Monday, July 29, 2013

The Slaw Food Movement

A couple of days ago, I was  reading "Felipe Zapata's" blog, "The Unseen Moon", in which he mentions getting roast chicken and its accompanying slaw of a Mexican variety at a stand well known to us as well.

We drove down the highway to a roasted chicken stand and shared half a hen, tortillas and something that is kinda like cole slaw, but Mexicans don’t really know cole slaw. They know tacos.

 I commented:
The kinda cole slaw at that place is utterly simple: shredded cabbage, a few shreds of onion, slices of carrot and a couple of spears of seeded pickled jalapeño. I'm not sure what the dressing is. Could be lime juice, more probably just vinegar. It's nothing to get excited about, but it's a good foil for the delicious, adobo dipped, charcoal broiled, orange juice drenched chicken. When I make slaw at home, I make a modified version of that at the roast chicken place.
The time has come to describe that slaw and how I make it, for the benefit of my loyal readers. 
NOTE: this is not a recipe. It is a photo illustrated tutorial.

There are five essential ingredients: fresh cabbage, carrots, salt and sugar and mild vinegar or lime juice. All the rest are optional.

I prefer to buy small to medium sized cabbages in the Pátzcuaro mercado. The best, in my opinion, still have the outer leaves on. Those with the leaves removed have been around for a while.

After disinfecting all vegetables in a Microdyn and water solution, then draining them, we are ready to make the slaw. I assembled the seasonings for this tutorial. I usually not that strictly organized.

Today, I used half of a medium sized cabbage, and 3 medium sized carrots. Because I like it, I added about a third of a sweet pepper.

Let's go to technique. After shredding* the half cabbage with knife, mandoline or food processor, I dump it into a large stainless steel bowl.

*Shredding should be distinguished from grating, which is altogether different.

I measured 2 teaspoons of salt and separately, 2 tablespoons sugar. I added about two thirds of each to the shredded cabbage. This was tossed about with a pair of tongs. You could use your hands if you like.

The carrots were peeled and trimmed before going into the disinfectant solution. Now they are sliced into thin discs and placed atop the cabbage shreds.

I then cut up the sweet pepper into small pieces and added it to the bowl.

Next, a few rings of sweet onion. This is entirely optional.

Next, a small handful of fresh parsley is chopped coarsely and added to the bowl.

The next step is the seasoning, all optional except for the salt and sugar already applied.

I like a teaspoon of celery seed and a teaspoon of dry, hot mustard powder, or yellow mustard seed, for less piquancy. It's important not to overdose with these two seasonings, as the can make the slaw bitter or too sharp.

Another version uses a clove or two of garlic, which makes the slaw taste more like a NY deli Health salad. We love garlic, but not so much here.

Everything is well tossed together. Taste it, then correct the seasoning.

Remove the slaw to a refrigerator container. It will keep nicely for a week, if it lasts that long.

Healthy slaw. No mayo no oil, just fresh, healthy ingredients. (Yeah. I know about the salt and the sugar.)

This works well with purple cabbage also, which may have greater health benefits.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Nico's México

Salsas and pickled chipotles at Nico's
Avenida Cuitláhuac, Clavería, Delegacíon Azcapotzalco, México, Distrito Federal:
Place names that roll off the tongue, a area of Mexico City far from the trendy bistrots of Condesa and Roma and from the stalwart, old time restaurants of the Centro Histórico.

We had dined last year at the deservedly famous El Bajío, but had since read good things about Restaurante Nico's Mexico*, less than half a mile further up Avenida Cuitláhuac, in Colonia Clavería.

View Larger Map

*There's a branch of Nico's in Querétaro also.

Nico's has been operating since 1957, and although it offers distinctive regional Mexican dishes, its look and feel are very different than that of El Bajío. El Bajío is festively decorated with artesanías but Nico's is more serious, with a sober decor of beige and brown walls. Nico's has gravitas. Nico's emphasizes that it obtains raw materials from small producers. It's also a founding member of the Slow Food Movement. At Nico's your attention is focused on the plate and the food, and less on the surroundings. We enjoy both El Bajío and Nico's, but what we ate at the latter gave near perfect pleasure.

