Bowie – Mexico City… Cocina de Humo

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When I landed in Colonia Roma, my favorite neighborhood in Mexico City, I was faced with a dilemma. How do you decide where to eat when there are at least 2 cool-looking restaurants on every block? But I had recently seen an article listing restaurants that served marrow bones. Now, I have no interest in marrow bones, but I associate them with high-end restaurants, and figured that any chef who has the confidence to do something creative with them has to be good at a lot things.

That’s how I chose Bowie. I might have been put off by the large portrait of David Bowie, and the fact that they were playing “Let’s Dance” as I arrived (no, in fact, I hadn’t made the obvious connection to the singer), but it’s a lovely room, it was raining out, and I was convinced the food was going to be good. I was right.

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I was greeted warmly, and things started well when they brought fresh pita with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of tasty spices.

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A dish I always enjoy in Mexico is called Fideo Seco, a dish that usually just lives up to its name – dry noodles. Bowie’s version is much more elaborate and flavorful than I was expecting, with bright tomato and olive flavors, and a beautiful presentation. Definitely not your grandmother’s fideo seco, and absolutely delicious.

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The main course was a tough decision, but I went with the short ribs. I was expecting the usual braised meat falling off the bone, but was pleasantly surprised when I was presented with a huge iron skillet with a large serving of tender, smoky meat (well, the restaurant does describe itself as Cocina de Humo) beautifully assembled with mashed potato and squash, and a lovely beefy sauce.

It was a great experience, and I know I will be returning on my next Mexico City trip.

Here’s the contact info:

Bowie
Cordoba 113, Col. Roma – C.P. 06700, CDMX
Telephone: 5264 2622

So… What did you eat in Mexico City?

My friends know I’m always on the lookout for great food, so one of their first questions when I return from a trip is “What did you eat?” Here are some highlights from my recent Mexico City trip.

Chiles en Nogada – Cafe Tacuba, Centro

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Hotcakes – Sobrinos, Colonia Roma

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Pozole – Casa de Toño, Zona Rosa

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Tacos al Pastor “Especial” – El Huequito, Centro

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Grilled Octopus – Los Danzantes, Coyoacán

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Fideo Seco – Bowie, Colonia Roma

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Barbacoa – El Hidalguense, Colomia Roma

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Birria Jalisqueña – Tacos Frontera, Colonia Roma

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Mexico City’s 10 Most Exclusive Restaurants

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The website The Happening recently listed their selection of the 10 most exclusive restaurants in Mexico City. It’s interesting to see The Palm and Nobu on the list, as I have been to these wonderful restaurants in Los Angeles (and several other cities in the case of The Palm), and didn’t feel especially exclusive – although I might have talked myself into it if I had been in that frame of mind. It’s also interesting to see a strong Japanese influence on the list. For me, though, I can’t wait for my next trip to Mexico City to try the haute cuisine versions of traditional Mexican dishes.

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Here’s the list – yes, they cheated and listed 11 restaurants:

Pujol – Recently ranked at number 16 among the world’s best restaurants

Biko – Based on the Basque tradition

Anatol – A farm-to-table concept

Dulce Patria – Traditional Mexican cuisine with an original touch

San Angel Inn – Based on Mexican traditions, but making room on the menu for Oysters Rockefeller

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J & G Grill – Asian French fusion

Morimoto – Another international outpost featuring traditional Japanese cuisine with western touches

The Palm – Steaks and gigantic lobsters… what’s not to like?

Au Pied du Cochon – French high cuisine

Nobu – American bistro food with a creative Japanese influence

Quintonil – Another entrant in the 50 best restaurants of the world. Based on traditional Mexican cuisine

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Here’s the entire article from The Happening: http://thehappening.com/los-diez-restaurantes-mas-exclusivos-en-el-df/ (The photos are from the article)

YXTA – Gringas al Pastor

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I’ve passed by YXTA a number of times, but never had the opportunity to try it. I was curious, though, for two reasons. First, how in heck do you pronounce YXTA? Well, you do pronounce the X, so it sounds like “eeks-ta.” Second, what is an attractive, upscale-looking restaurant doing in that dreary stretch of downtown Los Angeles, surrounded by warehouses, distributors and factories? The answer to that is now a moot point, because YXTA is worth a trip, no matter where it’s located.

