Tag Archives: restaurants

Mexico City’s Quintonil Restaurant is Simply Delicious

I asked Deborah Morris, MD, PA-C, who met me in Mexico City before we traveled together to Oaxaca, to contribute to this blog by writing some of her impressions.  She was dazzled by Quintonil and gives us this report.

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On our last evening in Mexico City, after a day of eating homely (and tasty) street food, we decided to splurge.  Lesley from Eat Mexico recommended upscale Quintonil and we snagged a last minute reservation there.  We dressed up, and took a cab through pouring rain and awful traffic to an inconspicuous side-street in the Polanco neighborhood. Parked along the streets were Mercedes’ and BMW’s, yet, the restaurant entrance was unassuming except for the doorman who opened his umbrella and sheltered us from rain pellets as he guided us in.  Impressive!

The restaurant is not large, seating maybe fifty people.  The decor and ambience, streamlined, subtle and quiet.  We could tell this was going to be all about the food and service. Our waiter presented us with a paper menu folded like origami, a secret package revealing an astounding menu, each dish described in loving and mouth-watering detail.  The Mexican red wine we wanted was only available by the glass, but the manager agreed to sell us a whole bottle at a very reasonable cost.

Last things first, flan for dessert.

Last things first, flan for dessert.

Almost immediately, our servers delivered a small loaf of fresh-baked sourdough bread, along with a small bowl of butter infused with huitlacoche, the delicious corn fungus, a second bowl of a silky black bean purée with shreds of hoja santa, an anise scented herb, and a third bowl filled with a complex sweet-tart-deep-picante salsa. The bread on its own would have been good.  The accompaniments made it heavenly.

Making a first course choice was difficult. We passed up the smoked spider crab tostada with lime, watermelon radish and Habanero mayonnaise. Instead, we opted to share a melt-in-your-mouth scallop carpaccio on a sprinkle of a green lime and onion flavored oil.  The  garnish was slices of plantain rolled into cones and dabs of a tart lime chile mayonnaise. Texture, flavor and temperature met in small perfect bites that had us moaning superlatives under our breath.

First course to share: scallop carpaccio

First course to share: scallop carpaccio

Between each of our three courses, our waiter delivered a little surprise. After the scallops, we both received a small gourd bowl holding a smooth potato purée flavored with little crunchy bits of chorizo.  It was glorious. (Photo below.)

For her entrée, Norma selected a Baja red fish fillet (photo below) perfectly cooked with a glossy center, presented on a base of kale and kohlrabi purée glazed with an orange and red chilhuacle (meaning ancient chile in Aztec) sauce and topped with fresh lettuce leaves.

PotatoSoupCrop 2FishLettuce

Mine was a square of duck breast with crisp skin and red juicy middle, tender enough to cut with a fork, covered with an amazing dark red mole flavored with huitlacoche and garnished with tiny ears of corn, quartered and sautéed. We shared these dishes, too, oohed and aahed, and felt grateful to have found this place.

Another little regalo, or present, came after the main course in the form of a green tuna sorbet.  Topping the tuna, or nopal cactus fruit, was black smoked sea salt.

We certainly could not pass up dessert, although we did resist a Mexican chocolate dish baked in a pottery bowl that had that spicy, cinnamon and nut rich aroma that wafted in our direction when delivered to the next table.  Norma’s mix of fresh and candied figs was adorned with a little scoop of a creamy cheese ice cream and lacy wafers of caramelized honey (below right).  I had flan with fresh flowers.

2Figs

Of course, there was no way we could finish drinking that entire bottle of red wine, so we offered what remained to two women dining at the next table.  They were drinking the same wine by the glass.

In anticipation and before we could even ask, the manager came to the table to ask if we needed a taxi, which arrived muy pronto in less than ten minutes. We traveled back to our B & B completely content.  Now, back to real life!

