Mexico City Food, Pt 2 (Pujol, Contramar, Mirotoro, El Cardenal, …)

29 Jan

During much of our late-2015 Mexico City trip I was eating tacos and street food, but we also had some really excellent sit-down restaurant meals. The ones that stand out most are:

Pujol

We knew from the beginning we’d have to come here for an extended small-bites tasting menu.

IMG_4632.JPG

IMG_4627.JPG

Looking at my phone, I apparently emailed myself some notes later that evening when back in our B&B because I couldn’t stop thinking about the meal (what a dork), so I’ll just copy them in here:

  • “tortillas!!– creamy corn center– skins on either side– very soft”
  • “Great ‘new and old mole’ dish– a fresh 1-day mole and an aged 786-day. Fresh was more acidic, tart, distinct spices, chocolate. Old was more mellow, umami, less acidic, a bit oxidized, smoky.”
  • “v. good taco w/ 7 kinds of mostly wild mushrooms (rain mushroom taco) that were just being found at this point in the season– some morel-like smoky/meaty”
  • “Baby corn smoked w/ corn husks in a gourd, w/ a savory, earthy sauce– a chile mayonnaise made with coffee and ground red ants”
  • “chicken w/ crispy skin and interesting beans– good w/ tortillas”
  • “escamoles (ant larva) in a pea pod– a bit eggy, rich, nice acid balance, mellow”
  • “great dessert mix– amazing spiral churro, crispy outside, thin, cinnamon. choc/corn drink was OK. Tamarind ice cream (tart not too sweet!) w/ cilantro cream? Anyway, excellent”
  • “such a good evening. Not too fancy or stuffy-feeling, just a refined / interesting take on various aspects of Mexican cuisine and ingredients.”

Contramar

This was A+ seafood, in a bustling, social, cheerful dining room where there were many large groups, with people showing up to join friends at dinner mid-way through a meal and ordering rounds of small and large plates.

The highlight was a whole red snapper ‘Contramar style’– grilled and split open, half covered with an amazing parsley butter, and half with a red sauce I don’t remember the details of. Accompanied with tortillas, picked onions and peppers, escabeche, and a great jalapeno sauce.

The ceviche was also excellent.

This was about twice as much food as we could eat– we should have invited our other two friends who were in town. But getting the snapper with parsley butter was definitely worth it.

 

IMG_4937.JPG

 

Ojo de Agua was a great low-key pit stop when feeling dehydrated, overheated, or tired from walking the city– there are several locations around the city including on a little park in Hipodromo and they serve revitalizing agua frescas including an amazing coconut milk (they also sell coconut water, but the coconut milk was especially creamy, rich, and rehydrating) and some decent breakfast chilaquiles with avocado.

Just nearby, the cafe Maque served a great breakfast– I loved the chilaquiles divorcados (half and half green chile verde and red salsas — probably my favorite of the trip) and the fresh biscuit with cheese and honey.

I had a great crispy, tender lamb and a hibiscus-mezcal sorbet at Merotoro.

Finally, at El Cardenal we had a good poblano mole chicken breast (though next time I visit I want to explore mole more broadly– a friend recommended Fonda Mi Lupita for mole and I never made it there). El Cardenal was especially notable for excellent tortillas (perhaps freshly-nixtamalized corn?)

Tacos, Tlacoyos, and other street food of Mexico City

22 Jan

In late 2015 I took a week-long vacation to Mexico City, and spent much of that time eating tacos, tlacoyos, and other food around the city (whether in restaurants or at street stalls).

I’d done some initial reading on others’ experiences with the tacos of Mexico city (e.g. Serious Eats 2014, Thrillist 2015, The Mija Chronicles) which gave me a list to start from, and I also spent a day just biking around the city looking for street food carts and taquerias. I can’t claim any deep Mexico City or Mexican culinary expertise as a one-week tourist with very poor Spanish, but I had a great experience and jotted down a lot of notes, for future trips or friends. A year later (when feeling under the weather at home one evening) I’m finally transcribing a few.

