Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hacienda Los Arcos, Ziracuarétiro

                   Great start. Middling middle.

We returned yesterday to the pleasant town of Ziracuarétiro, in the warm, lush semi-tropical zone near Uruapan.
About a month ago, we had a pleasant dinner at La Mesa de Blanca, which is in the town itself. Ever seeking something new and different, we decide on Hacienda Los Arcos.

From its website, we already knew that it was a much larger and elaborate restaurant than La Mesa de Blanca. The website displayed a decor dripping with chuchería (tchotchkes). But it was the buffet service which gave me serious doubts as to the culinary worthiness of the restaurant. However, based on Felipe Zapata's glowing recommendation, we four, Georgia, Susie, Ron and I decided to give it a try. 
(This again illustrates how much people's preferences vary.)

When we got to Ziracuarétiro, we made a brief recon of the town center. There's a nice little plaza and the attractive bell tower of the modern church form a centerpiece. Close by, on a shady side street,  is the Balneario Ziracua, which looks a bit worn, although we didn't enter it.
To one side are the park-like grounds of El Gorjeo de Las Aves en Las Mañanas de Abril, a breakfast only restaurant owned by the same people of La Mesa de Blanca.

Hacienda Los Arcos is actually at Los Fresnos, about 5 kilometers south of Ziracua. It's hard to miss, both for its prominent signs and the extensive group of buildings atop a hill.

The parking is ample and paved, and a hostess greets visitors at the parking lot. Of the various dining areas, La Terraza looked most attractive, and we took a corner table with a view. The decor is Hacienda meets Annie Oakley and Wagon Train. A small fountain was noteworthy.

El Fuente de Las Planchas. An ironic icon.
We were given the option of the buffet or the a la carte menu. Although I was already decided against the buffet, I gave it a look once over. There were numerous steam table pans with covers, but after a quick look at the chiles rellenos, I really was uninterested in seeing more.

The best looking section was the plancha where carne sirloin asada could be cooked to order, and attractive brochetas de camarones, which unfortunately, appeared precooked. Sra. Doña Cuevas decided to have the buffet, which cost $170 MXN. But she ate mostly salads and fruits, interspersed with some camarones en salsa de mango. I'll get to that later.

Our waiter prepared a very good salsa de molcajete tableside. We tasted and had it made to our liking. It consisted of roasted tomatoes, salt and a choice of chile habanero or serrano or both. No cilantro, but it was very good.

The remaining three of us decide to share two appetizers. the first were 3, plump "camaronillas" or shrimp and cheese quesadillas. That was a good choice, especially spiked with the salsa de molcajete.

The next appetizer was an excellent Champiñones al Ajillo (fun to say as well as tasty to eat.) This was a 4 **** dish, one of the best, made with fresh mushrooms, possibly tomato; onion, garlic and chiles.

I ordered a Crema de Aguacate, served hot, which 3 of us shared. It was pleasant but too subtle, and we felt it could have been enhanced with some sort of garnish, or a variation in texture.

After this good start, the meal declined to a mediocre level.
For main courses, we ordered as follows: Georgia, Camarones Al Mojo de Ajo; Ron, an Arrachera, accompanied by a crema y tocino topped baked potato, elote (which he skipped) and cebollitas; I had Camarones Al Tamarindo.

Here's the score: Camarones Al Mojo; small to medium tails on shrimp in a thickened garlic sauce, resembling a poorly made Cantonese dish. The bits of garlic were evenly minced  and shaped, looking as though they came out of a jar of prepared garlic. Not awful, but not up to the standard to which we are accustomed.

Arrachera: Ron said it was ordinary and probably not marinaded.

Camarones Al Tamarindo; o.k. but unbalanced sauce. Kind of a one-dimensional tamarind tartness. The accompanying mound of rice was tepid and just boring.

Late edition: April 25, 2010, 5:46 PM
We passed on dessert, as we were quite full, and the desserts we'd seen displayed on a table of the buffet did not appeal to us. They looked store-bought.
Ron wanted an espresso, or a café con leche, but there is no espresso machine, and the only coffee available was café de olla or what I think is a "cappucino" made from a mix. 