  • Quintonil Restaurante
  • Newton 55, Polanco  Álvaro Obregón, 11560 Federal District, Mexico
  • +52 55 5280 1660

And the last gift, a sprinkle of chocolate mints in a surprise package grand finale — as if we needed anything else!

Regalo of chocolate mints

Regalo of chocolate mints

 

Oaxaca Food Heaven: Restaurant Reviews by Guest Contributor Eva M. Olson

Our blog post today is written Eva M. Olson, a writer and former arts administrator based in Austin, Texas. I invited Eva to share her Oaxaca “foodie” experiences after she and a friend made a recent whirlwind eating trip.  Eva first visited Oaxaca with her family when she was 13, and says she has been fortunate to return to her casa de alma many times since then.  Here’s her take on several of Oaxaca’s best restaurants.

 

Oaxaca Comida–Buen Provecho! by Eva M. Olson

Returning to Oaxaca always feels like coming home. The air, the people, and the active zocalo are soothing and familiar.  My last visit was in November 2007, when Oaxaca was still reeling from the teachers’ strike and its aftermath.  Now, almost six years later, the city’s energy feels whole again.  Since dining well is central to any journey, and especially here, my best companion and fellow foodie B. and I decided to try a few new restaurants as well as some of my old haunts.  We stayed at Hotel Casa Oaxaca, a centrally located spot from which to launch our dining expeditions.

Our first night, we wandered into one of my favorite spots, Casa Oaxaca Restaurant where chef Alejandro Ruiz has developed a succulent tribute to the distinctive cuisine of the region. And it turned out to be the best meal of our visit.  Every detail was covered – the presentation and the service were perfection – and our food was luscious.

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B. had the silky blue bean soup and I had a gorgeous salad of fresh tomatoes, queso fresco, and watermelon (above).  Our entrees were simple grilled seafood – shrimp for B. and for me a whole octopus (breathtaking and perfectly prepared). For dessert, a trio of sorbets  – limon, coco, y leche quemada –lime, coconut and burnt milk (below).

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(Sadly, the wine here – as well as everywhere we ate – was disappointing. The list of wines by the glass was thin and the choices expensive. I realize that Oaxaca’s beverage of choice is mezcal, but it overpowers food, and I really enjoy a glass of wine with a meal.)  But, did I mention the attentive, relaxed, and thoughtful service?  The bill for this extraordinary meal was just over $100 USD (plus about a 15 percent tip).

Do you agree with Eva?  Let us know what you think!  Leave a Comment.

We had Saturday night reservations at Origen – friends had recommended it highly, and we were looking forward to discovering a new restaurant star.  It was underwhelming and ordinary on all counts – definitely not the outstanding meal we’d been anticipating.

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Our salads were adequate – mine with grapefruit and smoked trout (though not much of it) and B.’s mixed greens with an abundance of purslane (definitely an acquired taste). My sea bass with rice was unmemorable; B.’s ribeye with marrow was well prepared, and the marrow rub was excellent (arguably the best part of the meal).  Our merengue dessert was delayed for almost 30 minutes – and the mushy white paste that arrived was inedible.  We were the only people there, until a couple showed up at the end of our meal.  The bill here was $110 USD plus tip.

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The following day we walked a lot, and on an early afternoon jaunt stumbled across Carbon de Palo, a brand-new restaurant on 5 de Mayo.  Billed by our waiter as Continental fusion, with a Colombian chef, it was a lovely surprise.  Our lunch starters were excellent   – a grouper ceviche with lime foam and an incredibly fresh caprese salad (above).  B. chose squid ink pasta topped with a giant scallop, and pronounced it the best he’s ever had.  My entrée was a beautiful – the only word that fits – avocado, skinned and presented whole, stuffed with crab.  I had a glass of Penedes and B. had a Victoria. We vowed to come back for dinner as soon as possible.

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One night we had dinner at our hotel – not surprisingly, it was a beautiful meal with exquisite service provided by Daniel. To start, ceviche tacos and a beet salad, sea bass with green mole and shrimps in mole as entrees.  We all but inhaled the dessert – a delicate camote y piña flauta.

