Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year's End Restaurant Rumors

Now that El Día de Los Inocentes is behind us, I can safely pass on the rumor I heard the day before yesterday.

A well placed source informed me that the operator of the Gran Hotel Restaurant in Pátzcuaro would be reopening the Cha Cha Cha Restaurant on Calle Buena Vista before long.

It's unclear at this point whether the CCC name would be retained or changed.

This could be a welcome development, as the CCC space is a great setting, and the food at the present Gran Hotel is good.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Highlights of a Holiday Feast

Old friends and new gathered at the Hacienda Cuevas for a Christmas feast. I will touch on some of the highlights of that meal. I'll indicate with strikeouts which items changed and what took their place.

This was the draft menu, which of course changed in the making.

Christmas Dinner 2009

Assorted botanas, from Eduardo and Rosalba.

Chipotle Apricot Cream Cheese Spread with crackers and tostadas.

Sweet Pepper Cups with dip and sticks of carrot and jícama, from Barbara.

Baked Nutted Bread Dressing.

Assorted Fruit Platter, yogurt dressing. Chocolate Covered Strawberries, by Geni

Ensalada Rosaura with vinaigreta y aderezo de aguacate.
(Mexico-The Beautiful Cookbook)

Pierna de Cerdo Adobada con su jugo. (unfortunately, all the jugo/jus evaporated in the roasting. I ended up making a semi-ersatz brown gravy from a jar of Knorr-Suiza Demi Glacé powder. Not bad, but neither the greatest.)

(The Pierna, weighing in raw at 5.80 kilos (almost 13 pounds, and the smallest we could find at Costco.), using recipes from various sources, notably Mexico-The Beautiful Cookbook. It marinated over night, covered with a spicy adobo, then roasted for 5 1/2 hours. The results were good, but the flavor of the adobo didn't come through as I'd hoped.)

Cheese Grits Souffle Passed over for a fruited curried rice pilaf. The Cheese Grits Souffle was just too last minute, and I had doubts about the recipe balance.

Baked Sweet Potatoes, Apples and Cranberries, from Shirley and Ernie.

Green Beans with sweet red pepper, contributed by Barbara.

Dinner rolls and butter

Chilled Sparkling Cider

Sodas (No one partook.)

Assorted wines and beer. No one drank beer, but the pierna was basted with Cerveza Noche Buena.

Pecan Pie, by Geni
Pumpkin Pie
Whipped cream.


A few photos...uncredited photos are by Don Cuevas.

Photo by Ernest Ashley

The mysterious Don Cuevas holds Ensalada Rosaura.
Photo by Ernie, modified by Don Cuevas.

Pierna before...

Pierna after...
Photo by Geni Certain

The "Spread". Photo by Geni Certain

Pumpkin Pie, by your blog host.

Pecan Pie, by Geni. (Photo also.)
Ginger Whipped Cream

I may get energized to write some details of the cooking. I won't promise.

Don Cuevas

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

To all who come to this blog; Followers, Friends, Browsers and Wanderers:
We wish you a Feliz Navidad and Próspero Año Nuevo 2010, of peace and contentment. May your new year bring many great meals with family and friends.
Don y Doña Cuevas

Snowy Egrets in Pines

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two of Pátzcuaro's New Restaurants

We have now eaten twice at El Rincón del Buen Sazón, located on the Glorieta Tangaxuan, across from Bodega Aurerrá. Here is my review of the first visit, about a month ago. Sorry; I have no photos.

In a recent email, Pablo Kundzin sent me a tip about a new restaurant, El Rincón del Buen Sazón, at the glorieta in Pátzcuaro, across from Bodega Aurrerá. He wrote that the food was good, the portions generous and the prices reasonable. It's in the same building formerly occupied by a not-so-great seafood house, later by the Bodega construction office. The carved wooden door says "Los Fresnos", although I don't recall a restaurant of that name. There's parking to the side, and paved street parking around the corner on Calle Nueces. We actually parked at La Bodega, but risked our limbs and lives crossng Avenida de Las Américas/Lázaro Cárdenas.

After procrastinating a a couple of weeks, three of us dined there yesterday. I can confirm Pablo's opinions by saying that this restaurant is a very good addition to Pátzcuaro's restaurants, and all of us would recommend it for meat lovers. The interior is attractive and colorful, but not fancy. The seats are of molded plastic. The tables have colorful tablecloths. All was neat and well arranged.

