Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Sixth Stanza Was the Best of the Verses

(A more temperate version of this review will appear on TripAdvisor.)

We had stayed at the Hotel Stanza 5 times previously. For our 6th, most recent stay of six nights total, I had considered other nearby hotels, but in the end, I selected the Stanza. This turned out to be a good decision. 

This time, we chose a larger room on the basis of its size and configuration, not whether or not it faced a street. The windows must be double glazed, because we heard very little noise in our ample room, #222 (really more like a junior suite.) on the second floor, which has a modestly sized window facing Calle Morelia and the Jardin Pushkin.

King bed room
Over the years of traveling in Mexico, we have graduated upward from stays in minimal comfort budget hotels, to family run posadas, to nicer hotels like the Stanza.

There are several outstanding aspects that make the Stanza our hotel of choice when in Mexico City.

1. Location. The location is superb. The hotel is close to the eastern end of Avenida Obregón, the main artery of Colonia Roma Norte,  offering entertainment, restaurants and shops.  A MetroBus station is only a block away, and taxis are plentiful.

2. Comfort and cleanliness. The hotel is meticulously maintained and the rooms are comfortable, the bedding is above average quality, and the bathrooms sparkling clean.
Our bathroom was large, and there was a long countertop. The shower was fine, with plentiful hot water which arrived very quickly. Just a small quibble: the faucets don't have much "throw", or "range", so achieving the desired water temperature can be tricky.
A roomy closet, ample hangers, a dresser in the foyer, plenty of drawers for storage.

AC and heating. The AC was effective and welcome.

The only flaw in our room, #222, was that the wifi signal didn't reach the bedroom. When I sat closer to our door, it was better.

3. Staff service: On previous visits, numerous years ago, I found a few staff members (at the reception desk) to be occasionally supercilious. But that attitude is gone. I found the staff to be outstandingly friendly and helpful.

I am always interested in other TripAdvisor's reviewers' comments about English speaking staff and their degrees of friendliness. Many Stanza staff members speak English. But as Spanish is the official idiom of Mexico, most prefer to speak in their native tongue. As I speak fairly fluent Spanish, I enjoyed chatting with the congenial staff, especially the Bell Staff, which is headed up by Sr. Jesús. He and his crew went out of their way to be of help to us in several instances, in extraordinary matters not directly related to moving luggage in and out of our room. One bellman even went out to a pharmacy at about 11:30 p.m. to buy for me some Electrolit suero oral to help relieve my leg cramps. These gestures were greatly appreciated and, of course, we tipped them for their services. (The Reception Desk staff is almost always busy, and I did not chat much with very them.) They were always courteous, friendly and helpful. So, I'm a bit puzzled by other reviewers' reports of less positive experiences. In fact,if you read other TA reviews, you have to conclude that some of them hadn't actually stayed there.

Here's a sample or two:

“Hotel Stanza - Mexico City”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago
Very clean, great location, good Wifi but the only thing that left a slight bad taste in the mouth was the lack of warmth from the reception staff. Maybe it was due to me not being able to converse in Spanish (hoping that wasn't going to deter me from seeing this beautiful country) but I found the Hotel Stanza didn't have the friendliest of the reception staff. I just found they had an attitude of not really wanting to engage in my needs or even crack a smile. This is a busy hotel, so maybe they are used to seeing people check in and check out every day. Although, if you're working on the reception desk of a hotel, you are effectively the face of the business and I would think should have more PR skills. Maybe because it was in Mexico City and like most of capitals of the world, the people aren't as friendly as the rural areas, which I found to be the case in Oaxaca, where I found the staff in my hotel extremely helpful and willing to please."

And the following:
“Great location terrible service”
2 of 5 starsReviewed January 13, 2016 via mobile
The stanza hotel is located within the best neighborhoods of La Roma. On our stay, the hotel had an awful sewage smell that made it quite unpleasant for sleeping. The concierge lacks basic courtesies and customer service. For the price and location I would recommend this hotel but given that our trip had a business purpose, we did sacrifice the conforms that other hotels in area offer. Consider twice when booking if you're looking for a pleasant hotel experience in Mexico City.
Stayed January 2016

Stayed April 2016

And what is the opinion of my readers of this?

