Monday, January 27, 2014

Mexita Oaxaca: La ricerca della perfezione

Eat slowly and thoughtfully
It used be called "home made". Later, it became "made in house". I use the word "craft" or "artisanal" to describe the foods of a small, Neapolitan restaurant in an off center Oaxaca neighborhood.

Restaurante Mexita, is a word derived from "México Italia". From what I understand, it was first established in the suburb of San Felipe del Agua. Chef Enrico de Rosa is from Napoli, Italia, and he brings from there skills not often seen in Italian restaurants in Mexico. His wife, whom we did not meet, is a Oaxaqueña.

I had read glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. At that time Restaurante Mexita was in Number One place among Oaxaca restaurants, according to TA members. (It actually still is. TA lists a seafood place in Huatulco, for godssake, as Number One.)

Sra. Cuevas and I went one evening, to have a wood oven pizza and a salad. We also had a bottle of Italian Merlot.

(This meal was immediately after the Fickle Finger of Fate taxi scam incident, so our mood was not at its best. But the wine and a nice meal helped a lot to dispel the dark cloud over us.)

The restaurant has several dining areas. We sat in a semi-outdoors section with a good view of the wood burning oven. The atmosphere is casual and romantic.

Chef Enrico visited our table to tell us that he makes the vino della casa, fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, all the pasta, and huge loaves of pane contadino. I may have missed something. We were offered tastes of the wine, the cheeses and the bread. I didn't care much for the wine, finding it rough and rustic, but the cheeses were very good and notable for their freshness.

We looked over the dazzling menu and decided to have an Insalata di Arugula e Pere. We chose the medium size, more than enough for two to share. It was perfect; sharp tastes of the greens offset with the sweet, ripe pear slices, a light touch of balsamic vinaigrette, and shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano (I believe) completed a perfect whole.

We wanted a pizza that would demonstrate the chef's skill, so we avoided the more complicated varieties. On the other hand, a simple cheese or pizza Margherita might have been too spartan. So, with the advice of Chef Enrico, we chose a Pizza Marina con Alici. Alici, he explained, are fresh (flash frozen), unsalted anchovies. (Who would expect to find such a product in Oaxaca?)

We watched him prepare the pizza in swift, deft movements. The actual cooking time is about 60 seconds, perhaps 90 seconds for a larger, more heavily laden pizza.

Pizza Marina e alici
It was a beautiful, artfully made, modest sized pizza. It didn't come cheaply, at $190 pesos. The crust was well charred, but flexible, and when Chef Enrico asked us how I liked it, I told him that we enjoyed it, although I do prefer a crisper crust. He explained, that that was made in the traditional Neapolitan manner, but that if I preferred it crisper, on my next visit I should ask for that and he would accommodate me—up to a point.)

For dessert, I had a perfectly made panna cotta, soft and quivering, the best I've ever had. The espresso was very good, also.

We were attended by a Oaxacan waitress, and occasionally Chef Enrico would come by and explain the provenance, tradition, and other lore of his cuisine, He was amply supported in this task by his justifiably proud father, who works as a host and bartender,  who would check up on our well being and delight at several intervals. (The mamá also works there, but she did not visit our table.) This flow of information was all well and good, up to a point, but eventually became somewhat tiresome.

I wanted to return sometime to Mexita during the remainder of our stay, but we never did. Although I would have been pleased to try some serious platos fuertes, we were somewhat discouraged by the thought of having to undergo the educational program all over again. Then there is the price. This does not come cheaply. Our meal of pizza, salad for two and a bottle of wine cost $687 pesos, including a suggested tip of 10%.

To sum up; Mexita is a very good restaurant, with highly admirable chef skills and artisanal products. But diners should be prepared for the ongoing interaction with the proud chef and his father.

I would return to eat at Mexita when we again visit Oaxaca.

RATINGS (based on a single meal of pizza and salad and dessert!)

Food: ****+

Service: ***** Almost too attentive.

Price: $$$-$ La Cuenta

Ambience: Rustic casual and romantic

Restrooms: spotless and in good working order

Keywords: "Perfection comes with a price"

Closed Mondays.
 Open from 2:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Mártires de Tacubaya #314. Col. Centro Oaxaca, Oax.