A quick summary of my favorites:

  • El Vilsito must-east al pastor tacos (evening/night only, Avenida Universidad in Narvarte)
  • El Jarocho tacos guisados (stew) on Tapachula at Manzanillo in Roma
  • A blue corn tlacoyo pop-up street stand I found on Av. Álvaro Obregón just West of Jalapa
  • Pop-up stall La Esquina del Chilaquil (or the corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas) selling a “chilaquiles sandwich” (time it right– a line forms before 11AM and they will sell out)
  • Tacos Gus for more unusual tacos guisados (huitlacoche, chile relleno, etc) in Condesa / Hipódromo
  • El Califa bistec tacos and nopales (afternoon/evening, Condesa / Hipódromo)

THE VERY BEST

El Vilsito (neighborhood: Narvarte)

A++, best al pastor I’ve ever had (it’s not even close), beating my distant memory of the transformative first-amazing-al-pastor in Mexico a decade ago.

IMG_4956.JPG

Such crispy-edged, delicious pork. A nice piece of pineapple. A thin red salsa that covers it with a bit of heat and keeps it moist. M$14/taco (about US$1).

El Vilsito is only open in the evenings (and open until late)– they’re located in what by day appears to be a large auto garage / repair shop. It took a taxi to get here as it was a bit out of the way, on a strip that seemed mostly dark / closed other than it, but even at 11:30pm there were about 50 people milling about, ordering tacos from the three men working the spits, and more people arriving every minute by car, bus, foot– very bustling.

IMG_4954.JPG

IMG_4962.JPG

Blue corn tlacoyo street stall (unknown name, Roma neighborhood)

I’d read a travel diary that included eating excellent made-to-order blue corn tortillas at a street stall in this area, but I couldn’t find any photos or a name or map, so I biked back and forth over a 5-block grid looking for something that matched the description.

At the intersection of Av. Álvaro Obregón and Jalapa I saw a stand that looked promising, with a woman scooping balls of blue corn masa out of a bowl into a tortilla press… (specifically, here, on Av. Álvaro Obregón just West of the intersection, in front of a sign that said “Salon Mercurio”)

IMG_4832.JPG

IMG_4823.JPGI give this a strong A grade. They were making a few different things based on blue corn including tlacoyos, but I had trouble understanding the options so pointed and got something like a quesadilla with “chicharrones” (in this case meaning pork sausage and chunks of potato) that was delicious– the toasted blue corn really stood out (the cheese was overkill– next time I’d skip it).

IMG_4828.JPG

This was a busy but social stand, with people dropping by, ordering food and eating standing up, all while laughing, chatting, making jokes with each other. A number of people bought one to eat on the spot and then another 2-4 to go for friends or coworkers.

Taqueria El Jarocho (Roma neighborhood, on Tapachula at Manzanillo)

I gave this an A+ in my taco notebook (doesn’t everyone have a ‘taco notebook’?). They primarily serve tacos guisados (filled with stews), with enough filling that they give you  a second tortilla on top of it.

IMG_4798.JPG

I got three of them for M$36 each, but they were big– I could have easily only ordered one or two. The sausage and egg taco was good, but the other two were the stars of the show.

The chuleta y papa special was amazing– hearty chunks of slightly chili-spiced pork with chunks of potato. So good.

And the Mole Verde was an A+, with chunks of tender pork starting to come apart into fibers, potatoes, and a savory green sauce (with I think tomatillos, some ground nuts or seeds, and some flavorful but not very hot chiles).

The salsas were also excellent– the red was tomato-based and not very hot, but the green was a perfect instance of a bright green, very fresh/uncooked-tasting hot salsa– I wonder if it was as simple as pureed fresh jalapenos, onions, and a little oil?

VERY GOOD

Still some of the best tacos or street food I’ve eaten.

La Esquina del Chilaquil (“the corner of chilaquiles”, Condesa / Hipódromo)

This pop-up stand (when I visited, located on the South corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas) sells a remarkable chilaquiles sandwich.

IMG_4916.JPG

But wait, you ask, aren’t chilaquiles already tortillas fried in sauce? They put that in a roll?