“Ok for a short break”
3 of 5 starsReviewed August 4, 2015
Starting with the positives, the hotel is clean and well presented and quiet at night so suitable for families. It's location is ok as you are quite close to 'Turibus,' if you are in the city for a few days but it is a bit of a walk to the regular bus stop and even further to the subway. It's not super easy to get around unless you want to use a cab, which are expensive from the lobby of the hotel.
The food is of a good standard but is probably a little expensive. Beware when having breakfast as not every item is included in the one off price as I found out when leaving the restaurant and received another bill. Price tags might have been helpful and fair to myself and other customers. There is a range of items local and international and the service is good and friendly.
The general level of service is good and the staff seemed to be committed to what they are doing. The rooms are cleaned promptly and the building is in good condition. You might stay for a day or two but any longer and you would quickly get bored as there is nothing much in the immediate area."
(Italics by Don Cuevas.)
Stayed July 2015, traveled with family

DC's comments: 5 blocks or less to the nearest Metro underground station, Niñoes Héroes, 1 block to the Jardin Pushkin MetroBus stop on Avenida Cuautéhmoc.

Cabs ordered from hotel lobbies are almost always more expensive than those hailed on the street.

If you can't find something interesting to see or do after a few days in the immediate area, then you might as well go bowling in Peoria.

I'll wrap up this bitch and whine section with this gem from a guest who stayed en famille:

“Clean & comfortable, but item disappeared in halls”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed April 18, 2015
I don't think we will be returning to this hotel. To its credit, the hotel was very convenient because we came to Mexico City last minute during spring break. We usually stay in the area because we like it. The hotel was a little more expensive than we customarily pay, but it was clean and comfortable. The wifi is pretty poor, though.
The reason that we will not return is because we dropped a windbreaker in hall somewhere between the room and the parking garage, and upon returning 5 minutes later, it was gone. We reported it to the front desk, and they said to check back later. When we checked back later, the new staff asked why we hadn't reported it right away and said that it probably wouldn't turn up. The staff had a very unconcerned attitude about the whole affair, despite the loss happening inside their hotel. Overall, it was a very frustrating experience.
Stayed April 2015, traveled as a couple
DC: I'll refrain from replying because if I did, it would be ugly.

4. Restaurant. The previous restaurant, Wings, is gone. In its place is El Maíz y La Oliva, which bills itself as "Mexican Fusion". They may be overstating their new style, but the food is good although not extraordinary, and the service quick and usually accurate. We had a couple of breakfasts, both a la carte and from the buffet, and both were very nice. The hot, butter nut muffins are special. Yes, they are extra cost.

If the hotel restaurant doesn't appeal to you, then are are dozens of choices nearby, on of which, La Docena Ostionería y Grill, a block away, is outstanding, and worth a full review by itself. Coming soon.

Our stays in years past had been good, but this time, we splashed out a bit, and it was well worth it.

Overall Rating:

Room: 8

Cost: variable. Our king bed room was $850 pesos a night, substantially less than the rate posted on the Stanza web site of $1,340 pesos. I have no explanation for this, but we are grateful.

CLeanliness: 10  The friendly, hard working camaristas do a very thorough job.

Service: 10  Probably the best and most generously given service we've had in any hotel, anywhere.

Location: 10

Avenida Álvaro Obregón 13, corner of Calle Morelia, Colonia Roma Norte, México, D.F. (Oops, I mean CDMX.)

Hotel website:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On Meeting Friends For Coffee In Mexico City

Espresso cortado y puro, back in the days when I smoked. Photo taken in Colonia Roma, México, D.F. nearly 8 years ago
We are soon leaving to go to Mexico City, where we are planning to meet old friends. Bob, a professional photographer, lived in Pátzcuaro for a number of years, before moving to el D.F..

