Monday, March 29, 2010

Pátzcuaro's Specialty Food Shops

It may come as a surprise to newcomers that somewhat provincial Pátzcuaro has several specialty food shops. If you are looking for Asian sesame oil, or sushi rice, rice wine vinegar; where do you find them? What about fromage chevre or smoked provolone? Daikon radish? Eggplant? Brussels Sprouts? In this series of blog posts, I'll describe where to find these items. They are not to be found in the Centro Mágico, but in a workaday neighborhood, not far from the railroad tracks.

It used to be that you'd at least need to go to Morelia or Mexico City to locate these foreign foods. But it seems that the owners of a flourishing tienda de abarrotes in "off-Centro" Pátzcuaro realized that their more affluent clients wanted these foreign items, and made great efforts to obtain them.

The tienda is "Don Chucho's", well known locally, but unlisted in any guidebooks. It has been operated by the same family for over 50 years, the day to day operations having passed from the eponymous Don Chucho to his son, Octavio Mendoza Servín and wife Delia Guzmán Júarez. 

Octavio Mendoza
Delia Guzmán waits on customer
The building itself is over 100 years old, though, of course, remodelings have taken place over the years, most recently a doubling of the sales space in about 2007. Several generations live in the house behind the store.

The Don Chucho building many years ago

The customer base still consists of local people from the neighborhood around "La Estacíon", the old passenger railroad station just to the north of the store. The store itself is on a corner of Avenida Saltillo, (the "libre" highway to Uruapan) near a brightly yellow-painted pedestrian bridge.

The store stocks an amazing inventory of staple foods, canned goods, basic automotive needs (see the fan belts hanging from the ceiling), bulk spices, bottled salsas, canned goods, ice cream treats, charcutería and productos lacteos. I first learned of the store from the late Will Chapman and Jimmy Blackfeather Rose. It was recommended to me for its higher quality butter, made without aromatizantes. It was true, but additionally, there are two or three varieties of chevre and sometimes smoked provolone. Overhead, ropes of chorizo hang: a drier type, made elsewhere and a moister type, Don Chucho's custom chorizo de la casa.

Chorizo hangout
Nearly every inch of wall shelving has some product on it. But we are there to see what kind of foreign foods they have. I'd first noticed Hershey's Cocoa Powder, but that's not too unusual, as several supermercados carry it. There are the aforementioned sushi ingredients (less the fish!) including nori; the sesame oil, various grades of olive oil, specialty vinegars, including  raspberry and balsamic; instant frijoles in a pouch! Just add boiling water? (Oh, well).

There's also a small liquor department.

And this big, 4.5 liters bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label is offered at only $2300 MXP.

The price for these delicacies is a little higher than you'd find in Morelia stores, but you have the convenience of shopping closer to home, so it's worth it.

In the deli case near the "natural" butter is a delicate queso de yogurt of lacy texture. Every visit to Don Chucho's reveals more products, as you will discover.

Don Chucho's carries a small but select line of produce, displayed on the counter top, but if you want more, there's a nice little produce stand just outside, around the corner.

Need more and different cheese? A brand new, shiny Fábrica de Quesos opened across Av. Saltillo late in 2009. So far, the crema has proved to be outstanding and rich, and the cheeses we've sampled are good, but typically bland in the style favored in Michoacán. I mean to try their butter, when I have a chance.

If the sight of this food makes you hungry, you'll find several outdoor fondas along the streets, offering inexpensive meals. I've only sampled the fare at one; a plate of cerdo en salsa negra con frijoles, which was excellent, barring the belated arrival of utensils until I was halfway fnished. (I ate with tortillas.) Look for which fonda has the most people eating, and decide for yourself.

To complete (or better, to begin) your epicurean visit to this area of Pátzcuaro, go to Panadería La Espiga, a short walk from Don Chucho's, which I described in detail several years ago. It has the tastiest, wood-oven baked teleras in Pátzcuaro. Just be sure to get there before 10 a.m., earlier if possible.

Don Chucho's opens at 8:00 a.m and closes for a descanso at 2:00 p.m.; then reopens at 4:00, Monday -Friday. On Saturday and Sunday it closes at 2:00 and doesn't reopen until Monday morning. (The hours of operation may vary.)

View Pátzcuaro's Best Eats in a larger map

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The New, Spring Look

It's Spring time, and I'm regenerating energy by taking a rest from blogging for a while. I have some topics lined up that will engage my attention and, I hope, yours.

Meanwhile, I was browsing the Templates section of Blogger, where I saw a new, attractive Spring outfit I just couldn't resist. After trying it on, I decided to buy it, an incredible bargain at only $0.

For those who are interested, it's a variation of "Simple". I think it's easier on the eyes.

Just to keep this food related, a new restaurant, "Regina's", has opened up in the variously named Eco Hotel on the Calle Al Estribo Grande in Pátzcuaro. I haven't been there yet, but we got an email from "SFC Ric" that stated:

Regina's Pizza & Wine at the Eco Hotel on La Subida Al Estribo Grande #48 is operated by Gonzalito Leal, the head chef at La Surtidora (The Office) on the Plaza Grande; opened last weekend.  The service hours are: Thursday and Friday 5 p.m. till 1 a.m., Saturday 9 a.m. (breakfast is also served) till 1 or 2 a.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. till 7 p.m.  
I'll be interested in how long that gruelling schedule will stay in effect.

