Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hotel Fornos Mexico City

Hotel Fornos front entrance. Photo from hotel website

The Hotel Fornos is on Calle Revillagigedo, near Calle Márquez Sterling, a long block north of Arcos de Belén, in the non-historic part of Mexico City Centro. It's not very far from the Ciudadela and the Hotel Pal, where we had stayed several times. It's also close to the foodie mecca of Mercado San Juan and surroundings. Metro and MetroBus: Balderas.

From its website, it looks quite nice, with a touch of elegance, even, and the prices are very reasonable.

We stayed at the Hotel Fornos recently. The hotel seems very well maintained and has some aesthetic styling, particularly in the retro-Thirties lobby. ("Retro" may be the wrong word, as the lobby and main part of the hotel dates from the Thirties.)

Hotel Fornos lobby: scene for a '30s musical

Although we had phoned in a reservation for a King room, at $340 pesos; when we arrived, I noticed that a king jacuzzi room was available for $540 pesos. I went up to the third floor at the back of the hotel, looked it over and liked what I saw.

The view from the bedroom window was a scene of Industrial Chic.

I LIKED this view!
The room was ample, with the basic bathroom on one side of the foyer and a space set aside for a capacious jacuzzi tub on the other. There was a simple but more than adequate closet, with, of all things, many wire hangers. There were two pairs of plastic flip flops sealed in plastic bags. But those were not very useful.
There was a long dressing table with mirror, but no drawers! The lack of drawers was not a problem for a short stay, but would be inconvenient for longer stays.

The jacuzzi was warm and soothing. The bathroom proper was of the old style 3 in one type. Be sure to put the toilet roll aside before you shower.

A wooden sliding door separated the entrance/bathing area from the bedroom. The bedroom looked out over the buildings next door. Ventilation was adequate, but there was no fan.

The whole place was sparkling clean.

We would have had a restful night were it not for some noisy other guests, who carried on loud conversations into the early morning hours. No blame to the hotel.

We had requested a wake up call, but it never came. Luckily, I awakened naturally, in plenty of time to pack and get the taxi* to the airport. It was before dawn, and I noted that the street was well lighted in the vicinity of the hotel.

*Taximex provided swift, efficient service and the fare to the airport was just over $100 pesos.

I conclude that the Hotel Fornos is an agreeable place to stay, but mostly useful to me if I were wanting to do a lot of shopping at the Mercado San Juan area, only a few blocks away. For most of our visits to Mexico City, we'll stay at the Hotel Embassy. The neighborhood there is of greater interest to me. (Mainly a more attractive environment, and many more restaurants close by.)

Hotel Fornos
Calle Revillagigedo 92
Colonia Centro,
México, D.F.
Tel: (55) 55104732

View Larger Map

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

KIng of the Roadhouses

No photos: can you bear it? One exception, below.

Restaurante El Camino Real, on the outskirts of Pátzcuaro near Tzurumutaro has long been a favorite wayside rest. Its menu makes few if any concessions to modern Mexican culinary trends. In other words, you won't find Carpaccio de Calabacitas or Atún Sellado on the menu. No, the carta runs more towards traditional Michoacán and Mexican favorites. Two things drawing a large and loyal clientele are the generous portions and speedy service. Fast service is a must, as on weekends and holidays, the place is packed, and lines form out the door of customers waiting to be seated.

I last reviewed El Camino Real more than six years ago, focusing on comida, but last Sunday, came time to review an almuerzo, or hearty breakfast. We were joined by KimG, "El Gringo Suelto", who was wrapping up a month plus drive around Mexico.

I am not going to relate our conversation, but I will describe what we ate.

We all ordered excellent hot chocolate de metate caliente; KG had huevos revueltos con nopales, cebolla y chile verde; Sra. Cuevas had huevos estrellados  (sunny side up!) con tocino (bacon); and I had Huevos Camino Real, a minor variant on Huevos Albañil. The Camino Real version was a bowl of sprightly, chile-inflected tomato sauce, with perfectly cooked golden curds of scrambled egg.

There were baskets of attractive pan dulce y pan salado teleras in the style of Panadería La Espiga, but a lighter bake on the latter. There was a decent salsa roja on the table and a salsa verde  was brought on request.