Even better– it starts with a soft roll with a crusty outside. Then they line it with a chicken breast pounded very thin, breaded, fried, and folded into a U, fill that with chilaquiles (very soft, tender chips soaked in either red or green sauce), and top it with cheese.

The chicken acts as a barrier between the sauce and the roll, keeping the bread from getting soggy and making this a very portable lunch. All for M$30. I preferred the red version but both were good.

Even before they arrive and set up a stall (around 11AM?) people start lining up down the block in anticipation since it can sell out. We got there just as they were arriving and waited about 40 minutes in line.

img_4906

El Califa (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo, on Alfonso Reyes)

The bistec taco I ordered wasn’t messing around– just a thin, well salted, delicious piece of steak on a tortilla. It didn’t even need any toppings.

I ordered nopales (cactus paddles) and avocado to go with it not realizing I was ordering a plate of each…

IMG_4803 (1).JPG

Tacos Gus (Condesa / Hipódromo)

Tacos Gus had a long bar of more unusual guisados (stews) for tacos, including chile relleno poblano (a chile stuffed with cheese, topped with guacamole and cheese) and huitlacoche (corn fungus) that was very savory and musky. I’ve give these both an ‘A’.

IMG_4548.JPG

GOOD

Tacos La Cazuelas (La Juárez neighborhood)

This was at the intersection of Havre and Londres, roughly here— there were two taco stands adjacent to each other,  but the one I ate at was closest to the corner with Londres.

At 4pm they were almost out of meat, so I got the chorizo, which was excellent– not too fatty, just a nice smoky red sausage.

IMG_4853.JPG

El Tizoncito Tamaulipas (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo)

There are multiple El Tizincito locations within a few blocks of each other, but this specific one was recommended by our B&B host as the best of them. Looking back at my scribbled map and the geotag on some photos I took, I’m pretty sure it’s the one here, on the corner of Tamaulipas and Campeche, with a blue awning, (on the same side of the street and just 1 block west of El Kaliman).

I had a late night snack, with a good al pastor and a michelada (which came with ice, but I took the risk). Overall I’d say good tacos with a good salsa array. I spent M$120 total on dinner including the michelada.

IMG_4481.JPG

El Kaliman (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo)

This is on Campeche at Ensenada, about here, with an orange awning and orange chairs. It was decent– I’d give it a B+ on the pastor (I didn’t think the beef adobado was as good). A nice casual inexpensive place for al pastor… and you can get any of their beers as a michelada.

img_4284

Another unknown-name pop-up street food stand on Av Moliere at Avenida Homero in Polanco (roughly here):

img_4678

There seemed to be a line of regulars waiting for them to set up, so we stopped and got a fried tortilla filled with pork and topped with cheese and a hot fresh green salsa. It was a decent midday snack.

NOT RECOMMENDED

El Farolito (Roma neighborhood on Alfonso Reyes)

At 2:30 pm no customers were inside, and employees were sitting idle, while a nearby taqueria was busy– this seemed like a bad sign so I skipped it.

Tacos Alvero Obrega (Roma)– I had a bad, flavorless al pastor taco and the stand felt dirty (and they weren’t wrapping everything in plastic bags the way they did at most stands).

IMG_4842.JPG

Overall, this was a great trip for tacos and street food…

Still to be posted: Mexico City Food Pt 2 (I wrote up notes a year ago but still need to dig up a few photos for it).

Savory cornmeal pancakes from flint corn, backyard greens

15 Jan

For a savory brunch, we made cornmeal pancakes from some beautiful Floriani red flint corn my sister grew and ground:

img_20170108_091830

img_20170108_100529

I took a ‘Johnnycakes’ approach, which is more like a thin griddled cornbread or polenta, with no baking powder or flour. The general recipe (made 12 hearty pancakes, for 4 adults + 2 kids with toppings):

  • Mix 2 cups of cornmeal, 2 cups boiling water, and 1 tsp salt, stir and cover for 10 minutes, to let the hot water soften the cornmeal
  • Stir in  between 1/2 and 3/4 cup milk, gradually, stopping when it’s a very thick but spreadable batter (when I did this a few months ago and added too much milk, the batter was too runny and I ended up making thin crisp corn wafers).
  • Mix in 1.5 Tbsp olive oil
  • Cook in an oiled skillet on medium-low to medium heat, flipping when golden brown. I found it took about 4 minutes per side.