The dinner menu includes grilled meats, of the quality of SuSazón, a fine meat purveyor in Morelia. The view is first rate.

Hasta prontito,
Don Cuevas

UPDATE: How could I forget to mention that our seafood favorite in Pátzcuaro, Mariscos La Güera, now offers free wi-fi to its customers? So now, you can check your email and browse your favorite web sites while peeling your camarones.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

La Mesa de Blanca

Rumors had drifted to us of a wonderful restaurant located in a small town with a hard-to-pronounce name. "Ziracuarétiro", somewhere between Pátzcuaro and Uruapan, 5 kilometers off the Autopista al Sol toll highway.

Among the rumors was that it "was the best restaurant in Michoacán."
The chef, Sra. Blanca Vidales Vega, is a prizewinner in regional and national concursos.

With stories like that, we had to visit it and dine there. At the suggestion of our friend and fellow foodie, Ron, we made a date to drive to Ziracuarétiro on Sunday afternoon. It was a very nice way to celebrate the arrival of Spring.

The restaurant, called "La Mesa de Blanca", is a delightful surprise to find, in beautiful, agricultural countryside of avocado, peach and mango orchards. The road debouches in the town, its skyline dominated by the bell tower of the church. After getting directions locally, we located the restaurant without much difficulty.

The restaurant La Mesa de Blanca is located on Avenida Ferrocarril. The approach via a tracks crossing, after passing through a typical, small Michoacán town streetscape.

Soon after crossing the RR tracks and leaving the pavement, we were encouraged to see a large, attractive building ahead. There was an ample parking area to the right.

At the big door, we were greeted by Sr. Rodrigo Lemus, husband of Chef Blanca, and some of the colorfully garbed staff.

There are several dining rooms in this very large restaurant, most of which have green plants, open views to the town below and the green hills beyond. The main dining room has aquaria holding carp and perhaps goldfish. There is a big table with a display of choice bottles of wine, attractively flanked by antique kitchen implements.

We saw two kitchens; the first, located in the broad entry hall, is an area for making carnitas, grilling meats, and the hand making of tortillas.
The second, principal kitchen, centrally located bewteen the entry hall and the main dining rooms, is dominated by big pots and many more cooks than the other kitchen. Pretty waitresses, clothed in colorful outfits, waited there to pick up orders.

Our hosts led us to what, if I recall correctly, is called "El Refugio", an elevated dining room beyond the service bar, with comfortable seating, cloth draped tables and a nice view. We were brought a dish of salsa, some nicely made pickled vegetables (crisp tender cauliflower, carrots, onions and rings of surprisingly mild chile perón.) There was also a dish of batons of jícama, with a small pool of a fruity salsa picante, When we asked, we were told that it was chile guajillo, but no fruit.

After taking our drink orders, mezcal for me and Doña Cuevas, after a tasting of two varieties; plus an agua mineral and a glass of vino tinto for our friend Ron. Later, we ordered a jarra de agua fresca, which, considering it was made from ripe zarzamoras (blackberries), a fantastic choice. In some ways it was a highlight of the meal. It was the best agua fresca de fruta we'd ever had. Ron also had a bottle of agua mineral.

The Botanas (Entradas) section of the menu held some interesting possibilities, among them Chiles Chipotles Rellenos de Queso; 3 pieces, of which we were assured that they were not muy picante; Tacos Mineros; 4 pieces filled with softened chicharrón; and although we were tempted by Chiles Capones Relleno de Queso, it was too similar to the chipotles, so we settled on some Guacamole. There, in the heart of the aguacate growing lands, what would be more apropos than a dish of a simple and excellent guacamole?
Also available were a couple of soups, a pasta carbonara(!), and an Ensalada de la Casa.

In choosing los Platos Fuertes: Ron decided, with my encouragement and the waiter's description, to have Mixiote de Cordero, seasoned lamb or borreguita steamed or baked in a parchment like pouch of the inner membrane of the penca ("leaf") of the maguey plant.

Doña Cuevas chose Enchiladas con Cecina.

I looked over the menu, ignoring the Pescado Empanizado and Pechuga Empanizada as too ordinary; and I didn't want arrachera, as we'd just had it at home last week; I'm not a big fan of chamorro (pork shank); there's a small list of seafood cocteles, but those are something we eat all the, I ordered Lengua a la Veracruzana.

Service was excellent and attentive. We had the attention of one older, experienced waiter and a very helpful younger man who spoke English.

Now, our evaluations of these dishes.
We all agreed that the Chiles Chipotles Rellenos de Queso were the best of the three botanas we had. They were spicy but not fiery. The Tacos Mineros were good tasting as well as being very attractively presented. The guacamole was fresh, simple, and had crunchy chicharrones with which to scoop up the guacamole. The portion could have been a little more abundant.

Of the platos fuertes, Ron loved the mixiote after it "grew on him" a bit.
I tasted the savory juices and it was something like birria in a maguey bag. This was probably the outstanding dish of the three we ordered.

Doña Cuevas said the enchiladas were simple but good, accompanied by cubed potatoes and carrots, nicely garnished, and there was a large piece of thin, crisply cooked cecina to the side.