Our friend Shirley,  who hails from the Upper Midwest and has lived in Pátzcuaro, Italy and Florida, among various places. Sra. Cuevas and I are hoping to meet Bob and Shirley to chat and enjoy a cup or two of coffee. (Now it is developing into a Full Organic Mexican breakfast)

The question is where, and when?

The following is extracted and slightly edited from my email reply as we begin to unite old friends in a congenial, coffeehouse environment.

We could meet, for example, at Cafe Toscano Roma, a cool place with excellent coffee, also pretty good food, (Quiche, pizzas sandwiches, soups, etc. Yeah, and wine!) about 7 blocks to the NE of the Hotel Stanza, at the corner of Calle Orizaba and Calle Durango,  NE corner of Plaza Río de Janeiro, Colonia Roma Norte, México, D.F.; about a block south of the Sagrada Familia Church, which Bob recently photographed.

Inside Café Toscano Roma
If it is full, —the Toscano, not the church— which is not uncommon, we could go to their new coffeehouse neighbor, 2 doors north, which looks like a Danish Modern Laundromat. If it’s still in business.

(I couldn’t remember the name of the new place, having had an o.k. coffee and a somethingforgettabletoeat there once. I Googled it:
It’s Buna 42! (I thought “Buna” was a sort of synthetic rubber??)

Buna 42 preopening

Here’s what Sprudge says*:

"Buna 42

The owners of Buna are behind three great, different places to drink coffee in Mexico City, and one of these is Buna 42. This is the only place in Mexico with a Modbar, and the cafe also boasts a V60 drip station and four cold brew towers. They also do milkshakes with different delicious ice creams from Taller Nomada, and sell beer in the summer. If you’re looking for a delicious breakfast or lunch, the food menu will not disappoint.

In their coffee shops you will find different coffees from all over Mexico. The Buna team roasts nearby, and makes an effort to negotiate directly with the producers of their coffees. One of their roasters recently won second place at the Mexican Roasting Championship. Buna is one of the coffee companies doing a great job in Mexico’s Third Wave coffee scene.**

Buna 42 is located at Orizaba 42, Colonia Roma Norte. Visit their official website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.”

End Sprudge quote.

** “Third Wave coffee scene”? I say: Rampant Hipsterism!

*My suggestion of Buna, above, was a joke.

Or, any one of a hundred or so other coffee places within a 2 kilometer radius. I just thought of Bisquets, Bisquets Obregón, a classic Mexican diner chain, sort of like Denny’s in the U.S., but better. It has their famous cafe con leche, and that may be the best, most reliable thing on the menu. There are about 1 1/2 of the Bisquits restaurants within 200 feet. Best of all, the staff doesn’t cop an attitude of “hip”, although the mostly female waitstaff is noted for their often ample hips. 

The ceremonious Pouring and Mixing, from a height, of Leche Caliente with Coffee Concentrate, to your preference, performed in front of you, at the very table where you are seated, is worth a Special Journey to this coffee lover’s Mecca. Be aware, they don't do espresso coffee drinks. Bisquits is so unhip.

In their sturdy Unhipness, the Bisquits restaurants are an important Bulwark of Old Fashioned Values against the seemingly Inexorable Tide of Viral Hipsterism in La Roma.

(By the way, it’s my distinct impression that the older residents call their colonia “Roma”, but the trend-setters call it “La Roma”. Of course, it’s obvious which category in I belong.

There are a few, snooty food bloggers who sneer at Bisquits Obregón as “low brow” or a place to be avoided. I say, if you want low brow, go to a Waffle House in the American South. That’ll give you a better perspective on relative values. Bisquits is better than a Waffle House, even though they don’t do hashed browned potatoes and chili. Bisquits does a mean Fruit Plate, with a generous scoop of snowy white cottage cheese. Avoid the Ensalada del Chef, a boring exposition of blandness. I'm talking strips of yellow American Cheese, and boiled ham.

Here's a tip: the pan dulce  is pretty good, but the pan salado es ordinario.