Want to make your own recommendations? Leave a Comment!

We returned to Casa Oaxaca Restaurant for our last supper, and admittedly overdid it.  We started with a cheese platter – a wide assortment of local cheeses, all delicious and rich.  B. had the pulpo – and was awarded an extra-large serving of rice loaded with huitlacoche after letting our server Omar know how much he craves this tasty corn fungus.  For me, Omar recommended the grouper served with chicatana salsa –a delicacy, and a very distinctive taste.

I can’t forget to mention the incredible breakfasts at Casa Oaxaca Hotel.  Included in the cost of the room, and served in the sunny courtyard, each meal was outstanding. Freshly squeezed juices of our choice (usually apple for B., papaya and orange for me), a variety of eggs, a fresh fruit plate with granola and yogurt, enchiladas, quesadillas, chilaquiles, freshly baked breads, homemade jam, as well as cappuccino and espresso, and hot chocolate made to order.

We’re already thinking about restaurants for the next trip – we’ll definitely return to Carbon de Palo and Casa Oaxaca.  We made reservations at Pitiona but never got there – that has to go on the list.  Also missed Los Danzantes.  Oaxaca is calling, and we’ll be back.

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Norma’s Note:  There are wonderful restaurants and outdoor cafes all over Oaxaca with varying price ranges, from comida corrida (food of the common person) to gourmet extravaganza. Eva’s review here give us her “top shelf” dining experience!

If you would like to contribute a blog post about your Oaxaca experiences, please contact Norma.

Crunchy, No-Cook Nopal Cactus Salad with Fruit and Sprouts: Healthy, Fresh, Fast, Easy

My sister Barbara and I were in Puebla, Mexico recently and during our three-day stay we ate at El Mural de los Poblanos Restaurant three times.  We can’t get enough of Chef Lizette Galicia’s good food.  We each have a favorite salad there.  Barbara loves the fresh nopal cactus tossed with tomato, onion, cilantro, queso fresco, radishes and little slices of fresh serrano chiles. I love the sunflower sprout salad tossed with toasted pecans, sunflower seeds, radishes and a light olive oil and lime dressing.  Everything goes crunch.   Be patient.  There is a recipe and photos below!

Nopal Cactus Salad-9

 

This week I bought three nopal cactus paddles at my organic market, spines and all.  I buy them in the Teotitlan del Valle market already trimmed, diced and waiting to be cooking.  Those spines pricked me in the market and the check-out clerk had to cover her hand in a plastic baggie.  Today, I put on my thick rubber dishwashing gloves to handle them.  It was much easier than I thought.  With paring knife in hand, I scraped off the spines and trimmed the edges.  Facile.

Based on the ingredients in my kitchen and Chef Lizette’s method for preparing perfectly crunchy, delicious nopal, here is my recipe I know you will find tasty.  It is a merging of these two salads we love, a blend of nopal and sunflower sprouts.

Norma’s No-Cook Nopal Cactus Salad with Fruit, Sprouts, Seeds

Ingredients (Norma’s Innovation)

  • 3 cactus paddles, cleaned and diced
  • 2 cups fresh sunflower sprouts, washed, dried
  • 1/4 c. sunflower seeds
  • 1 small romaine or bibb lettuce, washed, dried, torn into 1-2″ pieces
  • 8 strawberries (mine are organic, small, flavorful), whole
  • 1 medium mandarin orange, peeled, segmented
  • 1 mango, ripe, seeded, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 T. coarse sea salt
  • 2 T. vinaigrette salad dress (scratch or bottled Cesaer)

Nopal Cactus Salad Nopal Cactus Salad-2 Nopal Cactus Salad-3

Method (attributed to Chef Lizette Galicia, El Mural de los Poblanos)

