German Café Poster, circa 1935
WHERE TO EAT IN MEXICO CITY
by John Mariani
by John Mariani
WHERE TO EAT IN MEXICO CITY
BY JOHN MARIANI
(2012) by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
Yes, you could
eat Mexican food in Mexico City throughout your
stay, but in modern-day Ciudad, that would
constitute a narrow gastronomy in a metropolis
with increasing breadth and depth of
restaurants. Here are some of the most notable
has never been much debate about Chef-food writer
Patricia Quintana's eminence among the great Mexican
food authorities of the last three decades. Her books,
including Cuisine of
the Water Gods and Mexico’s Feasts of Life, have never
been out of print, and her appearances on TV, in
magazines, and consultancies are legion.
But her heart and soul have always been at her beautiful Mexico City restaurante Izote, set on two stories and frequented by those who know just how sophisticated, yet, casual, dining out in the capital city can be, from the serene décor to the flawlessly amiable service. Quintana herself is on premises as much as possible, and her overseeing of every detail—not least the choice of every ingredient—is legendary.
On my recent trip I enjoyed an extensive tasting men that showed Quintana’s range, beginning with a glass of sangrita--a kind of Mexican Bloody Mary, with tequila--to sip (or knock back) with little quesadillas filled with the corn fungus known as huitlacoche and a sopacito of refrito beans and four distinct salsas. Zucchini flowers drifted in a light broth, with rice and avocado, accompanied by a fine Mexican wine, a chardonnay 2010 from Piedra del Sol.
Next came a roast snapper with pumpkin seeds and strips of mild poblano chilies, served with a light-bodied viognier. My favorite dish was a deep dark mole called Chamorro Revolucionario barbecue, which is succulent, deeply flavored pork cooked in a banana leaf, eaten with tortillas and enjoyed that evening with a Casa Grande Shiraz. Another specialty was fida sec, dry, crispy noodles enlivened with chilies and chorizo. We ate on, still hungry, with the celebratory chile nogada, stuffed with nuts and pomegranate seeds; a rich duck mole with Oaxacan tacos (Quintana says moles are the most difficult dishes in the Mexican repertoire to master), and chicken steamed in a banana leaf. The flavors of all these dishes, unlike those in so many Mexican restaurants both in Mexico itself and north of the Border, were complex, diverse, never repetitive, always with textures and underpinnings of spice, and very personalized.
For dessert there was a refreshing mousse of Mandarin oranges and some wonderful nopales (cactus) cookies with essence of fig leaves.
If you had only one night in Mexico City, there’s no question that it should be spent at Izote. Ask Patricia a question about Mexican food and that evening can become long and fascinating. She is a walking encyclopedia who speaks and cooks from her heart.
Los Danzantes is a more traditional restaurant in Coyocàn (with two branches), featuring many of the favorite Mexican classics and a good deal more throughout its menu, not least a fine array of mezcals (including their own), the spirit now having its big moment in the international market (see the story below). The restaurant, with its outdoor patio, looks out on the pretty Plaza of the Coyotes and the Church of St. John the Baptist. Inside, the restaurant rambles, is colorfully tiled. Coming here with a group, as I did, is the most fun, sharing platters of good food, sipping those mezcals.
We ordered all over the menu, starting with a flattened hoja santa leaf stuffed with goat’s and Oaxacan white cheeses, with a green chile salsa (left). Fried breaded shrimp followed, then corn cakes with a crumbly dry white cheese, salsas verde and roja, and wild mushrooms. Lovely medium-rare tuna was next, served with pretty green rice tinted with habanero chilies, and then a snapper glazed with soy, accompanied by a julienne of vegetables—impeccably juicy and beautifully cooked throughout.
The most interesting dish that day was Mexican
ravioli stuffed with huitlacoche in a rich, tangy hot
chile poblano sauce and zucchini flowers.
For starters here are appetite-stirrers like bone
marrow with parsley and capers on toast, and a
lovely carpaccio of octopus in good olive oil. There
is a green bean, fava and potato salad that is light
and delicious, and excellent burrata cheese
with tomato and basil.There
nine pastas, including a goat's cheese ravioli with
simple plum tomato and basil sauce; nettle pappardelle
with a rich rabbit ragù; the same kind of
pasta ribbons come with juicy chicken livers, while
black truffles are dashed on a third
rendering; a lovely butternut squash ravioli
with sweet amaretti
cookie crumbs, sage, and butter; and a risotto with
nicely fatted duck confit.
Acquarello has made quite a splash on the Avenida Presidente Masaryk, which has more than occasionally been called Mexico City’s Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive. So the ebullient chef-owner of Acquarello, Bergamo-born Mario Gamba, with long stints in top restaurants in Switzerland, France (with Alain Chapel), and Munich (with Heinz Winkler), made sure that the restaurant should be a design statement you cannot miss driving down the avenue—a huge block of gold-lighted, slatted walls and glass, which from the outside you see little and from the inside a great deal.