Further along in the meal, I saw good looking, steaming uchepos (sweet fresh corn tamales) being brought to nearby tables, so I ordered some to share. They were very good, light and not too sweet. The hot, custardy sweet young corn was wrapped in fresh, green corn husks. They were accompanied by separate dishes of crema and queso fresco. I ate my share in the tomato-chile salsa remaining from the Huevos Camino Real.

This breakfast revived my appreciation of El Camino Real, as my other recent breakfasts there, with the Men's Breakfast Group, had been less lustrous.

I would have liked to have taken photos, but hadn't brought the camera, and besides, the table was so crowded with dishes that photography would have been very challenging.


Food: ****

Service: *****

Cost: (I don't really know, as Kim picked up the check. (THANKS!) but historically, El Camino Real has been an economical place to eat. Let's say, under $100 pesos per person, and probably less.

Rest Rooms: I didn't use the rest room on this visit, but they have always been dark, semi functional but basically clean.

Tip: arrive before 2 on weekends if you don't want to wait.

Pátzcuaro - Morelia Highway, Route 14, between the junction of the lower end of Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas (2nd class bus stop, Federal Police substation, and the Tzurumutaro entronque, (junction) where Fed highway 120 goes north towards Tzintzuntzan and Quiroga. The restaurant is on the same lot as a Pemex gas station and a newer Oxxo.

View Larger Map

 Here's an older picture of the building. It has hardly changed over the years since we started going there.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Beating The Strudel

Another day, another strudel
It was the big oak butcher block table in our friends Mark and Nancy's kitchen that called me to make strudel there. You should know that the classic strudel dough needs a large work surface, covered with a cloth, to allow the dough to be stretched to transparent thinness. The first time I saw that table, I knew I had to make strudel on it.

Nancy slams the strudel dough
Well, that, at least is the theory. Sometimes things don't work out as we might hope. I'd made strudel before, with considerable success. You can see that demonstrated in this slide show of photos from 2007.


This time, however, I chose a dough recipe that I hadn't used before. It was from Jennie Grossinger's The Art of Jewish Cooking. The fatal flaw was that either the recipe didn't call for sufficient water, or the local flour (Guadalupana OPTIMA— EDIT: Now I'm pretty sure we used Sello Rojo Tradicional. No additives.) was lower in moisture. The bottom line was that the first dough Nancy and I made was so tough and dry that we could hardly extend it. Rather than waste it, I decided to use it to wrap a savory Cabbage-Potato-Sauerkraut and Bacon filling. Recipe below.*

First try: tough dough (A challenge in English pronunciation as well!)
The end result was delicious, even if the crust was somewhat hard in places.

Savory Cabbage, etc Strudel

For the Apple Strudel, we adjusted the amount of water and oil in the dough upward, and the results were somewhat better, although still considerably short of ideal. But the delicious and abundant apple, raisin and walnut filling pleased our guests.

Apple Strudel
Here are three different strudel dough recipes, transcribed. Keep in mind that the first was the unsuccessful one in our trials.

This is the one we first used, from Jennie Grossinger's Art of Jewish Cooking.

Flour 3 cups sifted
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3 tbsp salad oil
1/4 cup lukewarm water.
(Note the sifted instruction, which we didn't do.)

This next is from Ratner's World Famous Meatless Cookbook.

water, lukewarm 1 cup
eggwhites (about 2) 1/3 cup
oil 1/3 cup
sugar 1/4 cup (the only one to put sugar in the dough.)
salt 1 teaspoon
flour 4 1/2 to 5 cups all purpose flour

Finally (although I do have more recipes for strudel dough), from The Art of Fine Baking, by Paula Peck.

flour 1 1/2 cups
salt 1/4 tsp
lemon juice 1 tbsp
egg whites 2
peanut oil 4 tbsps
water 1/4 to 1/2 cup

Almost all classic strudel dough recipes call for incorporating the ingredients, kneading and often, beating the dough piece down on the work table up to 100 times. This develops the gluten.

There follows a rest of up to two hours, to let the dough relax so it becomes finely extensible.

The stretching starts by simply rolling the dough to a manageable diameter. Then the baker or bakers, using the backs of their hands lift and gently stretch the dough, gradually working around the table, until the dough becomes gossamer thin. Patience is necessary and it's best to proceed slowly and gently.

Any small tears in the dough sheet are negligible because they will be covered when the whole pastry is rolled up.

The dough sheet is brushed with melted butter or oil, sprinkled with finely ground bread or cake crumbs, then chopped nuts when appropriate.