Breakfasts are a strong point, as one might expect, but for late suppers we also enjoy Bisquits simple but first rate Sopa de Ajo con Huevo. The  Caldo de Pollo Especial Bisquits is a good choice as well.

Here's a rather lurid but tasty Sopa de Tortilla.

Sopa de tortilla
Our plans are shifting even as I write, as the four of us are adjusting to each others' diurnal cycles and activities schedules. It appears that Bob's diurnal cycle is closer to my early morning bakers' hours, although nowhere as extreme.

So now we are considering a late breakfast  or almuerzo at possibly at the warm, intimate Café Toscano or the Purer Than Thou, "I Saw The Light" (but top quality, and expensive) Orígenes Orgánicos Café Roma. Orígenes is where we are now slated to meet, at least for the moment, this coming Thursday morning.

Here's a preview of the menu.

"Plato Sano" breakfast. $110 p
UPDATE: we met at Orígenes Orgánicos, and they had taken out their restaurant service. The place looked oddly shabby, so we went instead to Café Toscano.

One of my favorite breakfast or lunch places, for cheap, tasty food  is Super Tacos de Guisados, but it's not set up for a relaxed conversation among friends, and the seating is not comfortable, to say the least.

Stay tuned. There's much more to come. This is just breakfast, por el amor de Dios.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Mabe sí, o Mabe no: The Stove Saga Continues

Many of my faithful readers have undoubtedly been wondering,"What of the stove, more specifically, the oven, with the broken glass door?"

If you want the background, the original story of the horror and emotional trauma is found here: The Inevitable Entropy of the Kitchen

The previous, doomed, GE by Mabe stove on arrival day, 1 year ago.
I took immediate action to file a claim with Sears México, who, although taking nearly two months to fulfill the warranty, (the delay is not entirely their fault) did the right thing for me. When it transpired that the model in question was no longer available in order to replace the door, Sears at Paseo Altozano Morelia offered me a complete new range of my choice. I agreed that if the cost of the new range exceeded what I'd paid for the original, I would pay the difference.

About two weeks later, we went back to Sears Paseo Altozano Morelia, where I was cheerfully and courteously greeted. I had with me two printouts from the web site, showing my two top choices. Both were io Mabes*, the crema de la crema  of Mexican manufactured stoves. But I perhaps made a poor decision in choosing a range with extra "advanced" features, as you will see farther along. My excuse is that I didn't see a model on the showroom floor, only on line on the web site. But it was shiny and it was slick. It only cost me $439 pesos over the old, GE (made in Mexico by Mabe) stove.

In Mexican ranges, there are Mabes, your daily hang-out-the wash-while-the caldo de pollo simmers stoves, and then there's io Mabe, stainless steel clad, top of the line machines, which would bring prestige and glamor to your kitchen, when your amigas fresas come over for tea sandwiches and little pastries while pasar el tiempo con chismes.

"Ay, Magda, ¿ tú sola hiciste estos pastelitos tan ricos?"

"Claro que sí, Lupita, pero con la ayuda indispensable de mi chingona estufa nueva io Mabe."

Some of these io Mabe ranges are so elegant and advanced that you won't ever want to cook on them. In fact, baking in its highly advanced oven may be so challenging or discouraging to you that you'll give up in frustration unless you persist.

Space Age Control Panel for you Space Cadets
io Mabe in its kitchen niche
I have had my new stove for three weeks now as of last Wednesday. I began the next day to test its functions. I will say that the range top works very well. Speaking in the kindest way, mind you, the oven rack system seems designed by a team of clueless appliance engineers, with an eye to nifty cool, but useless, and even obstructionist features.

I went ahead and fired it up, without a pre-flight checklist  or tuneup by an authorized Sears Técnico. Also, I failed to "RTFM" in its quasi–detailed, but basically lame entirety. So for what ensued during the first night's bake-a-thon, the blame is partially mine. Still there are a few features that can make your baking session a hell.
We have ignition.
The oven proper functions functions quite well, if a bit hot and tending to burn bottoms while baking on the lower shelf. No complaints from me regarding "HEAT". I can even do a pretty good pizza in the oven.

