Sunday, April 29, 2012

Like Moths To The Flame Part Three

Saturday morning launched with a walk to La Piccolina, which this time was readily accessible. I had wanted to have barbacoa at Barbacoa de Siguilucán, Hidalgo, which on an earlier visit had been across the street from the Hotel Pal. But alas, not this time. It was gone.

So two of us had light breakfasts at La Piccolina, Ron abstaining, as he was saving room for Ricos Tacos Toluca.

En route, on C/ Ernesto Pugibet, we saw the usual long lines to purchase the weekends only barbacoa at Cocina Vianey. This place is very popular, and if you want their barbacoa, get there early or stand in line.

We got to Ricos Tacos Toluca with only short detour. There were already considerable clientele around the stand. The red and green sausages were hung in the window with care. It was like Christmas in April.

When we were able to get close enough to the order window, Ron and I both got a pair of generously filled tacos. He, one chorizo verde and rojo each; I a chorizo rojo and a taco de bistec (thinking I was ordering a taco of cecina enchilada).

The tacos are dressed with long strands of sauteed onions, and you can help yourself to a salsa roja and a spicy salsa de aguacate from two large molcajetes within reach.

We sat at benches outside enjoying our tacos. Meanwhile, Sra. Cuevas was shopping at a large restaurant supply store across C/ López, where she bought some nice, plain white plates and a couple of pairs of spring loaded tongs.

Tentative ratings for Ricos Tacos Toluca
Food: ***1/2
Service: Get in line and order.
Price: -$ BARGAIN! Tacos, $13 pesos each
Ambience: It's a street corner, you know?

We then walked back to the hotel for a long rest until our afternoon reservation at El Bajío, in far flung Azcatpotzalco, on Av. Cuitláhuac. There would be a test of navigation skills, using an iPod touch and Google Maps as an adjunct.

We allowed ourselves about 40 minutes to arrive at the restaurant, but with a willing taxista and the iPod Touch, we made efficient work of it. The route shown on the computer varies slightly from that on the iPod. We didn't make that short loop at the beginning. (Edited to make them the same.)

The cab fare was surprisingly less than $50 pesos, but we gave the taxista a modest tip, for being so adaptable.

It was 3:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon, a peak time for the restaurante. A Sra. Nieto, the hostess as well as Carmen Ramírez, daughter of the owner, greeted us and we were quickly seated. Soon, a better table became available, and Sra. Nieto suggested that we move to it.

We started our comida with a couple of Cervezas Bohemia Claras and a glass of very good horchata for Doña Cuevas. After considerable discussion, we chose three entradas (appetizers) from the menu. (There are a lot more.)

Empanadas de Plátano Relleno de Frijoles Negros; Tacos de Jaiba en Hojas de Plátano (really more of a tamal than a taco); and Panuchitos de Cochinita Pibil (which blew away the tacos of cochinita pibil we'd had at El Huequito).

L-R: Panuchitos, Tacos de Jaiba, Empanadas de Plátano
It was difficult to decide what to have for our platos fuertes. There was a small conjunto de música Jarocha playing and sing very well, but loudly and at close hand.

Ron and I both ordered barbacoa de borrego con nopal asado (usually we would order different dishes) and Sra. Cuevas wisely chose Carnitas Estilo El Bajío.

Barbacoa de borrego con nopal asado

The barbacoa was a slightly dry version that came without consomé, although that could be ordered separately. On reflection, we should have. The Carnitas Estilo Bajío were  juicy, prepared with Tequila and cerveza plus some seasoning vegetables.

Carnitas Estilo El Bajío
Ron also ordered Arroz y Plátanos con Mole de Xico, a signature mole. I tasted it. It is very dark, complex and interesting, but I have doubts that I could consume a whole dish of that mole. It distantly reminded me of Hoisin Sauce.

We finished our meal with a well made café de olla, a licor Agavero, a couple of orders of flan and one order of natillas. The flan was just o.k. and the natillas, a type of liquid custard, was smooth and pleasant.
Creamy Natillas
Ratings For El Bajío Cuitláhuac
Food: ****
Service: ****
Price: $$$-$$$$$ Our bill was just over $1700 pesos, before tip.
Ambience: Mexican Folkloric

Live Music Advisory: Moderate to loud. Musical group may not be present during the week.
In fact, when we dine again at El Bajío, we will go on a weekday.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

¡Que lástima!