The filling is placed in a ridge along the near side of the dough sheet, leaving several inches uncovered to begin the rolling up.

When the strudel is large, the easiest way to roll it up is by lifting the sheet or table cloth. Help may be needed to deposit the rolled strudel into a parchment lined pan. (Of course, the oven is preheated to 375º F.)

Yet another butter or oil baste is made over the strudel surface and it's placed in the oven. Ours took about 30-35 minutes to achieve a well browned color.

For sweet strudels, you may apply another butter baste plus a sprinkling of granulated sugar in the last 5-10 minutes.

Despite problems with the dough, we consider this a successful and fun collaboration.

*Here's the original Croatian Savory Cabbage Filling:
2  1/2  pounds  cabbage,  cored  and  shredded 1  sliced  medium  onion
1  tablespoon  salt 1/4  cup  oil,  butter,  lard  or  bacon  grease 1/2  pound  diced  bacon  (optional) 1  1/2  teaspoons  sugar
Salt  and  pepper  to  taste 1/2  package  filo  dough,  thawed Additional  oil,  butter  or  lard  for  the  filo  dough Plain  yogurt  or  sour  cream  for  garnish  (optional)

  1. 1. Place  the  shredded  cabbage  and  sliced  onion  in  a  large  nonmetallic  bowl  and  sprinkle  with  1  tablespoon  salt.  Mix and  let  sit  for  2  hours.  Drain  and  squeeze  out  as  much  moisture  as  possible.  
  2. 2. If  using  oil,  butter  or  lard,  heat  in  a  large  skillet  over  medium  heat.  Add  cabbage  and  sugar  and  sauté  until tender.  Season  with  salt  and  pepper.  If  using  bacon,  fry  it  in  a  large  skillet  until  crisp.  Remove  bacon  and reserve,  and  sauté the  cabbage  and  sugar  in  the  bacon  fat,  adding  more  oil  or  lard,  if  necessary.  When  cabbage is  tender,  mix  in  the  reserved bacon and season to  taste.  
  3. <SNIP!>
  4. Note that I added about 1 1/2 cups of well drained and squeezed sauerkraut, 4 medium potatoes, boiled, skinned and cubed, plus some dill weed. —DC
This  page  has  been  optimized  for  print.  To  view  this  page  in  its  original  form,  please  visit:­strudel.htm 

Mark had set up a digital camera aimed at the work table and had set it to take one frame a second for an hour. The results are entertaining, to say the least. Here's a portion of the resulting time lapse video. We may look frantic or angry, but not really.

The moral is: Sometimes you beat the strudel and sometimes it beats you.

Video by Mark Emmer. Used by permission.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pizza at the Posada Mandala Pátzcuaro

The sign of good pizza
It may seem incredible, but except for our first visit to Pátzcuaro, in January, 1991, we had never eaten pizza in a Pátzcuaro restaurant. That was, for the record, at Las Once Pizzas, and it was so long ago, 23 years, that I don't remember anything about it.

Recently we'd been reading recommendations for the pizzas at Posada Mandala, a budget travelers' guest house. The latest recommendation came from our very critical friend, Ron, who approved of the pizzas at Mandala. This approbation, coming from Ron, determined that we go eat there. We met him there yesterday and had a pleasant meal.

Posada Mandala entry hall
The atmosphere of the small dining room is cozy and casual, decorated with posters and curios. It's very informal and unpretentious. Guests exchanged comments and greetings across tables.

Posada Mandala dining room
Soon after we arrived, Sr. Enrique, the affable manager and host greeted us and we chatted in English and mostly Spanish on this and that.

Sra. Cuevas and I were extra hungry, so we ordered the house "Salades Niçoise", (two sizes, small at $25 pesos, large at $40 pesos) which were nice composition of greens, mushroom slices, tomatoes, apple slices, and sliced black olives. There was some crumbled, mild goat cheese and a scattering of sunflower seeds. The name is a misnomer, for they bear almost no resemblance to a traditional Salade Niçoise. Nevertheless, they were passably decent salads. I wasn't so fond of the undistinguished, milky white dressing. I would would have preferred a simple olive oil and wine vinegar to this odd emulsion.

Ensalada "Niçoise" chica
The pizzas listed on the menu, at $70 for a small and $120 a large, are fifteen in number. You can invent your own combination at $10 pesos per additional ingredient.