Tel: 52 951 520 2180

Accepts credit cards

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Zandunga Oaxaca: Beware of the Blob

Against the better counsel of "B", our expat amiga in Oaxaca, Sra. Cuevas and I lunched at Zandunga, a restaurant the is billed as "Comida Istmena". (Food of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.)  She said, among other things, that the food is heavy. (Well, we are well acquainted with heavy Michoacán fare.)

The new location is next door to La Biznaga. It's a dazzling, contemporary styled space, with a long list of mezcales inscribed on the tall, white wall.

We liked the ambience, we liked the genial servers, but the food failed to meet some basic expectations. Zandunga seems more of a hip mezcal bar with a relatively short food menu.

Food menu-there's more but not shown here
I was given a couple of generous samples of mezcal to assist me in choosing which I would drink. I decided to have the Espadín Destilado en Olla de Barro, for its smoothness on the palate.

Mezcal tasting
We were brought a plate of complimentary botanas.

The brown, ground stuff is fish. Surprisingly good!
Sra. Cuevas' first course was a Molito de Camaron, an intensely flavored dried shrimp soup. We liked it. The orange colored rice was reminiscent of a curry.

Molito de Camaron
I had a Sopa de Frijol, which unfortunately was too salty.

Sopa de Frijol
I was able to redeem it to a large degree by adding a bit of a hot-sweet-sour chile and onion pickle.

The platos fuertes were a mixed success and a failure.

I ordered Cochito Horneado, interested in comparing it with a dish I'd recently made myself. This oven baked pork dish was good in a homey way, but nothing extraordinary.

Cochito and Mashed Potatoes with Vegetables

Doña Cuevas did not fare well with her Estofado de Res con Frutas. I was dismayed by the appearance and texture of the stuff on her plate. (I would have sent it back, but she is more accepting than I.)

It was a flattened blob of brown pulp, like a reheated leftover, as from our freezer, of last month's stew. This is the sort of thing we might possibly eat at home, but for a restaurant to offer it is unacceptable.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

La Biznaga Oaxaca: Beautiful Food and Full Flavors.

La Biznaga
We had long avoided dining at La Biznaga because of its reputation for eccentricity, inconsistency and service issues. But, an expat friend convinced us to give it a try. Sra. Cuevas, our friend and I were pleased with everything we had. There was only one, minor service issue. Overall, La Biznaga exceeded our expectations.

I can sum up La Biznaga in a couple of phrases: Beautiful Food and Full Flavors.

La Biznaga Salsa Macha

Above photo, the house Salsa Macha, an intense but flavorful composition of fried peanuts, chiles, garlic and sesame seeds. I have had a similar salsa at a menudería in Pátzcuaro, but the one at La Biznaga is particularly well balanced.

The food was beautifully presented, generously portioned as well as delicious. We stayed pretty much with the more economical Deli menus.
We deliberately ordered a meal that was almost "Todos hongos" (all fungi.).

Of course, we liked some dishes more than others, but everything was pleasing.

The outstanding items were the Tostadas de Marlin Ahumado, (smoked marlin tostadas) a favorite appetizer of ours elsewhere, but at La Biznaga made lighter with al diente morsels of corn kernels yet still flavorful, and garnished with berros (watercress).

Tostadas de Marlin Ahumado
Also notable were the Tostadas de Ceviche de Hongos, (wild mushrooms in a lime juice marinade) a perfectly made, light, citrus tangy dish. I will say that the hongos seemed more like cultivated champiñones, but that did not deter us from eating every crisp morsel.

Tostadas de Ceviche de Hongos
I was less fond of the Quesadilla de Huitlacoche (black corn smut) and the Quesadilla de Champiñones a la Hierba Santa. Not bad, understand, just not as resonant as the two tostada appetizers we'd shared.

Quesadillas de Huitlacoche
After the appetizers, two of us moved on to soups. Our expat friend ordered Sopa del Establo, (Crema de Roquefort al Chipotle con Pistaches y Pepitas.) This soup was a tour de force. Every ingredient was in perfect balance and the dish was a treat for the eyes as well.