The problem arises with the over engineered oven racks, which depend on the use of two side rods to permit "auto slide". The lower rack cannot function independently from the upper. Both must come in and out together. This is a design flaw that makes access to items baking on the lower self not only difficult, but hazardous. Imagine something that needs basting, or rotation, or has a baño María below that must be refilled or maneuvered in and out without spilling. Or liquid custard pumpkin pies.

The Heart of Darkness
Further compounding the irritation factor are the stops,  por el amor de Dios, front and back on each rack, to prevent objects from shooting out into the kitchen, or worse, hitting the glass in the door. See above image. Even maneuvering things into and out of the oven is a trick, unless it is something like a thin cookie sheet, as every item must pass over the low but hindering stops. Grasping baking pans on the lower shelf often requires metal tongs to grab hold and semi rotate the item to pass over the stops.

Finally, a small yet irritating feature that exists mostly to save electricity and to prolong the life of the oven light bulb, but mostly to piss me off. The oven light is turned on by a small chiclet of a switch on the confusing control panel. You do learn quickly where that switch is, because the oven light is self extinguishing. (I refer you to the reflexive verb, "apagarse")

So, you are frequently turning the light back on.  Do not confuse the light switch with the identical appearing chiclets that operate the programable oven ( I would never use such a feature, not even in my worst nightmares.)

I called out for help, and our friend, Mark came to the house, and was able to detach the rods that move the racks. But it appears that the auto slide is perhaps a good feature. It's the inflexible, Siamese rack system which remains, sneering, the dominant misbegotten feature.

Mark observed that the interior walls of the oven are horizontally grooved to accept normal oven racks. Mark's keen analytical mind digested this for a brief moment, and then he hypothesized that this range was retrofitted from an earlier, more sensible model, but now replaced with the pinche sistema de parrillas fijas actual.

Yesterday, I finally gave in and replaced the auto slide draw rods. I figured that if I had to put up with the fixed, inflexible shelves, they might as well be auto emerging and receding. Accomplishing this task required a series of topological mental contortions to relocate the correct positions for both the draw rods and the racks themselves. This is not a user friendly system, to say the least. But I completed it and savored the sweet although brief triumph. In the end, the io Mabe oven wins.

Meanwhile, while on a recent shopping excursion to Morelia, Mark discovered a store selling various hardware and stove parts. It's called Refaccionaria San Martin. He found an oven rack that might be adapted to serve faithfully in his wife Nancy's presently one-shelf oven. That discovery gives me hope that I can find two racks that function well and simply, for my io Mabe oven. Then the old system can be put to more useful tasks, like drying underwear indoors, and I will be content.

Wait! That's not quite truthful. I won't be satisfied until I have a solid, workman like, yet compact commercial stove, one without bling or frills, but that just works. See an example, below.

San-Son estufa y horno—
unfortunately, too wide for my kitchen niche
Abundant thanks, to my informal proofreaders, Hank and Felipe, who offer me corrections of typos and better ways to express myself in Spanish.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

High Flying Fisher's

Calamares Romano
Yesterday, three of us had lunch at Fisher's Morelia branch at Paseo Altozano. Fisher's is one of a chain of high flying seafood restaurants, which I believe originated in the D.F. in 1989.

The Fisher's at Altozano is hidden in a somewhat obscure nook at the back of beyond but is worth seeking out. From the entrance inward, the total experience is one of a high energy vibe. That vibe permeates everything at Fisher's: the very, very attentive service, the delicious but often intensely seasoned food, and the room itself. It is not a place for a quiet, intimate meal for two.

The tiled dining room is large, and there is a smoker's section with an impressive view of the valley. One side houses a large section denominated "Oyster's Bar".

Fisher's is well equipped and ready to take care of your thirst, with beverage stations at strategic points of the room.