Mandala's MenuPizzas artesanales preparadas con nuestra salsa especial y dos quesos.
Grande (40 cms.)  $110.-         Chica (25 cms.)  $65.-               Inventa tus combinaciones.          Cada ingrediente adicional ………$-10.-1.-   Italiana: pepperoni2.-   Salami con champiñones3.-   Vegetariana: aceitunas negras, pimiento morrón, champiñones…  4.-   Margarita: queso de cabra, jitomate, orégano…  5.-   Hawaiana: jamón, piña…  6.-  Criolla: tocino, champiñón, cebolla…  7.-   Mexicana: chorizo, jalapeños cebolla…  8.-   Intensa: ajo con champiñones…  9.-   Mandala: anchoas, jitomate, aceitunas negras… …………………………………………………………………………..Grande……. $ 120.- Chica……. $ 70.- ingrediente adicional $-10.-10.- Cuatro quesos (Azul, Cabra, Parmesano y Chihuahua)   11.- Pizzalambre: Carne asada, pimiento, cebolla…12.- Caprichosa: camarón, tocino, jitomate…13.- Tentadora: Pulpo a la gallega (aceite de oliva, paprika…) 14.- Seductora: Pulpo con camarón, espinaca, toquecito de chipotle…15.- Marinera: camarón, ostión ahumado, espinaca, un toquecito de chipotle…LAS PASTAS (todas las pastas llevan queso parmesano)Spaghetti Bolognesa …………………$- 90.-Spaghetti al pesto  ó  al bosque (salsa de champiñones)  ……………….. $- 60.-Spaghetti pomodoro (salsa de pizza)  ó  al burro ( mantequilla)………... $- 50.-Ensalada nicoise estilo Mandala  grande $- 40.-  chica $- 25.-(Lechuga, jitomate, manzana, semilla de girasol, aceitunas negras, queso de cabra…) Salsas y aderezo de la casa  250 grs. $- 40.-
BEBIDASCERVEZA NEGRA MODELO $  20.- REFRESCO DE LATA $15.-CERVEZA MODELO ESPECIAL $  20.- (coca cola, manzana, naranja, lima limón)CORONA, VICTORIA $  18.- AGUA MINERAL EN VASO $ 15.-MICHELADA $  25.- NARANJADA O LIMONADA $ 20.-TEQUILA TRADICIONAL $  40.- (con agua natural o mineral)MEZCAL DE OPONGUIO $  30.- Jarra (1.6 Lts.) $ 70.-MEZCAL DE GUERRERO $  35.-COPA DE VINO CHILENO $  40.-BOTELLA $160-SANGRÍA VASO $  25.-  JARRA (1.6 Lts.) $  90.-VINO DE LA CASA (Jarra 1 Lt). $ 140.-COPA VINO DE LA CASA $  30.-

Ron requested a Pizza "Mandala" grande, that has anchovies, tomato and black olive, but with double anchovies. We decided to get a Pizza "Criolla", with fresh mushrooms, bacon and onion.

Waiting time didn't seem very long. The pizzas were very well made and a pleasure to the eyes as well as the palate.

Pizza "Mandala" Grande
Pizza Criolla Grande
The crusts are thin, crisp and cracker like; baked to a pale tan, without any char. The toppings are arranged with care. The sauce is good and balanced except for a notable strength of garlic (we liked that). Best of all, it isn't sweet. There's catsup available for those customers who can't eat pizza without it. More interesting condiments than the catsup and ubiquitous Jugo Maggi sazonador are the clay dishes of oil based salsas caseras,  one of red chile with peanut pieces, the other blackened, with sesame seeds. Either one should be applied with caution.

Salsas caseras Pizzas Mandala
I won't compare the pizzas that we had with recent others elsewhere. I have, as I said, near zero pizza eating history in Pátzcuaro. In the end, Pizzas Mandala is a good place for a well made pizza. I would recommend it to friends and visitors. 

Pizza dreams, brought to you in GooeyVision

Food:  ***1/2

Service: **** Unobtrusive, quiet and friendly

Ambience: Casual, informal, relaxed

Price: $1/2-$$ Nuestra cuenta

Rest rooms: One, up stairs, small but adequate.

Free wi-fi, and it works well!

Location: Calle Lerín #14, Centro, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán

Hours: Open Thursday to Sunday, from one in the afternoon.