My Lengua a la Veracruzana was a satisfying, homey dish. The lengua was very well cooked and tender and the savory but not picante sauce had a generous quantity of capers, as it should. Oddly, there were no olives.

Ron and I split an order of a very nice, light, Pastel de Macadamia for dessert, and I had a pretty good, if overly large café express.

The bill came to about $862 MXP for the three of us, plus a nice tip.

After dinner, Sr.Lemus and I chatted, in Spanish, English and German (he did, not I.) and I learned that his wife, Chef Blanca, was away that day, giving a talk in Aguascalientes. I wondered to myself if the food is even better when she is present. Ron, in particular, is always interested in specials of the day or of the season. I thought that if Chef Blanca were there there may have been yet more interesting items. So, we are obligated to return, with great pleasure and anticipation. We are also thinking of trying more botanas and drinks and maybe checking out the cocteles de mariscos.

Sr. Lemus also told me that they operated another, breakfast only restaurant toward the center of town, which he said "it's even better than this." It's called (are you ready?):

"El gorjeo de los aves en la mañana de abril."
(The trill of birds in the morning in April.")
Open every day, 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
I'm now wondering where to stay in Ziracuarétiro besides the pricey looking Hacienda Caracha. A resort whose Flashy website doesn't show prices, always a warning sign for me.

Our tentative ratings of La Mesa de Blanca:

Food: ****
Service: *****+
Ambience: *****
Price: $-$$
Restrooms: *****

Location and hours:
Avenida Ferrocarril s/n
Ziracuaretiro, Michoacán (ZC) 61700
*Open Thursday-Sunday only*

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Restaurant La Lupita

In the Autumn of 2009, the Restaurant Cha Cha Cha (C3) in Pátzcuaro, closed its doors. Last Winter, rumors flew that Rodolfo, who operated the restaurant at the Gran Hotel on Plaza Chica, had taken over the C3 premises and with his wife, Lupe, as Chef, would reopen the restaurant with a new name and menu.

Hopes bloomed in expat hearts that Lupita's, as the place is named, would fulfill their expectations for a new, pleasant dining spot in Pátzcuaro.
We have had lunch there twice now, and I had breakfast once with the R.O.M.E.O. breakfast group. I think I can now review it in a reasonably fair manner. I have firmly decided not to compare it with C3 which would be fraught with pitfalls.

The first occasion was about a month ago, within two weeks after Lupita's opened. We went with friends Shirley and Ernie and had a nice lunch. The patio setting is bright and simple. The management is redecorating the rooms and patio. The patio has umbrellaed tables to shade diners from the sun.
Several popular and experienced waiters from the Gran Hotel Café came over to Lupita's with Rodolfo.
On our first visit, we were brought some warm tostaditas with tinga de pollo, shreddded seasoned chicken, as an amuse-bouche, which was nice.
There ws also a basket of warm, garlic type bread, which unfortunately was soaked in excessive melted butter. It was much better on our second visit. No amuse-bouch on our second visit last Friday.

We ordered a jarra of agua fresca de papaya, and it was heartening to see that it was made of fresh fruit with lots of pulp, and not from some concentrate.

We ordered a wide variety of plates. Doña Cuevas requested the Ensalada Lupita; Shirley, Hamburguesa y Papas Francesas; Ernie and I both Mole de Pollo Especial Lupita's.
La esposa and I both started with Sopa Tarasca, which is for me a sort of creds check for local restaurants. Let's start with there. Let the analysis begin!
The Sopa was attractive, with the requisite strips of chile pasilla, totopos and crema. I don't recall any sprinkles of cheese, but that's not a necessity.
We enjoyed the Sopa, but it was not in my Top Ten Tarascas of all Time for me, due to a very noticeable taste of Knorr-Suiza beef base. (O.k., I use that at home, but I pay less for my own, informal cooking.) Also, there was no puree of frijól, which for me is the foundation of a good Sopa Tarasca. We can take up that controversial subject another time.

The main courses arrived in good order. Shirley reported her hamburger to be fine, and "just like those frozen patties from Costco." Probably was purchased from there, in my suspicious opinion. (I use the same at home, and they are o.k.; but not in the same league as a hand-patted burger made from freshly ground meat.) The hand cut fries were small but good.

Doña C's Ensalada Lupita turned out to be a sort of yácata of diced chicken, jícama, granos de elote and such, bound with mayo. She says it was o.k. but bland. A dab of the salsa casera of chile perón sparked it up.

The Mole de Pollo was impressive; a brick-red pool of mole with a chicken breast (you can choose which part you prefer) flanked by a golden field of excellent Sopa Seca de Arroz. There was a lot of the rice, and it was among the best I've eaten anywhere.

The Mole itself was sharp, and redolent of cloves, cinnamon and chile. It was not a sweet, chocolatey mole. I do prefer the less sweet, more picante moles. This one was emphatically sharp. The cloves had been applied with a heavy hand. The chile component was good, but gradually mounted into a fierce burn. I'd been under the impression that a good mole should not taste any single component, but should blend harmoniously into one whole taste experience. The Mole at Lupita's was a tasty and spicy dish, but one that failed the harmony test.

