Tuesday, December 21, 2010

El Camino Real Tzurumutaro

El Camino Real in Februrary, 2004

(Note, please, that I was out and without my camera. So archive photos will have to do.)

Saturday we were in Pátzcuaro, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, decided to have comida at Restaurante El Camino Real. It's the locally famous restaurant, in business for about 40 years, next to the Pemex gas station at Tzurumutaro. It had been a long time since we’d eaten there, as on the previous two visits we felt that the quality had slipped. But on this visit, we are happy to report that it has regained its luster.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Return to Amazonia...

...with swords and no camera*.

Five years had passed since we'd last dined at Morelia's Amazonia, a Brazilian-styled restaurant, where, for a fixed price, you are brought sizzling cuts of meats on "swords", plus a nice variety of side dishes. We'd tried to go here sooner, but the circumstances were never quite right. This time, we celebrated Thanksgiving with our friend, Larry, a devoted carnivore.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Three San Miguel Restaurants: Part 3

Just a week before our departure to San Miguel, I received an email from a friend, Doug Butler, who with his wife, Kathy, had just returned from SMA. The email described a remarkable meal at Dila's Restaurant and Gallery, located at Ancha de San Antonio # 31, Colonia Centro.

Doug wrote, and I excerpt: "The chef is Sri Lankan, trained in Switzerland, and very talented.  TripAdvisor has rated it the best restaurant in SMA."

They enjoyed it so much, that they returned for a second meal: "Sri Lankan food is a lot like Indian food, with their complex and dense use of spices to enhance the flavor. ... two of our best meals ever, and we can't wait to go back."

I was impressed by Doug and Kathy's enthusiasm (He even wrote his first review on TripAdvisor about it) and so planned a visit to Dila's on Tuesday, our last full day in SMA.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Three San Miguel Restaurants: Part 2

On Tuesday morning, after completing our business at the American Consulate, we joined our friend, Larry at El Pegaso.  It's one of his favorite restaurants in San Miguel, and it's a favorite with other folks as well. It's at the corner of Calles Corregidora at Correos in Centro.

Three San Miguel Restaurants: part 1

We returned to San Miguel de Allende for a brief visit in order to pick up our new passports. The whole business took perhaps 15 minutes. Mission accomplished, we turned our attention to a few restaurants, of which at least two had been described in glowing terms by various sources.
The lineup was determined by two restaurants' closed days, which worked out well for us. The three were Mare Nostrum, El Pegaso, and Dila's Restaurant and Gallery. All three had received enthusiastic reviews from various sources. All are worthy, but each had its flaws.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Savor of the Lamb

Our friend Ron had bought some lamb several months ago from someone in Jalisco. It had been in his freezer since then. He suggested that he grill it on our big charcoal cooker. After some discussion, we agreed that a Moroccan seasoning would be a nice approach. That suggested a Middle Eastern theme.

"Come here, you poor little lambs who've lost their way."

I made some supporting dishes, and our guests, Ron, Shirley and Krina; and Doña Cuevas and I enjoyed a great lamb dinner on Saturday, November 6, 2010.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Bare Knuckles Pan de Muertos

Pan de Muertos, 2004

These days, it seems that at least every other Mexico food blogger has made Pan de Muertos. Here’s my story.
(This project is intended for experienced bakers of yeasted breads.)
Over the years, I’d made fake-o Pan de Muertos, using sweet doughs or bun doughs shaped into the classic skull with crossed bones.
This year, I decided to go all out and use Diana Kennedy’s recipe from “The Art of Mexican Cooking”. I found it workable, but I also discovered some instructions in the recipe with which I respectfully disagree. In all I made two batches, and the second one was greatly superior to the first, although the first wasn’t all that bad. The ingredients varied little neither in type or in proportions. However, timing and fermentation were very different. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Birria de Chivo Don Rubén, Pátzcuaro


Avenida Lázaro Cárdenas laces up lower and middle Pátzcuaro, from la Estacíon to the edge of Centro. A short distance above the Glorieta Tangaxuan is the Galería Vicky y Rafael, parent to the former biker bar, the Bar Chopper. The Bar was a raffish neighbor to the Hotel San Felipe, now the Hotel Misíon Pátzcuaro.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Visit to San Miguel de Allende

Parochial Meringue Architecture
Parochial Meringue Tarts
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Cradle of Allende and Independence.
A quintessentially Mexican city of 80.000 Mexicans, but also home to over 11,000 foreign residents, either full or part time. Noted for its Colonial architecture and its galleries and shops. Notably more expensive than many other Mexican cities. There are so many U.S. expats that the State Department has opened a Consular Agency there.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

¡Ya Pasta! Spaghetteria Gian Carlo Morelia

I have often emphatically stated that I could see few reasons to order pasta in an Italian restaurant in Mexico. Maybe not in the U.S., either, although I have made several exceptions, I confess.