Tel:  (434) 342 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Hotel Posada El Nito Oaxaca

We stayed in the Hotel Posada El Nito, Oaxaca Centro from January 6 until January 17, 2014. We enjoyed almost everything about it. We took Room #10, right off the attractive patio. That room is the largest in the hotel, with two camas matrimoniales. We looked also at a couple of smaller rooms toward the back, but they tended to be very small, and with only a single cama matrimonial.

Room # 10 is well supplied with furniture and an ample closet for one's things. Rebeca, the affable manager, had a third bed removed and a patio table and a pair of chairs put in their place. There was plenty of space leftover. The room was equipped with an air conditioner and a floor fan, neither of which did we use, except that the fan was useful to hang towels and swim suits.

Room # 10 has no window, but there is a curtain for the door which can be deployed in daytime if you wish to ventilate the room.

The beds are unusually comfortable and we slept well, most of the time*. There was a two shelf unit in one corner, where we stored our toilet articles and recharged or Internet devices, as well as a couple of night tables flanking the beds. A double outlet was located between the beds.

*There is a cantina next door that revs up the decibels in the evening, but especially on weekend nights. We sometimes used earplugs but in general, accustomed ourselves to a dull roar and were scarcely bothered.

There is also sometimes an odor of frying fish from the nearby seafood restaurants, wafting into the patio, but it was no problem for us.

The attractive and spacious patio was where we would do Internet stuff, snack, and smoke the occasional cigar.

El Nito patio-aft

El Nito patio-forward
The bathroom in room # 10 is small but adequate. Hot water was plentiful in the mornings but sometimes scarce at late afternoon. We were well supplied with bath accessories. Towels were a bit tatty but acceptable.

Note that the hotel does not provide purified water, but there are many stores close by where you can buy water and other items. The room was kept very clean.
The wifi is very effective in the patio and reception areas, but the signal strength diminished within our room.

The location is excellent, with easy walking to the Zócalo, the mercados of Centro, and some attractive restaurants as well as street food, some of high quality. (At the corner of Calle Armenta y López and Calle Rayón is a juice bar, "La Huerta", making delicious fruit juice combinations and simple sandwiches, The coffee is decent, too. ("Halt! Jugos There")

Weekday afternoons at the corner of Calle A&L at Calle Colón is a pair of indigenous women selling excellent tamales at fair prices.

Restaurante La Flor de Oaxaca is 1 1/2 blocks away. Conchita's is a block to the east, with tasty, bargain breakfasts. El Pozolito, a block to the west, has good pozole at low prices. The excellent Mariscos La Red is 1 1/2 blocks west, on Calle Colón/Las Casas, at the corner of Calle Bustamante. ("Seeing Red")

No description of Hotel Posada El Nito is complete without praise to Sra. Rebeca Martha López and her staff. Rebeca is a wonderful, friendly person with a lively, outgoing personality.
We would stay there again with great pleasure.


Comfort: ****

Cleanliness: *****

Price: Our room was $550 pesos a night.That was for an extended stay and in a shoulder season. We paid for five nights stay in advance through a deposit to the hotel's account. After the fifth night, we paid in cash, daily. The hotel does not accept credit cards.

Annoyances: 1. A noisy cantina next door. (Take a room towards the back if that bothers you.)

2. The noise of the sun roof over the patio being opened at about 7:30 a.m.

El Nito patio sun roof.

Armenta y López 416
Centro Histórico, C.P. 68000
Oaxaca, Mexico
Tel: +52 (951) 514-66-68

View Armenta y López 416 in a larger map

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Asador Irving's Oaxaca: For Your Inner Caveman

This post is not Vegetarian Friendly. Perhaps you were looking for this?

Happy Cow: NOT!
La Cueva del Humo, Mercado 20 de Noviembre, Oaxaca
There are two principal mercados in Oaxaca Centro. They are separated by a single, east-west street. The northerly of the two is the Mercado Benito Júarez, devoted mainly to non food items, but of course, there is more than a little food available.

The southerly of the two is the Mercado 20 de noviembre. The interior is packed with fondas, panaderías, dulces and aguas frescas as well as vegetables, fruits, meats, and more. Keep in mind that, as impressive as this is to a foodie, it is far surpassed in scope by the Mercado Central de Abastos, on the southwest edge of the central city.

A main entrance, amidships in the building, is the entrance to "La Cueva del Humo", more prosaically known as "El Pasillos de las carnes asadas".