I was trying to delete a draft from my Dashboard, but unfortunately, deleted "Like Moths To The Flame Part One". As far as I know, it's gone, and can't be retrieved.

Don Cuevas

Update on the rescue: although no digital means were available to me to effect a rescue, I was able to do a rewrite off line, then put a few, simple finishing touches on it when our Internet connection came back on line.

 If anything, IMHO, the rewrite is superior to the original.
I was also able to backdate the publication date to precede the second installment. (I think.)

Don Cuevas

Like Moths To The Flame Part Two

Friday, April 20

Our quest for great paella in Mexico City had led us on a winding path. I knew of at least three restaurantes in which we'd eaten previously that served paella (but we hadn't had it.). The most prominent was the Casino Español, a most likely candidate. There were two seafood restaurants that I knew had paella: Boca del Río and Ostionería La Morenita.

After inquiring on, I decided to forge new paths to paella. A great deal of Googling unearthed Casa Rosalía, "La Casa de La Paella", at Eje Central 3 Lázaro Cárdenas #46, Centro. We'd walked by this restaurant innumerable times without realizing it existed. Jorge Pedro recommended it. But when I found its website, the menues del día* spoke to me of large meals but perhaps of not great quality. The quest went on.

*Offline at time of posting.

Then El Cabrito Astur, Calle Palma # 40, Centro, appeared in the Google search results. On closer investigation, it was revealed that this was the former Bar Sobia, which had been recommended to us eight years ago by a retired Banamex Director, who worked across the street in the Mother Bank. His recommendation was for the cabrito asado, without mention of paella.

The location, in a cellar, was a plus in favor of making it our final choice. This photo of "Paella Cantábrica" didn't hurt, either.

Looks luscious
The cabrito asado was tempting, too.

Cabrito Asado from their website

We had a reservation for 4:00 p.m., which probably wasn't necessary. When we tried to get a cab outside our hotel, the rush hour was in full spate and we were unable to get a ride. So we walked the mile or so at a brisk pace, arriving only 15 minutes late. No problem.

Descending the mirror lined, half spiral stairs into the dining room was fun. It's a relatively small space, cozy and appealing.

The Maitre D' was affable and helpful. Our waiter was attentive. We chose a Spanish white wine. (Vino blanco Codello says the ticket.) There were complimentary cups of caldo de camarón and little toasts of ordinary pan baguette covered with a garlicky tomato crush.

As aperitifs, two of us drank Dry Sack sherry and one a Dubonnet.

We ordered two orders of cabrito and three of paella. (We were anticipating the arrival of a mystery guest.) The paella takes up to an hour to cook but ours appeared in less time.

First, though, came the cabrito. One order was of pierna, the other of espaldilla. They were flavorsome and moist, although the first pieces I sampled were very bony. Ron especially liked it much better than what he'd had at El Regiomantano on another occasion. Interestingly, the cabrito was served on the inexpensive pottery typical of Lake Pátzcuaro.

The paella arrived in its earthenware paellera. It was good looking but not as good as the photo from the website. The prawns were large, the clams were few, the mussels o.k., the chorizos mediocre. The rice was nice, but underwhelming. Overall, we found it lackluster. Perhaps our expectations had grown too great.

As we neared the last prawn, our Mystery Guest arrived. We had a pleasant conversation with her over some shared paella.

Lesley Tellez
We said adios to Lesley, and went on to order dessert.

The Tarta de Santiago, an almond based, flourless cake, brings back memories of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia.
The Tarta served at El Cabrito Astur was passable, but its texture was more like a thick pudding than the one we had in Santiago.

Tarta de Santiago El Cabrito Astur

Doña Cuevas abstained from dessert but Ron went all out and had an elaborate flan with ice cream, covered in rompope.

One decaf coffee and an Anís Cadena, and a bottle of agua mineral completed the meal.

Flan "León y Asturias

Food: ***1/2
Service: ****
Price: $$$$+ (Final cuenta was $1810 pesos, plus tip. Of the total, $350 was for the wine.)
Ambience: Discreetly European
Conclusion: overall, a pleasant experience, but probably wouldn't return.

Location: Calle Palma #40, Centro Histórico, México, D.F.