I'd made a reservation through, which was easy, yet we had a minor kerfuffle when we arrived. We were shown a table by the door to the kitchen, and when we requested another, it seemed all others were reserved. Despite its modest capacity, Nico's dining room fills everyday except Sunday, when it is closed. However, when I belatedly gave the head waiter our OpenTable confirmation number, they found us a more suitable table.

For openers, a Tequila and mezcal cart was rolled beside our table. Unless you already know a lot about these spirits, making a decision is difficult. Our waiter offered me  a taste of a Mezcal Amores, which I liked very much, so I chose that. It was smooth and smoky.

Mobile bar
The menu is somewhat dazzling. It begins with a list of the seasonal and daily specials. That is only the start.

We passed over the specials sheet and moved to the Entradas.
I chose Marlín En Frío and our amiga, Luz Ma, had Chile Mihuateco Relleno de Trucha Ahumada. Doña Cuevas skipped the appetizers, but had a Sopa de Frijoles en Caldo de Ayocote for her next course, as did Luz Ma.

The Marlín Ahumado was unlike any I'd had before. It was a brilliant presentation of thin, translucent slices of smoked marlin lightly dressed with olive oil of Ensenada, lime juice, parsley, and salt smoked over copal incense.

Marlín Ahumado en Frío

The Chile Mihuateco Relleno de Trucha Ahumada was richer looking. I didn't try it, but Luz Ma enjoyed it.

Chile Relleno de Trucha Ahumada
My companions both chose the Sopa de Frijoles for their main course, and I selected Caldo Verde de Camarones Rocas. The nicely garnished Sopa de Frijoles was both hearty and tasty. The Caldo Verde de Camarones was tart and slightly picante. I liked the soup, but the shrimp were impeccable.
Caldo Verde de Camarones con Nopalitos
Garnishes for Sopa de Frijol
Sra. Cuevas chose Pollito de Leche Estilo Barbacoa de Hidalgo. Very good, but a bit of a bother dealing with the many bones in a small, whole bird. The accompanying Frijoles de Olla were very good.

Pollito de Leche 
I had another mezcal and a plato fuerte; Cerdo en Adobo de Antaño. This was a solid but fortunately smallish chunk of tender pork in a delicious sauce reminiscent of a dark mole, but less thick and with a perfect balance of fruit and spice. The baby tamalito was superb. I wish there had been more than one. It came with a cazuelita of wonderful frijoles negros.

Doña Cuevas and I skipped dessert, but Luz Ma was drawn to an Arroz con Leche that took a few moments to prepare. It came with a cinnamon foam that was very pleasant.

We all had coffee, which was more than acceptable. I consider this meal to be one of the best we have ever had in  Mexico City.


Food: *****

Service: *****

Price: Expensive, but worth it. $$$$+, including tip. La Cuenta.

Rest rooms: very clean and functional.

Parking: Valet parking available.

Open Monday through Saturday, Open at 7:30, M-F for breakfast, then until 19:30.
Open at 8:00 a.m Saturday until 19:00.
Closed Sunday.
Location: Avenida Cuitláhuac 3102, Colonia Clavería, Delegacíon Azcapotzalco, 02080 Mexico City, D.F.
Tel: 01 55 5396 7090

More menu pages:
Ensaladas  Sopas  Pescados y Mariscos  Aves  Carnes

Friday, July 19, 2013

Three Notable Bakeries of Colonia Roma Norte

On our recent stay in Colonia Roma Norte, México, D.F. we stopped in briefly at three bakeries, all within a few blocks of each other. We went away with varying impressions. (This is not meant to be an intensive review, but only a quick look.)

Roaming Area
The first was Panadería Rosetta, AKA Panadería 179, in its new location on Calle Colima #179, about 1 block west of the mother Rosetta Ristorante Italiano. Previously, we'd purchased and enjoyed Rosetta's Pan Campesino, a hearty, sourdough loaf, as well as the excellent rosemary focaccia served in the restaurant. This time, at the new bakery, we bought two Danish style rolls and a butter croissant.

Panadería Rosetta
Back at our hotel room, we sampled the croissant. It must have been "proven" (raised) with excessive warmth, as it was crumbly and greasy. Later, the Danish rolls were better. Buttery and rich, even a half would suffice. Prices are well above average. There's also a narrow counter where coffee drinks and light food are served to what seems a "hip" clientele.