I made a scouting trip at 7:30 in the morning. There wasn't much to see. One charcoal grill was being fired up, and I was invited to have a seat and breakfast, but I wasn't ready.

La Cueva del Humo, 7:30 a.m.
On the east side of the Mercado 20 noviembre, a door leads into what I call "La Cueva del Humo", a high ceilinged corridor, its ceiling pierced by ventilators; sides lined with charcoal grills, flanked by displays of tempting slabs of cured pork and beef, chorizos, and less tempting ropes of dried tripes. It looks like a corridor of carnicerías, but they're really places to indulge your most primal caveman carnivore instincts.

Various cured meats; cecina, tasajo, chorizos
Tripas on the left. Tasajo, cecina We did not try tripas.
There are several asadores from which to choose. I chose Asador "Irving's", mostly for the seemingly incongruous name, plus its tables were packed with enthusiastic customers. (There is a well known Irving's Deli, in Livingston, NJ, but this, of course, is no relation.)

The menu is posted on the wall.

The meats, as you see, are sold by weight. After we crammed our plump bodies onto a bench and into the table, we joined several Mexican families already there. A young man in a baseball cap took our order. We decided on a medio kilo of carnes surtidas. Tortillas were billed separately, as were avocado and grilled vegetables (cebollitas—a must!—, nopales, could have had grilled chiles de agua, but we passed. We got a couple of good but not especially picante salsas, and I don't recall what we drank. Probably refrescos.

Cebollitas asadas are a must
The food arrived quickly, and despite the cramped setting, we dug in. It was inelegant dining at its best, which touched deeply to or primal caveman instincts. Here, cecina is salt cured pork, cut into sheets, with our without an adobo rub. Tasajo is Oaxacan beef cut into sheets and mildly salt cured. Chorizo Oaxaqueño are especially delicious local variations of spicy sausages. In Oaxaca, they are made in ropes of little globes. They all were surprisingly tender, and surpassingly savory.

Carnes asadas surtidas, inelegantly served but eaten with gusto. 
We had no difficulty in eating all of our half kilo of charcoal grilled meats and vegetables. I didn't make a record of the bill, but it was somewhere around $115 pesos.

After, on our way into the main mercado area, we passed the garde manger (seriously, the cold foods and salads prep) area, which, if I understand it correctly, serves all the asadores in La Cueva.

How are things in Guacamole?

Food: ****

Service: ****

Price: $ 1/2 BARGAIN!

Ambience: Uncomfortable, but worth the discomforts. At the same time, it's fun, if you are not the stuffy sort.

Hygiene: seemed fine to us. Bring hand sanitizer for cleaning hands before and after eating. This is a hands on experience.

Keywords: "Aisle be cecina you always."

Location: Calle Miguel Cabrera, south of corner of Calle Aldama.

View Larger Map
Chapulines (seasoned grasshopper snacks) for sale, as everywhere, at the entrance.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mexita Oaxaca: La ricerca della perfezione

Eat slowly and thoughtfully
It used be called "home made". Later, it became "made in house". I use the word "craft" or "artisanal" to describe the foods of a small, Neapolitan restaurant in an off center Oaxaca neighborhood.

Restaurante Mexita, is a word derived from "México Italia". From what I understand, it was first established in the suburb of San Felipe del Agua. Chef Enrico de Rosa is from Napoli, Italia, and he brings from there skills not often seen in Italian restaurants in Mexico. His wife, whom we did not meet, is a Oaxaqueña.

I had read glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. At that time Restaurante Mexita was in Number One place among Oaxaca restaurants, according to TA members. (It actually still is. TA lists a seafood place in Huatulco, for godssake, as Number One.)

Sra. Cuevas and I went one evening, to have a wood oven pizza and a salad. We also had a bottle of Italian Merlot.

(This meal was immediately after the Fickle Finger of Fate taxi scam incident, so our mood was not at its best. But the wine and a nice meal helped a lot to dispel the dark cloud over us.)

The restaurant has several dining areas. We sat in a semi-outdoors section with a good view of the wood burning oven. The atmosphere is casual and romantic.

Chef Enrico visited our table to tell us that he makes the vino della casa, fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, all the pasta, and huge loaves of pane contadino. I may have missed something. We were offered tastes of the wine, the cheeses and the bread. I didn't care much for the wine, finding it rough and rustic, but the cheeses were very good and notable for their freshness.

