Tuesday, December 21, 2010

El Camino Real Tzurumutaro

El Camino Real in Februrary, 2004

(Note, please, that I was out and without my camera. So archive photos will have to do.)

Saturday we were in Pátzcuaro, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, decided to have comida at Restaurante El Camino Real. It's the locally famous restaurant, in business for about 40 years, next to the Pemex gas station at Tzurumutaro. It had been a long time since we’d eaten there, as on the previous two visits we felt that the quality had slipped. But on this visit, we are happy to report that it has regained its luster.
On weekends, it usually attracts crowds of motoring Mexican families, but on Saturday, the restaurant was only 2/3rds full by 3:15 p.m. There was plenty of free parking.

The dining room ceiling was strung in the Camino Real tradition with Christmas candy wrappers (maybe still containing candies) on the strings. This is always a festive sight.

The Menú del Día is extensive and varied. I can't recollect all that was offered of perhaps 20 separate items. but there were two styles of fried fish filets, two distinct chiles rellenos (one the Poblano chile stuffed with cheese, battered and fried, but also a chile pasilla (dried chile chilaca) filled with cheese, in a tomato broth. (see update, below)

Enchiladas Rojas

There were three styles of enchiladas, if I recall correctly, plus the justly famed specialty, conejo al ajillo (braised rabbit with garlic and chile guajillos.)

Conejo al Ajillo

There was much, much more, including some penciled in items. Of those, it was easy for me to pass up the Riñones en Salsa Negra (kidneys in black chile sauce.) But, it shows boldness on the part of the kitchen to offer such a dish to its more adventuresome clientele.)

I did spot a dish that was new to me: Pollo en Salsa de Ciruela Pasa. (Chicken in Dried Plum sauce.) 

But, for starters, every table is set with an attractive bowl of pickled vegetables and chiles. Today they were most attractive. There was also a basket of hot, crisp-crusted teleras rolls from the wood-fired oven of Panadería La Espiga, butter, and a generous bowl of salsa verde.

For the first course, we chose a substantial soup. There was Caldo de Pollo con Verduras; Sopa Tarasca, Olla Podrida, Sopa de Jitomate y Fideos.
Señora Cuevas got the Caldo de Pollo and I the Olla Podrida. The soups were sided by a small plate of chopped chiles serranos, choped onion, and halved limes.

I’d had the Olla Podrida before, and what I recall was that it was a tasty hodge-podge of unidentifiable minced ingredients This time, it was  a nice stock with substantial pieces of meat and vegetables. Sra. Cuevas says that the consomé of the Caldo wasn’t very strong but the chicken and vegetables were abundant.

For our second course, the “sopa seca”, we had a choice of arroz “canario”, macarrones en crema, or corundas. Since we’d had rice for breakfast, and we prefer corundas elsewhere, we chose the macarrones. It was a simple, bland dish, pleasantly enlivened by some salsa verde.

The Pollo en Salsa de Ciruela Pasa was tender and although the sauce resembled mole, the taste was quite different, of sweet and tangy fruit with a touch of chile. I mopped up every bit of sauce with piece of bread, then a tortilla. (Yes, we also were served a basket of hot, slightly thick tortillas.) 

Doña Cuevas mistakenly received the Pescado a la Ranchera instead of the Pescado con Ensalada. The filet of fish is from mojarra, and covered with tomatoes and nopalitos. It was satisfactory except for the cold frijoles, which she left after one taste. 

We were offered dessert, included in the price. Choices were Arroz Con Leche or Natillas Con Cajeta. We opted for the natillas, which was served in a small, disposable cup. There are various definitions of natillas, but in this instance it was a simple cornstarch based butterscotch flavored pudding. 

The bill was $120 pesos plus $24 for two bottles of fizzy water, so $144 pesos. We think it was good value for the money. We will be eating there more often.


Food: *** 1/2
Service: ****
Price: -$ Bargain
Ambience: Unpretentious, attractive, neat.
Restroom (men's): Old and worn, but serviceable
Special note: May be a waiting line on weekend afternoon, during "normal" times.

UPDATE January 16, 2011
We went with visiting friends to comida on Sunday at El Camino Real. Fortunately, we arrived before 2:00 p.m. as the dining room was rapidly filling. We took a table in the line of the kitchen door so that heavily laden waiters were constantly passing near us. The scene was festive, with a birthday celebration, but a bit intense. Before long, there was a line waiting outside, with even the outside tables filling up.
The car washers were doing a brisk business.

Customers waiting tables?
Sra. Cuevas and I shared a delicious agua fresca de melon. Our friends drank mineral water or beer.