  1. Clean the cactus paddles.  Here is a link to how to do it.
  2. Put the diced cactus in a small bowl.  You should have about 3/4 to 1 cup.  Add coarse sea salt.  Stir.  Let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the diced red onion to the cactus.  Stir.  Let mixture sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
  4. Wash and dry lettuce and sprouts.  Put into mixing bowl.
  5. Soak berries in water for 2 minutes with 1 T. of white vinegar to clean. Drain. Dry. De-stem.  Add to salad.
  6. Add mandarin segments to salad.
  7. Prepare mango by cutting it in half along the seed plane.  Score each half as if it was a tic-tac-toe board in 1″ cubes.  Fold the skin under and peel flesh from skin with paring knife.  Add to salad.
  8. Go back to nopal cactus and onion mixture.  Turn out into a mesh strainer.  The mix will be slimy like okra.  Run under cold water for 5 minutes or until the water is clear.  Taste for saltiness.  If too salty, continue to rinse.
  9. Drain cactus and onion well over a bowl.  Put bowl in refrigerator for 10 minutes until mix is cold.  Add to salad.
  10. Toss salad well with sunflower seeds.  Dress and serve.
  11. Serves 4.
  12. Enjoy!

Nopal Cactus Salad-5 Nopal Cactus Salad-7 Nopal Cactus Salad-8

The health attributes of nopal cactus is legendary. Years ago, Andrew Weill, M.D., exclaimed that by eating nopal cactus you would get more vitamin C, reduce cholesterol and add fiber to your diet.  Health experts say it also reduces blood sugar to help keep diabetes under control and is great for weight loss.  Lore has it that it can prevent a hangover and control hypertension, too.  Let’s eat more nopal!   Just be careful not to prick yourself :)  

I am planning to make this again next weekend for the TMM-Day of the Dead Photography Workshop 2012 Reunion.  I’ll be writing more about that. Suffice it to say, seven women in the workshop last fall connected and wanted to get together again.  They are coming to North Carolina from all over the U.S.

 

El Mural de los Poblanos, Puebla, Mexico Restaurant Continues to Please

“It was wonderful, close to perfect.” That’s what I told NY Times travel writer Freda Moon this morning when she asked how my meal was at El Mural de los Poblanos.
Hollie and I settled in after escaping a particularly violent thunderstorm, rain pellets pounding our umbrellas as we stepped carefully along the slippery paving stones from the Zocalo to the restaurant two blocks away.  It was impossible to hurry despite the weather.
First, Isaias welcomed and escorted us to a table, brought fresh baked rolls, butter, two glasses of Mexican Baja Tempranillo-Cabernet house wine (yummy), and an amuse de bouche of spicy, hearty red-broth with chicharrones.
Then, we got into the serious ordering:  fresh fish in casserole (cazuela) with garlic and butter.  Simple, succulent.  I think it was sea bass. Cooked to glossy perfection. We shared this and the ribeye steak (this is beef country), seasoned with just a bit of heat, grilled medium-rare (more on the rare side) to perfection, then topped with grilled, crunchy garlic slices.  The dish was accompanied by a skewer of roasted, grilled baby potatoes and baby onions. The sprout salad with walnuts and avocado was big enough to share and a great interlude to entree bites.
After dinner, we ordered the almond tart with a small scoop of housemade vanilla ice cream to share.  It was a perfect ending to the meal.  But, we brought our own Talavera de las Americas mezcal cups, so topped it all off by sharing a shot glass of El Cortijo Añejo — a smokey, aged mezcal that is one of my favorites.
Total cost of all this, including two entrees, salad, two glasses of wine each, dessert and mezcal was $1,195 pesos for two, not including tip (we left 15 percent).  Translated to the current exchange rate of 13.8 pesos to the dollar, we spent $43.00USD each.
Chef Lisette Galicia Solis is offering cooking classes Monday-Saturday with 2-day notice, 1,000 pesos per person, no minimum.
Service by Isaias and Enrique was attentive, not overbearing.
It’s still my favorite Puebla restaurant. We ate there twice during this trip. I would choose dining here before La Conjura or the restaurants at La Purificadora and Casa Reyna any day.
P.S.  I pay full price for every meal I eat, take no discounts or complimentary giveaways, FYI.