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More to come; yes, it's true.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Like Moths To The Flame Part One

There were rumblings from below and above. Mexico City had been shaken by earth tremors and now, Popocatéptl was spewing ashes and lava. Despite these ominous signs, we were drawn like moths to the flame. Our fervor for specialty cooking ingredients could not be extinguished. Once again, our supplies of vital ingredients, such as Pimentón de La Vera, Basmati and Jasmine rice, and not the least, my more than 10 year supply of whole nutmegs had dwindled to mere nubbins. 

A trip to Mexico City was needed. The ingredient shopping was a pretext for dining in some interesting restaurants. We had an extensive lineup as usual, and it was a pleasant challenge to make our final choices. One goal was to find a great paella, of which, more later.

Thursday, April 19, 2012
We left Pátzcuaro on Thursday morning aboard an Autovías luxury bus. We arrived at our hotel by 4:30 p.m. After a sort rest, time enough to settle in, we decided in favor of a late afternoon meal at El Hueqito, Calle Bolívar 83, Centro. The much closer Tacos Xotepingo had been considered, but the nod went to El Huequito. Just as well, too, for on a walk the next day, I found that the Xotepingo location on Av. Balderas, corner of C/ Marqués Sterling, was an empty shell. The carnicería to the side, bearing the Xotepingo name is still operating. So is the raunchy and run down looking Cine XXXX next door. I didn’t look inside. 

We walked to El Huequito where we obtained a table toward the front. I had for some time been enamored of the Tacos Ingleses, but on this and a previous visit, the sliced filet steak tacos, seasoned with Worcestershire Sauce, seemed to be lacking savor. Additionally, the price had risen to $40 pesos per taco.

Doña Cuevas had the Ensalada Huequito, consisting of watercress, bacon, tomato, walnuts and the possibly balsamic vinegar based dressing on the side, $70 pesos.

After the slighly disappointing Tacos Ingleses, we had some very good Tacos al Pastor, the specialty of the restaurant. These are about $11 pesos each.

Not sated, despite bowls of the excellent Frijoles de La Olla, we went on to share some good Tacos de Cochinita Pibil. (these were bested by some panucho de cochinita pibil that we ate later at Restaurante El Bajío, Azcapotzalco).

Ratings for El Huequito

Food: ***
Service: ***
Price: $$+ I no longer consider El Huequito an inexpensive restaurant. Our bill, including drinks, was in the range of $700 pesos.

On Friday morning, we walked from the Hotel Pal to a favorite coffeehouse-restaurant, La Piccolina, on C/ Luis Moya at the corner of C/ Marqúes Sterling. We were mildly dismayed to see it totally packed with people from a tour bus. This was surprising, considering how tiny the restaurant is.

So we backtracked to a coffeehouse we’d seen on our walk back the evening before. This place turned out to be so ordinary, it needs no further mention.

We retraced our way to Calle López and the Mercado de San Juan de Arcos de Belén. I had read in Nick Gilman’s post “A Culinary Stroll In the Centro Hístorico”, on his blog, “Good Food In Mexico City” that four blocks of Calle López, was filled with wall to wall budget eating places.

It was true. After a brief stroll through the mercado (not to be confused with the more famous, gourmet heaven Mercado San Juan, not far away), we ended up at El Paisa, specialists in Caldo de Gallina. A good bowl of “hen soup” will satisfy you for hours to come. Diners have their choice of pechuga (breast), pierna leg), muslo (thigh), rabadilla (aitchbone), and the exotic huacal (the hen’s internal “egg crate”, complete with small, shell less eggs.) 

All three of us chose una cuarta de pechuga, which more than satisfied us. The meat was boneless, a further plus.The soup, accompanied by freshly made tortillas and carrying rice and garbanzos, was very good. There were several salsas and condiments to heat things up.

The price is right, too: $29 pesos a bowl, if I recall correctly.

Ratings for El Paisa
Food: ****
Service: ****
Price: -$ BARGAIN!
Ambience: Huh?
Hygiene: Seems adequate.

Not far beyond El Paisa is the notable Ricos Tacos Toluca, at the corner of C/ Puente Peredo and López, close to C/ Aranda. We peered in, but we were so full that we had to postpone sampling the famed embutidos until the next day.

Just another block, north on Arandas, to La Molinera El Progreso, where the ever patient Sra. Mercedes filled most of my extensive list of ingredients. I did discover that the Basmati rice sold by El Progreso is instant! I had to reject it.