Why? Because it's cheap and relatively easy to prepare in my own kitchen. Now, I love Italian food, and I won't spurn a side of pasta when it comes as part of my Italian restaurant meal. But in my limited experience*, pasta Italian style is not done that well here. I also cringe at paying $90 MXN for a plate of spaghetti al pesto. One of my motives in dining out is to try some dish I have not made at home. Our one Italian dining experience in Morelia a couple of years ago, at the classy but ultimately unsatisfying Trattoria Bizancio smoldered in my brain.
 Spaghetti? ¡Ya pasta!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Birdsongs in Morning Encore

Although we'd been to La Mesa de Blanca in Ziracuarétiro several times, our visit to its younger sister restaurant with the long name, "El Gorjeo de Las Aves En Las Mañanas de Abril" had been but once.
We decided it was time to renew the acquaintance, and accompanied by our friend, Georgia, returned on Sunday, September 12, 2001.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Texas BBQ Brisket Feast

It started with a bargain on brisket...from that, it led to a memorable feast.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Don Cuevas' Deli Ranch

It must be the weather or creeping old age, or both. I've had a craving for the deli foods of my childhood, like kosher dill pickles, smoked brisket and knishes. Challah, with poppyseeds.
Not to mention Black Radish Salad. Normally, these things are unobtainable here, unless you make them yourself.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Atole de Grano: Anicillo Verde y Rodillas Rojas

Since our first visit to Pátzcuaro, in 1991, we have become fond of Atole de Grano. To me, it represents the quintessence of simple Michoacán cooking.

Late one peaceful and quiet night, we were sitting in the Plaza Grande contemplating the past events of the day; just a couple of guys, an atole vendedora and us.

With little idea of what it was, we ordered two bowls. The cheap pottery bowls held a hot broth of corn kernels, slightly thickened with masa and subtly flavored with anise. We were offered minced chiles and a cut limes to season the soup. An “elotito” or cob-ette of corn was included at no extra cost.

It was soothing to the soul as well as the stomach. There’s neither meat or fat in atole de grano.

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Farewell Feast With Friends

Last week, two of our ex-neighbors made a lightning visit back to our area.
While we said goodbye to our former neighbors, we also welcomed a new neighbor to the rancho.

Doña Cuevas and I prepared a special comida for the occasion.

This was the menu.
August 4, 2010

Guacamole, totopos (contributed)
Trozos de pepinos, limón.

Caldo de Hongos Silvestres al Chipotle, (made with "Lobster" mushrooms.)
Salsa de hierbabuena y chile piquín. (This salsa was overlooked by most of us, and though it was good, it was unnecessary.)

Arroz “Jasmín” blanco.

Guatape  or "Huatape") Verde de Camarones. (Fresh shrimp in a complex, richly herbal sauce with hints of anise.)

Pan telera de leña, from Panadería La Espiga.

Limonada fresca con agua mineral.
Vino blanco demi-seco. (contributed)

Postre: Pan de elote fresco con tres moras, azules, frambuesas y zarzas; Crema y natillas caseras.

I'd seen a recipe and a photo for the Guatape de Camarones, in the book, "MEXICO The Beautiful Cookbook". It's a sort of shrimp stew, with a base of pureed herbs and whole, briefly cooked whole shrimp. The recipe isn't difficult, in spite of ambiguous directions. Later, I received more recipes from our amiga Nora Cristina Ceccopieri, of the amazingly prolific Mexican food blog, ¿Gusta Usted?

Shirley Ashley photo

The Caldo de Hongos Silvestres I'd prepared earlier, after buying nearly a kilo of Trompa de Puerco hongos in front of the Pátzcuaro mercado. In the U.S. these are known as Lobster Mushrooms. They are actually two, symbiotic fungi. The red-orange "skin" is actually a second fungus growing on the main body. These were the best I'd ever seen, clean and generally free of spoilage and insect holes. They still do require a close inspection and removal of a few bad spots. I took extensive liberties with the basic recipe below.

Lobster Mushrooms (Wikipedia Commons)

Shirley Ashley photo

For the dessert, I wanted a corn based sweet cake, something like we'd enjoyed at Las Mercedes in Guanajuato the year before. I found an excellent recipe on Mexconnect.com, by Karen Hursh Graber, who also was kind enough to clear up some doubts I had. The pan de elote, made mostly of freshly pureed corn off the cob, and some sugar, to which I added a bit of milk, a couple of eggs and a little flour, although the latter is said to be unnecessary. I baked them in cupcake tins lined with cupcake papers, and to insure their removal, sprayed the inside of each cup with PAM.