Sopa del Establo

I had Menudo de Setas (another mushroom dish!), an intense, dark, chile infused broth generously loaded with wild mushrooms. Very good, but too intense for me to finish the picante broth.

Menudo de Setas

After a pause, we wanted to look over the desserts and coffee, but our waiter was absent. Instead, a less well informed busboy came to our table, and when we asked for a dessert menu, he told us that there was none. That is literally true, but there is a list of desserts in the main printed menu! This struck me as unhelpful and uncooperative, but our friend, fluent in Spanish, persuaded him to release the menus for our inspection.

We decided on two desserts for the three of us, "Oscuridad" ("blackout"?), a chocolate truffle cake and "Susto" (a "fright"), a coconut flan. Unfortunately, the last was not available, so we ordered two Oscuridades. It was a very good chocolate dessert, although the cake base was somewhat coarsely textured, the overall effect was good and we had no trouble finishing it.

We'd also had had three cervezas (there is a wonderful, extensive cerveza list, as well as mezcales), and finished with excellent coffee served in warm earth tone cups. Our bill came in at $642 pesos Mexicanos (about $48.50 U.S.), so average per person was $214, or roughly $16.25 U.S. A remarkable price for such quality.

Of course, if we had ordered platos fuertes (main dishes), the total would have been considerably more. I gave a menu photo a once over look, and the most expensive item I found is "Zicatela", a shrimp dish, at $243 pesos.

The decor is attractive and creative, leaning toward the pleasantly quirky and folk arty (as is the food!). La Biznaga is a delight to the eyes as well as the palate. If they would only lower the volume of the music a little. (But they won't.)


Food: ****+

Service: ***+

Price: $$-$$$ 

Ambience: Casual, patio dining with light folk art.

Key words: "We do it our way."

Location: Calle de Manuel García Vigil 512, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca 

01 951 516 1800 ‎ ·


Friday, January 17, 2014

Even Lobos Get The Blues—Lobo Azúl, Oaxaca

Update: TripAdvisor says this cafe is CLOSED

"If I Had a Hammer...
...I'd bludgeon you to boredom with mediocre food and service and a counterculture, leftist ambience." That might be the theme song of Café Lobo Azul Tostadores, Oaxaca.

I should have known what it would be like. A vast, high ceilinged converted, semi-industrial space (the most attractive aspect), Workers of the World look, plastered with posters and icons of the left wing culture, some causes dating back to the 1940s and earlier. In a way, more than a little demeaning to use those causes, meaningful in their time, as wall paper.

I don't want to spend any extra energy on this place, so here's a reprint of a review I did for TripAdvisor.

Lobo Azul fulfilled all my preconceptions derived from my prior glances inside. We decided to give it a try and had breakfast there.

Huevos estrellados were passable, Huevos a la Mexicana were under seasoned. House baked bread was of poor quality, porous and crumbly, but above all, nearly tasteless. The accompanying black bean puree was insipid. Coffee, roasted and ground in house, just passable. Orange juice was good, fruit cup o.k. Strawberry jam was delicious.
Bread. Coarse, crumbly, nearly tasteless
Huevos a la Mexicana: under seasoned

At first, the political posters on the walls were engaging, but soon became annoying through their ubiquitousness and heavy handed propaganda.
Political posters as decor
I did enjoy the architecture of the semi-industrial interior space.

Service was adequate. Final conclusion: there are other places not far away, such as La Flor de Oaxaca, or Fonda Doña Bety, in the Mercado 20 de noviembre, with much better breakfasts at similar or even lower prices, and without the heavy dose of political propaganda.
Note: they do have nifty posters for condoms in the rest rooms. One can buy condoms in the restaurant, for $5 pesos, which I must admit is an admirable community service.

I have another poster on this theme, but's kind of gross.
Food: **
Service: ***
Price: $1/2
Hygiene: Looks reasonably good
Keywords: "¡No pasarán!"
120 Armenta y Lopez, Col. Centro, Oaxaca 68000, Mexico

Thursday, January 16, 2014

La Escondida/El Sabor de Antequera Oaxaca

Restaurant Entrance

Esteemed tables
La Escondida (El Sabor de Antequera) at 12:50 p.m.

