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Arte Walk Oaxaca: Graphic Arts + Painting Studios

Thursday nights are Arte Walk Oaxaca. There’s a nice little black and white map that pinpoints the independent art spaces and workshops. My favorites (plus one not listed on the map) are clustered in the neighborhood just a few blocks from the Zocalo, bounded by Hidalgo, Doblado, Xicotencatl and Colon. It’s becoming Oaxaca’s SOHO (south of Hidalgo) arts district.

David, Carol and Gabo in the textured courtyard wall glow

David, Carol and Gabo in the textured courtyard wall glow

While you can find the artists, a coterie of Oaxaca local art lovers spilling out onto the sidewalk outside postage stamp galleries, along with shots of mezcal, beers and bowls of spicy peanuts, Thursdays aren’t the only time to enjoy what Oaxaca is known for: GREAT GRAPHIC ART.

Black and white print at La Chicharra

Black and white print at La Chicharra Taller de Grafica

Most galleries are open Monday through Sunday, though often it’s catch as catch can. As is the case with many small, locally owned and/or operated shops here. Many of the galleries are cooperatives, so they are staffed by rotating volunteer artists who need a venue to show and sell their work directly. THERE IS A LOT OF TALENT HERE.

A subtle wall mural of overlapping faces, faces in the crowd?

A subtle wall mural of overlapping faces, faces in the crowd? Gabo Mendoza studio.

Last night, Friday, Gabriel Gabo Mendoza (tel: 951-142-7508) held an open studio where he lives and works at Xicotencatl #303. He isn’t on the map. Carol, David and I meandered in around 7 p.m. just as night was falling and the promise of a new moon hung in the sky.


Gabo’s courtyard was lit with purple twinkle lights. There were new murals on the wall. The large space will become a studio workshop for many. A table-top display held recycled Ixtlan wood mezcal boxes hand-painted with agave varieties of 750 liter bottles contained within. The mezcal is sourced locally by some of the best mezcaleros in Oaxaca and private labeled. Organic and artisanal. A great gift!

Agave painted mezcal boxes, containing artisanal juice -- for sale at Gabo Mendoza

Agave painted mezcal boxes, containing artisanal juice — for sale at Gabo Mendoza

We looked through Gabo’s newest work. Talked about how artists develop and evolve over time, and how this reflects in their work along with life experiences, tragedies and joy. It was interesting to talk about the transitions from then to now, sharing life stories, sipping Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus water) and feeling the glow of the space.

Moon coming up over purple twinkle lights

Moon coming up over purple twinkle lights at festive art opening

Then, we moved on to Taller de Grafica La Chicharra at Xicotencatl #317. This is a cooperative workshop studio where you can also take classes. Tonight, Saturday, March 19, there is a new show opening and they were readying for it. Spectacular work here, too, by MK Kabrito (Alan Altamirano) plus many others, much of it affordable! Check out the T-Shirts.

Great graphic T-shirts at La Chicarra graphic workshop

Great graphic T-shirts at La Chicarra graphic workshop

After a stop into Proyecto 30-30, Hidalgo #1208, where a graphic arts show of humorous political images hang.  By now, it was close to 8 p.m. and I knew Cooperativa Grafica Oaxaca at Manuel Doblado #210 closed at 7 p.m.  I had stopped in there earlier in the afternoon to get some great prints on fabric buttons that I will give as gifts. Agave, calavera skulls and animal images make great hat adornment.

Wall murals highlight artist work space

Wall murals highlight artist work space at Gabo Mendoza studios

We decided it was time to get a bite to eat, so walked a few blocks north on Xicotencatl that changes name to Pino Suarez when it crosses Independencia.  El Sol y La Luna Restaurante Bar, Pino Suarez #304 was our destination. Open 7 p.m. t0 midnight. Artisanal beer on tap, mezcal and sueros are featured beverages. I watched as thin crusted pizzas a la the best of Italy came out of the kitchen. We ordered cheese stuffed calzones — each crusty deliciousness. Next time, maybe a hamburger. They looked good, too.