The four of us did drink, at various times, a cerveza Pacífico; a tequila and Coke, a Dubonnet on the rocks; a copa de vino tinto Argentino, Las Moras; a Vampiro (good, but I've had better elsewhere.); and a pitcher of overly sweet Limonada.

The cuenta for all that was $1,131 MXN, to which we added a good tip, because the service was above average.

In conclusion, after only one visit, it's a pleasant restaurant, but you'd do better just having appetizers and drinks. 

My ratings:
Food: ***
Service: ****
Price: $$-$$$ (Each $= 100 pesos Mexicanos)
Ambience: ornate western
Restrooms: small but very clean

Here are all the photos, in slideshow form.
(added menu photos April 26, 2010)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Baker's Joy: La Frontera, Morelia

Baker's Joy. It's not just a pan release spray.

It's La Frontera, in Morelia. As a retired, professional baker and ex-bakery owner, I love this place.

It's the place panaderos go when needing some special ingredient, such as rye or gluten flour; caraway seeds or flavoring extracts; pectin to set jellies and jams; a special pan for that poodle shaped cake, or perhaps a powerful floor mixer, or a 36-part dough divider.

It was Jennifer Rose, an American attorney living in Morelia, who first tipped me off to La Frontera. A question had arisen on the MoreliaConnect Yahoo Group in regard to "Saldo", said to be Costco's closeout store where goods are sold at half price. La Frontera is located just a few doors down, toward the southern end of Calle Abasolo where it meets Plaza Carillo at Calle Benedicto López, on the edge of Morelia's Centro.

Sr. Ufemio López, the store manager, told me in an interview that Plaza Carillo used to be the southern edge or "frontera" of the city. When it was founded by a Sr. Huerta in the 1930's, the original store was on the corner. It served in part as a feed store to supply rancheros who'd come into the city to resupply with nutritious alimentos. It carried everything from barbed wire rolls to wedding dresses.

The horses and burros were tied up outside while the farmers and rancheros would shop.

Ufemio's father later bought the business and moved it to its present location at Calle Mariano Abasolo 727. He gave  young 'Femio the task of watering and feeding the horses and burros of the customers. He would earn propinas for this service.

Ufemio (R, in jacket) and Carlos, Assistant Manager (L)
The store was moved a few doors up the street, and about 15 years ago, Ufemio assumed ownership of the business. Flour was one of the items sold in the original store, but Ufemio developed that specialty line by adding more baker's supplies, decorators' colors, baking trays, storage baskets and much more. In addition, it still sells general grocery merchandise, from Fruit Loops to spirituous liquors. Below, decorators' supplies.

The store gradually prospered despite various economic crises, and now sells and delivers merchandise and ingredients to Morelia's better panaderías. Among the customers are the reknowned Horno de Los Ortiz, and La Jarochita.

In the last year or so, La Frontera was improved with the addition of new lighting and efforts were made to organize the shelving so that customers could walk back and get a better look at the merchandise. It's still a somewhat flour-dusted place that holds fascination for both amateur and professional bakers alike. The aisles are piled high with flour sacks.

Aisle of flours

Today, it's worth braving the swirling, circulating traffic and scarce parking around Plaza Carillo for a visit to La Frontera. Sr. Ufemio and his staff are friendly and cordial, and he speaks English quite well. He told me that he likes to keep in practice speaking English, which I believe is better than my Spanish.

Nearby are some small, neighborhood bakeries. Just up Abasolo a few doors is Pan de Zinapécuaro. It's an "expendio" or sales point. The distinctly local bread is brought in from Zinapécuaro, about 35 miles northeast. The moist, dark heavy pan de piloncillo (which is not precisely its name) is reminiscient of unspiced gingerbread and worth a try. The shop replaced another baker's store that used to sell the crustiest bolillos in Morelia. I wish I knew where it has gone.

A block to the west, on Calle Galeana, just down fron the narrow cross street Calle Guerrero and across from the Hotel Casa Galeana at #507, is the expanded Panadería Los Ángeles. It's run by the charming Angelina. She specializes in pan integral. Try the galletas integrales, flat, crisp, multi-grain cookies. The Chiles Relleno de Queso en Hojaldre are good, too, when soon out of the oven.