We passed on dessert, nor were we even offered coffee or dessert.
I don't recall the exact bill, but it was reasonable.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Today, a Pretzel in New York; Tomorrow, your Margarita!

~This is from my Private Reserve Blog, reposando until the right moment. No blog shall be released before its time.~
Warning: reading this blog may be hazardous to your health.

(A few months ago)
I was reading the New York Times Online, and I saw that the health puritans of New York City's Bloomberg administration once again wish to impose their dietary restrictions upon the citizenry. After making smokers into pariahs; eliminating trans fats, (but inconsistently), they now want to reduce the salt intake of the citizens. What's more ominous about this effort, is that this time, they hope to influence U.S. food processors/manufacturers nationwide to reduce the salt content of their products.

Will there be salt inspection checkpoints at the New York City lines?
This next one may alarm our friend Felipe. Note the desperate, salt-craved look on the Subway customer's face, desperately clawing the glass case.

In 2008, New York City began forcing chains like Subway to post calorie counts, a requirement that restaurants resisted.
(NY Times photo and caption)

Please don't get me wrong. I think reducing one's sodium intake is a good idea. I have seen the terrible effects of strokes, and I'm strongly in favor of prevention. I only disagree with having our personal dining choices mandated by a city council with apparently nothing better to do than to interefere with our free choice to smoke, to eat fats and to ingest salt.
I mean, REALLY! We're not talking hard drugs here.

But, I'm not worried. It can't happen here in Mexico. Here, we have the freedom to eat all the fat and salt laden comida chatarra (junk food) we want, anytime. A bag of salty snacks and a soft drink are a cherished snack combination for many Mexicans. One can even eat the crappy food of your choice while riding unhelmeted on a motorbike. That's true freedom. Only in Mexico.

(Oh, but smoking in most public places was banned in Mexico City last year. Surely they wouldn't infringe on our freedom to eat unhealthy foods??)

Can you imagine a michelada or a margarita without a salt rimmed goblet? Barcel and Sabritas would have to go out of business.

Citizens of New York! Hear me! Guard your freedoms, because the next step will be to ban the salted pretzel or bagel. What about Kosher chickens or meat, which are heavily salted to remove the blood? Will a religious exemption be made? (I can see the ACLU getting involved in this.)

You'll never miss your bad eating habits until they are taken away.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Gourmandizing Mexico City Part 7- The Final Days

Monday was our last full day in Mexico City, with the morning devoted to shopping,at Mercado San Juan, where I looked for fresh shiso leaves for Ron. One vendor had them, in a locked refrigerator, but they were $5 pesos each, and very perishable, so I didn't buy any. Nearby, I foolishly agreed to pay $26 MXP for a tiny bag of mustard powder, perhaps 100 grams. I didn't really need it as I can restock more cheaply while in the U.S. this June.

I got some better pics of beautiful Oriental vegetables, then went to the Spanish deli stand called "La Suiza", and admired the salamis and cheeses. I got a small section of salami, which was actually produced in Mexico. It's delicious. They also had some nicely packaged soup and stock bases, in large, and very expensive containers, but they were willing to sell me a small sample bag for about $30.

By this time, Doña Cuevas had left the building to sit in the park, pleading ennui, but in reality, unable to face our retirement nest egg dribbling away in mustard spoons.

I forged on, boarding the platform along the length of the three refrigerator cases of "La Holandesa". There, an genial owner, gladly chatted with me about the hanging jamones serranos de bellota, the Queso Manchego Español ($800 a kilo), and other delights. He allowed me to take many photos of what for me were tempting delicacies at unaffordable prices. I did succumb to purchasing a half ball of Queso Provolone Ahumado, at $58! It's terrific, a rare treat in Mexico.

With that, and my head spinning from the elevated prices, I exited to the park and Doña Cuevas, and we resumed our shopping excursion elsewhere.

On our return walk from the Far Eastern Region of the Biblos and the Garment District, we'd stopped for a refresher at Bar Salon Corona, on C/ Bolívar 24, Centro. (There is another one, in a cross street, not far away.)

The Salon and its entrance have been remodeled since this picture was taken, some years ago. Anonymous wrote that that is actually the Bar Salon Corona in San Miguel de Allende. Here's a photo of the exterior of the Cd. México, Bolívar Salon. Since I have a few principles, and of the two, one is not to borrow photos from blogger brethren, so I'll just give a link. Click here.

Salon Corona is noted for its cold draft beer and its tortas. So I had the famous Torta de Bacalao (prepared salt cod and potatoes) and Doña Cuevas the Torta Gringa (carne pastor and melted cheese). The bacalao was pretty good, but I don't see why it's famous. It's a good snack. The beer was fine, the waiter congenial (and English speaking), and the Salon Corona is worth a stop if you are nearby, but it's not destination dining.

Food: ***
Service ***
Price $-$$
Restrooms: clean

Later that Monday afternoon, our friend and former neighbor, Larry W. arrived at the Hotel Pal. After he had time to freshen up, we again set forth on the trek to the mero Centro Histórico, with El Huequito on Bolívar our goal.

We retraced our earlier path through the Barrio San Juan, where, upon emerging from the park, we found the Pulquería Las Duelistas.* I'd read a note recently by Nick Gilman about the pulquería, which has been repainted and revived, and is once again a local hot spot.