Some tools of the artist craft

Some tools of the artist craft

Evenings this time of year are delightful. A wind comes up. Chills the hot air. Takes the edge off the beginning of the hot, spring rainy season (the rains haven’t come yet, though). Everything is in bloom. Purple Jacaranda line the avenues. A perfect time for an evening stroll to enjoy this city’s art scene and support the young artists who have so much to say through their work.

Contact: walkoaxaca@gmail.com or Facebook: artewalkoaxaca

At La Chicharra graphic arts studio and gallery

At La Chicharra graphic arts studio and gallery


Why Visit Girona, Spain?

Girona_38-23Girona, Spain, is a half-hour north of Barcelona Sants station by AVE bullet train going at 200 km per hour. It catapulted us into the Middle Ages.


It has the best preserved medieval Jewish neighborhood in Europe dating from the 8th century with an outstanding museum atop an archeological dig that contains a mikvah. There is an investment by the Spanish government now in historical Jewish tourism. Spain is offering dual citizenship to Sefardim who want to reclaim their past.

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Until the pogroms of 1391, Girona was a center of Jewish intellectual life in Spain where Kabbalah Jewish spirituality fully developed from its roots in southern France.

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By 1492, with the Expulsion Decree and the start of the official Inquisition, Jews had either converted to Catholicism or left for France, Amsterdam, Turkey, North Africa, towns along the Adriatic Sea and the New World. No Jews remained in Spain.


According to our expert Barcelona guide Dominique of Urban Cultours, the Spanish Jewish community there was mostly decimated in 1391. Surviving in Girona are tombstone fragments from Montjuic cemetery and artifacts of Jewish ritual and daily life. In Barcelona, cemetery stones were used for foundation construction of 15th century church and government buildings.


Girona boasts an amazing gothic cathedral dating from 1038 A.D. with an impressive, wide nave, second only to Saint Peter’s in Rome.

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The stained glass windows spill colored light into an otherwise dark, stony and austere interior. It speaks of early European Catholicism where the so-called chair of Charlemagne commands attention.


From the top of the cathedral steps, you look down onto a lovely square, perfect for resting, sipping a glass of Estrella beer with tapas appetizers.

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During the Spanish civil war, 1936-1939, the figures of the twelve apostles that flanked the side entrance to the cathedral were destroyed. Their intricate crowns are still intact, and one can imagine …

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Girona’s old town flanks both sides of the beautiful Onyar River, connected by bridges. It is walkable, accessible, filled with narrow alleyways, hillside steps, ancient porticos, smart shops filled with designer clothes and accessories, excellent patio cafes and Catalunya flags flying everywhere.

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The sentiment for an independent Catalan state is strong. It feels and smells old world.


Two days here are not long enough!

Compared with Barcelona there is not the crush of tourists although there are plenty of European visitors. We heard French, Italian, Czech, German and Russian, plenty of Catalan and Spanish. Not much English!

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We had an amazing dinner at Massana, a one-star Michelin restaurant, our best in Spain. We saw the restaurant sign and rang the doorbell to what we discovered was a private dining room. Chef-owner Pere Massana emerged in his kitchen whites to personally guide us to the actual entrance.

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Our welcome was warm, service outstanding and engaging. Food spectacular. We opted out of the tasting menu — too much food late at night (most restaurants don’t open until 8:30 p.m.) and instead ordered an entree and dessert. Otherwise, we would have lingered until well beyond midnight!

The meal was preceded by three taste treats to whet our appetite: fresh goat cheese topped with rosemary, mussels marinated in orange vinaigrette and a fois gras yogurt topped with crunchy flashed dried ground corn. This sure beat the chocolate coated fois gras popsicle we had in Granada at overrated La Fabula that was part of an over-the-top tasting menu.

FullSizeRender This chocolate hazelnut extravaganza tasting plate was my dessert at Massana. So chocolate-y I couldn’t eat it all!

We were astounded that Chef Massana followed us out to the street to personally thank us for coming, asking how we enjoyed the meal! Memorable. Sincere.

After a good night’s rest at Hotel Nord 1901 we took the afternoon train to Figueres, rented a car and drove to a 15th century village where we stayed overnight in a converted farmhouse. Then, on to the Dali Museum where I will post about his surrealist jewelry designs next.