A few blocks northwest, where E-W Calle Aldama ends at a "T" at N-S Calle Quintana Roo is the old fashioned Panadería La Jarochita. Get there after 4 p.m and before 8:30 to have best choice of the hand made (literally) breads.

La Frontera is located at:
Abasolo # 727, Centro, Morelia
Tel: 317-84-45 and 313-57-72
Open every day except Sunday.

View Pátzcuaro's Best Eats in a larger map

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Milanesa de Cerdo with Asian-fusion Pico de Gallo

The Milanesa is a popular dish in Mexico. It's simply a cutlet of meat or chicken, pounded thin, lightly breaded and fried. It's often used to fill a torta or its variant, cemita. (Bread roll sandwich) It bears some relationship to the Austrian Schnitzel, but even more so to the coteletta alla Milanaise. I wrote about this a year ago in regard to the Holsteiner Schnitzel I enjoyed at Sanborn's in Morelia. That post attempted to describe some of the background and history of the Milanesa. Today, I'll describe how to cook them.

Not long ago, Costco had a special on sliced, boneless pork loins. I bought a package of about 8, but should have bought two packages. But, there's almost always a shortage of space in our refrigerator's freezer. 
I cooked the first lot simply as lightly breaded pork chops. They were good, but a bit dry to my taste and not as tender as hoped for. Two days ago, I decided to cook the remaining three, but this time as Milanesas de Cerdo (pork). At first I was going to do them something like Chicken Fried Steak, with a cream gravy, but with warm weather here, it seemed too heavy. There are differences between a Chicken Fried Steak and a Milanesa. Read this Dallas Observer article.

I have some sweet red, orange and yellow peppers in the fridge, so I decided to make a mild pico de gallo, adding half of an English cucumber, onion, minced fresh ginger; some pineapple vinegar, lime juice, salt and a couple of chopped jalapeños. All the vegs except for the jalapeños and the ginger were diced medium and combined in a stainless steel bowl. There was a splash of Thai fish sauce and a squirt of Asian sesame oil. A little sugar was needed to balance out the acidity. This pico de gallo would have been nice with some diced fresh mango in it, but I didn't want to cut up our one remaining mango, so I skipped it. Cilantro might have been desirable, but unfortunately, that which we had was once again spoiled.
Now it has occurred to me that I could have used an SE Asian Chile-Garlic condiment in place of the jalapeños, but overall, it was fine as is.

Asian-Mexican fusion Pico de Gallo

The boneless pork loin cuts were placed one at a time between two sheets of waxed paper, on top of a heavy plastic cutting board, and gradually pounded to thinness with the side of a meat tenderizing hammer. I had to change the wax paper a few times.
As each cutlet was pounded thin, it was placed in a pie pan holding one beaten egg and about a half cup of milk. Nearby was another pie pan with a half cup of flour, seasoned with salt, black pepper and a big pinch of chile molido.

Meanwhile, our large black iron skillet was slowly heating on the stove with enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom 1/2 inch deep. I covered a large plate with a double layer of paper towel. A pot of Jasmine rice was already cooked and staying hot on the back of the range. Some green vegetables, in this case, Brussels sprouts and green beans were already cooked and awaiting reheating in the microwave oven. YVMV (Your Vegetables May Vary).

I had the flame under the skillet turned 3/4 full, and when the oil seemed hot, I passed an egg wash coated cutlet through the flour mixture and into the skillet, one at a time. It took less than a minute to cook each side to a golden brown, but using tongs, I turned it back on the first side to be sure it was done. The excess oil was drained off by holding it up over the skillet, then blotted thoroughly on the paper towels. The same was repeated with the other two.

Broken but unbowed and still delicious
When all were done and plated, this is how they looked.

We added a few squirts of Sriracha Sauce to zip up the heat level a bit more. I drank a Monte Xanic vino blanco and some Vivolo Pinot Grigio, but beer would also go well with this meal.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Betabeles: The Beet Goes On

Betabeles. It's a lovely word for an unlovely root. They look like ruddy cannon shot piled in the market stalls or on the ground cloths of the vendedoras. We've been eating them a lot lately, so I thought I'd post some ideas. From deep within the BlogSoil, I dug up this never-before published  item.

(I've edited it to conform with my present, heightened blogging standards.)