As new customers, we were given an especially warm and attentive welcome. We had free seafood tostadas, free sparkling white wine, and later, with an order of coffee, even a free dessert. All that in addition to the bracingly salty and intensely flavored opener Consomé de Camarones, served hot to all guests.

We were also brought bread and totopos. The bread was passable although not distinguished.

I'd studied the online menu, and I pretty much knew ahead what i would order.

For a starter, Trebiche, an elaborate construction of white fleshed fish, salmon and shrimp, cooked in lime juice and dressed with a delicious sauce. But wait! That's not all: I was brought a small glass bottle with milky leche de tigre which the friendly manager punched up with a healthy slug of vodka. It was intended to be poured over the Trebiche. In retrospect, I now think I would have been better to have drunk it, straight from the glass. The dish was good, but there were too many flavors duking it out in the dish. A more significant flaw were the mushy shrimp, left too long in the lime juice. But that did not spoil it for me.

Jennifer ordered Cebiche Peruano, but due to some confusion, I ended up with her dish and got a few bites of it before we realized what had happened. It was simple and refreshing, although one bite of a slice of raw chile Jalapeño convinced me to push the rest to the side.

Sra. Cuevas wisely ordered her standard, a Coctel de Camarones y Pulpos, in the smaller version, served in a beer mug. The larger comes in a chabela or balloon glass.
I had a bite and liked that it was distinctively dressed, free of the typical cloying sweetness of cocteles at other restaurants. (I read on the menu that the ketchup is made in house.)

My entrada, at least, was so large as well as elaborate that I feared I would not have room for a second course. But I managed. I ordered Ostiones en su Jugo al Chipotle. It was served in a modest but attractive clay pottery bowl, and had all the essence which characterized our meal at Fisher's: hot, spicy, smoky and salty. It was compelling and irresistible, but the highly seasoned soup left me gasping at times and reaching for the relief of some agua mineral.

Jennifer ordered a Taco de Pescado, served in a flour tortilla, accompanied by frijoles negros y arroz gualdo. This was probably more interesting in the eating than in the viewing.

Sra. Cuevas has three attractive Tacos de "Cochinita" de Marlin, which were very good, although extreme caution is advised in regard to the wickedly potent Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero Quemado", in the portion cup.

The affable manager offered us free dessert (as if we needed it!), with the purchase of coffee, but I was the only taker. From the dessert menu's often rococo offerings, I chose a fairly simple Natillas. This was reminiscent of Vanilla Cup o' Pudding, not bad, but I've had (and made) much better. The coffee, called a Lecherito and described as a sort of caffe macchiato was innocuous.

The free dessert arrived, a multilayered wedge of puff pastry alternating with some sort of cream. The toasted almonds on top were eagerly nibbled by my companions, but the cake itself languished after a sample bite.

In all, a good experience and I look forward to returning.  Here are the RATINGS

Food: 7-8

Presentation: Very attractively done.

Service: 7  Very attentive, even overly so. But they went all out to welcome us on our first visit.

Ambience: azulejos y acero inoxidable

Rest room: top notch condition

Cost: Our bill totaled $1039 pesos, before tip. That includes various beverages.
You can see the cost per item in the photo below.

Location: Paseo Altozano shopping center, at the end, beyond Sears, and to the right.

Web site:

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Intestinal Fortitude: Menudería Licha's Pátzcuaro

Spice up your menudo with these chiles de árbol
Menudo: over the years, I've had an on again, off again relationship with this gutsy soup of tripe and other innards. I wrote about my history with the stuff in 2007, "Confronting Menudo". When out and about, and in the mood for a hot, spicy soup, I usually choose birria or consomé de cabeza. But once in a while, a bowl of menudo has appeal.

Until recently, I hadn't found a menudería that serves a menudo that truly satisfies. My usual spot has been a very friendly, well located spot, where I am known to the lady proprietress and her pretty daughters, located across from the Plaza F... in Pátzcuaro Centro. While the menudo there isn't bad, it can be underwhelming, at least until you punch up the flavor with several chiles, minced onion, orégano and other condiments. The thick, brown and toasty salsa macha is a real eye waterer, but delicious. The machine made tortillas are brought in, and serve mostly as edible blotting paper. Basically, I go there mostly because it's handily located and I like the people.