The panecitos de elote were made a day in advance. (In fact, they removed much more easily after an overnight rest in a container.)

Over the panecitos de elote I spooned thawed, slightly sweetened frozen 3-berry mixed, from Costco. It 's an outstanding product. Only a little sweetening was needed.

The desserts were finished with Natillas, which, as "Boiled Custard", sounds much less appealing. A little crema (creme fraîche) swirled in was probably gilding the lily.

Panecitos de elote on berries

More berries atop the panecitos, plus natillas y crema

Recipes and interpretations below.

Caldo de Hongos Silvestres:
Wild Mushroom Broth
This is a basic recipe, to which may be added squash blossoms, cooked fava beans or shredded chicken. Some suggested mushrooms to use in the broth are coral mushrooms (rumeria rubripermanens), field mushrooms (agaricus campestrus) and ceps (boletus edulis.) Using chipotle chiles will give the broth a smoky flavor; using serranos will provide a fresh, piquant taste.

  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobado, sliced, or 2 minced fresh Serrano chiles (Chipotles only-DC)
  • 1 ½- 2 lbs. assorted wild mushrooms (In our soup, all were Trompas de Puercos-DC)
  • 2 quarts chicken stock (I used a crustacan soup base-DC)
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh epazote
  • (I added carrots, finely diced, and about 3 cups, grabanzos and their liquid, cooked from dried, two jitomates asados y pelados, plus a few small tiny white potatoes, already cooked, that I had on hand. They were cut in half.-DC)

Heat the corn oil in a large stockpot, add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is wilted. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they render their liquid.
Add the chicken stock and epazote and bring to a boil. Serve immediately.
Serves 8.
Ms. Hursh Graber's recipe for Pan de Elote is here Isthmus- Style Corn Bread: Pan de Elote del Istmo

Huatape (or "Guatape") Verde de Camarones
3 chiles poblanos, seeds and membranes removed
1 chile serrano, minced, optional.
4 tomates verdes, husks removed. (I believe that the quantity should be at least doubled. -DC)
2 cups fresh parsley leaves, packed
3 small leaves hoja santa (I had dried ones but I also used one bunch of anicillo, washed, coarsely chopped green part only)
4 cups water (Better to use the shells and loose heads of shrimp to make a caldo)
1/4 cup olive oil or lard
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespons cornstarch, suspended in a little water (A small ball of masa, size of a golfball  would be better.)
salt and white pepper.
Cilantro or fresh epazote, optional, chopped.

1 kilo of medium to large shrimp, with heads intact.

Peel the bodies of the shrimp, leaving the tails and heads when possible.
Use the shrimp shells and seasonings to taste to make a shrimp stock. The addition of several dried shrimp will enhance the taste.
Strain and reserve.

In a blender or food processor, working in batches, grind the chiles, tomatillos, parsley and herbs.
The original recipe says "Strain", but that leaves you with nothing but green broth. Instead, blend thoroughly and reserve.

In a deep pot, heat oil and add the chopped onion and the garlic. Saute 
until transparent. Add the puree, bring to a boil, thicken with the cornstarch or the masa. Rectify the seasoning.

Add the partially peeled shrimp and stir gently, simmering the few minutes until the shrimp are cooked. Add the optional chopped cilantro and/or epazote.

Serve with white rice. Oven warmed teleras are also good for sopping up the sauce.

UPDATE: We reheated and ate the leftovers of the huatape yesterday evening, and I concluded that it was to thick and aggressively herbal a sauce. So, if I do it again, I'll be looking for a lighter approach. For one, I'd skip the anicillo. Two, I'd use some epazote. The cilantro is probably unnecessary.
A lighter version of Huatape. From the Internet

 Mi amiga, Nora Cris wrote:


200 g de camarón seco mediano
6 tazas de agua
Camarones chicos frescos pelados. Medio kilo más o menos
¾ de taza de harina o masa de maíz (90 gramos)
1 taza de caldo o agua extra
3 jitomates
1 chile guajillo desvenado, asado y hervido
1 chile pasilla Ídem.
Un trozo de cebolla 60 g asada
2 dientes de ajo asados
2 ramas de epazote
½ cucharadita de cominos
Knorr caldo de camarón o de pollo al gusto

Cuece los camarones secos en 6 tazas de agua hasta que el caldo tenga sabor del camarón. Saca los camarones y quítales la cabeza y la cola.

Licua los jitomates y chiles guajillos con la cebolla, ajo, chiles, pimienta y comino.

Fríe esta salsa en una cacerola de 2 litros de capacidad hasta que se haga “chinita” y el aceite salga a la superficie.