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Today, we are resting in the Mediterranean seacoast town of Cadaques, Spain. But, I can’t get magical Girona off my mind.





Boulenc: Bringing a World of Flavors to Artisan Bread + More in Oaxaca, Mexico

We invited Martha Sorensen to write this post. She has raved about Boulenc since they opened.  Martha makes it a daily breakfast habit to include a slice or two of toasty, crusty rye or whole grain bread from Boulenc topped with their not t00 sweet house made mango jam.  She’s got me hooked.


Bernardo (left) and Juan Pablo send greetings

Bernardo Davila (left) and Juan Pablo Hernandez, founder, welcome bread lovers

Walk through the doorway of Boulenc and the comforting scent of fresh-baked bread and pastries envelops you. On the high shelves behind the front counter, whole grain sourdough loaves topped with artistic flour swirls or leaf patterns delight the eye.  More than a bakery, good food to eat is here, too.  Boulenc is a cafe, restaurant, bakery and provisions shop. 

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In the glass cabinet below, cardamom rolls sit beside ricotta berry Danish, orange chocolate brioche and buttery concha rolls decorated with a sprinkling of cocoa powder. Each beckons with the promise of a taste sensation.

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To the right, a bread oven from Sweden purchased via eBay warms the room. The six bar stools are usually filled. Behind the bar is a bookshelf with a collection of master bread making books, including Tartine Bread from San Francisco’s renowned artisan bakery. In the kitchen, four young bakers look up from their  floury hands with a smile of greeting. Can this be Oaxaca?

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Born in Saltillo, Coahuila, Juan Pablo Hernandez, a.k.a. Papa, is the founder of the European-style artisan bakery Boulenc.  He began baking years ago while still in school, ordered books and later experimented in a friend’s Oaxaca restaurant. Passionate about producing the highest quality, he gave away bread in exchange for comments.

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Then, he sold loaves at El Pochote while learning the art of baguette and croissant making from a young French baker who was traveling through Mexico. In January 2014, with Bernardo Davila and two other friends from Saltillo, he opened Boulenc.

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Juan Pablo’s European apprenticeship came from an unlikely source: a Dubai entrepreneur who found him via an international bakers’ Facebook group.  She was looking for someone to open an artisan bakery there. Last autumn she sponsored his travels to Sweden, Denmark and France. In October, he was in Dubai for a month where he made sourdough pan de muertos. Juan Pablo says that over 5,000 Mexican families live in Dubai. 

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His time in Scandinavia was life-changing. In southern Sweden, he took a sourdough course from world-renowned baker Manfred Enoksson, (who taught him to make cardamom rolls) learning more about stone-milled organic whole grains and the sourdough fermentation process. The living microbes in the culture need care. As Juan Pablo says, it is a relationship that must be nurtured.  “It makes you humble,” he says.  Most of products in Boulenc have a sourdough element. All other ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, including wheat from Nochixtlan in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca and cacao cream from another part of Mexico.

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Using a term from his permaculture training, Juan Pablo says that he and his partners see Boulenc as “a spiral, not a pyramid.” While there is some specialization, everyone at Boulenc has multiple roles, contributes ideas for new products, and values working together for the good of the community. This includes sharing sources and information with new bakeries that have a commitment to quality.

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They have given one bread making class and hope to do more. At the end of the day, any bread that is left over goes to an orphanage and a social service organization. Part of Juan Pablo’s mission is to educate about the importance of eating bread that is nutritious vs. bread made from white flour and chemicals in an industrial process. He sees this as vital, particularly here in Mexico where obesity rates are among the highest in the world.

Boulenc, Porfirio Diaz 222, between Murguia and Morelos, Centro, Oaxaca, (951) 514-0582

Boulenc’s future plans include opening a pizza cafe at a location nearby. For more information, including photos and short videos go to:


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Norma’s Notes:  Belly up to the bar and grab one of the six bar stools that overlooks the kitchen. Come for breakfast and order Shakshuka, a Lebanese poached egg and spicy tomato dish or a Belgian waffle drizzled with chocolate syrup, nuts and fresh fruit. Don’t be in a rush. This is slow food. Wait with a cup of the organic coffee or aromatic hot chocolate made with milk. Lunch offers up pizza rolls and tasty sandwiches on crusty bread. My favorite is the 100% rye infused with nuts, a meal in itself.