Next stop, (another day), the more down-market Panadería La Artesa, at Calle Jalapa # 58, corner of Calle Durango; one of a chain of franchised bakeries, apparently originating in Puebla, but I'm not sure of where. La Artesa bakes a variety of breads on the premises. There are a number of attractive products, including whole grain items and gluten free breads. The various pan dulces we sampled were a considerable notch above those of the average panadería, but not, in my estimation, top ranking. Prices were reasonable, if slightly higher than in a typical panadería. Pan dulce items ran about $12 pesos each.

La Puerta Abierta Bakery holds appeal for me
Finally, the surprise discovery: La Puerta Abierta Bakery (Yes, "Bakery", not "Panadería".) It's surprisingly close to Panadería Rosetta, at Calle Colima #226. My attention was first caught by the baker's peel signboard hanging outside the shop. It reminded me of a similar, carved sign I'd commissioned many years ago, by master wood carver Charles Widmer, to hang outside my bake shop, the HearthStone Bakery, in Mountain View, Arkansas. That, and the name, were more than enough to pull us into the attractive, well lit interior.

The Open Door invites you into the warm and friendly interior.
It was late in the day, we had just eaten at Yuban Restaurante Oaxaqueño, and there were few breads remaining on the wooden shelves. We chatted with a friendly young salesgirl (in English and Spanish), and learned that the bakery opens at 9:00 a.m. We decided to start our next day's breakfast there.

Accordingly, the following morning we entered again. The young, multilingual French baker was working. We conversed briefly with him. (Wish I had gotten his name.)

The baked goods were more abundant: rustic baguettes, dusted with flour, streaky oval ciabatta, batards covered in oats or flaxseed. But what attracted us at that moment were the beautifully formed croissants. We took a pair to go, and ate them at our table at Orígenes Orgánicos half a block east. The croissants were perfect. (Note that there were also chocolate croissants, almond croissants and the rustic ham and cheese croissants; all very tempting, but we were determined to breakfast lightly.)

The Perfect Croissant: from La Puerta Abierta
Ham and Cheese Croissants from La Puerta Abierta
There are also shelves with homemade, premium conserves, at a premium price: $90 pesos per jar. Some day we must get a group of friends to chip in to try these.

We also bought a pair of large loaves, one covered in flax seed, the other in oat flakes. We enjoyed these, although the flaxseed and oats were confined to the crust. The interior crumb was moist, chewy and had small tunnels running through the crumb. They weren't sourdough breads, but seemed to have been made with some pre-fermented dough or starter. La Puerta Abierta Bakery will be our first stop on our next visit to Colonia Roma.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Colonia Roma Over Lightly

A charming window of Roma Norte
During our recent three day stay in Mexico City's Colonia Roma, we ate at several places.  Some were worthwhile, others less so. It would require too many words to describe them all. So I will offer an over lightly survey of the highlights.

We again stayed in the Hotel Embassy, an excellent value at a good location, on the northern edge of Colonia Roma, a short walk to the Avenida Álvaro Obregón corridor or the Zona Rosa.

Around the block, on Calle Orizaba, at the northeastern corner of Plaza Río de Janeiro is the Cafe Toscana, where this time we stopped briefly once for a coffee.

Monday 8 July, our first afternoon back in Mexico City, we had the prix fixe lunch at Macelleria Roma. It was $140 pesos for soup (a light minestrone), a small dish of "Carpaccio" de Calabazas (which seems to be the latest trendy dish) and Marsala de Pollo, with dried mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and a small side of pasta. Lunch included very good limonada or naranjada, plus our choice of some excellent ice cream. The chocolate ice cream was dark and intense. Macelleria is one of the best restaurants to open in Colonia Roma in some time. It merits repeat visits.

Tuesday morning we wanted to breakfast at a humbler place. One is spoiled for choice in the area. In the end we chose Café San Bartolo, on Calle Jalapa. It's on the east side of Calle Jalapa, south of Durango and north of Colima, in a row of three small eating places.  It's small, clean, inexpensive (good, complete breakfasts average $55 pesos. The coffee, however, is very weak.
I had Huevos a la Granja, which is basically a thin, tasty steak and scrambled eggs. Sra. Cuevas had Huevos Veracruz, scrambled eggs rolled up in tortillas, covered with a black bean sauce and garnished with tangy morsels of chorizo.