At one-thirty in the afternoon, we were the only customers and one waiter. He greeted us and we chose a table. Soon after bringing us the two-sided, plastic laminated menus, he brought us a four compartment pottery server of three distinctive salsas and crisp totopos. A small plate also held delicious frijoles refritos, warm and sprinkled with queso fresco.
We ordered drinks, one Coca, a Cerveza Bohemia, and for me, a "Fantasma" o "Cubana", which turned out to be a particularly tasty variant of Michelada, seasoned with Jugo Maggi and more.

The menu has an ample selection of meat dishes and steak cuts to please most any taste.
Us two hombres ordered Ribeye steaks and my wife ordered Alambre de Arrachera. All were priced at $80 MXN or less!

The Entradas (appetizers/starters) menu included Queso Fundido, Choriqueso and Champiqueso.
We also asked for an entrada of "Champiqueso", but it did not come until the main courses arrived. If there was a weak spot in the dinner, it was the champiqueso. It was a bowl of canned sliced mushrooms, covered in a difficult to penetrate cap of melted white cheese. I would have preferred having the mushrooms enveloped in hotter, melted cheese. But it wasn't bad; just not that good. With all the other food, the Champiqueso was superfluous.

I'd been wondering what sides, if any, the dinners would include, and I was very pleasantly surprised when they arrived with attractive accompaniments.

The steaks were not thick, like in a U.S. steakhouse*; yet nowhere as thin as the typical carne asada we've had elsewhere in Mexico. They looked great, anointed with a jugo or jus. They tasted great, too. On the same plate was a small piece of very tasty grilled chorizo, a couple of cebolletas asadas, a grilled chile Húngaro (a long, pale green and deceptively innocuous looking pepper.), and some halves of papas chicas, bearing silly little squiggles of mayonesa. On the side was a small dressed salad of cucumber, tomato and lettuce. There was a basket of warm tortillas, hechas a mano.

The steaks were reasonably tender. I'd eaten so much of the frijoles, that mine was too much to finish, so at the end of our meal, our waiter wrapped it para llevar.
Doña Cuevas' Alambres de Arrachera was something like a plate of rich fajitas, covered with melted cheese, and accompanied by more of the delicious frijoles.

*When la cuenta came, it was pleasantly modest. We'd had three complete dinners, 2 Cocas, 2 Cervezas Bohemia, 1 Fantasma/Michelada, and a Champiqueso; for about $300 MXN.

We hope that El Rincón del Buen Sazón thrives. It's worthy of repeated visits, if the food and service continue as good as they were yesterday.

We noted also that they serve very reasonably priced breakfasts.

We returned yesterday with two friends. Although the restaurant was busy with a private Christmas party, the service was reasonably attentive.
This time, we ordered a choriqueso with our drinks. It arrived quickly enough, and was better than the champiqueso of the previous visit, but not something I'd make a point of ordering again.

Our amiga ordered  Arrachera, which looked good and came with one small papa chica and a roasted pale green chile. My wife again had the luscious Alambres de Arrachera, basically a plate of fajita meat with peppers, onions and melted cheese over all.

Nosotros los hombres both ordered the intriguing and inexpensive "Tapaditos a la Diabla", which turned out to be a few thin but o.k. slices of beef in a creamy, slightly picante sauce. It looked meager but I, at least, got full with the numerous handmade tortillas, the frijoles, totopos (they were a bit hard) and the outstanding salsas in the 4 compartmented salsera. I'd specifically rate the Tapaditos as "not bad, but not worth ordering again."

With soft drinks and a Cubana/fantasma (highly recommended), the bill was in the neighborhood of $320 MXN. Plus tip, of course.

Tancho ratings:
Food *** out of a possible 5
Service ***
Price $ (inexpensive)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bad Day In Morelia

Early this morning, we received emails linking to newspaper articles online covering two grenade attacks in Morelia yesterday afternoon. Five are reported wounded, mostly civilians, as well as police personnel, including a woman seven months pregnant who was delivered of a child by a caesarian. The attacks apparently took place near a secondary school near the Governor's Mansion and near area known as Tres Puentes, in the western part of the city.

Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. No deaths are so far reported, although several victims are in serious condition.

See these links to online newspapers:

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Hotel Casino Restaurant, Morelia

Restaurante Lu

We'd recently read very enthusiastic commentaries on the reinvented Casino Hotel Restaurant in Morelia. It is now Restaurante Lu, after Lucero Soto Arriaga, the woman chef who took command of the kitchen two years ago is said to have presented a fresh vision of the cuisine, hearkening back to indigenous foods.

Alhough I'm very dubious when it comes to upscale restaurants, three of us decided to go to comida there last Thursday. I was not ready to commit myself to spending $215 MXN for the tasting menus, one of which was churipo con corundas, another of antojitos típicos, including a pig's foot tostada. I simply can't bring myself to spend so much money on foods that are commonly available and inexpensive elsewhere.

I decided to have Filete de Pescado en Salsa de Guajillos y Naranja, wrapped in Hoja Santa. I'd enjoyed this very dish there a few years ago, before the advent of the present chef.

Our amiga ordered Filete de Pescado envuelto de Coco.

My wife requested Mole de Cacahuate con Pollo.

The ladies shared a pitcher of limonada, and I ordered a copa of vino blanco Semillón. ($60)

The waiter brought a basket of breads, consisting of small and quite tasteless white rolls, and the intriguing tamales de harina. The latter reminded me of Chinese steamed bread, and the dark salsa picante on the table perked up their otherwise bland taste.

The drinks arrived, and the limonada was o.k., but needed further stirring for sweetening. That is not unusual in Mexican restaurants.
The glass of wine was a bit on the skimpy side, but otherwise pleasant.

My wife's salad of fruits was attractive and very good, she reports. The cute cap on top was a Parmesan rice (?) crust.

When our main courses came, two were of minimalist plating and modest portions. The third was more generous in portion. (Which see.)

My fish was accompanied by no more than a tiny mound of fine grained, overcooked rice. The sauce was not bad, although too sweet. The guajillo component was nearly undetectable.The fish itself was bland (I suspect it was tilapia) and its texture somewhat soft. I enjoyed the hoja santa leaf. I preferred the version of this dish I'd had a few years ago at El Primer Piso, in Pátzcuaro.

Our friend's filete de pescado en coco lay alone on the plate, except, again, for a little mound of sticky rice. She said it was good, but it was lonely.

What was missing were some vegetables, or a little salad, or something to fill out the platter. Our friend requested a salad and her wish was granted. It was nice little salad garnished with candied flores de jamaica.

My wife's Mole de Cacahuate con Pollo was very good, and generous in portion. It was flanked by a novel scoop of "chocolate ice cream" atop one of those sticky rice platforms and capped with a tostada doily.

We decided to have dessert and coffee elsewhere.
Our bill was around $620 MXN

Based on a single visit, I grant, I'd hesitate to eat there again. The presentations are adorable, bordering on precious, but the basic food leaves something to be desired in quality and especially, the price/value ratio is uneven.

Attention, Tancho:
Food *** out of a possible 5
Service *** out of a possible 5
Price $$$ whatever this indicates.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When Mexico Hands You Limones...

...Make Limonada.

A favorite pastime on Mexico expat forums is to endlessly whine about the unavailability of certain products to which we were accustomed al otro lado. The gamut of longed for unavailable Gringo Stuff ranges from crunchy peanut butter, yellow lemons, and cornmeal; through high thread count cotton sheets, good kitchen knives and three-way light bulbs.

Not too surprisingly, some expats find what they're looking for after a little research. Others are destined to live out their retirement in frustrated longing.

Now all of us have our special wants, including me. Thanks to the generosity of friends, I have a good supply of cornmeal, stone ground grits and powdered buttermilk schlepped over the border to our home. We ourselves have brought back special Asian condiments, Licorice Twizzlers and proper Reeses' Peanut Butter Cups snuggled—not smuggled— into our luggage. There's no denying our origins and the desires that arise from them.