We looked over the dazzling menu and decided to have an Insalata di Arugula e Pere. We chose the medium size, more than enough for two to share. It was perfect; sharp tastes of the greens offset with the sweet, ripe pear slices, a light touch of balsamic vinaigrette, and shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano (I believe) completed a perfect whole.

We wanted a pizza that would demonstrate the chef's skill, so we avoided the more complicated varieties. On the other hand, a simple cheese or pizza Margherita might have been too spartan. So, with the advice of Chef Enrico, we chose a Pizza Marina con Alici. Alici, he explained, are fresh (flash frozen), unsalted anchovies. (Who would expect to find such a product in Oaxaca?)

We watched him prepare the pizza in swift, deft movements. The actual cooking time is about 60 seconds, perhaps 90 seconds for a larger, more heavily laden pizza.

Pizza Marina e alici
It was a beautiful, artfully made, modest sized pizza. It didn't come cheaply, at $190 pesos. The crust was well charred, but flexible, and when Chef Enrico asked us how I liked it, I told him that we enjoyed it, although I do prefer a crisper crust. He explained, that that was made in the traditional Neapolitan manner, but that if I preferred it crisper, on my next visit I should ask for that and he would accommodate me—up to a point.)

For dessert, I had a perfectly made panna cotta, soft and quivering, the best I've ever had. The espresso was very good, also.

We were attended by a Oaxacan waitress, and occasionally Chef Enrico would come by and explain the provenance, tradition, and other lore of his cuisine, He was amply supported in this task by his justifiably proud father, who works as a host and bartender,  who would check up on our well being and delight at several intervals. (The mamá also works there, but she did not visit our table.) This flow of information was all well and good, up to a point, but eventually became somewhat tiresome.

I wanted to return sometime to Mexita during the remainder of our stay, but we never did. Although I would have been pleased to try some serious platos fuertes, we were somewhat discouraged by the thought of having to undergo the educational program all over again. Then there is the price. This does not come cheaply. Our meal of pizza, salad for two and a bottle of wine cost $687 pesos, including a suggested tip of 10%.

To sum up; Mexita is a very good restaurant, with highly admirable chef skills and artisanal products. But diners should be prepared for the ongoing interaction with the proud chef and his father.

I would return to eat at Mexita when we again visit Oaxaca.

RATINGS (based on a single meal of pizza and salad and dessert!)

Food: ****+

Service: ***** Almost too attentive.

Price: $$$-$ La Cuenta

Ambience: Rustic casual and romantic

Restrooms: spotless and in good working order

Keywords: "Perfection comes with a price"

Closed Mondays.
 Open from 2:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Mártires de Tacubaya #314. Col. Centro Oaxaca, Oax.

Tel: 52 951 520 2180

Accepts credit cards

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Zandunga Oaxaca: Beware of the Blob

Against the better counsel of "B", our expat amiga in Oaxaca, Sra. Cuevas and I lunched at Zandunga, a restaurant the is billed as "Comida Istmena". (Food of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.)  She said, among other things, that the food is heavy. (Well, we are well acquainted with heavy Michoacán fare.)

The new location is next door to La Biznaga. It's a dazzling, contemporary styled space, with a long list of mezcales inscribed on the tall, white wall.

We liked the ambience, we liked the genial servers, but the food failed to meet some basic expectations. Zandunga seems more of a hip mezcal bar with a relatively short food menu.

Food menu-there's more but not shown here
I was given a couple of generous samples of mezcal to assist me in choosing which I would drink. I decided to have the Espadín Destilado en Olla de Barro, for its smoothness on the palate.

Mezcal tasting
We were brought a plate of complimentary botanas.

The brown, ground stuff is fish. Surprisingly good!
Sra. Cuevas' first course was a Molito de Camaron, an intensely flavored dried shrimp soup. We liked it. The orange colored rice was reminiscent of a curry.

Molito de Camaron
I had a Sopa de Frijol, which unfortunately was too salty.

Sopa de Frijol
I was able to redeem it to a large degree by adding a bit of a hot-sweet-sour chile and onion pickle.

The platos fuertes were a mixed success and a failure.

I ordered Cochito Horneado, interested in comparing it with a dish I'd recently made myself. This oven baked pork dish was good in a homey way, but nothing extraordinary.