More recently, my eyes and palate were newly awakened by a large menudería, across the side street from the famed Tienda Don Chucho's in Lower Pátzcuaro. Menudería Licha's is but one of at least 5 menuderías in close proximity. I call that block "Menudo Row". I've now eaten twice at Licha's. Someday, I'll try the neighboring menudo spots. They look related, due in part that their outside tables are under the same, attractive, bright red canopy. There is another, simpler menudo joint around the corner, just off the main road. Look for the battered metal pots.

Menudería Lupita, Licha's neighbor

The Staff Meal, Under The Red Canopy
Low Overhead Means Low Prices
On my first visit to Licha's, last year, I sat inside in the ample but bare bones dining room. It resembles a bodega more than a dining room. This minimalist décor didn't bother me. It seemed incongruous that I was served by an English–speaking (if I recall correctly) waiter dressed in a chef's jacket uniform. I had the impression that there was a tablecloth on the table. (Surely not a white one? More likely oilcloth). At the end of my meal, the check was presented on a small, rectangular tray.

YES! White tablecloths!
These incongruities of "refinement" should not divert you from the essence of the place.

The first and most noticeably thing about Licha's menudo is the distinct although not overwhelming aroma of the menudo. It's a peculiar, gutsy scent, associated with livestock. Where I once would have found this repugnant, now it was a verification that this menudo was no namby-pamby, watered–down infusion, but the real stuff.

Yesterday, the amply figured proprietress waited on me personally. She asked me my preferences, in order to custom craft a great bowl of menudo. At her suggestion, I had a mix of tripas with a patita deshuesada.* The patita is what gives the soup body. It's fun to nibble on one. This time, it was cut off the bone, so I did not have to inelegantly pick it up with my fingers.

The food arrives quickly and a large orange juice, squeezed to order, not far behind.

The deep red, steaming hot caldo was loaded with chunks of tripes and tender morsels of the deboned cow's foot*. The variety of textures is a great part of the appeal. The caldo was well flavored, but there was also available an good assortment of chiles and condiments for further enhancement.

Menudo as it should be
The tortillas, hechas al comal, were superb, with substance and taste, slightly crisped edges, great with the menudo and great eaten alone, or dabbed with some of the zesty salsa roja de molcajete that lurked menacingly nearby.

Tortillas with character and TASTE
                                     Salsa roja de molcajete


Food: 7 (But only if you like menudo, of course.)

Service: 8. A simple menu means fast service.

Hygiene: Food is served hot, backup salsas are kept refrigerated; employees wear hair nets. Employees eat the stuff at the staff meal, so it must be good. Although I did see the tortillera lady eating a cup of flavored yogurt.

Ambience: Down home, South of the Border, with refined touches. Outside tables have benches. Inside, wooden chairs. Friendly. The young woman who made and brought my juice was pretty. That's always a plus in my estimation.

Cost: Bargain! Small bowl, $40 pesos, large, $50. With a large orange juice, my bill was $75 pesos.

Location: Calle Puebla at corner of Carretera Federal 14. Across from Tienda Don Chucho's.

Parking: plenty of free street parking, across the highway, facing the newly opened Museo de la Ruta Don Vasco, or up Calle Puebla.

Hours: ¿Quien sabe?  Maybe 8:00 a.m. until 12:30-1:00 p.m. Get there sooner for the best parts. On the other hand, I contend that these long–simmering caldos get better with the hours.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Las Cocineras Tradicionales 2016: Where have all the attendees gone?

Gone to greet Pope Francis, that's where.

El Encuentro de Las Cocineras Tradicionales de Michoacán is a don't miss event for aficionados of traditional regional cooking. I had thoroughly enjoyed the 2015 Encuentro.