Huevos Veracruz
On Wednesday morning, we had breakfast at the new Roma branch of Orígenes Orgánicos, on the corner of Calle Jalapa and Calle Colima.
It's kind of a youthful, Oh So Green hip place, but the juice combinations and the café Americano will put the zip back in the old folks. The breakfasts, judging from what we had; a large bowl of fresh fruits, yogurt and granola; and a plate of bright yellow eggs, scrambled with fresh spinach and panela cheese, were very generous.

Breakfasts $70 -$100. Juices about $46. There is also a small store offering organic foods and I have to mention, a couple of brands of maple syrup, at staggering prices.

Yellow eggs and green spinach
Wednesday evening I was willing to eat a bowl of soup and maybe a sandwich at Cafe Toscana, but Sra. Cuevas desired something more interesting. I had a candidate for that request: Restaurante Yuban, at Calle Colima # 268. It is only a 10 minute walk from the hotel. I had seen Yuban on the Google Map, but had almost no information or reviews, other than a set of photos on Facebook. We only knew that it was comida de la Sierra Norte de Oaxaca.

I don't know how long Yuban has been in business, but I suspect not long. 

It's a large, oddly angled space with several decors. We chose to sit in the very rear of the dining rooms by a potted nopal cactus. Our waiter, Hector, brought us a trio of salsas in cazuelitas, and a small dish of thin, crisp tortillas lightly anointed with asientos. (Pork fat renderings. I couldn't detect any distinctive taste of the asientos, but the salsas were bodacious.)

We ordered a couple of craft beers: Sra. Cuevas had a nice, non-soft drink Ginger Ale and I had a Bitter. Mezcales are a feature of the restaurant, but we didn't try any.

We proceeded slowly and discreetly in ordering. We began with soups. Sra. Cuevas had a Sopa de Garbanzos con Hierba Buena, very good, indeed; I erred in getting a murky, unattractive Sopa de Guias. My soup was not to my liking, with tangles of nondescript greens in a cloudy broth. Doña Cuevas rather liked it, so we switched, to our satisfaction.

Sopa de garbanzos
Sopa de guias
We moved on to our next courses. Sra. C. chose a light course: an attractive salad of sliced heirloom tomatoes dressed with a light vinaigrette seasoned with wild orégano.

I had a mole amarillo (described as an "amarillento" (spelling?) of wild seasonal mushrooms. This was quite good, in spite of its less than attractive appearance. The downside was that the slightly picante mole was so thick as to obscure the individual mushrooms. The upside was that it tasted good, with a distant resemblance to a curry. Other vegetables supported the mushrooms; chayote, nicely cooked green beans and a notable, slightly bitter squash.

Our big error was succumbing to a recital of desserts without asking the prices. My dessert experiences have generally been disappointing. At Yuban, we had two purported creations of pan de elote (corn cake).

Mine was supposed to have flan as an element, but it was undetectable. Sra. C. had what turned out to be a nice, very generous wedge of cheesecake, made with sheep's milk. Each dessert was priced at $100 pesos. Excessive, in our opinion. One dessert was really enough for two, so that mitigates the price somewhat.

Pastel de queso de oveja
We also had café de olla, which was remarkably insipid. In conclusion, the meal had a number of weak points and a couple of highlights.



Service: ***1/2  Closely attentive service, maybe a bit too close. I couldn't put down a squeezed lime wedge or a crumbled napkin without Hector picking it up. If you enjoy having the provenance of each food described to you, you would like this place.

Price: $$$$+ La Cuenta

Rest rooms: Picturesque and worth a visit. 

Coming soon: Three neighborhood bakeries in Colonia Roma---and---
Nico's—finest comida in distant Azcapotzalco. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Grain House, Basking Ridge, NJ

Basking Ridge and nearby Bernardsville are among the poshest semi rural suburbs of northern New Jersey. My Mom had a hankering for fish and chips, and good memories of that as served at the Grain House, ye olde restaurant associated with the ye Olde Mill Inn, where Geo. Washington no doubt slept, across a vast parking lot. It was a 25 minute drive to the restaurant along New Jersey's excellent autopista system. Was it worth it? In my opinion, it depends on what you order.

