Monday, April 15, 2013

Five Over Easy in Mexico City

During our April, 2013 visit to Mexico City, we tried four restaurants new to us and one reprise. I am going to describe them briefly.

When we arrived at the Great House in San Miguel Chapultepec, we were tired, so for a simple supper, we ate nearby at La Poblanita de Tacubaya, on Calle Vieyra 12 near Avenida Revolucíon. (Click for map.) La Poblanita is a popular, classic, old line Mexican restaurant specializing in mole. But we had Caldo de Gallina, an especially sabroso variant of chicken soup. The bowls were laden with chicken meat, rice and garbanzos. Ordering a plate of flautas, three chicken filled, crisp tacos dorados, was an error. The flautas were buried under a blanket of lettuce, tomato, crema and cheese. Service on that visit was desultory.

On another visit a few days later, Doña Cuevas ordered Sopa de Tortilla, which was almost a pudding of fried tortilla strips drowned in caldo, covered with an obscene amount of cheese, avocado and chicharrón. I got Sopa de Hongos, a much simpler soup loaded with thickly sliced mushrooms, but I couldn't finish it due to an excess of salt. The service at that busier time was much more responsive, yes, and cheerful.

Sopa de tortilla
Is it fair to review a restaurant on the basis of two visits, and four soups?
Of course not. But I think I got a feel for the place, so here goes.



Service: ***

Price: $$

Ambience: Faded Fiesta Poblana

Restrooms: Good

Our next venture was at the cool, hip, Baja style seafood bistro Pablo El Erizo, at Fernando Montes de Oca #6, Colonia Condesa. The big player in hip seafood is, of course, Contramar. But I had memories of a very noisy dining room and very high prices, so I chose the newer, smaller and more intimate Pablo El Erizo. I'm sure that the clever name played a big part in my choice.

I immediately liked the small, well lighted dining room with its non stereotypical decor, free of flotsam and jetsam.

We were served a basket of variety breads which were better than the usual dull stuff in restaurant baskets.

We began with an order of Tostaditas de Atún Sellado, Estilo Ophelia. Very good.

Tostaditas de Atún. The strips are fried tortilla strips and crispy leeks

An order of Camarones a la Plancha was different from the usual with a light salsa, and a chipotle mayonnaise on the side.

In fact, the quartet of table salsas was distinguished.

Me, I'm a sucker for octopus, so I had Pulpo a la Parrilla. It was very plain and, let's face it: quickly boring, accompanied by a bowl of frijoles negros de olla. Now I recall that I'd had an almost identical octopus dish at Sobrino's, on Álvaro Obregón, Colonia Roma.

We ordered a somewhat redundant Filete de Atún en Costra de Pistache for la Señora, good but not especially distinguished. The snow peas were a nice touch, but the shredded white ¿potato? was tasteless. The small bowl held a sweet, somewhat gooey teriyaki type sauce. But it was addictive, and even enhanced my octopus.

I drank a couple of glasses of a medium dry Altozano Vino Blanco ($70 pesos each!) and la Señora had agua mineral or limonada.

I finished with a cafe express (good!) and a Panna Cotta dessert. It was a work of art, and tasted almost as good as it looked.

The bill came to over $1000 pesos, including tip. Was it worth it? For the experience to satisfy my curiosity, yes. For a return visit, probably not. Of course, one could order more modestly.


Food: ****

Service: ****

Price: $$$+

Ambience: Sea froth

Rest rooms: Good

We alternated big deal meals with simple, local suppers.
On another evening, we decided to try La Piazzetta, on Calle Verendi at Avenida Parque Lira, Colonia San Miguel Chapultepec. It was within walking distance of our lodgings.

It's a tiny place, with six tables; up a few steps at the corner of  curving Calle Verendi, which gives it a picturesque  European charm.

Pasta, panini and pizzas are on the menu, but we had a Prosciutto and Mushroom pizza, and a couple of pretty good salads.

The salads were o.k. but the pizza was distinguished by its very thin and crisp crust. The sauce and toppings were decent, and we were very satisfied with our simple meal.


Food: ***1/2

Service: ***  Leisurely, but what's your hurry?


Ambience: Cozy, neighborly.

Restrooms: Clean and serviceable

Escarapela Bodegón Argentino, Colonia Condesa.

This cellar like boite at Avenida Nuevo Laredo # 62, Colonia Condesa, was our biggest dining disappointment. We arrived early in the afternoon, so the restaurant wasn't crowded, even on a Sunday. That was a good thing, as the tables are set very closely together and the room gets crowded later in the afternoon.

We were quickly served the obligatory chimichurrí and a spicy, emulsified mustard based (?) sauce.

We began with a pair of the popular empanadas; one of hand chopped beef, the other of "Roquefort". Both were decent. I liked the Roquefort better. Both could have been hotter.