We were still in ice bound New Jersey, when Jennifer Rose emailed me that the event date had been moved up from the end of February to the very weekend, February 13-16, when we would be flying home. Morelia was also in full, enthusiastic preparation for the coming visit of Pope Francis. It seemed to be an ill–conceived twist of planning

 In the article I read that the organizers wanted to take advantage of the huge increase of visitors to Morelia during the Pope's visit. This seemed to me a poorly thought out concept, for two reasons:

1. People would come to see the Pope during his circuit through Morelia, not to browse the booths at the Encuentro and eat comida tradicional.

2. Advance publicity of the change of date was nearly non–existent. Anyone showing up at the Encuentro venue on the previously scheduled date would be dismayed.

3. Speaking of venues, there was a change this year from last year's relatively compact, more intimate setting at the grounds of the Centro de Convenciones to the extra jumbo, over–the–top* MultiCentro Las Américas, on Avenida Camelinas, between the Holiday Inn and the HI Express.

*(Even more than over–the–top, the central dining tents brought to mind a big top circus. I admit that the tables and settings were quite nice.)

We went on Monday, the next to last day. The following day would see Papa Francisco's arrival to Morelia.  The Encuentro grounds were thinly populated with visitors. At the end of our visit an informed spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous, told one of our group that attendance was down from last year's.

Efficiency tended to replace charm. But we did get a warm welcome from the ticket sellers.

Soon after we entered the grounds, I sensed that much of the magic had fled. There was a general listlessness that seemed to cloak even the dedicated and talented cocinerasNevertheless, there were some positive aspects to the event.

Where are the visitors?
Because of the lack of crowds, I was able to spend more time chatting with some cocineras. Choosing what to eat was easier. There were fewer enticements to distract me. There was a lot of capirotada (a dessert made from stale bread) and of charales fritos ( small, crispy fried fish.)

One, two, many capirotadas
Charales Fritos
For our own food fulfillment, we focused on meat dishes (despite a preponderance of Lenten fare on offer.) 

Mojarra frita

A fine kettle of fish
One of the more appealing booths was #37, of Estelina Solorio Lucas, of San Francisco Uricho. She has a weekends–only restaurant, on the west side of Lake Pátzcuaro, serving comida Purhépecha.

Estelina's restaurant
When I neared the booth, a young man was just taking a large chunk of Birria de Borrego from its olla de barro.

Birria on the bone
For only $70 pesos, they served me a huge portion, so large, that I took home the uneaten half and turned it into soup. There was also an attractive wooden tray with fresh condiments. 

Seriously big birria
Condiments for birria
The salsa verde de tomates, chiles verdes y pepinos was outstanding for its taste and freshness.

On the opposite side of the vast field, another booth was dishing up large tacos de Barbacoa de Borrego. Jennifer got some of those. They looked very appealing.

Barbacoa de Borrego a la Penca
Tacos de Barbacoa

Sra. Cuevas got a gordita rellena de queso y un taco de huaraz (Chayote roots, battered, fried and sauced.)

Gordita de queso, L; Taco de Huaraz, R.
Jennifer also went to the Apatzingan booth for some toqueras.  We remembered these very fresh corn cakes from last year. This year's tended to be burnt.

Besides the capirotada,  there were a limited number of desserts.

Muchos dulces.

Pan dulce.

Odd, crumbly bolitas de ajonjolí  and possibly amaranth.

The buñuelos appealed but when eaten, resemble flavorless bits of paper with a light, nearly tasteless syrup.

Buñuelo intact

For beverages, there were some nice aguas frescas, and beer and harder drinks were offered. I patiently awaited the opening of the pulque stand. When at last it opened, I bought a liter each of pulque sabor de mandarina and pulque natural. They were pleasant drinks, and although I could taste the natural yeast, they was entirely too sweet. They lacked the characteristic tartness and effervescence of true pulque.

My final thoughts on this year's Encuentro are that we hope the organizers keep in mind the tradition and the intimacy of the event and not try to make it fit oversize grounds. And please, choose the date more carefully.