I made test pancakes with and without egg in the batter, and the one with egg and a bit more liquid made a thinner, smoother, more traditional-looking pancake (on the right)– but while both were delicious we preferred the texture of the eggless, thicker version on the left:

img_20170108_094645

We served them with a buffet of savory toppings– black-and-white orca beans, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, avocado, and a collection of beautiful greens from the back yard ‘winter garden’ (which in Oakland has been just hugging the edge of frost at night)– mizuna, broccoli greens, kale, arugula, daikon greens, and some oregano and thyme, sautéed with caramelized red onions and garlic. The daikon greens have been a surprisingly good addition to many sautés– they give off a puff of mustardy spice when you first start to cook them but then mellow out.

img_20170108_095511

This quick cell phone photo of a plate doesn’t make it look especially appealing, but this was a delicious (and relatively simple) combination I’d make again:

img_2563

Paletas (lime-mezcal-chili and toasted coconut)

7 Jan

Reflecting recently how much I like a good paleta (Mexican popsicles, often made with fresh fruit and a little sweetener), I picked up a few molds and a book for inspiration.

And then for a New Year’s Eve party I made two flavors: toasted coconut and lime-mezcal-chili. The latter used limes, cayenne peppers, and limequats from our back yard (the limequat is the edible kumquat-sized citrus sliced thin and frozen into the paleta below, mostly for appearance):

 

img_20161231_143606_765

These were easy and successful…

Lime-mezcal-chili paleta (makes about 10 regular-size):

  • Infused lime-chili syrup (bring the following to a simmer for 5 minutes and then cool and strain):
    • 2 cups water
    • zest of three medium limes
    • One small 2″ long green cayenne pepper from the garden, including seeds
    • 3/4 cups brown sugar (I was out of white sugar, but would use it next time to keep the color lighter)
  • 3/4 cup lime juice
  • One thin-sliced limequat for every two paletas
  • a pinch of red chili flake (chinese chili) per paleta

I loved the way these turned out– with our Bearss limes the result is quite tart (which is good), and there’s just a hint of pepper heat. The mezcal adds some smokiness and a bit of liquor flavor while still being little enough alcohol that the paleta freezes (I estimate this works out to about 1/6th of a beer’s worth of alcohol per popsicle, so it’s not going to get anyone tipsy).

The red chili flake did tend to all settle to the bottom or float to the top, so if I did this again I might infuse it into the syrup and then strain it out, or try freezing the paletas for an hour to a slushy form and then mixing in the chili flakes, on the theory they’d stay more distributed.

Toasted coconut paleta (makes about 12 regular size):

(I based this on the ‘quick coconut paleta’ recipe in the book above)

  • One can (14oz) coconut milk
  • One can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded coconut, toasted in a 300F oven for just 2-3 minutes until golden brown

These were pretty good– they had an amazingly creamy texture, and I like the toasted coconut. They were sweeter than I  like, so if I did it again I’d put in significantly less sugar (maybe half as much condensed milk, and more coconut milk) and buy or make coarser shredded coconut (and use less of it) for some more variation in texture.

 

New Year’s Day chilaquiles and carnitas

2 Jan

The best part of having leftover pulled pork and salsa from New Year’s Eve dinner?

