice tea.
The restaurant is attached to a Buddhist temple that's open during the week, Monday – Friday starting at noon.

El Farolito
Kansas No. 38, Benito Juárez, Nápoles

Street food is some of the best food in Mexico City and we had to try these tacos because so many people we know swear by them. Another unforgettable al pastor, and we liked the fact that they are on the crispy side. El Farolito has one of the most extensive menus, with a variety of tacos, tortas and other options. For a first try, it was a satisfying surprise. $54 pesos for two  Tacos al Pastor or $3.03 USD.

El Moro
Queteraro #225 , Mercado Roma

Another location; different feel.
I had an intense food craving for Churros just after 9:00 AM; lucky for me, El Moro opens early. El Moro is a renowned churrería that's been going strong since 1935. I got a small cup of the mini's, made fresh in front of me in under 5 minutes. I ate a few and shared the “leftovers” with the workers in Mercado Roma. Funny how excited everybody gets when they’re offered free food. $35 pesos or $1.96 USD.

Chefs, Intellectuals, Writers, Photographers, Teachers, Musicians, Actors, Architects, Philosophers and many other artisans leave their mark on this city every day. You can sense it everywhere you go and in a city with this much culture, you want to stay longer than a weekend or a week. Once you get a taste for it, you wouldn’t want to leave.

Visually speaking, Mexico City happens to be one of the most beautiful cities anywhere. From a double decker bus, the Turibus, we took three tours totaling of 44 stops. We got a superb overview of the city and it’s a great way to narrow down all the places you want to go back to.
In the middle of all the skyscrapers lining Paseo de la Reforma, there stands one perfect angel. She’s one of the most symbolic figures in México City and is one of two places where Mexican gather to celebrate or protest; the other is the Zócalo. She’s been our favorite place in Mexico City since we worked here in the 90’s.

     Go Pro View: Sky Balloons Mexico
We’ve done and loved most of the historical sites in Mexico City before but until we took a hot air balloon ride over the Teotihuacan Pyramids this past week and climbed 248 steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, we didn’t have the appreciation for the history of Mexico like we do now. There is something magical about the site, when we wrote…
To see Teotihuacán in the early morning light is an experience like no other. I climbed 248 steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun just as I did when I was 18 years old. For me, it was a spiritual journey, doing the walk with the same joy I felt almost 50 years ago. 

The period in which Teotihuacan flourished was about 2-6 A.D. For the Aztec's, whose empire reigned some 500 years after Teotihuacan, the moon, the sun and the universe were created at Teotihuacan. I felt that was true as I walked up the steps and took the same ascent in a hot air balloon over the Pyramid of the Sun at sunrise.

Teotihuacan, for me, was the most sacred spot on earth today and for anyone who loves Mexico, this is a journey you need to take. It will remind you of all the reasons why you are here.

Barra Mexico: A Latin American Trade show for Fine Spirits and Premium Bars was held in Mexico City this past week. What a great place to hold a trade show because the cocktail scene in Mexico City pretty much defines what’s going on in Mexico. It was one of the most entertaining shows we've covered, especially when we caught up with Team San Miguel: Adrian Garcia-Evans, Beverage Director at Levain and Company; Executive Chef Carlos Hannon of the Rosewood Hotel and Uriel Jonathan Frausto Tabares, head bartender at Moxi, Hotel Matilda, for a Jamming Session at the Casa Dragones booth. Nobody had more fun than these three!
 I’ve been in many great walking cities before, but nothing beats Mexico City. As soon as you hit the pavement, you feel the energy. Just like hometown Chicago, it’s nothing for us to put on ten miles or more a day. And on Sunday, you can bike, run or walk the beautiful Paseo de la Reforma; it’s closed to traffic.
Mexico City is officially divided into 16 delegaciones, which are subdivided into neighborhoods, of which there are hundreds. And we thought Chicago was big?
We love the diversity of the neighborhoods; each of them taking on their own personality and color.
One of the things I enjoy is people watching and going to Mexico City, there are plenty of opportunities for that, especially at the sidewalk cafes that fill the city, like Delirio Monica Patino, one of our favorite places in Roma at Monterrey #116.

The restaurant is quintessentially Mexico City and in my next life, I'm coming back as the person who sits at Delirio all afternoon and sips Cafe Correcto: coffee, rompope and milk and watches Colonia Roma stroll by. What a life... and just $45 pesos/$2.53 USD. Let the coffee sit for 10 minutes and the flavors will appear.

We need to push for more sidewalk cafes in SMA. I love the cafe culture in this city; it totally reminds me of Europe.

Not on every menu, I also tried the Pavlova to see how it compared with SMA Chef Sofía Antillón's of Nómada cocina de interpretación. Happy to report Sofia's still on top, although this came in a close second. A nice presentation in a not-so-little-jar for just $60 pesos/$3.37 USD. It's strictly farm-to-table so the menus change weekly. 

A perfect choice to end my perfect day!

Buen Provecho!