We Are in Tlaxcala Now: Archeology, Volcanoes, Great Food

Who could ask for more?  We are in Tlaxcala (Tuh-las-cah-lah), the first city Cortes came to after landing in Veracruz.  The oldest churches in the New World are here.  The compact zocalo is ringed with 16th century buildings decorated with frilly stucco and carved stone. The town of 73,000, tucked into a hillside, is one hour from Puebla and about three hours from Mexico City.   It is elegant, prosperous and refined with excellent restaurants and pedestrian ambience.

  

After eating a noteworthy late breakfast/early lunch of conejo con huitlacoche (rabbit and corn fungus) and enchiladas de Tlaxcalteco con flor de calabasas (squash blossoms) at Fonda de Exconvento on Plaza Xicotencatl, we decided on the spot to visit the archeological sites of Cacaxtla (Cah-cas-tlah) and Xochitecatl (So-chee-teh-cachl).  The manager at Fonda de Exconvento was extremely helpful.  After I asked her what we should pay a taxi to drive us to the ruins, she made a call, got us a secure driver and negotiated a price of 350 pesos for the afternoon (four hours).  We were thrilled!  Muy facile.  Thank you for visiting our country, she said.

Cacaxtla and sister site, Xochitecatl, were inhabited by the Olmec-Xicalancas, who wielded political and economic control over the central, southern, and western parts of the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley.  They occupied a strategic position on the trade route between the Central Highlands of Mexico and the Gulf Coast.  Cacaxtla reached its zenith between 650 and 900 AD following the decline of Teotihuacan, at the same time that other cities, such as El Tajin in Veracruz and Xochicalco in Morelos, consolidated their power.

The mural paintings here are distinctive for blending Teotithuacan and Maya elements into its own unique style.  The murals, many in pristine condition and painted with natural pigments, were discovered in the 1970′s.  They depict a battle, a bird man, a jaguar man, and sea and land creatures.   The site is less than an hour from Tlaxcala and incredible.

 

Templo de Venus: These figures, above, are female (left) and male (right) figures wearing skirts with the Venus symbol.  The presence of Venus on the garments allude to some astronomical phenomenon or calendrical date associated with the planet, which at that time was related to warfare and sacrifice.

Go during mid-week, as we did, to enjoy the solitude, the power of the wind, and the stunning views of Mexico’s volcanoes: Popocatepetl, La Malinche, Iztaccíhuatl, and Pico de Orizaba.

 

Xochitecatl is distinguished by four pyramids and when you reach the top of the plateau where they are located, you are treated with a panoramic, three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the valley.  This is the lesser of the two sites in terms of archeological restoration.  There are about a dozen Olmec carved figures on display in an outside garden.

Great Dining Experience:  Vinos y Piedra on the Zocalo.  Try the Cafecita, a filet mignon topped with a carmelized coffee sauce.  This is cowboy country with large haciendas and cattle ranches.  The beef here is tender and juicy!

Travel Tip: Go to the Tourism Office first to get a map.  They are very helpful there and speak English. Bullfight season is November through the first weekend in March.  We just missed it!

Our route to Tlaxcala:  In Cuetzalan, we bought a one-way bus ticket (116 pesos each) to Huamantla on the Texcoco bus line (first class with TV and toilet).  This was a 3-1/2 hour trip.  In Huamantla, we walked two blocks towing our rolling luggage and backpacks to a collectivo bus stop, where, within minutes, a commuter van picked us up for the 45-minute trip to Tlaxcala (about 25 pesos each).  It dropped us off at the central market, where we walked around a corner and hopped a taxi (30 pesos) to our Hotel Mision San Francisco on the zocalo.