*If you can get ahold of a copy of "The People's Guide To Mexico" by Havens, Franz and Rogers, read the section on Cantinas and the one on Pulque. Great stuff.
As we approached the Pulquería, we noted the inclusion of a supine male figure on the sidewalk outside, sleeping off an excess of pulque. We thought it was a nice touch to add to the "Real México" ambience.

La Doña was hesitant to go inside, wondering if nice ladies were welcome, so I peeked over the swinging doors and saw several very nice ladies already inside, lifting their tarros of pulque and holding their own with the machos.
"It's ok. Let's go in."

The noise level of some unknown, primeval music was near the audible pain threshhold. That was complemented by by lurid murals in screaming colors of Aztec motifs, mostly on the theme of the Tzompantli. That's the rack where the skulls of sacrificed victims were displayed. (I am not making this up!)
Were the murals the Mexican equivalent of the Surgeon General's Warning on Pulque?

Our amiable host led us to a table which we shared with a young couple already well into a large, plastic pitcher of pulque. We introduced ourselves and exchanged business cards. ;-)

They were helpful in explaining the various "cures" or flavors of pulque available. They were drinking a "Campechana", which is every flavor mixed except for beet. I asked to try "natural", which you already know is pulque without added flavors. Our waiter brought a small glass of the fizzy, slightly cloudy liquid, which was tart and yeasty, just as I remembered it from previous tastings.

Our companions offered us a sip of their cinnamon-flecked pulque, and Larry accepted. When our waiter returned, we ordered, shouting a tarro for two of avena pulque, which is oats with a dash of cinnamon. It was somewhat sweet, and not unpleasant, but not my drink.

I plunged in and ordered the pulque curado con apio, a luminescent, green beverage flavored with celery, a squirt of lime juice and served in a salt-rimmed mug. Mmm! Tart and refreshing.

It was like Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Mexican style, for adults.
We paid our very low cuenta, said our goodbyes and resumed our walk. I could feel a light buzz in in brain and Larry also reported mild effects of borrachismo. We made it in good form to El Huequito.

(Two doors to the left of Las Duelistas is the wonderful spice and condiments shop, "Molinera de Chiles El Progreso", where we bought a few things. They have an extensive price list/catalog to give out and I recommend this place, but I won't describe it here as we didn't buy much. Prices seem reasonable.)

El Hueqito.
I'll try to make this short and get down to the elements.
Larry and I shared an order of Medallones de Filete de Res Al Limón Inglés. Two tender and juicy filets of beef, French Fries and Guacamole. Very good.

We also ordered a plate of Costillas BBQ, which were o.k., but to us Southern Living Gentlemen, the ribs did not compare with those Down South of the Mason-Dixon Line but North of the Mexican-U.S. Border. But not bad.

Mi Esposa wisely ordered an Ensalada Especial El Huequito, which was all vegetables except for the very good strips of bacon on top.
We also shared two bowls of the excellent Frijoles de La Olla.

I can't remember what we drank. It didn't have alcohol in it. I also can't remember what the meal cost, but somewhere around the mid 500's seems right.

Food: ****
Service: ****
Price: $-$$$
Restrooms: Very clean.

Outside again, it was dark. We eventually hailed a cab and returned to the hotel.

Tuesday morning, we walked the few blocks to Cafetería La Piccolina (our 3rd vist in 4 days) and had full breakfasts. The Huevos Rancheros, Enmoladas and Chilaquiles con Pollo were fine to excellent. The café con leche was a bit less cargado than previously, but still excellent.
I don't recall the total, probably around $260.

I'm going to skip the star ratings this time, saying only that when in that area of Mexico City, La Piccolina will be our coffee and breakfast place from here onward.

Thanks to those of you who lasted this far for your patient attention. I will need to rest and recharge for a few days now before blogging again.

Don Cuevas

Monday, March 08, 2010

Gourmandizing Mexico City Part 6- Will Shop 4 Food

We didn't spend all of our time in Mexico City eating. We also shopped for food. We had a modest list, augmented by requests from our friend Ron in Pátzcuaro. He was interested in green, (unroasted) coffee beans, fresh shiso leaves, and date molasses. I was fairly certan we could find those items within a two block radius. The date molasses required a longer search, but it was fun.

I wanted to augment my supplies of Pimentón de La Vera, an essential seasoning. I had some vague idea of sampling some embutidos Españoles (Spanish charcuterie). But the most pleasurable part of shopping is the hunt and the serendipitous discovery of new delicacies.

Our hunter-gatherer instincts drew us to the area of Calle Ayuntamiento, between López and Luis Moya. The fabulous Mercado San Juan (basket icon) lies a couple of blocks south of Ayuntamiento, on Calle Ernesto Pugibet, under the shadow of the ugly Torre TelMex.

View Mexico City, D.f. in a larger map

We delayed visiting the Mercado San Juan until Monday, with the thought that we might be carrying somewhat perishable items back to Pátzcuaro. Meanwhile, we occupied ourselves by shopping at La Europea, a chain of wine and liquor stores originating in the area. They also carry delicacies in jars and tins. I bought a large tin of Pimentón de La Vera "La Chinata" (my favorite brand because it's good, but it's also packed in a Chinese Red color tin. There were a couple of brands of fine conserves, and we bought a jar of Spanish "La Vieja Fábrica" Seville Orange Marmalade.