A recent frustration is that not long ago it was possible to buy Sharp Aged Cheddar Cheese at Costco. Several months ago, the relatively economical Kirkland brand disappeared, leaving only the Cheddar Suave (Mild). Then the super aged Cabot Cheddar appeared in the deli case. It cost about $145 MXN for about 12 or 14 ounces. That price was insupportable, until the craving for sharp cheddar overcame reluctance to spend so much.
The Cabot Cheddar was so intense and concentrated a flavor, that a small slice would satisfy.

Now it also has disappeared from the Costco inventory. So, I recently bought Kirkland Cheddar Suave. When I tasted it, I was pleasantly surprised how good it was. It had more sabor than I recalled from previous purchases.

What can you do? After living here more than four years, isn't it time we adapted better? Accept that we're not living in the United States, but in the provincial state of Michoacán, México?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Huevos Poblanos: another version

I was just browsing through one of my favorite Mexican cookbooks, "Mexico—The Beautiful Cookbook", when I spotted a recipe for Omelette Con Queso Y Salsa De Poblano.

This is a richer, and more elegant version of the dish. Strangely, it's simpler than mine. Serves 1.
Paraphrased from the book:

It calls for 1/3 cup chopped chile poblano. (I'll assume it's roasted and peeled beforehand.)
1/3 cup thick cream (creme fraiche or Mexican crema.)
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper.
2 eggs
1 tbsp butter.
1/4 cup grated queso manchego* or Jack or medium cheddar cheese.)

*Note that Mexican queso manchego is not like the dry, sharp mature Manchego Español, but softer and very mild.

In a blender, puree the chiles with the cream. Add salt to taste and heat the sauce in a small an over medium heat. Set aside.

Add 1/2 tsp salt and the pepper to the eggs, and beat lightly.

Melt the butter in a small skillet. When it is hot, add the eggs. When the edge of the eggs can be lifted easily, place the cheese on one side, roll up and cook until the cheese begins to melt. If the eggs start to brown, lower the heat.

Place on a plate and cover with the chile cream.

Note: recipe can be tripled or quadrupled. The omelets can be made in advance, covered with the poblana sauce, and baked in a preheated (375F/190C oven.

I don't have an image of this simple but rich dish, but I can give you a photo of the bookcover.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Zi-Wha Eats? Part 2

I'm frustrated and disgusted, because the several hundred words I wrote in a draft yesterday afternoon were not saved. Maybe it's a "hint" that I could do better this time. I'm saving this as I go to TextEdit, so I don't lose it to Blogger's vagaries.

I'm going to try to be more concise this time around. Our other eating experiences in Zihuatanejo can be divided into two categories: more or less forgettable; and memorable.

In the first category was a lunch at Salvador's on Calle Adelita: two cocteles de camarones, $55 each; an order of tasty sopes de frijoles (3 count), $70; an order of ordinary French Fries, a beer and a good limonada.

The cocteles de camarones were of the style we'd had two years previous at El Burro Borracho, on Playa Troncones. It's a cup of seasoned ketchup with diced tomatoes, chopped onion and shrimp. The shrimp is drowned in so much ketchup that you can hardly taste them. I plan to ask in the future how the cocteles are prepared.
Our bill was $119 pesos, but written as $290. My wife caught the error, and the waiter quietly corrected it.

That same Wednesday night, the touted Nardo's seafood at the town end of Adelita was not open, so we went to La Rana René, almost directly beneath our hotel. The waiter was a bit over eager, pushing us to get our order in before the larger party seated on the beach. We succumbed and one of us chose the Pulpos and the other the Huauchinango Al Mojo de Ajo. The octopus was o.k. although at first seeming too salty. The large red snapper was fine, although I've had better even inland at Mariscos La Güera in Pátzcuaro.
We shared a pitcher of limonada, and our bill was in the vicinity of 235 pesos.

We did eat at two places worthy of mention. The first was the justly famed Tamales y Atoles "Any", in Zihuatanejo centro. The service and the food quailty were both superior, although I was surprised to find prices higher than expected. After all, it's located decidedly in la Zona Turística. Some English is spoken.

I enjoyed a very good, generous, spicy Mole de Olla, $100 pesos. La Esposa had a well made Consomé de Pollo $60 or $70, I forget, loaded with vegetables, rice and shredded chicken. There were good salsas and hearty handmade, blue corn tortillas. A couple of decent cafe de ollas, and we were satisfied. We would return there when in Zihua again.