It’s on two levels, beautifully arrayed with more glass and tile, hanging lights, all in seaside colors of aqua blue, sand, white and yellow, with walls of wine and well-set tables of good linens and stemware, and an impeccable waitstaff and sommelier to serve you. The idea behind Acquarello can get pretty windy—“una cocina que refleja alegria de vida y esta inspirada en el gozo y el gusto por la comida. . .” (hands anyone?)—but this is indeed stylish cuisine, light, with a global sensibility that borrows as much from French classicism as from modern renditions of Italian cuisine.
There are also a number of Mexican wines here that, if not yet world class, show remarkable progress for a young industry with very old missionary roots. I enjoyed a clean, light Casa Madero Semillon 2009 and the same estate’s shiraz from the same year. A tempranillo called Vino de Piedra 2008 was admirably true to the varietal.
There are a few options for dining at Acquarello, including four-, five- and seven-course tasting menus, offered for complete tables. Our table of many guests ranged over the à la carte offerings, and I liked the first course of vitello tonnato in its signature creamy sauce very much. A sweet-savory rendering of fig tortelli pasta came with grilled fresh foie gras in a sweet reduction of cassis liqueur, followed by a robalo fish with a reduction of a Tuscan cacciucco broth made with five items of seafood. Foie gras also comes with a pea risotto in a balsamic reduction. For meats, there are a ribeye of lamb in a bread crust with a praline of eggplant, and a poached tenderloin of beef with grilled artichokes and reduction of Mandarin oranges.
For dessert you might opt for a flourless pear tart or a luscious ricotta soufflé with cool pear sauce.
Acquarello is a special occasion place and not cheap, but it stands out as one of the city’s most creative new restaurants. Also a good place to sport the new fashions bought along the Avenida.
1 Renaissance Square
White Plains, NY
The evolution of the restaurant on the 42nd floor of the Ritz-Carlton in White Plains (about an hour's drive from midtown Manhattan), under chef-partner Anthony Goncalves (left), is nothing short of amazing. The place always had its aerie beauty, wrapping around the building from lounge to dining room to banquet rooms, with its own elevator that takes you up to a hallway past the kitchen where Anthony Goncalves and his brigade turn out beautiful global cuisine.
Self-taught, Goncalves has over the last decade proven himself a receptive sponge, always absorbing the most contemporary ideas in food and adapting them to his own tastes and talents. Upon opening three years ago, he tried too hard to impress by style and complexity, but since then he has mastered the difficulty of true simplicity in cooking, making every ingredient count in a whole, finished dish.
Recently, for a small group of old friends, I let Goncalves cook whatever he wished, and the results were stunning, beginning with a deeply flavorful lobster bisque with a milk foam. The wooden board of charcuterie (below) alone showed that Goncavles is unstinting in his choice of ingredients, which includes the finest Iberian ham it is possible to obtain. The board also included pork terrine, duck prosciutto, pork sausage, pickled vegetables, and warm country bread.
Big fat tiger shrimp from Madagascar were enhanced with crunchy breadcrumbs, the meat of the crustacean perfectly cooked just to a tender turn, accompanied by Spanish ham, bitter-salty broccoli di rabe, and a good dose of garlic. Goncalves is, by the way, of Portuguese heritage, and he proudly shows it off in his cooking.
Next came seppia, wonderful morsels of cuttlefish in an herb-citrus sauce with rice colored and flavored with the seafood’s own ink, and dusted with crumbs of Iberian ham.
Touchino was a splendid rendering of fried rice, studded with fat pork belly nubbins, nicely seasoned with herbs, and topped with a runny poached egg that seeped into the rice. The last of the savory courses was a Peking-style duck he called arroz de pato, with a crisp, juicy duck breast and the bird’s confit, barley, the scent of lemon and the bite of chouriço, a touch of sweetness in a cranberry mostarda, and lightly steamed Brussels sprouts.
We did not have a cheese course, but as you enter, you’ll see an impressive selection of cheeses aging in a temperature- and humidy-controlled glass case. Incidentally, in the lounge area called Bellota (below), 42 offers an array of contemporary tapas from a blackboard menu.
For dessert we had a whimsical version of Rocky Road, made from marshmallow, chocolate cheesecake, dusted with a walnut-toffee powder and ice cream.
The winelist at 42 is one of the best in the TriState area, with big name bottlings among better priced offerings in every category.
The Michelin Guide has long retained its highest rating for restaurants “worth a journey.” Since that guide began in the 1920s as an aid to French chauffeurs, that meant a jaunt, perhaps, from Paris to Lyon or Nice. So, anyone living within driving distance of White Plains should well consider paying a visit to 42. It’s really that good. Oh, and there is an airport in White Plains, too.
SPIRITS LOCKERJohn Mariani's spirits and wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis.
Mezcals Ditch the Worm and
Pitch Their Artisanal Roots
by John Mariani
WELL, THAT'S A
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