We then walked east to the corner of Ayunatamiento and Aranda, anchored by several coffee roasting companies. The first is Café Cordobés, right on the southwestern corner. There we purchase a medio kilo of café verde, grano entero from Veracruz, at $35 MXP. Immediately next door is the Café Colibri, which looks more trendy and less traditional. (As we were already well stoked from a cafe con leche stop at La Piccolina, C/ Luis Moya 93, we didn't try any of the brews offered.)

Catty-corner on Ayuntamiento is the Café Villareal, with a sharp aroma of coffee roasting. This shop is dedicated to selling the coffee, both whole and ground, without any frou-frou brewhaha. There we scored some café verde de Chiapas at $41 MXP the half kilo.

We continued our food quest in the eatward eastward direction, headed toward the true Centro.

Soon, we crossed (with the light!) the broad and bustling arterial street, Eje Central 3, AKA San Juan de Letrán.

We wove our way through a less attractive barrio to the lovely and renascent neighborhood centered on Calle Regina, of which one long block is pedestrians only. The stately Iglesia de Regina Coeli is the centerpiece of the street.

Our goal was Café Jekimir, on the corner of C/ Isabel La Católica and Regina. This bustling, Arabic inflected coffee house was first brought to our attention by Nick Gilman in his book, Good Food In Mexico City (a recommended guide for the food lover to Mexico City.)

There we rested, sipping an apple-spice tea, while having our shoes shined. I went to buy some coffee beans for us, but the prices were considerably higher than over on C/ Ayuntamiento, so I passed. Maybe it's because Jekemir is famous, or to help pay for the free wi-fi available in the shop. Anyway, it's a nice place.

We asked about date molasses, but they don't sell it. The man at the check out offered directions to Biblos, Productos Árabes, of C/ El Salvador, a little east of the corner of C/ Correo Mayor. This is east of Av. Pino Súarez, and southeast of the Zócalo.

We continued to it, pushing on eastward into new territory for us. This seems to be one of Mexico City's garment districts. We found the Biblos Productos Árabes in the Pasaje Balvaneda at C/ El Salvador # 152, Local 29.
It's a small store, but has a nice selection. We didn't find date molasses, although we did get a large bottle of Jallab of rosewater and date syrup to make drinks. There are good olives, some spiced and others not. We bought some extra heavy fig conserves for ourselves.

Then, a long walk back to our hotel, stopping in at the Paraiso de Fumador (Hermanos Petrides) and at Mazapanes Toledo to buy some turrón for our friends Luz and Paco.

When we got back to our hotel, I realized that I hadn't bought any coffee beans for us. No matter; we are quite content with the coffee from La Surtidora in Pátzcuaro.

I'll describe my visit to the Mercado San Juan in Mexico City: The Final Day, coming soon to a computer near you.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Gourmandizing Mexico City Part 5 -Boca Del Rio

Restaurante Boca Del Río, on Ribera de San Cosme, Colonia San Rafael, is a cherished Mexico City dining spot. It began operations in 1942 as an ambulant cart on the streets. Since then, it has grown to include the original restaurant, #42 San Cosme, and a new branch in la-di-da Polanco.

The restaurant was far out of our walking range of our hotel*, but our dear friends, Luz Ma and Paco came by in their car to carry us there. First, we paid our cultural duties with visits to el Museo de La Geología, at La Alameda de Santa María de La Ribera; then, a walk through the Museo de Arte San Carlos, on Avenida Puente Alvarado. (Which is actually the same wide street as San Cosme, but it changes names at Avenida Insurgentes.)

*We could have arrived there by taking Metro Balderas to Metro Hidalgo, transferring to Linea 2, direccíon Cuatro Caminos, and exiting at Metro San Cosme. But it was nicer to ride in the car, looking at impressive buildings, especially along Paseo de La Reforma.

Another highlight, pre-comida, was the wonderful Kiosco Morisco in the Alameda de Sta. María de La Ribera.

View Mexico City, D.f. in a larger map

After some skilled navigating, Paco got us to the estacionamiento behind the restaurant. We entered through the utility and delivery entrance, past prep tables and check-in scales. I liked that.

The dining room is vast, and I estimate that it could hold several hundred diners. The style is 1960's glass, Formica and chrome trim, on a background of stainless steel.

The menu, as anticipated, was lengthy. It can be seen on Boca Del Ríos own website, but it's more accessible on

I already knew that I wanted something chilled, and relatively light, so after very little consideration, I ordered a large Ceviche Vuelve a La Vida, sin ostiones. Raw Mexican oysters and I have a bad history that goes back many years.

Luz Ma requested one of her favorites; Filete de Salmón asado. Paco ordered a Coctel de Jaiba, sin cilantro, and then a nice Mojarra Dorada, bien cocida.
Doña Cuevas started with a small Coctel de Camarones al Natural. (Simply, peeled cooked shrimp in a glass.), and for a main course, Pescado Empapelado. She asked the waitress of what species of fish was it made, and the favorable answer was "mero". In our opinion, the farmed blanco de Nilo filets used by many seafood restaurants, including our querido Mariscos La Güera in Pátzcuaro, are devoid of both taste and texture.