Chopped beef, left; Roquefort, right

Doña Cuevas ordered a generous Ensalada Caprese , of thickly sliced (but essentially tasteless) tomatoes  and fresh mozzarella. It was garnished with wisps of dried tomato and dressed with a fresh basil vinaigrette. It was a relative highlight of our meal.

Our main courses were wildly variable in quality. La Señora ordered a cut of vacío, which was very good looking, but still quivering, so she sent it back for further cooking. It came back a satisfactory medium rare. This was a decent piece of beef.

On the other hand, my bife de chorizo was a pathetic, undersized specimen, flabby, luke warm, and without char or sear. I sent mine back as well, and it returned slightly warmer and passably edible. This bife de chorizo was undoubtedly Worst of its Class, compared to the those I have enjoyed previously elsewhere.

I drank a Bohemia Clara and a café Americano (very good, too!)

Our bill was $581 before tip, a reasonable price in my estimation. If only the food quality had been more consistent.


Food: **1/2

Service: ***

Price: $$1/2

Ambience: Bohemian wine cellar, caricatures and posters on the walls.

Rest room: very small, just functional, but clean.

Mojing Comida China
Located at the corner of Calles Humboldt and Artículo 123, Colonia Centro.
We had visited Mojing Comida China a few years ago with our friend Ron. It is one of the very few "authentic" Chinese restaurants in Mexico City. Since our earlier visit, it had closed, then reopened under the name "Dalian", then reverted to the name Mojing, again under the original owners. We saw significant changes in the menu and the service. Service: there are now Spanish speaking waiters, which makes communication much easier for us. The menu has been extensively revised, with most entries having a photo and a Spanish caption as well as in Chinese characters.

A notable enhancement to the neighborhood is that the colony of homeless men that was across Artículo 123 is gone, replaced by an EcoBici rack and a freshly painted wall.

Because we were only two diners, our options were more limited than if we'd had dining companions. But we did quite well nevertheless.

We asked for "Raviolis Chinos al Vapor" (jiao-tse) but they were not ready yet. So we ordered the "small", $82 peso Sopa de Mariscos Agri-picante.
Seafood Soup for two
When it arrived, we were staggered by its quantity. It was in a bowl sufficient for four, and then some. But we did our best and it was good. The seafood was mostly small shrimps, some callos de hacha, and surimi. The spice level was enough to keep us interested but without being overwhelming.

For our second course, we had Camarones con Sal y Ajo. This was a great way to prepare large shrimps in the shell. There was a thin, crunchy coating of what may have been egg white and cornstarch, binding the salt and chopped garlic to the crispy shells. We were tempted to eat all the shells, but knew better that we'd suffer for it, so we limited our nibbling to the tiny legs.

We also ordered bowls of steamed white rice to go with the shrimp. At the end of the meal, we had leftovers of every course to take back to our guest house for a light supper.

Later, as I reviewed my photos, I realized we'd ordered the same shrimp dish on our earlier visit. But the two versions were very different.

Earlier version. Apparently a mistake.
The earlier version seemed to have nothing to do with salt and garlic, but had a spicy red sauce on large shrimp. The dry fried version of this visit was much more to our liking.



Service: ****

Price: $$

Ambience: Chinoiserie favorites. This was the largest dining room of restaurants we visited. They have buffets at certain times, probably on weekends. Daily combination specials at lower prices during the week.

Rest rooms: Clean and functional

We look forward to eating there again.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Great House in San Miguel Chapultepec

We are accustomed to staying in hotels when we travel in Mexico. Back in the 1980's, we tried staying in B&Bs in the U.S. and a couple in Mexico, but with a few exceptions, they didn't suit our style. (That might be the subject of another post.)

About a year ago we became aware of, a service which brings together travelers and hosts in private homes or apartments. I was browsing its listings for Mexico City and was struck by an unusually attractive house in Colonia San Miguel Chapultepec. The guests' reviews were laudatory, without exception. We met a Canadian woman who had actually stayed there. She had enjoyed her stay but did comment that the selection of restaurants nearby was thin. I had a few doubts about its location a few miles west of our usual haunts of Colonia Roma Norte and Condesa. Despite that, we decided to book it to give us a new area of Mexico City to explore.

AirBnB plays its cards close to its chest. We knew the general area in which the house is located, but we weren't given the exact address nor the email address of the hosts until we had booked and prepaid. Prospective guests can communicate with tentative hosts through AirBnB. You can see the general area in the map below.

View Larger Map

The owner/hosts, Francisco and his wife, María Jose are busy professional people, so we didn't have a lot of interaction with them during our 5 night stay. But when we did, they were cordial and helpful. The linchpin of the Great House is  the housekeeper, Sra. Yolanda, who greeted us and who works tirelessly to ensure guests' comfort and that all is running smoothly.