Añade el caldo y cuando esté hirviendo añade todos los camarones y rectifica la sazón, agrega el concentrado de camarón o de pollo; a fuego lento, agrega de poquito en poquito, la masa desleída en una taza de caldo o de agua fría, meneando para que no se hagan bolas. Debe quedar espesito.

Por último ponle las ramas de epazote y sírvelo muy caliente.

NOTA: Si lo quieres verde, omite el tomate, sustituye los chiles guajillo y pasilla por chile poblano asado y se muele con una rama de epazote fresca y chile verde si quieres que pique.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hieronymous Gherkin Exposed

I come from a family of picklers. My Mother is a pickler, my Uncle Irwin is a pickler; I'm a pickler too. We come from a long line of picklers stretching back across the Atlantic to the shtetl.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Our First Time...

Our First Time...
...in México was a crazy road trip, with 3 of us crammed into a Datsun King Cab pickup, in March, 1980. 
This post is about caves, but it's also about food, but most of all, about our first vist to the impressive area of Cuetzalan, Puebla, Mexico.

We motored down over several days from Mountain View, Arkansas, to join up with cavers renting a mouse infested house in the traditional Sierra Norte town of Cuetzalan, Puebla. The rent per person per day was 50¢ US. Or maybe that was for the two of us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Remembrances of Things Karst

For those of you interested in the esoterica of cave explorations, I have started a blog, "We Once Were Cavers." The introduction, The Adventure Begins has been posted, with remembrances of things karst soon to follow.

There will be limited references to food, but they do occur.

 Don Cuevas

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Return to La Mesa de Blanca

La Mesa de Blanca July 11, 2010

Seven of us went in two vehicles to the Mesa de Blanca in Ziracuarétiro.
We left Pátzcuaro in a downpour. For Doña Cuevas and I, this was our second visit; the first was in March.

On passing the Ziracuarétiro toll station, the skies were clearing.

When we drove into the restaurant parking lot, David’s car found the special broken Coke bottle waiting for his brand new tire, which blew out in an explosive rush.

We entered the restaurant, and the line of lovely waitresses waiting arose in greeting. I felt I should ask one for the honor of a dance.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Fabulous Asian-Mexican Fusion Food Fiesta

A few of us, Camille, Peter and I, among others who frequent the Mexican Kitchen Forum of Mexconnect.com were chatting about this and that some months ago. "Sergio Gómez" started the topic of "Fusion food". We then got the idea to get together in the Pátzcuaro area this summer when Camille was visiting, and cook and enjoy some Asian dishes.

The challenge is to make the dishes with the available local, Mexican ingredients. I'd promote the idea of finding common ground in both Mexcan and Asian dishes, that would would fuse in a harmonious way. Obviously, this approach is not for purists nor traditionalists. We just wanted to have fun and eat some delicious foods together.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Visitamos La Ciudad de México a Las 42 Años. Parte 3

Well, amigos, it's time for the Mexico City wrap-up.

 We stayed over an extra night a the Hotel Milán, so that Doña Cuevas could rest and recover from her lingering illness.

She was eating Bimbo toast and drinking KaoPectate and Pedialyte, but I had an appetite.

Fortunately, there are many dining options close by.

A recent addition is El Diez, an Argentinean style steak house and sports bar, located on the corner of Álvaro Obregón and Orizaba, Colonia Roma Norte.

The Big Fútbol match was in progress on the several big TV screens inside, so to escape the pervasive bbbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!, I sat at a sidewalk table.

Ordering was simple. I chose a 300 gram Bife de Chorizo, $199 MXN, which is a nice, juicy cut of beef.  Other cuts, such as vacio or arrachera, were considerably less. It came with a simple salad, already dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette. There were small bowls of chimichurrí and a spicier red sauce in two small bowls. Decent bread was served, but one bolillo at a time. It was hard to get my harried young waiter's attention. I had a nice glass of a red wine, but can't for the life of me recall the oeniphiliac details. I'm a failure at Wine Appreciation 101. Maybe it was a Malbec or Merlot. I also had an agua mineral.

The steak was excellent and perfectly cooked to my taste, the salad fine, but I wished that they had thrown on some Papas Francesas. But that was an extra, at a whopping $45 pesos Mexicanos. At La Parilla Argentina, Calle Manzanillo # 81, Colonia Roma Sur, the PFs are included, but the meat is much less tender. It's also a far calmer place, also. But it's a 30 minute walk from the Hotel Milán, so El Diez was nearly perfect.

