Thursday, May 05, 2016

La Docena Colonia Roma CDMX: A sea voyage in three acts

Not long ago we read of a new seafood restaurant that had originated in Guadalajara and now had come to conquer La Roma.

From reading various descriptive reviews, I felt confident that this new enterprise was not just another hipster clone on the Trend Circuit, developed to sell overpriced cocktails and pseudo American sandwiches, but one that merited at least a tryout. Our good fortune was that it's only a block west of our Hotel Stanza, on Avenida Obregón at the corner of Calle Frontera. (When you see it, there's no danger of confusing it with the one star, old school Taquitos Frontera across the street.)

First, an advance warning: If loud noisy dining rooms bother you, do not go there. Instead, go to a Sanborn's or somewhere else more sedate. Or wear The Cone of Silence. If you arrive at the opening time of 1:30 p.m. on a weekday, it will be más tranquilo. After about 2:30, even on a Monday, the decibels began to ramp up.

Dual Cones of Silence
La Docena, (official and complete name, "La Docena Ostionería y Grill") is already very popular. There may be waiting times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of up to an hour or more to get a table. You can sit at the Oyster Bar, which looks, Janus-like, both fore and aft, but the selection of food is somewhat restricted, and payment must be made separately at the bar from any food or drink consumed later inside.

All these minor annoyances can be forgiven, for the service is smart and attentive, and the food, for the most, is sublime.

During our 6 day stay in La Roma, we ate at La Docena three times. So, don't ask me, "Did you like it? Would you go back?"

This review will be in three acts. The curtain rises for Act One, April 13, 2016.

I had finally come to terms with my fear and loathing of eating raw Mexican oysters. This well founded phobia had held me in thrall since our first trip to Mexico, in 1980. I'd suffered an illness I can never forget.
But from what I'd read, and then seeing the mollusks in the flesh, or rather, in the shell, it was apparent that La Docena took strict measures to protect the health of its customers. So I was ready to liberate myself from my phobias and give rein to unbridled, raw oyster slurping, sea-liquor sipping indulgence.

We had a long wait, so Shirley and I found seats at the street side of the oyster bar proper. She ordered six San Blas and I six Mexican Bluepoints. We swapped an oyster each. I thought the San Blas were nice, but too delicate and small.The Bluepoints looked just like those I've had in Connecticut and elsewhere in the U.S. but plumper, fresher and more flavorful. The presentation was nice, with two little metal cups, one of Sauce Mignonette and the other, pinkish but unidentified. I preferred a few drops of fresh lemon juice, and nothing else. The bottled salsa picante was killer to the oysters' sea savor, especially to the San Blas'.

Eventually we were called and led to a table in the bustling dining room.

The menu is extensive, and we were hard pressed to choose. Besides the printed menu, there are tempting, and mostly expensive specials written on blackboards.

Blackboard specials
A sampling of entradas
I had a Salmoncito, a  version of a gin and tonic, which wasn't bad, but the additional flavors didn't add that much enjoyment.

The drinks are creative, a must in the highly competitive Colonia Roma bar and restaurant scene.

 The drinks menu
We ordered several starters to share amongst the three of us. The Tostadas de Pulpos were good, although I thought the pulpos themselves lacked flavor. My wife disagreed.

Calamares Romano were just o.k. But Ostiones a las Brasa were sublime.

Calamares Romanos "así así".
Ostiones a las Brasa; ajo, perejil, aceite de olivas

I had a blackboard special of ostiones a las brasas, "toro" (raw fatty tuna belly) and bottarga.
Very good also, although the bottarga was elusive.

For a main course, I had an Oyster Po' Boy. Now, this is a dish in which less may be more desirable than more. The sandwich was made on an artisanal baguette. Good bread, but in my opinion, not the best choice of vehicle for the nice fried oysters. The crusty, chewy bread dominated the delicate oysters. They tended to be smushed. But it wasn't bad, you know, just would have been better if the oysters had a chance to shine. On a later visit, I had an unpleasant encounter with the same bread, in another form.

Looks nice, but the killer bread dominates all.
The hand cut French Fries were good.

The bill, for what was essentially a meal consisting of appetizers and a sandwich, plus drinks, was high. But overall, I thought it worth it. After all, La Docena is not Bisquets, Bisquets Obregón, a couple of blocks, and a world away, and there is no INAPAM (senior discount).

La Cuenta
Act One closes.

Act Two opens.
We returned on Friday for yet another go. We'd barely gotten our sea legs on Wednesday previous.

This time, the wait wasn't as long. The blackboard specials had changed, as one would expect.

While we waited, a mango wagon came by.

A few oysters on the half shell were obligatory.

We then moved on to serious platos fuertes.

Shirley got a Shrimp Po' Boy, which she liked. Sra. Cuevas got a huge pescado huauchinango entero.  I ordered a special of Lonja de Pargo Ibérico. Our waiter suggested it be prepared estilo sarandeado.  I agreed, having wanted to try pescado sarandeado for a long time.

We also ordered vegetales al grill to share, a very good choice indeed.

Vegetales al grill, unmissable.
My Lonja de Pargo was small but attractive, yet after about three mouthfuls, I couldn't stand it. There were too many intense adobos, salsas and seasoning. It was a cacophonous conflict of condiments. To make things worse, I requested bread, and after some time, our waiter brought us some of the baguette, toasted, but so hard as to be nearly inedible. The Mexico City riot police would have liked to have it to shoot at and disperse rioters. These were the exceptions, the two worst dishes we'd had in our three visits.

Lonja de Pargo Sarandeado
Baguette Bullets
Sra. Cuevas's Pescado Entero was awesome. It was simply and deliciously prepared. Grilled with oil, possibly a little garlic, salt and lime juice. There was also a lot of it, and I helped her eat it. The lime and, I think, habanero marinated purple onions and parsley were great touches.

It had seemed daunting at first, but we finished it with aplomb. Highly recommended dish.

I didn't get a photo of the check that time.

Act Two Closes.

Act Three Opens. Monday, April 18, 2016
It was just us, the Cuevas couple; Shirley having left on Sunday. We arrived at opening time, 1:30, and were seated almost immediately.

The food was good, although the oyster options were limited to San Blahs, but I had a dozen anyway.
We ordered Vegetales al Grill, which although good, lacked the sublimity of the first time. No asparagus, no tomato and a thick slab of zucchini was barely cooked.

(I had to think for a moment to recall what we ate. I got some memories back now.)
I had a ribeye steak after the dozen San Blas oysters. Fair steak, not in the class of those at Parrilla y Canilla in Morelia. I think Sra. Cuevas had a coctel de camarones y pulpos.
No, she reminded me that she had a Hamburguesa Clásica, which despite its towering Burguer Bar like construction, was very good.

The envelope, please.


Food: 7-8

Service: 7-8

Cost: $$$+

Ambiance: Hip, noisy, trendy, vibrant.

Recommended dishes: Oysters mixed, Pescado Entero, Ostiones a las Brasas, Vegetales al Grill (on better days.)

Would we return? Definitely, yes!


 Av. Álvaro Obregón 31, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, D.F., Mexico

Hours: Open today · 1:30PM–1:30AM

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