Adentro: A Glimpse Inside Puebla, Mexico

The Franciscans created Puebla as the first true (ha, ha) Spanish city in Mexico, building it from the ground up, not on top of destroyed indigenous religious sites as they had a habit of doing.  The Paseo Viejo de San Francisco is a cobblestone walking promenade that connects the church named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi where Hernan Cortes worshipped with upscale shopping, restaurants and hotels.  This is a renovated historic area — the oldest part of the city where Puebla was founded. It’s the neighborhood I’m staying in on this visit.

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I’m back in Puebla for an overnight before heading to Mexico City and then on to San Francisco for Thanksgiving with my family.  I’ve been here so many times in recent years that I can negotiate the avenues by foot and not get lost, returning to some of my favorite spots.  It was an all-day walkabout — eight hours total.

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Today as I meander, I decide to take a different approach.  I look into courtyards where tall, heavy wood gates open slightly give me a glimpse of an interior life.  I peer into obscurely lit stores.  I see shadows and light, profiles and outlines of figures.  I look inside instead of at the stunning Talavera tile and wedding cake plaster facades that captivate visitors.

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Still life hides behind high plaster walls through the cracks of gated doors, between the bars of gated churches at altars where no one worships, down alleyways where laundry dries, through windows into storage rooms.

Puebla112513-15 Puebla112513-8 Puebla112513-3 Puebla112513-13                            A shop clerk hangs against a door jam, take a drag on a cigarette.  Women establish themselves in business with a pile of masa dough and a garbage container filled with charcoal topped with a comal.   They will stuff tacos with cheese, chilis, bits of chicken for passersby to grab and eat as they walk on.

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Before I leave Puebla, I treat myself to a lunch at what I undoubtedly believe is the best restaurant in the city, El Mural de los Poblanos.  Don’t miss it. Spectacular service and perfectly prepared food.

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It was a mezcal kind of day for me: first a tamarind mezcal margarita, then a shot glass of Puebla origin mezcal (with worm salt and orange slices) compliments of the manager (that I managed to nurse throughout the 2-1/2 hour meal), a sunflower sprout salad, and shrimps sauteed in mezcal.  I finished with a small scoop of house made pumpkin ice cream and a raisin liqueur. Who’s hungry? Did anyone say bed time?

Budget Oaxaca Restaurant El Gran Gourmet is Fabuloso

Keeps your eyes open, you might miss it!  El Gran Gourmet budget restaurant restaurant is tucked away in a narrow space at Avenida Independencia, No. 1104 in Oaxaca’s Centro Historico.  It’s about four blocks away from the Zocalo past Fiallo beyond the tourist areas (walking towards the Periferico).  Simple, clean, delicious and a bargain!  Who could ask for more?

My local friends eat there and I always like to join them because the food is reasonably priced and delicious.  Yes, you can eat great food in Oaxaca for under $5 USD per person — and that’s a three-course lunch that includes soup or salad, an entree and dessert.  If you want five-courses, it’s a little extra.  The aguas (fresh fruit juices mixed with water) are yummy.  Try the Agua de Sandia or Agua de Melon (watermelon or cantaloupe).   They use purified water and I’ve never gotten “the revenge” here.

Plus, there’s always a daily special.

Here’s the routine:  look at what the daily fare is that is displayed behind the glass serving area.  Choose your first course and entree from among the choices along the buffet.  But it’s not really a buffet, since you tell your waiter what you want to eat and drink.

Entrees can be pozole or enchiladas, or quesadillas, or chicken with mole, depending on the day.  There are rice and black beans.  Usually there is a tasty vegetable, garbanzo or tortilla soup.  Dessert might be flan or rice pudding or jello.  Everyone in Mexico loves jello.  If you don’t, this is a good place to learn how to enjoy this dense, not as sweet dessert treat!

Buen provecho! and be sure to leave a tip.  Ten percent is expected.

El Gran Gourmet, Avenida Independencia, No. 1104, Centro – (68000) Oaxaca de JuárezMéxico, Tel. +52 951 516 7822