A couple of street kids wandered by and asked if they could have a piece of my steak. I decided to give them some, wrapped in doubled napkins, but I supplemented my meal with an Empanada de Carne, filled with picadillo. It was just "o.k." but not recommendable. (The best empanadas de carne, although considerably smaller, are from Alejandro the Roving Pastry Man in Pátzcuaro.)

The street scene was entertaing, including a two man band playing (somebody's) favorites, and great looking chicas walking by and some sitting at a table near me.

So, in the end, the meal was $314 or so, for one, and that put it in the $$$ category. But, you could also get a big hamburger for under $60, or some Argentine pizza, sold by the meter and half meter.

El Diez Col. Roma, one of several branches of the small chain, is a casual fun spot for a meal. It can get very crowded at times, especially on the weekend.
(Sorry, no pictures because no camera.)

My Ratings:
Food: *** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

Price: $-$$$$

Ambience: Buzzzzzzzzzzing; sports bar.

El Racó, Mexico City

El Racó, a Catalán restaurant, located at the north end of Parque México in the lovely Colonia Hipódromo-Condesa, was the dining highlight of our recent visit to Mexico City.

I'd spent some time studying the online menus of what it bills as "cuina del mar y muntanya". I incline more to mar than muntanya, so I was attracted by the fish specialties, notably the signature "Huauchinago a la Sal". It's a a brilliantly simple dish, depending on the freshness of the fish for its success rather than complex sauces. But back on the muntanya, there was tempting Magret de Pato en Salsa de Chocolate". What to think of rare duck breast in a sauce of chocolate? Our friend, Ron, was to find out.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Visitamos La Ciudad de México a Las 42 Años. Parte 2

Let's pause here for a cafecito and pan dulce break and return in another episode. 

In our previous episode, the three gastronomic adventurers had just visited the Dragon del Oro Tienda China, and were in need of a a caffeine fix.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Visitamos La Ciudad de México a Las 42 Años. Parte 1

We just returned from a visit to the U.S. where we attended a wedding of our grandniece and her childhood sweetheart and a visit to my side of the family in New Jersey. (The food there is another story entirely.)

On our return to Mexico City, we rendezvoused with our friend, Ron Granich, a man of distinguished tastes and very high standards of quality, in the realm of food, and even more specifically, in regard to a properly made demitasse of espresso. He has referred to himself, in only semi jest, as "El Cascarrabia": "The Grouch".

Having Ron along, after an absence of 35 years from México, D.F., would add a new dimension of how we looked at food and drink. Adding to this heady mixture was that Doña Cuevas and I were celebrating our 42nd Wedding Anniversary on the 21st, with a dinner at El Racó on the 23rd.

We arrived midday Sunday the 20th of June, and  the Hotel Milán, in Colonia Roma Norte, we rested and awaited Ron's arrival.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Travelers Rest; Foodies, Never

The Cuevas' have been travelling in the U.S., attending a wedding and visiting family, and are now on their way home, after a few days of wandering and eating in México City.

Many restaurants were visited in the U.S. and a few in Mexico. I've been too busy to blog. Then, in a last minute frenzied farewell, I left my digital camera in my family house. I'm making arrangements to have it carried in safe hands back to me.

Meanwhile, here are a few selected photos from restaurant and home meals we enjoyed.

Poppy's Cheeseburger, Beacon, NY

Poppy's Fries

Lunch at Viet Ai, Florham Park, NJ

Blackened Tuna; Sweet Basil's Cafe, West Orange, NJ

Soft Shelled Crabs in Lemon Butter Sauce, Don Pepe's, NJ

Sirloin Steak, Don Pepe's, NJ
Kasha Varnishkes; Mom's home cooking

Beacon Creamery in Beacon, NY

Monday, May 31, 2010

Asador Bariloche, Morelia

The Asador Bariloche
had been recommended to me by our friend Peter, in Morelia. Yesterday, we had a chance to eat there. It's in Morelia Centro, on Ave. Madero at the corner of Calle Amado Nervo. Seven of us arrived just after the opening time, 2:00 p.m. We were the only diners in the restaurant during the more than two hours we passed in enjoying a leisurely comida.

Asador Bariloche is a Mexican interpretation of an Argentine steakhouse.  I'd viewed a promotional video on YouTube that made it appear very upscale. Al contrario, Horatio; it's quite casual, with a very typical Morelia ambience, set in a covered patio. (It was good that the patio was covered, as the afternoon sun was blazing fiercely.)

Guests waiting for rain.

The menu is long and at first somewhat daunting. Passing directly over the entradas, soups and salads, we homed in directly to the Parilladas and Combinaciones. Both categories are money saving package deals, designed for one to four diners. When I was looking at the right hand column of the menu, the prices made my head to spin. $700 MXN?? A closer look showed that that package was for four diners, and in reality, a considerable savings over ordering a la carte.