There are also two to three dogs, the most notable is Maya, a huge, docile and sleepy St. Bernard.

Some practical aspects of our stay.

The neighborhood.
The house is located in a small upscale barrio of  narrow streets with homes of attractive exteriors that reveal little of what's inside. There are also a few more modern apartment and condo buildings. The barrio is bounded by busy avenues, of which the one a couple of blocks to the east is a rather deteriorated commercial strip. The western boundary avenue is along an attractive park.

Shopping, including an average bakery, farmacias and a large, modern supermarket, as well as banks and ATMs are within a 5 minute walk from the house.

Typical street in el barrio

Buses, (did not use); taxis, walking, and MetroBus  were our principal modes of transport. There are Metro (underground) stations six to eight blocks away. We did not use the underground Metro.

The House.
There is a large metal gate to the front parking area, followed by a foyer into the interior. Immediately to the right is a set of stairs to the bedroom level and upstairs, a reading lounge or small living room with a large window overlooking the parking area.

Directly ahead on the ground floor, the house expands dramatically, first, a small bathroom to the right, then an attractive library-study.
Immediately to the left, is a very large, contemporary styled dining room and an open kitchen.

Continuing directly ahead from the entrance, there's a very spacious and nicely furnished living room with a large screen tv. The left side of the living room has glassed doors that access the modest but attractive patio-jardin, also accessible from the dining room.

Security. We felt very secure in the house. The gate was well secured and the dogs provided some small measure of protection. One of the aspects that I appreciated most was that I could leave expensive electronic devices out without fear or hesitation. This is in contrast to hotel stays, where I take measures to hide these devices when we go out.

Paco reviewing the security detail
The Bedroom.
Our bedroom was the larger of two available to guests. It was reasonably spacious and furnished with a cama matrimonial, a solid desk with working drawers, a small sofa bench, a three section armoire, and a larger screen tv with Sky services, although we never could figure out how to navigate it, even with help from Francisco.

A specially nice touch was a small refrigerator and a microwave oven. These could be very useful, but we preferred to snack and heat food in the main kitchen one floor below.

There is a ceiling fan in the bedroom, which we used a lot. The bed was reasonably comfortable, although I would have preferred a queen size or two beds. However, there really isn't room for that.

Lighting was more than adequate, and with a little creativity, I found enough outlets in which to charge my electrical devices.

Noise levels were very low when our bedroom window facing above the patio was closed, and very little street noise came in. However, there is a nursery school or day care center close by, and some sounds occasionally came in during the day.

There was intermittent noise from jet planes flying overhead, especially noticeable at some hours of the night. That can be mitigated by wearing earplugs,

Our bathroom was very close to our bedroom. It was small but more than adequate. It was well supplied with soaps and shampoos, and Yolanda brought us a stack of fresh towels daily.
Hot water in the shower took a couple of minutes to arrive, but then it was o.k.

We had the bathroom to ourselves the first four nights, and shared with two other guests the fifth night. It was easy to work around this on a short term basis.

The wifi signal was strong and available in all areas of the house where I connected. It was a real pleasure to use.

Breakfast is included in the price. Breakfasts were cold cereal, toast, jam, butter, sweet bread, yogurt, cut fresh fruit, orange juice, coffee or tea. There was a wide selection of tea. One morning we were treated to Tamales Oaxaqueños.

The breakfasts were fresh and wholesome, although I would have like some protein foods, but I never got around to requesting them. Even hard cooked eggs or a couple of slices of cheese would have been welcome sustenance.

Neighborhood Restaurants and Street Food.
The nearest restaurant is La Poblanita de Tacubaya, a traditional Mexican restaurant with an extensive menu. I'll review it later.
There are a couple or more pizza places, mostly chains, but one charming and unique spot, to be reviewed later. There are coffee shops and comedores económicos, but we didn't eat at any.

There is also "El Matador", a grilled meat restaurant, which we did not try.

Most of the local street food stands along a major avenue didn't appeal to me, but one morning I did buy a couple of deep fried empanadas, which were hot, a little salty, but good.

Fried empanadas
One of the highlights of the barrio is Amor Casero, a small ice cream stand featuring small selection of excellent ice creams and sorbets, made on the premises. I had one of the best chocolate ice creams in my experience.

Summing it all up; we enjoyed our stay, the house was spacious yet secure, we were welcome to use the kitchen as we wished, we felt "at home"; the barrio was not as convenient to our usual favorite areas of the city, but we learned to use the MetroBus and came to enjoy it. Our hosts, including Sra. Yolanda were genial. It's a good option for visitors who wish more space in their accommodation and relative tranquility.