Slides, please!
Coctel de Jaiba
Coctel de Camarones al Natural
Ceviche Vuelve A La Vida

I enjoyed the ceviche, but I would have liked it less condimented. It was difficult to distinguish the individual flavors of the parts.

Everyone liked the dishes they had chosen. Señora "Ojos Grandes" couldn't finish every bite of her pescado empapelado, it was so much.

Pescado Empapelado

We skipped dessert and headed back to the hotel. A little later, la Doña and I went to the Parque Tolsá, across Balderas, and I smoked a fine Puro Robusto Maduro de San Andrés Tuxtla, Veracruz. I'd bought it at "El Paraiso Del Fumador" (formerly Puros Hermanos Petrides), in Centro, on Calle Uruguay.

Ratings for Boca Del Río
Food: ****
Service: *****
Price: $$-$$$
Restrooms (Hombres): Slightly rough around the edges and in the cracks.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Gourmandizing Mexico City part 4- Las Comidas

                              ~ Casino Español ~

Although there are a wealth of upscale dining choices in Mexico City, few of interest to us are in the barrio where we stayed. But it's a 20 minute walk to the mero Centro, where a wondrous world of dining unfolds. Or, you can take the Metro for 2 or 3 stations, and walk upstairs into the grand and dazzling space that is the Zócalo. We chose to take the Metro, boarding at Balderas and exiting at Isabel La Católica. From there, we walked approximtely 10 -12 blocks north to the Casino Español.

For about 2 years now, we'd wanted to dine at the Casino Español, a palatial edifice on Calle Isabel La Católica, between Avenida Madero and Av. Carranza. No architecture student myself, I can't pin down the elaborate style of the vast, vaulted halls and salons of the building. There are a lot or Moorish elements and stained glass. Fortunately, the dining room, on the primer piso, reached by elevators or a Grand Staircase, is much more conservative and soothing in mien. It's tastefully painted in calming tones of beige and pale yellow. The ceiling has numerous attractive recesses. The ample space is broken by only a few support columns. A somewhat incongruous note is the bank of industrial strength Carrier air conditioners flanked along the window wall.

After a brief wait in rococo but comfortable chairs on the mezzanine level, we were escorted to a nice table. We passed a service cart with two jamones serrano awaiting carving into those thin, tasty slices. (But although I like jamón serrano, I don't order it in restaurants because it does not in anyway demonstrate the creativity of the kitchen. Plus, it's costly as hell.)

Once at our nicely linen-draped table, our waiter pressed the wine list upon us. I deferred ordering the wine, as I prefer to know first what main course we'd be having. We were already very inclined to all seafood, as we'd already consumed an unusual quantity of meat in two days. We were brought crusty bread, herbed butter that looked a bit tired and filmed over, and a dish of lovely green olives.

So, we ordered a bottle of Albariño from Galicia ($350 MXP) and began making our choices from the extensive menu. Our waiter brought a wine bucket with ice, and made sure that the bottle was chilling nicely.

Among the entradas, one stood out for us: Pulpos a la Gallega de Feira. We'd last had that wonderful simple dish prepared properly while overlooking the Mar Cantábrica, in the tiny fishing village of Puerto de Vares, the northernmost point in Spain. Since then, other attempts in marisquerías in Mexico had left us unsatisfied, for their interpretations were more in the nature of sauteed octopus with sweet peppers,
But the pulpos at Casino Español were tender perfect, served in the classic manner with a little olive oil, a sprinkle of coarse salt and a dusting of picante, smokey, Pimentón de La Vera. (The last is one of my favorite condiments.).
The only small flaw was that the accompanying boiled potatoes had been cut very small and were overcooked. But, it was a great starter, in spite of that.
                      Pulpos a la Gallega.

We both ordered soups to follow the pulpos. Doña Cuevas had a Sopa Castellana, which is basically a Sopa de Ajo, plus bits of chorizo and jamón. She enjoyed it, but wished the bits were a bit bigger.
I had a modest but good Caldo de Mariscos, thankfully bone-and-shell-less. It was nice, but not somethng I'd order again. The stock was a bit oversalted.

It was very difficult to choose a plato fuerte. We finally decided on Lomo de Huauchinango estilo Muiña. At least, if I recall correctly, that was its description.

It was plated on a "mirror" of a saffron sauce and garnished with a few shrimp, a couple of clams and a heap of surimi anguillas. The latter were striking to see, but had little taste. I ordered some arroz blaco to help take up the delicate but tasty sauce.

We ordered two bottles of agua mineral, and they were long in coming. Actually, when the first came, they were "still" water, not sparkling, so we sent them back.

Dessert was not on Doña Cuevas To Do List, but out of a sense of duty to my blog readers, I ordered a Tarta de Almendras Asturiana. It was essentially the same as Tarta de Santiago; a gooey almond tart, in a pool of Cream Inglesa accompanied by a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, We also had cafes Americanos, which were of good but not great quality.

We had prepared our minds for a staggeringly large bill, but it came in at "only" $980 MXP, of which you'll recall, $350 was for the wine. We gave a generous tip, not enough for our waiter to retire on after the shift was over, but he gave us a pleased look.