The complimentary pickled vegetables were especially fresh and fotogenic. The telera rolls resembled those from La Espiga, but were more plump and had less taste and "character".

Crisp, picante pickled vegetables
Salsa verde de tomatillos was very good.

Our frends liked their Sopas Tarascas. I had the homey and pleasant Sopa de Pollo con Fideos. Doña C. had her usual Caldo de Pollo con Verduras. The broth again was light but the chicken and vegetables were flavorsome.

Three of us had the Ceviche de Hongos, which drew mixed reviews, ("too sweet." "tangy" "I like it.") and Mr. D. had Arroz con Mole; a small plate of rice with a pool of mole to the side.

Ceviche de Hongos

For main courses, D had the substantial Conejo al Ajillo, which he enjoyed; the two ladies had filetes de pescado, one prepared a la Ranchera, with salsa and nopalitos, and the other with a small mound of carrot-pineapple salad in creamy dressing, which she left on her plate.
For my main course, I picked Chile Pasilla Relleno de Queso. It was very unattractive but passably tasty. I wouldn't order it again.

Chile Pasilla Relleno de Queso
Our waiter offered us desserts. Only Doña Cuevas and I accepted. One was a small cup of colorless and nearly tasteless cubes of gelatin. I detected salt as a flavor. The other was a generous dish of creamy white pudding with very little flavor.

Clear gelatin with milk.
¿Coconut Pudding?
I suggest avoiding El Camino Real on Sunday afternoons due to the crowding, especially after 2:00 p.m. I think that the food quality suffers to a degree that is not a problem at earlier times or on other afternoons. The service was brisk but we never felt rushed.


Michael Dickson said...

Must you publicize this place? It's crowded enough as it is. Harrumph!

jennifer rose said...

If you haven't already done so, try the quail.

Calypso said...

They have quail? I put this on my short list when I visit - I will eat there a lot and bug Senor Felipe ;-)

Tancho said...

We are not regulars like yourself, out of a half dozen or so times we have gone, it has always been a different outcome. Service is the weak part here, food has been ok, a good value for the money. Our trips have been midweek since the lot is too full on the weekends we have driven by.

Dan in NC said...

Sr. Cuevas,
Looking at the photo at the head of the blog, is it possible that the establishment is in a re-purposed facility? Looks like an updated petrol station!
BTW - FINALLY found the Moroccan lamb rub,, Will be using it sometime in the next fortnight! Thnx!
Dan in NC

Don Cuevas said...

Felipe: it's not exactly unknown, after all.

Jennifer: a local couple out here in "the sticks" raise quail in their viveros (plant nursery.) Our neighbor prepared some once and gave us a couple. They were tough little birds. I hope El Camino Real does a better job.

Calypso: you can stay at the Hotelito or its "Las Vegas" cousin down the road. Cheap and clean. Hourly or nightly rates.

Tancho: we are hardly regulars, having not been there for almost a year. I think that crowds of customers lined up are a sign of popularity. However, many years ago, we arrived on a holiday, the kitchen was "slammed", and the plates of food were sloppy. Try eating there on the weekend, but before 2:00 p.m.

Dan: It IS part of a Pemex gas station complex. That's part of its peculiarly raffish charm. Maybe the restaurant building was originally the gas station. It's somewhat large for that purpose.

All: There's another El Camino Real in Santa Clara de Cobre. We have not eaten there.

Don Cuevas

Michael Dickson said...

Calypso: I live within an easy walk of that restaurant, so you can bug me in more ways than one. You can bang on my door.

Tancho: Service is the weak point? My lord, man, great service is the hallmark of that place. I suspect that your notion comes from visiting when the place was packed, but when it's even moderately full, the service is stellar. The food is, as you say, okay, slightly better than average for these parts. It's the service that cuts this joint from the pack, in my opinion. As Cuevas says, get there before 2 p.m. or right at 2 p.m., which is what I always aim for. I eat there a lot.

Tancho said...

The problem if I remember it was that my wife ordered something with meat in it, and they brought us the first course, then immediately before the main, they told her that they hadn't received their meat delivery yet, she asked them why they would take the order and deliver the other stuff if they didn't have the product...it when down hill from there. She, because of her being extremely Un-tolerant and feisty does warrant outcomes myself, being a mellow stress-less person doesn't experience.
We eat at the Camino Real in Santa Clara all the time. (it is closer to our house) They have decent food, decent service, good coffee, but we sadly cannot go there too often...their prices are no where near the affordability of the Camino Real in Tsuru.
Maybe I will write a review about it, but after the tirade from one restaurant owner at my last writing, I am a little hesitant, to say the least.