Fortunately, Peter was experienced at ordering in this restaurant, so we ended up with a very reasonable cost per person.

The salsas on the table included a fair salsa cruda roja and an excellent chimichurrí, with a distinctive kick of marjoram as well as the usual parsley and garlic. There was also a small dish of herbal requesón (ricotta like cheese).

Peter, Tere, Doña Cuevas and I shared the Combinacíon Cuatro, at $700 MXN, which included a individual choice of soups: Jugo de Carne, Sopa Tarasca or Caldo Tlapeño. Doña C said her Sopa Tarasca was fine. Peter's Caldo Tlapeño looked very good, chockfull of nicely cooked vegetables. My Jugo de Carne was less intense than that which I'd had elsewhere. Nor was it very hot. It had a few dried shrimp added, and was served with a small sauce of garnishes which did improve the soup.

Salsa and requesón with totopos
We all ordered various cuts of beef according to our preferences, ranging from an attractive arrachera, served sizzling on a heated comal, to "vacio", a thick chunk of beef, and my "bife de lomo". From our limited Argentine restaurant experiences in Mexico City, my impression is that at el Asador there is a loose interpretation of what these cuts should be. But I won't swear to it. All were in the 300 gram range before cooking.

The main courses arrived, plated very simply on attractive but oversized white plates, accompanied by nothing more than a small broiled chile serrano and a very small patch of  delicious, deeply caramelized, roasted onion. We should have asked for more of the onion.

Bife de Lomo

The steak was thick, tasty and fairly juicy. Doña Cuevas' cut was so rare, she asked for it to be cooked more. It came back nicely charred yet still delicately pink inside. My bife de lomo was resistant to the sharp steak knife, but reasonably tender when eaten. It was quite tasty, although not in the class of similar cuts I'd had elsewhere.

Tortillas came witout asking, but I requested bread. It arrived as small slices of buttered sesame toast and a small dish of herbed garlic butter. Nice, but failing my standards for good bread.

The only accompaniment to the meats was a large salad for four of varied lettuces, sliced tomatoes and thin rings of onion. It was already lightly dressed. It would have been much better if more attention had been paid to selecting fresh lettuce. I was picking out several wilted pieces or worse, before I'd eat it. We should have sent it back.

We also ordered papas fritas Francesas to fill out the empty spaces. They were nicely browned, crinkle-cut, and just a bit greasy.

For drinks, Doña C and I had agua mineral. I was pleased to see it served from a glass bottle, because, in my opinion, there is something cheap about mineral water from a can.
I also had a modest glass of Casillero del Diablo Cab Sauv. It was fine.

The Cuevas' passed up dessert, but some of our amigos had package deals that included postre. Larry received a huge portion of Flan Napolitano, plated on what looked like custard sauce but could have been condensed milk. I got a sample taste and it was a bit denser than regular flan, but good.

José had helado frito, a big ball of vanilla or strawberry ice cream, wrapped in a pastry and deep fried. It was dressed with the mandatory condensed milk and a ubiquitous dusting of cinnamon, atop the obligatory zig-zags of chocolate syrup. The strawberry version was loaded with fruit.

Helado Frito
I had a decent espresso sencillo.
The coffee cups and saucers were unusually attractive.

Summing up; Asador Bariloche is a good choice for good cuts of beef. Costs are reasonable if you order Parilladas or Combinaciones for two or more persons. Service was well meaning but unpolished. We had to ask for salad tongs, serving spoons and I probably waited over 10 minutes for my glass of wine. So, in all, the service was variable.

La cuenta was seriously big, its arrival mitigated by a unique presentation.
My Ratings (Top scores are 5 *****):
• Food: ***1/2
• Service: ***
• Price: $-$$ per person
• Ambience: Pleasant but warm (temperature) in afternoon. Typical Morelia patio restaurant setting.
• Restroom. Good

Av. Madero Ote. No. 635
Colonia Centro
Morelia, Michoacán, México

View Morelia's Best Eats in a larger map

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Berros and the Papas

Crema Fría de Berros y Papas

When it's hot weather here at el Rancho, we look again for cold, easy to prepare foods to tide us over until the cool rains begin again. Last week, I made Cool Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup; this week, it was cool, fresh green soup of watercress and potatoes.

This soup is not very difficult to make, but you must buy 2 very large “manojos” or bunches of berros. We often get them at the vegetable stand of Juana and Arturo Padilla, in the Pátzcuaro mercado. There are other places to find it, but you have to look. This herb, Nasturtium officinale, is not always available here, so I try to take advantage of it when it is. Locally, it is very inexpensive. I paid 5 pesos for each manojo of berros.

