Saturday, August 29, 2015

Restaurante El Mandil Pátzcuaro

It's not often that Pátzcuaro is blessed by an attractive new restaurant, especially one that offers an ample variety of well seasoned dishes. What's more, as a buffet with seconds at no extra cost. All this for a paltry sum of $60 Mexican pesos.

Restaurante El Mandil is located in the venerable Posada Hotel Mesón de San Antonio. (Those of you who have good memories will recall that I once helped organize a cooking class in the very same kitchen and dining room, in partnership with the hotel owners. But I haven't had any business connection with them for many years.)

Mesón de San Antonio
Restaurante El Mandil turned up on my sights only yesterday, while searching Tripadvisor for new and different Pátzcuaro dining possibilities. The cynics among us, myself included, usually consider this a hopeless effort. But there it was: a solitary review of Restaurante El Mandil, written by an apparent visitor from San Miguel de Allende. Sr. Kamman gave it 5 stars all around. The concept had considerable appeal, as I was tired of the generally touristic menus of Pátzcuaro restaurants, offering Mexican fare diluted for expat tastes; but on the other hand, I was not interested in la comida típica de cocinas económicas. When we were joined by our two friends, and entered the imposing, refectory style dining room, we were pleasantly surprised.

Restaurante El Mandil dining room
The way it works is that you pay at the cashier desk as you enter, and receive a ticket. You choose a table and put the ticket where a staff member can retrieve it later.

You then walk up to the buffet line, staffed by attentive and helpful employees. My only difficulty was identifying and remembering the various guisados. The servers will help you out, and you can get what you want, and seconds, too. (I was very discreet and restrained and didn't try for thirds.)

Here's a photo sampling of some of the many dishes. (I should also mention that various dishes are refreshed and replaced with new ones in the course of the service.)

Cocina del Restaurante El Mandil. Chef Ismael in right background
Clockwise, from top left: Calabacitas, Crema de brocolí, Frijoles, Bisteces y papas en salsa verde.
Unidentified egg in salsa dish (Huevos albañil?)

Carne de res en chile negro: very tasty but a little tough

Chiles rellenos de queso

Pollo salteado con verduras
Spaghetti? I passed on this one.

The salsas and condiments did not inflame my attention.

Tortillas were made by hand and freshly cooked al comal. There were two baskets, one of crisp and dry tortillas, the other of light colored and pliable ones.

Oddities would appear on the line from time to time. I enjoyed a very tasty bean burrito, and later in the meal, these nifty hamburgers showed up. (I skipped trying them, you'll be pleased to know.)

I enjoyed the rice with fresh vegetables. It was light and neither oily or soggy, as is too often the case elsewhere.

The simple desserts were a little unusual:
L-R: Calabacitas endulzadas; Camotes, fresh fruit mix
These alitas a la Diabla showed up later in the service. I passed on these, having been told that they were muy picante.

alitas (chicken wings) in spicy sauce (Hot Wings!)
The Tortitas de Carne were also muy picante, but very popular.

Tortitas de carne
See all the photos here.

Now for some ratings. 

Food: *** 1/2 The food is best described as comida casera, or home style cooking. It is fresh and abundant, and a big step up from the usual comida económica fare.

Service: *** 1/2

Ambience: **** Note that some tables have benches and not chairs. There are tablecloths!

Price: At $60 pesos per person for all you want to eat, a tremendous bargain. Drinks and a small dessert included.

Also serves breakfast, also buffet style, from 9:00 a.m. (I think)
Comida from 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m.

Closed Mondays.

We would definitely return.

Location: Calle Benigno Serrato 33, near the corner of Asencíon, across from the eastern end of the Basilica.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Three R's: Rezza Ristorante at Rosedale (NJ)

Every year during our summer visit to New Jersey, we have made it a tradition to meet our niece and her husband at a restaurant midway between their home in northern Connecticut and our temporary nest in northern New Jersey.

But for the last two years, we'd become averse to driving the local busy tollways, and so they have graciously driven to us. Last Year we met at Costanera, a Peruvian style restaurant in Montclair, NJ. This year, my Internet research turned up Rezza, a casual Italian restaurant in Rosedale, only 10 minutes from my family's home.

I'd read mostly positive reviews on Tripadvisor and YELP. I got an image of homestyle Italian food, served in an unpretentious environment. What we found proved this to be true.

We four had a mid afternoon dinner at Rezza yesterday. It was very pleasant, and the food and service satisfied.

The famous bread, from Sullivan Street Bakery, is "interesting" and good, but not the sort of which I'd want more than a couple of pieces, as it was very chewy. (Oh. I'll say it: "tough".) we were given a saucer of olive oil and coarse salt.

Sullivan Street Bread
We began our meal with a variety of antipasti and appetizers. My niece ordered a Farro Salad. Very light, refreshing and somewhat resembling tabuli.

Farro Salad
She couldn't resist another salad, Insalata Caprese, with heirloom tomatoes and creamy burrata.