New Year’s Day carnitas chilaquiles (tortilla chips soaked in tomatillo salsa, topped with fatty pulled pork that’s been crisped under the broiler and mixed with a little orange juice, and a fried egg):

img_20170101_143605

 

 

 

 

BBQ pork tacos with smoked salsas

1 Jan

For a small New Year’s Eve party, a meal cooked primarily in the smoker (tacos with pulled pork, homemade tortillas, and salsas made from smoked tomatillos and pineapples):

img_20161230_153839img_20161231_200607

23-hour slow-smoked pork shoulder:

  • A roughly 7lb chunk of pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt) from Niman Ranch
  • Dry rubbed with copious amounts of salt and mustard, smoked paprika, and black pepper and let rest in the fridge for 4-5 hours
  • Smoked very low-and-slow at 215-225F for 23 hours over lump charcoal with some fist-sized chunks of apple and pecan wood for smoke, until the internal temperature was in the 195-200 range (for overnight smokes I have a ‘baby monitor’-style wireless temperature probe I rest on the bedside so an alarm will ring and wake me up if the pit temperature gets too high or low and I can adjust the airflow or add fuel)
  • No intermediate basting, mopping, foiling, etc– just keeping it simple
  • Wrapped in foil and let rest for 45 minutes
  • It was so tender I could pull off strands by hand, and with a nice ‘bark’ and smoke ring…

img_20161231_134805It didn’t even need any sauce– I just squeezed a few limes over it.

Smoked tomatillo salsa, a puree of both smoked and raw ingredients:

  • 8 large tomatillos, smoked/roasted at about 225F for two hours
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 whole jalapeno
  • 1/4 of a large white onion
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • Salt and minced cilantro to taste

I’ve tried a few ways of using smoked tomatillos and this is the highlight for me– I’ve even frozen excess in ice cube trays to save for later:

IMG_20161217_102407.jpg

Smoked pineapple salsa:

My friend judit turned me on to how well smoking treats pineapple– the low slow cook caramelizes it, and this sweetness helps balance the woody smoke.

I started by slicing two pineapples into discs and smoking / roasting them at 225F for two hours (at the same time as the tomatillos and pork– in the initial, smokier two hours). I pureed:

  • One of the pineapples
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic
  • juice of 1 lime

And then added for texture/contrast:

  • The other pineapple, somewhat coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

The meal turned out really well, if I may say so myself.

Plus, we had a lot of tomatillo salsa and pulled pork left over the next day for breakfast…

Umeshu-inspired Pluot Liqueur

20 Nov

This one’s a success– a slightly sweet, tart, fragrant liqueur made from unripe green pluots (in the vein of umeshu) that stimulates the taste buds. Good on the rocks or mixed with a bit of soda water:

IMG_4033.JPG

This wasn’t where I’d started– instead, this summer I was thinking about how I loved the flavor of Japanese pickled plums* (umeboshi). While I didn’t have a line on green ume plums in the Bay Area, Hannah had a tree covered in green pluots in her backyard– perhaps those could be used similarly? And once I decided to pickle some pluots, why not also try to make a pluot liqueur along the lines of umeshu?

 

I started from a few magazine articles and blog posts, including Umamimart’s past posts about making umeboshi and umeshu, but unfortunately, the salted pluots didn’t turn out well (too salty, not enough flavor– the much-larger-than-ume pluots may have drastically changed how the salt worked its way into the fruit)… while the umeshu side project was a surprise hit.

Starting off, the right three jars combine green pluots, sugar, and vodka, trying out ratios of 50% of the pluot weight in sugar, 25%, and 10% (50% is more traditional, but I like things on the less sweet side).

img_6661

After just a few days– the pluots were changing color, and to my surprise, appearing to naturally ferment (based on the smell and the bubbling), even when submerged in alcohol. (The left jars are the less successful pluot umeboshi with red shiso leaf.)

img_6791-1

A month or two later, the liquid around the pluots continued to deepen in color, though the vodka taste was still a bit harsh:

img_7819

Everything I read suggested you want to wait at least 6 months (and even better, a year) for the flavors to mellow and meld. Five months later I couldn’t resist giving the 25%-sugar-ratio one a try, and all the harshness was gone– it was balanced, delicious, even a bit floral. I’ll stow away some bottles to age for the next 6-18 months, and look forward to drinking it over ice next summer when the weather turns warm again…

 

IMG_4063.JPG

* I realize that Japanese ume are not technically plums, but are a distinct fruit in the Prunus genus, along with plums and apricots