Recipe follows.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Birdsongs In April Mornings

El Gorjeo de Las Aves En Las Mañanas de Abril. 
Ziracuarétiro, Michoacán

Imagine a place set in lush green hills, with  a semi-tropical climate and bountiful fruited orchards. Bless it with plentiful waters where families may frolic in pools of fresh water. Then, develop a lovely, park like area near the balneario, and build a beautiful, casual restaurant that takes full advantage of the hillside setting. Enhance it with stone paths and pools and cascades and colorful birds. Decorate it tastefully in a way that harmonizes with the regional cuisine. Offer a short menu of choice foods, made in house when possible: breads, conserves, fresh fruit aguas; uchepos, tortillas and more. Provide excellent yet unobtrusive service.
Do almost no advertising, and open everyday of the week from 9:00 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Colorful Comida in May

Elaborate piece at the Concurso de Las Bordaderas

Dinner for 6 after the Concurso de Las Bordaderas at Santa Cruz, Michoacán. May 19, 2010

• Cool Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup, olive oil croutons, goat cheese with fresh basil and thyme

• Cazuela de Milpa (Calabacitas, Granos de Elote, Chile Poblano, Nopalitos, y Dos Quesos)

• Black Bean Carnitas Cakes, Lime Cilantro Crema, Salsa Verde 

• Agua de Jamaica

• Melón

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Don Cuevas' Restaurant Salsa Acid Test

After a year of arranging restaurant breakfasts and sending out email notices, I'm retiring as breakfast co-ordinator for the Pátzcuaro R.O.M.E.O.s Men's Breakfast  Group. R.O.M.E.O. is an acronym for "Retired Old Men Eating Out."

I enjoyed most of it, with very few problems. But a frequent challenge is getting suggestions from the group as to the next week's restaurant venue. Many members ( I use the term members loosely, as we don't have by-laws, memberships, officers or dues) are reluctant to make suggestions.

After several years as an informal member, and a year of co-ordinating, I have devised an acid test which helps me decide if we should return to a restaurant. This test may be applied generally to eating out in Mexico, not just geriatric breakfasts.

It's based on several factors, but the main one is salsa, or salsa, if you prefer.

Who ever heard of a Mexican Mexican restaurant (that is, in Mexico) that didn't serve its guests salsas without having to request it?* We have, on several occasions.

Picture this scene: a plush dining room in an expensive, deluxe hotel in Pátzcuaro. Let's call it La Mansíon de Peluche. Tablecloths, uniformed waiters, chandeliers, warm croissants, butter curls, but no salsa, for God's sake.  That was a warning clue that the buffet breakfast that would follow would follow the path of insipidity. The presence of sliced hot dogs in their innocent, undisguised nudity, was more evidence that it was a kitchen that did not care.
 A request for salsa brought a heedlessly improvised dish of it after a short wait. Someone in the kitchen should have thought of this beforehand. This kind of plush service does not come cheaply, either. I'd rather pay for good food than for pretentious plushness.

Another hotel, a refuge more squarely located, and another buffet, with bad value/price relation down to an art. I was just trying to recall what we were served last time for $80 MXN. I think that besides beverages, there was huevos a la Mexicana of no particular distinction, some chilaquiles... there may have been more, maybe some bacon, but I can't remember. It was also notable for a lack of salsa. I felt cheated, but the servers were too busy getting more huevos (which had run out early before all of us got some) that I gave up on it.

Last Tuesday we breakfasted at  a new restaurant, "La Vista Incomparable", on the hill overlooking Pátzcuaro. The coffee was decent, the food wasn't bad, although not great. The fruit plate was unusually good and distinctive. Points!  On the other hand, the bread was dreadful. And there was no salsa. Again, $80 (these prices include or voluntary tip.)

Let's turn now to the positive side. Here is the Pátzcuaro Salsa Hall of Fame
• Fonda Mamá Lupe. A intense, brick-red sauce is on the table. No asking necessary. It has kick and good flavor. Try it on Hot Cakes instead of syrup. (Just foolin')  Sorry, I don't find a photo, but I'll soon remedy that.
I just picked up the print from the drugstore; here:

• Patio Las Brisas. Three salsas, in varying styles and strengths. You may have to ask for the dark, oily extra picante salsa.
Serious salsa, not for the fainthearted, at Las Brisas

Cooked Table Sauce, Patio Las Brisas

La Surtidora. Damn fine salsa. You don't need to start a petition to get some.

*Free* molletes with Salsa Cruda in center
A *free* amuse bouche of molletes at La Surtidora. Salsa cruda in center.