Well laden by this time, we went around the corner to Plaza San Juan, across which we entered the leading Asian food store in the area, El Dragon del Oro. It wasn’t long before Ron pointed out Jamine rice. But it was in 25 kilo bags! Over in a corner, to the right of the checkout desk, tucked away on a self were bags of both Basmati and Jasmine rice. I stocked up on these and a few bottles of specialty soy sauce.

To end the morning’s activities, we made a loop through Mercado San Juan, where we did get some Pimentón de La Vera, picante, some in VERY LARGE cans, but we had one half of the pimentón equation solved. We also bought some nice, but pricey heads of garlic from the talkative old garlic vendor just inside the door.

After this, we walked back to the Hotel Pal, where we rested and awaited the 4:00p.m. reservation time at El Cabrito Astur.

More to come..

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pizza a Mano

Nearly two weeks ago, Laura, a young woman who lives near our rancho asked if I would be willing to teach her and three of her cousins how to make pizza. I was doubtful at first that I would have the energy to conduct even an informal class in Spanish. But the more we talked about it, it seemed not only feasible, but great opportunity to do something interesting and, above all, fun.

We knew Laura from when she was in school. She'd bring her English homework to us to be checked and corrected. Making pizza would be a lot more fun. We were only acquainted with her three cousins, daughters of Norma and Lalo. Lalo cooks and sells carnitas each Sunday morning with the help of his daughters Norma, Anaïs and Lilian.

On Monday, Laura came by and we confirmed that we would meet here on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. Meanwhile, I prepared a basic list of pizza dough and sauce ingredients, with brief notes on technique, all in Spanish. But the bulk of the technique would be taught and learned by hands on practice. Pizza a Mano.

The students arrived, and first assembled for a group photo.

From left: Lilian, Laura. Norma and Anaïs
I'd decided that we would begin, logically, with making the dough, then the sauce, grate and prepare the cheeses, and finally, prepare the toppings. We would make one basic cheese and tomato pie, then we would go where our fancy led us. Two batches of pizza dough would yield four medium large pizzas.

It was not likely that any of my students would have dough mixers at home, so the mixing and kneading would be strictly a mano.

The girls took turns at various tasks, with my guidance. I chose the toppings, based on availability and my creative whims. I'd cleared off most of our ample, tiled counter top, and with the wooden baker's table, we had plenty of room for the practical side of the class.

Hand kneading dough was not wholly unfamiliar to some, as some had made tortillas de harina at home.

When the first batch of dough was fully kneaded, we took
a break and looked at pictures of another cousin, Licha's quinceañera last December. (Everybody is kinfolk around here.)

Break time over, we turned to preparing the sauce. I explained that the Italian or Spanish canned tomato products that I use are not available in Pátzcuaro, but are in Morelia. I had a box of Del Fuerte Puré de Tomate condimentado, one of the better brands, and best suited to Mexican recipes, but less so for pizza sauce. It's too thin, lacking in pieces of tomato, the flavor is not right, and to make it work, you'd need to add quite a lot of tomato paste. (It's thickened with food starch!)

It could serve in a pinch, but we proceeded with Cirio pomodori pelati and Passata Rustica, available at Wal-Mart and Superama, and thickened with a small can of S&W Tomato Paste, purchased by the carton at Costco. I used a very reliable sauce recipe from the Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, but cut back or eliminated some of the more extreme seasonings, such as sugar and cinnamon.

The dough had risen very well over an hour, and we divided it in two and lightly rounded them. While they rested, covered, we made another quantity of dough.

The first dough balls now rested enough to allow us to apply our hands to extending to dough, either by hand or a rolling pin. It's possible but slower by hand, but arguably makes a better base. Rolling out with the rolling pin ("rollido") took some practice to make an even circle, but the results were stellar.

Our first pizza was a basic but very nice cheese pizza.

The second dough ball was transformed into a Pizza Las Cuevas, con nopal, chile Poblano asado, tocino, y cebolla and the usual sauce and cheese.

Everyone was having a good time, especially eating the pizzas.

The second batch of dough was getting a little ahead of us, so we got up to deal with it.

The last two dough balls became a Pizza Verde, con acelgas, longaniza verde.

La Última Pizza del Día had Obertal chorizo Español y piña fresca, con chile Poblano crudo. Simpler, once again, but surprisingly good.

We divided the extras for take home. The approximately 4 hour class was successful in that the students learned new skills, saw the possibilities of creating pizzas with what was at hand. The food was good, but even better, the group was attentive and pleasant to work with. I hope that we can do another class, in the not too distant future.

Pleased as Punch