The dining room to which we were ushered was mellow with age, in a good way. There was a chandelier and a fireplace. (A fire was unnecessary on that July day.)

Although our mission was to eat fish and chips, my attention was immediately drawn to the specials card. I approve having the specials printed, along with prices, instead of recited (usually with no prices).

I couldn't imagine eating fish and chips, when a pan roasted red snapper special was available. Moreover, it was only a couple of bucks more than the F&C. While my companions dutifully ordered the F&C, I requested the snapper.

I almost forgot to mention that when I requested the drinks menu, the first item on the list was Pimm's No. 1 Cup, something I'd read about for years, but had never had. So I got it. It was nice. I don't think I'd order it again, but I was grateful for the experience.

Three baskets of F&C and one Snapper Special arrived. The F&C consisted of two largish pieces of heavily battered cod with a pile of oil drenched French Fries underneath. The Tartar and Cocktail Sauce looked good. The "Health Salad", a sweet variant on cole slaw without mayo, was popular. My sister liked the double dip batter coating of the fish, my wife thought it was very poorly made and my Mom was satisfied. (In the end, that's what matters.)

My snapper was nicely cooked, a bit crisp on the bottom, and adequately portioned. The real delight was the beautiful and delicious salad on the side of the platter: arugula, just tender green beans, fingerling potatoes, roasted sweet baby peppers, toasted almonds and tomatoes. The dressing was of lemon juice and olive oil. I was very happy with my choice.

Snapper and salad
Things went downhill with dessert. I am slow to learn that most restaurant desserts are sadly disappointing. Maybe I'll catch on eventually. This one was a nice looking wedge of blueberry streusel pie. Unfortunately, this pretty slice was filled with a dense matrix of overthickened filling. We all three had coffee. It was passable.


Food: ***

Service: **1/2. Service was well meaning but amateurish. Requests were acknowledged but we had to ask several times for items. The bus boys were often more responsive in filling our requests. We were not brought bread until when, late in the meal, I requested it of a bus boy. It came quickly. It was good.

Good bread
Price: $$-$$$ Depends on whether you have drinks and dessert.

Restrooms: Worth a visit. Could be that General Washington left his false teeth in the Men's Room.

Or Washington might have stabled his horse in the loo

225 Route 202, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920,


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Osteria Giotto, Montclair, NJ

Sra. Cuevas' birthday comes soon after our wedding anniversary. So it was that after I presented her with a list of some suggested selected restaurants, she chose Osteria Giotto, in the restaurant blessed town of Montclair. (There are two websites for the restaurant, of which I just discovered the one linked above. The other is here.)

Dinner was to be Saturday evening, and on Friday I called for a reservation. The 6 o'clock slot was unavailable, but there was a table available at 5:30. That was fine with us. Our party consisted of my wife, my mother, my sister and myself.

It's a very popular restaurant, as seen by the nearly packed condition of the dining room. The only negatives, in my opinion, are the elbow-to-elbow placing of the tables and the noise level a little higher than desirable.

But the food, the main reason for dining there, is good to wonderful. There were several recited specials, in the appetizer, pasta, fish and dessert categories. I can't remember but a few. Except for dessert, we stayed with the printed menu.

Our waiter was efficient and businesslike. We were brought a basket of house baked breads and a meager dish of olive oil. But we got more olive oil on request. My favorite of the breads was the crusty loaf seen on top; the focaccia was too soft and sweet, but not unpleasant.

There were some toothsome olives
My companions were more restrained than me when ordering. I was the only one to have an appetizer. I was ready for some shellfish, and the impepata di cozze e vongole (mussels and clams in broth) was irresistible. I was not disappointed. The dish, a heap of savory mussels and fewer clams, was perfectly cooked, and spooning up the luscious garlic and wine broth was a primal experience. I could have bathed in it, but propriety held me back.

My mother and sister both chose fazzoletti, homemade ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach, in a fresh sage and butter sauce.

Sra. Cuevas, with simple good taste ordered crispy salmon with a balsamic Reduction. Very good, although the accompanying whipped potatoes were pretty neutral, and the sauteed escarole merely green fodder.