I was invited to a preview of AltaMed’s annual fund-raiser East L.A. Meets Napa, and we made a stop at YXTA for their wonderful tacos, and a sampling of Trujillo wines. The US vs Belgium World Cup game was playing on the TVs as we arrived, which fit perfectly with the casual restaurant/bar atmosphere, and added to the fun mood of the outing. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long enough to see the disappointing outcome of the game.

I’ve seen Gringas on menus in Mexico, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen them this side of the border. As we all know, a gringa in Latin America is an American, or english-speaking woman. In food parlance, though, it is a special type of taco. Wikipedia says the name may come from the dark spots on the grilled tortilla that resemble the freckles on a gringa’s skin.

The gringas at YXTA were beautifully roasted marinated pork (pastor), served on a flour tortilla with lots of gooey melted cheese, onions, cilantro, chile de arbol salsa and avocado salsa. The treatment was sort of like a quesadilla, but it packed a flavor punch way beyond any quesadilla I’ve ever been served – and that includes the Olympic Mercado where all the street vendors appear on Saturdays, not that far from YXTA.

I’m looking forward to seeing what YXTA is serving at the July 18 East L.A. Meets Napa main event. I’ll be delighted if they go with the Gringas, but whatever they decide, I know I’ll be a happy guy.

Here’s the website: http://yxta.net/

Chichén Itzá – Panuchos

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About 10 years ago, I did a double-take when I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about Chichén Itzá’s tacos de venado. How could a Yucatán style restaurant be more authentic if it served deer tacos? I don’t think they’re on the menu any more (they were wonderful, by the way), but I’ve been back many times since, to explore the consistently delicious regional cooking.

This afternoon, I was invited to a preview of AltaMed’s signature fund-raising event East L.A. Meets Napa. Owner Gilberto Cetina gave us a tour of the Mercado where the restaurant is located, and presented some of the highlights of the menu, as well as some interesting stories about Yucatán cuisine. I learned, for example, that Queso de Bola is actually Edam cheese that was introduced to the region by Dutch, uh… Pirates of the Caribbean.

The highlights today were the Panuchos. Unlike many Yucatán dishes, panuchos do not date back to the Mayans, but are a more recent, although still traditional concoction. The foundation is a tortilla that has been infused with a black bean puree, then fried. The topping is shredded turkey (!), pickled onion, lettuce, avocado and tomato. My fork didn’t offer much support, so I picked up my panucho (with Gilbero’s approval), folded it like a taco, and went to town.

Was it kind of like a taco? Well, yeah.. but it was more substantial and richer than most tacos. Earthy and satisfying in every way.

The great news is that Gilberto plans to serve Panuchos at the July 18 East L.A.Meets Napa main event. I’ll be first in line.

The address is: 3655 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Telephone: (213)741-1075

La Casita Mexicana – Pescado Veracruzano

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Whenever I see a list of the 10 best Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles, La Casita Mexicana is always included. I remembered a nice meal I had there with friends a few years ago, but I was way overdue for a return visit. Located in the town of Bell, basically south of East L.A., I had to set the GPS to find it, but it was easier to find than I expected. The restaurant has doubled in size since the last time I was there, and is now a comfortable, colorful and bright room. Having seen many restaurants fail when they take over the space next door, I was delighted to see that it was filled with happy diners.

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The menu is large and wonderfully varied, and I had seafood in mind. After a conversation with my friendly, helpful waiter, I settled on the Pescado Veracruzano – fish Veracruz style. When I visited Veracruz a few years ago, I had the best seafood of my life. It didn’t seem to matter where I went – the seafood was magnificent. One dish that stood out, of course, was the Pescado Veracruzano. It’s usually a nice piece of soft-flesh fish steamed in foil with a combination of tomato, green olives, capers, chiles and some ingredients still mysterious to me. La Casita Mexicana’s version arrives without the foil wrap, but beautifully presented on a rectangular plate. It had all the rich and complex flavors I was hoping for, and the generously portioned fish was perfectly cooked. I could not have been happier.