Cochito and Mashed Potatoes with Vegetables

Doña Cuevas did not fare well with her Estofado de Res con Frutas. I was dismayed by the appearance and texture of the stuff on her plate. (I would have sent it back, but she is more accepting than I.)

It was a flattened blob of brown pulp, like a reheated leftover, as from our freezer, of last month's stew. This is the sort of thing we might possibly eat at home, but for a restaurant to offer it is unacceptable.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

La Biznaga Oaxaca: Beautiful Food and Full Flavors.

La Biznaga
We had long avoided dining at La Biznaga because of its reputation for eccentricity, inconsistency and service issues. But, an expat friend convinced us to give it a try. Sra. Cuevas, our friend and I were pleased with everything we had. There was only one, minor service issue. Overall, La Biznaga exceeded our expectations.

I can sum up La Biznaga in a couple of phrases: Beautiful Food and Full Flavors.

La Biznaga Salsa Macha

Above photo, the house Salsa Macha, an intense but flavorful composition of fried peanuts, chiles, garlic and sesame seeds. I have had a similar salsa at a menudería in Pátzcuaro, but the one at La Biznaga is particularly well balanced.

The food was beautifully presented, generously portioned as well as delicious. We stayed pretty much with the more economical Deli menus.
We deliberately ordered a meal that was almost "Todos hongos" (all fungi.).

Of course, we liked some dishes more than others, but everything was pleasing.

The outstanding items were the Tostadas de Marlin Ahumado, (smoked marlin tostadas) a favorite appetizer of ours elsewhere, but at La Biznaga made lighter with al diente morsels of corn kernels yet still flavorful, and garnished with berros (watercress).

Tostadas de Marlin Ahumado
Also notable were the Tostadas de Ceviche de Hongos, (wild mushrooms in a lime juice marinade) a perfectly made, light, citrus tangy dish. I will say that the hongos seemed more like cultivated champiñones, but that did not deter us from eating every crisp morsel.

Tostadas de Ceviche de Hongos
I was less fond of the Quesadilla de Huitlacoche (black corn smut) and the Quesadilla de Champiñones a la Hierba Santa. Not bad, understand, just not as resonant as the two tostada appetizers we'd shared.

Quesadillas de Huitlacoche
After the appetizers, two of us moved on to soups. Our expat friend ordered Sopa del Establo, (Crema de Roquefort al Chipotle con Pistaches y Pepitas.) This soup was a tour de force. Every ingredient was in perfect balance and the dish was a treat for the eyes as well.

Sopa del Establo

I had Menudo de Setas (another mushroom dish!), an intense, dark, chile infused broth generously loaded with wild mushrooms. Very good, but too intense for me to finish the picante broth.

Menudo de Setas

After a pause, we wanted to look over the desserts and coffee, but our waiter was absent. Instead, a less well informed busboy came to our table, and when we asked for a dessert menu, he told us that there was none. That is literally true, but there is a list of desserts in the main printed menu! This struck me as unhelpful and uncooperative, but our friend, fluent in Spanish, persuaded him to release the menus for our inspection.

We decided on two desserts for the three of us, "Oscuridad" ("blackout"?), a chocolate truffle cake and "Susto" (a "fright"), a coconut flan. Unfortunately, the last was not available, so we ordered two Oscuridades. It was a very good chocolate dessert, although the cake base was somewhat coarsely textured, the overall effect was good and we had no trouble finishing it.

We'd also had had three cervezas (there is a wonderful, extensive cerveza list, as well as mezcales), and finished with excellent coffee served in warm earth tone cups. Our bill came in at $642 pesos Mexicanos (about $48.50 U.S.), so average per person was $214, or roughly $16.25 U.S. A remarkable price for such quality.

Of course, if we had ordered platos fuertes (main dishes), the total would have been considerably more. I gave a menu photo a once over look, and the most expensive item I found is "Zicatela", a shrimp dish, at $243 pesos.

The decor is attractive and creative, leaning toward the pleasantly quirky and folk arty (as is the food!). La Biznaga is a delight to the eyes as well as the palate. If they would only lower the volume of the music a little. (But they won't.)


Food: ****+

Service: ***+

Price: $$-$$$ 

Ambience: Casual, patio dining with light folk art.

Key words: "We do it our way."

Location: Calle de Manuel García Vigil 512, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca 

01 951 516 1800 ‎ ·