I had decided, long before arriving at the restaurant, that my main course would be rack of lamb with rosemary and roasted garlic. It was cooked perfectly to order, medium rare, and a pool of slightly tart sauce. It also came with the whipped potatoes, whose neutrality was welcome with the rich, tender chops and sauce. The escarole would have been ignorable, if it hadn't been so abundant.

Dessert: my recent history desserts had not been favorable, but Osteria Giotto succeeded in pleasing.

Sra. Cuevas had one of the specials: lemon sorbet on fresh berries, sided by a cloud of whipped cream.

My mother had a simple millefoglie. Berries and cream, again, on the side.

My sister had one of her favorites, a generously sized creme brulee.

I chose a molten chocolate cake, which had not the most attractive exterior, but was pleasing inside. Yes! More berries and cream. Just for the record, I didn't eat all the cream. There was also a scoop of ice cream and a puddle of superfluous chocolate sauce. Over the top! Not to be repeated on a frequent basis.

We all had coffee, which was decent if not spectacular.


Food: ****

Service: ****

Price: (We didn't see the check, as we were treated. But my estimate is $$$+ dollars per person.

Ambience: Bustling, crowded, casual.

Rest rooms: Nice, but capacity limited. There were short waits.

Special Note: No wine or liquor license. BYOB. No corkage fee.

 21-23 Midland Avenue
Montclair, NJ
Closed Tuesdays
Reservations Recommended

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

MP Taverna, Irvington, NY

Each year when we visit my family in new Jersey, my wife and I drive to the Tarrytown, NY area, where we meet our Connecticut based niece and her husband for lunch. We were also celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary, although it had actually been the day before.

This year, we changed our lunch location to nearby Irvington, a quaint village noted as the home of Washington Irving. Restaurant research in that area is both challenging and enjoyable as there are so many possible options. In the end, we decided on MP Taverna, a modern, Greek restaurant, located in a renovated, riverside warehouse district.

Although the lunch menu is much more limited than the dinner menu, there are still plenty of choices.

The decor is contemporary, and without the usual Greek restaurant kitsch.

The service was smooth and professional but not intrusive.

We were brought a basket of excellent crusty bread and a cruet of olive oil. I decided to indulge in a special drink, a "Ste. Champagne", which mixed sparkling wine with elderflower liqueur. I enjoyed it, but would only do this once every 45 years.

We ordered appetizers to share: first, a trio of dips, consisting of tzatziki, eggplant, and a very dense hummus. Second, fried calamari and chickpeas. Both were enjoyable but not out of this world.


I ordered a bottle of Moschofilero Boutari, a white wine from the Peloponesse. It was fresh, crisp and clean. Above all, it was among the least expensive bottles on the wine list.

Our kinfolk chose brews from the extensive and varied beer menu.

Upon ordering our main courses, we went down different paths. Niece J. asked about the fish of the day and on hearing it was bluefish, requested it. I believe that she enjoyed it.

G. ordered the "Dumplings" which are basically gnocchi, with nuggets of spicy lamb sausage and bits of spinach, in a delicious but quite picante tomato sauce. I had the same, and although I'm accustomed to spicy food, the "heat" was excessive.

Similarly heavy handed was the small MP Salad I ordered. It was very salty with chopped olives and an excess of feta cheese.

Sra. Cuevas got a pork souvlaki, which proved to be very substantial as well as delicious, (the otherwise tempting "Smashed" fried potatoes very oversalted.) and the additional shrimp, greens and bulgar salad had to be wrapped for take home.

Shrimp, greens, bulgar salad
In keeping with our celebratory mood, both G. and I ordered dessert. He, an Apple Baklava "Napoleon" with Amaretto Crunch Ice Cream, and I, a Galaktoboureko Parfait. The latter was a dish of soft custard, not very rich, covered with kadaif (Not to be confused with the deposed Libyan strongman.), but closely resembling shredded wheat cereal. It was mildly disappointing.

Apple Baklava "Napoleon"

Galaktoboureko "Parfait"- Meh!



Service: *****

Ambience: Smart, contemporary executive

Price: $$$$$ La Cuenta, before tip. It can be done for much less if you eschew alcoholic brews.

Bottom line: Nice place for drinks and a few appetizers.