Listen, do I need to start bringing my own salsa to the plush but negligent restaurants? Would they care?
• Restaurante Lupita's (antes, Restaurant Cha Cha Cha). Nice salsa, innocent looking, but picante. Not very characterful. It's based on tomatoes and chiles perón.

Over in Morelia, even lowly Hamburguesas Richards offers decent salsas for its food, particularly its tacos al pastor.

Do I need to bring my own salsa to the restaurants that don't provide it? I don't think they'd give a whit, but
here's a recipe for my  Salsa Verde. It's not unique, but it's good.
Peel then wash a kilogram of tomates verdes, also known as tomatillos. Cook in simmering, lightly salted water until just starting to turn tender and translucent. Do Not Overcook. Drain in a colander and cool.
Roast, then sweat 6 medium to large chiles Poblanos. After 30 minutes of sweating, peel and seed. You may add 1 chile Jalapeño or 2 or more chiles serranos to the mix if you like the salsa muy picante.
Also partially roast  half of a peeled white onion.
Wash and disinfect a good handful of cilantro. Blot dry in paper towelling
Wash, disinfect a good handful of cilantro, and remove any large, coarse stems. Blot dry with a paper towel.
Place the peeled roasted chiles and the cut up onion in a food processor outfitted with the steel S-shaped blade. Pulse until a coarse consistency is reached. Add the cooled tomatillos along with a teaspoon of salt. Add the cilantro. Pulse to combine. Add some pure water to thin the salsa to desired consistency. Taste for salt.
You are done. This freezes well in small containers. There's little excuse for being out of salsa verde.

*There's a bargain breakfast buffet restaurant, in a non-elegant hotel. It does serve salsa but it serves neither bread or tortillas. In all fairness, I have to say that they do not normally serve breakfast but open specially for our group. The key to its popularity is that the food is both abundant and cheap.

(I see some bugs in this blogpost, but I can't correct them now. Hasta pronto.)

Salsa Update: On Sunday, May 23, we were at the restaurant El Gorjeo de Las Aves En Las Mañanas de Abril at Ziracuarétiro. They served one of the best table salsas ever made. Here is a photo. Among other things, it contains nopalitos.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What the Pho?

Michoacán's Best Vietnamese Restaurants?
What the Pho?

There aren't any. You want Vietnamese type food, you must cook it at home. (It's also true of Chinese food, if you want anything much more than  chow mein and stir-fried salchichas or pollo agri-dulce. But that's another story.)

We are big fans of Vietnamese cuisine. Back in Little Rock, AR, where we spent 10 years toiling before retirement, we discovered the Van Lang Vietnamese Cuisine Restaurant, on South University Avenue, across from the gates to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. During our last 3 or so years in that capital city, we probably ate at Van Lang on the average of once a week. Often it was our first stop after landing at the LR Airport, even before driving to our apartment, 10 minutes away.
The two things we miss most about LR (it's hard to think of many others) are Van Lang's and the Public Library System.

For some time I've wanted to make Pho, a classic Vietnamese soup of beef or chicken plus rice noodles, accompanied by a platter of fresh herbs to add al gusto. There are numerous elaborations on the theme, but the basic soup consists of a beef stock made from scratch, spiced with ginger, cloves and star anise, perhaps some lemongrass, and various sliced cuts of beef.

This lit my fire to do it at last: some inspiring photos of Asian noodle soups, including Pho, by "hwinnp", on one of my favorite forums, Any Port In a Storm.

The chicken version, Pho Gai, may be less demanding to make, but for me, the beef version is more attractive. Being undemanding of "authenticity", I was able to make a very satisfactory pho.

Certain ingredients may be hard to find. But looking for them is a big part of the fun. You may use the absence of star anise in the Pátzcuaro Mercado as an excuse to go to Mexico City for a couple of days.

Fresh ginger root, another vital flavoring, is not a problem. It's frequently available at the stand of Los Padilla in the Pátzcuaro mercado. I got a very nice, 6 inch branch for 7 pesos.

Lemongrass? just ask for té de limón at the herb stands, although if you want it green and fresh, you'll have to look around.

For the beef, I went to La Carnicería La Norteña in the mercado and asked for a kilo of beef suitable for Caldo de Res, plus an equal weight of huesos para el caldo. The latter are free. More bones would have been better. Note: I wash the meat and bones in cold running water for a few moments before beginning to cook them. Nevertheless, some of the meat gave off a pissy odor during the first cooking, but it totaly dissipated during the second cooking. I think that this will probably not occur again. I may go instead to a different carnicería next time.

Fish sauce, I think, may be obtainable at better supermarkets in Morelia, such as Superama.

Below is the recipe downloaded from the NY Times Online, that served as my base from which I improvised. I'll insert my comments and changes like this.