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

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Casa Azul Hotel – Mérida

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I was in the Yucatán city of Mérida last year. I stayed at a perfectly nice hotel downtown, but now I really wish I had known about Casa Azul.

Mérida was a fabulously rich colonial city in an area where a great deal of wealth was generated by growing sisal, the material that for many years was used in the manufacture of rope. There is a particular boulevard of stunning mansions, many now converted to museums and public buildings, that would rival any city in the world, and it appears that Casa Azul is located in this neighborhood.

Yucatán is the site of a large concentration of remarkable Mayan ruins. I wasn’t on that kind of a trip, but I did take a day to see Uxmal. The ruins were stunning, the drive was easy and pleasant, and I finally was able to understand how entire cities can be swallowed by the jungle.

I’m certain my experience would have been much enhanced if I had stayed at a luxurious historical place like Casa Azul.

Here’s the website: http://www.hotelesboutique.com/en/hotel/casa-azul-monumento-historico

Chichén Itzá – Los Angeles – Mesquite Grilled Shrimp

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Several years ago, when I learned that Chichén Itzá served Yucatán style venison tacos, I dropped everything and went to try them. They don’t seem to be on the menu any more, but they were absolutely delicious. Since then, I have been back many times to their South Grand Avenue restaurant, as well as to the short-lived MacArthur Park location. I’ve had perfectly executed red and green pipiáns, Yucatán specialty poc chuc and many other wonderful dishes. There’s always a feeling of anticipation while driving there, because, out of character for me, I haven’t settled on a single favorite dish.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Gilberto and Gilberto (yes, two Gilbertos) at the East LA Meets Napa fund-raising event for AltaMed. Each of the participating restaurants presented a specialty dish for the sophisticated crowd of over 1,000 people, and Chichén Itzá’s mesquite grilled shrimp with a habanero cream sauce was a stand-out success. Served on a bed of julienne zucchini, the distinctive flavors of the shrimp and mesquite were beautifully balanced by a flavorful cream sauce with just enough habanero heat to add a whole new layer to the experience.

A consistently good restaurant, run by really nice people… what more can we ask for?

Here’s the website: http://www.chichenitzarestaurant.com/