Friday, March 25, 2022


You can discover a new cuisine by its spice rack so prepare your taste buds for some new revelations from the Mediterranean at Bocaciega, one of SMA’s best new restaurants. More Greek than anything else, Bocaciega uses Lebanese spices; an important element in the creation of its menu. Bocaciega offers a smaller number of dishes and does them all really well. We last counted 21 items on the menu; easy to navigate when you’re hungry and wondering what to order. It can be said that the dishes are centered on the concept of mezze, a dining style that, unlike tapas, composes an entire meal with a spread of small plates. It’s the best way to enjoy a feast at Bocaciega; you can order dishes designed to feed just one or two people or a crowd. I did small plates of many of the dishes; enough to appreciate the mysteries of Chef Bazan’s cooking. The food is very complex; leaving you with flavor memories that make you want to come back for another round. My second meal was as good as the first; my third was even better. Owner, Tono Aranda Lav, says of his latest project “We consider Bocaciega to be a creative vision, taking on a very different style of Mediterranean food.” Growing up,Tono’s father wanted to be a chef (he’s an architect) but he still cooks Spanish cuisine with passion in his home kitchen – estofados, paellas and langostinos - his recipes so good that he won a paella contest in Mexico City. His mother is from Merida and her family has always been in the restaurant business, cooking traditional Yucatan food. The Lavalle family is of Lebanese heritage and Tono fondly remembers all the spices his mother used in her cooking when he was growing up. Tono started working in restaurants in Mexico City when he was a student. He worked in Litoral, owned by renowned chef Azari Cuenca. His brother, Andres, joined the team and Toño and Andres later opened La Choperia, now La Chope, eight years ago in San Miguel de Allende. Tono then opened another popular SMA restaurant spot, Tostevere, three years ago. Bocaciega is his third restaurant in SMA; opening just seven months ago. The chef at Bocaciega is Jose Bazan. His experience is impressive; coming from the kitchens of major hotels like The Embassy Hotel and the Fiesta Americana in Mexico City and also cooked at L’Alsase, Au Pied de Cochon and La Mansion, gaining the best experience that only French cooking can provide. Carmen Vasquez is the sous chef. A recent assessment of both the management and the kitchen staff is that she’s already blossoming into a great, young chef. Local SMA chef and friend, Davide Giribaldi, has also helped Bocaciega with its techniques and menu design. Tono Aranda Lav is an avid cook and Giribaldi has curbed his enthusiasm by providing kitchen discipline and making him cook each recipe using the original techniques before he was allowed to experiment on his own. Yes, chefs have no fear when it comes to telling the boss what to do, especially when it comes to cooking. Their yogurt based Naan bread is a standout, served with butter grissinis (breadsticks) roasted beet jam, Jocoque (labneh) and spiced infused olive oil with pepita seeds. The spices include Orégano, Pimentón, Cúrcuma, Cumin, Cinnamon and other ingredients; a secret we’re not about to give away. We loved this dish for dunking; its one of the most beautiful, colorful and delicious plates of the meal. For the Gyros, they mix leg of lamb and beef filet; the favor of the lamb and the tenderness of the filet work well together. They also used pickled red onions, Tahini sauce and a mixed salad with a light vinaigrette dressing and lemon on a side; the acidity playing an important role in the dish. This is definitely not the traditional version of Gyros that we came to know and love at the restaurants in Greektown in Chicago but the dish has got some interesting twists; a very modern version of the original recipe. The Greek Salad is classic with a few adjustments: Kalamon olives, green olives, fresh red onions, fresh tomatoes, local dried goat cheese, Koroneiki olive oil with the addition of beautiful, pink grapefruit and Basil leaves. For the Falfel, they make a mixture of cilantro, parsley, rustic homemade hummus and lime zest served with a Tahini sauce. Some special accompaniments -the homemade veggie pizzela was topped with a generous portion of squash blossoms in addition to mixed vegetables, the lobina whitefish was cooked in a flavorful hoja santa leaf, the hummus was enhanced by dried beet chips and the Tabouleh salad was accompanied by roasted pineapple. The lamb chops have three cooking steps – the Sous vide, the oven and a searing. They use balsamic vinegar and roasted guava. They coat the chops with dried bread crumbs, mint, lemon zest, Za’atar and parsley and serve it with a carrot puree. The exterior of the chops are mint green in color; the taste is simply divine. Both times, they were cooked to perfection. The roasted guava makes an appealing compliment to the dish and left me wondering why I had just discovered the marvels of Guava some fifty years into Mexico. It’s one of the most underrated Super foods on the planet. The Spaghetti Nero is outstanding; this favorite is made with squid ink pasta, Jocoque and Basil sauce, garlic, clams, shrimp, zucchini, flamed white wine and Parmesan. I hesitated before I lifted my fork, staring at the dish for a long time, wondering if it was too beautiful to eat. The flavors are really fresh; a big surprise, especially with the consistency and color of the pasta. Bocaciega complements their vegan fans on the desserts with the Chocolate Frio by preparing a chocolate sorbet. They use Belgian chocolate and a Pacojet - a kitchen appliance that micro-purees foods into ultra-fine textures such as sorbets, ice creams and mousses, without thawing them and limits the recipes to very few ingredients – in this case water, sugar, salt and chocolate. They also decorate the plates with different fruits, depending on the season. The Baclava is Filo dough hydrated with a light honey and lime dressing. It’s made into a roll and placed in the oven to get it very crispy. It’s then filled with walnuts and pistachio mousse and served with homemade pistachio ice cream. We’d order this dish again just for the pistachio ice cream. Our advice: Make a reservation - the earlier the better; this restaurant fills up fast, especially on the weekends. The service is as good as the food; we saw team work every time we went. The atmosphere is inviting; the interior pleasing to the eye and the layout perfect for sharing conversation as well as food. The only caution we share is to avoid falling into the floor-based pool behind the far tables because the wine list looks pretty inviting. Put Bocaciega at the very top of your list; it’s one of our favorite new restaurants in SMA. We give it an extra star for its overall performance; everything was perfect and for a new restaurant, that, in itself, is a major achievement. Bocaciega Quebrada 18A, Centro Hours: Monday, Wednesday – Saturday 1:00 PM – 10:00 PM Sunday 1:00 PM – 9:00 PM Chef: Jose Bazan Sous Chef: Carmen Vasquez All safety protocols followed. Masks required/removed for photographs and consumption Health First certified by the city of SMA