Food: **** out of 5
Service *** 1/2 (We had to request several small things more than once. Noted, the restaurant was very busy.)
Ambience (special category):*****+
Restrooms: Fine. Attendant present. Bring change.

PS: There was live music, from a rousing, hearty troupe of estudiantinas, but we were not fazed because we were finishing up as they started their good and hearty fellows rounds. A classical or Spanish guitar player would have been preferred, but it wouldn't have reached across the vast dining room.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Gourmandizing Mexico City part 3-The Breakfasts

In our wanderings up and around the Barrio San Juan, we missed a few things. (Come on, how much can two people handle?!)

After we got home, a post on the Mexico Forum, by "StreetGourmetLA" directed us, belatedly, to Ricos Tacos Toluca, a fabulous taquería specializing in the chorizos and embutidos of the Toluca region. We probably had passed within a block of the place.
Well, hopefully, there will be a next time.

I then did a routine Google search, and rediscovered Nick Gilman's post on the area, in his blog, "Good Food In Mexico City", which I recommend to you. It has been my inspiration on many occasions. His focus was on Calle López, which we crossed several times, but didn't explore bottom to top.

Since it's breakfast time here, I'll describe our various breakfasts over the weekend.

Usually, I'd get up early, and check email at the desk in our suite while drinking Nescafé (for medicinal purposes only!) with some pan dulce from the Panificadora "Las Palmas", just down the street, between Revillagigedo and Luis Moya. It's a neighborhood place, but has rico pan dulces. I liked the "peinitas", or combs, a sort of cheese filled bearclaw.

Later, about 9 a.m., we'd go out for a walk and have breakfast. Saturday morning, we walked all the way to El Huequito, on Calle Bolívar. But we had to fuel up with good coffee before getting very far. Fortunately, the path was lined with coffeehouses. We stumbled upon the great little neighborhood place, "La Piccolina", at the corner of Luis Moya and Marqués Sterling, across from the Hotel San Diego. We received a warm welcome, especially from the Señora customer who takes her regular seat at the barra. The café con leche was rich and strong. We returned on Tuesday morning, for a full, hearty breakfast of enmoladas, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles verdes con pollo. With 3 or 4 coffees and a large jugo de naranja, it all came to about $260 MXP, if I recall correctly.
Below, the Café Con Leche.
Below, the Enchiladas al Mole

Food and drink: ****
Service: ****
Price: $-$$
Restrooms: Good, but tiny.

But on Saturday, we stopped only for a recarga de cafecito. We were heading for El Huequito, a classic taco restaurant and an old favorite of ours. (I forgive them their silly and annoying Flash animated website.)
It's in the true Centro Histórico, and east of the Barrio San Juan, on Clle Bolívar, between Rep. de Uruguay and Calle El Salvador, about a 30 minute walk from the Hotel Pal.

Although you can have eggs, any style, or a cup of fresh fruit with yogurt (as did Doña Cuevas), I went for the Tacos de Bistek Inglés, succulent and tender slices of filete de res in a lemon-Worcestershire sauce. To fill things out, I added a bowl of frijoles de la olla. They are some of the best I ever had. When la Doña tasted some of mine, she ordered a bowl, too. The frijoles are tender, whole, in a slightly thickened broth and deep, earthy flavor.
Below, Tacos de Bistek al Inglés
Below, Frijoles de La Olla, El Huequito

We returned on Monday night to El Huequito for dinner with our friend Larry. But that's another story.
Food: *****
Service ****
Price: $-$$
Restrooms: clean

Sunday morning, on a tip from the owner of the Cocina Ángel on Arcos de Belén, we walked back up Luis Moya (which had become our main route to the gastronomic heart of the Barrio San Juan) and at Calle Ernesto Pugibet, turned right, there to find the Cocina Vianey, which features barbacoa on Saturdays and Sundays. This was a great, family place in the neighborhood. We were offered a fat taco of barbacoa de borrego as a tempter, and we sat down at a rear table with a gentleman customer.

We both ordered consomé de borrego and another taco each. I, one of pancita, which was subtly different. The tacos were rich but the consomé was primal. I had another half bowl, as well as a taco of espadilla, another cut of borrego. Total: $50 MXP
Service: *****
Price: $
Restrooms: didn't look.
A great little place of authentic, traditional Mexican fonda food, not to be missed. For non meat eaters, there are also quesadillas.

We passed on the Nescafé at Cocina Vianey, and went seeking some power coffee at La Piccolina. Alas, it was closed on Sunday morning. So we walked back toward Arcos de Belén and stopped in at the quirky Cafetería Doña Barbara, run by an ex lucha libre wrestler, "El Panda". It's an eclectic place, with a feel of the 40's, walls covered with photos of hollywood stars of that era, as well as El Panda memorabilia. We just had two cafes con leche, and they were fine. We haven't tried the food.

Monday morning, we stayed close to the hotel, as we were meeting our friends Luz Ma and Paco for a visit to some museums in Sta María de La Ribera, to be followed by lunch at Restaurante Boca Del Río. (Coming soon, to a blog near you.)

We breakfasted at Cocina Ángel, on Arcos de Belén, between Revillagigedo and Luis Moya which has had a number of names under various past owners. The owners' affability is not equalled by the food. It is inexpensive, though. Unrated.