Insalata Caprese
I had some nice chilled shrimp with fregola, a crunchy grain like pasta resembling couscous. My wife had some grilled octopus, which had lemon and fingerling potatoes. For most of us, the standout appetizer was the sauteed Brussels sprouts, cooked brown and crisp outside. Good, but least impressive were the roasted beets with pistachios, scattered with ricotta salata.

Brussels Sprouts
We took a deep collective breath, then ordered our mains.
Niece: Sunday Gravy, Nephew: Fetuccine Bolognese; Wife: Scampi with spaghetti; Me: Spaghetti Frutti Di Mare. (The latter is listed on the menu as coming with capellini, but I prefer thicker pasta, and they graciously changed it for me).

Pasta Frutti di Mare
Rezza's "Sunday Gravy"
Fettucine Bolognese

We saved room for dessert, which is limited to a range of gelati and a couple of sorbetti. For $8, we each got three nice scoops of luscious, intensely flavored gelati. Among the favorites were a super intense, bitter Dark Chocolate and a mellow Salted Caramel. The Espresso flavor gelato took honors as well.

Here's a couple of gelati in the photo.

Turkish Fig, left; Salted Caramel, right.
The check was substantial, but considering all we ate, quite fair.

Here's the obligatory and customary Ratings.

Food: **** Small, unusual touches and ingredients make Rezza's food a standout.

Service: ****
Ambience: Suburban Casual.

Restrooms: spotless.

You might like to read the extensive Dinner menu.

Hours:  Mon - Fri 11:00 am - 10:00 pm                                       Sat 10:00 am - 10:00 pm                                               Sun 10:00 am - 9:00 pm

BYOB / plenty of free parking

UPDATE: It must be mentioned that Rezza does not have any alcoholic beverages license, but customers are allowed to bring their own wine, and I suppose, beer.

We ate at Rezza twice in early February, 2016, and its excellence continues.

Location and contact info:
33 Eisenhower Parkway (crossroads with Eagle Rock Avenue), Roseland, NJ
Tel; 973-364-8277

Fiesta Inn Aeropuerto Ciudad de Mexico

We don't usually stay in expensive hotels, but for our annual visit to the U.S., we went First Class. Not only did we book Business First seats for our flight on United airlines, I decided to stay at the Fiesta Inn Aeropuerto. The advantages were seen to be that we could sleep later, and reduce the number of taxi rides, as the hotel provided a free shuttle to the terminal 1 of the airport.

The Fiesta Inn is located across the boulevard that separates it from the airport. We arrived by bus at Terminal Poniente Observatorio. The taxi fare was just over $172 pesos, and the west-east traverse of the city took about an hour. The taxi came alongside the airport, passed it, did a U, followed convoluted routes through the barrio including another U, and finally emerged in front of the contemporary styled hotel building.

Attentive service was immediately apparent, from the doors to the vast lobby. We were offered a room with with two double beds, which wasn't our first preference, but we were tired and the room was more than acceptable.

(The following is from my review on
The outstanding advantage of this Fiesta Inn is its proximity to the Aeropuerto International de la Ciudad de México. That's one reason that it's more expensive than our regular hotels in Mexico City. But the extra money bought quality. The attractively decorated room was sufficiently spacious, the beds unusually comfortable, the bed linens high quality, the shower in the bathroom had voluminous hot water almost instantaneously, the wifi was fine, and, despite being close to the airport and the busy Boulevard, the room was quiet. And, it was air conditioned, which is uncommon in Mexican hotels.

The only sour notes were the $34 peso price tag on the 2 liter bottle of purified water in the bathroom ( a tiny, approximately 8 ounce bottle was marked "complimentary"). Considering that we paid over $1700 pesos a night for the room, taxes included, about $105 is U.S. Dollars, we think that purified water should be included in the price. A minor defect was that the wall decoration next to the thermostat came loose during the night. But aside from being unsightly, it was no problem.

The free shuttle ride to Terminal 1 at the Airport was a welcome bonus.

Because of our early departure, we were unable to take advantage of the free breakfast buffet, but we did have supper in the restaurant. Overall, I would describe it as mediocre. The buffet option was $250 pesos. There were plenty of dishes, both hot and cold, from which to choose, but nothing stood out. An a la carte order of Tacos de Arrachera was about $172 and although the portion was large, but I had indigestion afterwards.

I did grab a complimentary cup of coffee before getting on the shuttle, and the coffee was superior.

I have to mention that we'd gone to bed very early, in the late afternoon, but at about 7:30 we were awakened by staff members tapping at our door. My wife answered, but couldn't understand what that was about. They left, and we went back to sleep.

In conclusion, it's a good hotel for travelers in transit who don't have time or inclination to go into the central parts of Mexico City, but who just need an overnight near the airport.

(Sorry, I took no photos of the rooms. We were just too tired. You can see typical room shots on Tripadvisor.)

TripAdviser Review of Fiesta Inn Aeropuerto