I'm not a big fan of buffets, but there is one in the countryside to the northeasts of Oaxaca city that warrants a visit. This sprawling restaurant is an exception to our No Buffets Rule.

We went with our friend, Ms. Bixa, an American expat resident in Oaxaca for many years, and a driving force behind the delightful Web Forum, Any Port In A Storm. Bixa knows the ropes and the dope, so to speak, and so we made sure to arrive early. We took a taxi from Oaxaca's Alameda via some of the M.C. Escherian highway crossovers, where all of a sudden, you are on the "wrong side of the street and traffic going the opposite direction is on your right, except for a few that don't conform.

But we arrived in good form at the sprawling semi outdoors restaurant, formerly La Escondida, now El Sabor de Antequera.

We arrived early to get first dibs on the chow. Actually, the restaurant was almost empty when we arrived just before the opening bell, 1:30 p.m. so I busied myself in photographing the steam tables, tile work and the fronds of the palapa roofs.

Drink orders were taken and mis compañeras shared a large pitcher of Agua Fresca de Piña while I had a goblet full of mojito.

The Mojito, the better
At almost the dot of 1:00 p.m., the kitchen crew emerged carrying steaming hot pans and soup pots to place on the steam tables.
The variety is dazzling and mind boggling. Of course, with hundreds of soups, salads, meats, and more, some items inevitably are better than others.

Best: grilled arrachera and accompaniments.
Worst (looking): Moronga

Moronga (blood sausage)
This creature dominated the scene.
Porcus Piggus Cocido en Hojas de Plátano en su Jugo
But there were many other tempting dishes

A few soups: bottom to top: Camaron seco con nopal; "Caldo de Gato"; Sopa de Verdura. Not at all certain of what's what.
Nice salads

Silly salads
Left, "Tutti Frutti"; Right, "Marshmallow Delight". Yes. Salads.
A sampling of soups L-R clockwise: Carrot, verduras, Camaron seco y nopal, Menudo, I think.
A Myriad of Moles
Superfluous starches: Red spaghetti, white spaghetti.

SVF Espaguettis
Various guisados (stewed or braised meats) were offered.
Note the very tempting Mexican style Beanie Wienies in center pan.
But above all, La Parrilla called to me.

There was arrachera, Chorizo Oaxaqueño, grilled knob onions, nopales, chiles de agua, and probably more. The arrachera was good quality, too, tender and juicy.

Chorizos Oaxaqueños y Cebollitas abajo
Healthful grilled nopales
Más cebollitas
Cebollitas asadas
Chiles de agua y arrachera
I made myself a modest plate of grilled foods.
Arrachera, nopales, cebollitas, y un rábano
A few but good condiments for the meats.
A tortilla kitchen and antojería stands close to the parrilla area to provide support in case any gaps remain in your satiation.
Tortilla-antojitos cocina

Memelitas y flautas
Although the grilled foods were very enjoyable, I regret that I just didn't have room for any of the moles. But there was room for a small dessert sampler. Desserts are usually the most inferior part of any buffet, but at La Escondida (El Sabor de Antequera) were, um; decent.
La Escondida (El Sabor de Antequera) Desserts. (Not all of those offered, I think)
I had a bit of napoleon and some pastel envinado (like rum cake). But the best dessert by far was some modest but flavor packed lime water ice. (Yes, they make their own ice creams and ices.)

About the time we finished, a paellera full of paella arrived (what else?) but not only were we too full, the paella had wieners in it.

Food: runs the gamut from meh  to excellent. Overall, *** 
Service: Self service but you are attended by servers for drinks, requests, la cuenta.

Price: Base buffet price, $149 pesos adults. Drinks and tip are extra. The drinks are a major expense. For example a pitcher of Agua de Piña-Naranja con Fresas cost $102 pesos.
Our cuenta below.

Restaurante La Escondida-Sabor de Antequera

K.m 0.700 Carret. A San Agustín Yatareni,Oaxaca.MEXICO. 
Tel. (951) 51 7 66 55, 51 7 55 50 

Horario de servicio 1:30 a 6:30 p.m. 

View La Ciudad de Oaxaca in a larger map