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The fish was the star of the show, but they also got the other details right. As I looked at the menu, I was served chips with both mole poblano and red pipián sauce. (The mole poblano is a good enough reason in itself to make the trip) The sopa de rajas was an unexpected starter treat, and I was delighted with the lemonade sprinkled with chia seeds – a first-time experience for me.

Mary, the manager, went out of her way to make me feel at home, and I was already making plans to return, as I was walking out the door.

Here’s the website: http://casitamex.com/

Tlacoyos – La Barbacha, East Los Angeles

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We went to La Barbacha for their stunning Hidalgo-style steamed lamb, but for a change, I looked at the rest of the menu, and spotted something I’d never heard of… Tlacoyos. It seems they’re a Mexico City specialty, in which corn masa is stuffed (in this case) with cheese, beans or mashed potato, shaped into a torpedo, and smothered in a rich nopal sauce with crema drizzled on top.

To my taste, they seem to fit into the general category of huaraches, chanclas and sopes – tasty, rich comfort food. We didn’t finish them because we knew our plates of lamb were going to be huge.

Here’s the address and phone number: La Barbacha. 2510 East Cesar Chavez Avenue. East Los Angeles. 323-375-3334

Here’s a piece that NPR did on tlacoyos:

For the last in a summer series of grilled food from around the world, we head to Mexico, where a small doughy treat is found everywhere from street corner grills to high-end restaurants. It’s called a tlacoyo (pronounced tla-COY-yo) and although it may sound novel, it’s an ancient food that’s older than Hernan Cortes.

To taste the best tlacoyos, I was told I had to go to Xochimilco, the sprawling suburb in southern Mexico City. Juana Pina Gonzales has been selling them in the region for 25 years. She only uses blue corn masa — the dough used to make a tortilla — and stuffs the dough with all kinds of fillings, including smashed pinto or fava beans, a potato puree, mushrooms or a light cheese similar to ricotta.

Once filled, she shapes them into a small oval with pointed ends so they look like little footballs, grills them on a hot comal — a smooth round griddle — then wraps them in cloth towels before she puts them in big wicker baskets and heads to the market.

She says she usually sells all 40-50 dozen she’s made in about four hours. While Pina’s are still warm out of the basket, I really wanted one hot off the grill. So I headed to the market’s open food court, where a roving guitarist serenaded customers sitting on rickety benches around a dozen small food stalls. Each is equipped with a large hot grill teaming with all types of Mexican antojitos, or snack food; quesadillas, tacos and of course, hot steamy tlacoyos.

Isabel Salazar Cabrera claims her tlacoyos are the best and original, because her mom was the first to ever sell tlacoyos in Xochimilo. She says they’re the best because of the way she cooks the bean filling, but can’t share the recipe since it’s a family secret.

Once cooked, Salazar slides a hot fried tlacoyo on a plastic plate, and generously tops it with a big spoonful of grilled nopales (catcus slices), chopped onions, cilantro, crumbled fresh cheese and spicy green salsa.

She says tlacoyos have been the favorite food for generations. Her mom told her stories about making the tlacoyos for the farmers who worked the fields or Chinampas of Xochimilco, the floating gardens in the freshwater canals that made this southern stretch of the Mexico City valley so famous.

But Edmundo Escamilla Solis, a historian at the Culinary School of Mexico, says tlacoyos date back even further. He’s seen the small corn masa treats mentioned in the writings of the conquistadors of Mexico in the 16th century.

He says Hernan Cortes and other Spanish chroniclers wrote about Mexico’s indigenous outdoor markets and the stuffed corn masa breads sold in small food shacks. He says back in those days, tlacoyos were not only healthy — pre-Hispanic street vendors never used oil to grill them like now — they were also ideal to eat in a hurry or to take on long trips. He jokes that tlacoyos are the first fast food of the Americas.

While pre-conquest Mexicans may have eaten their tlacoyos in a hurry, chef Martha Ortiz prepares a more leisurely tlacoyo experience at her high-end restaurant in Mexico City’s swanky Polanco district.

“We are going to make it beautiful with a small Mexican fish, sardina, and a beautiful Mexican salad,” she says.

Topped with rich cheese and cilantro, Ortiz says she likes to dress up and surprise her clientele to the food of the streets.

“I love Mexican street food, I love Mexican food,” she says. “For me, it’s a passion; it’s a way of living.”