Postcard from Mexico City: ‘For Main Course We’ll Have That’

Am slinging out these final food shots from our fall visit to Mexico City like a short-order cook in a bad diner, but I am off taking new photos of meals in an entirely different spot on the map.

Most of these are from the Roma Norte neighborhood where we stayed. Am keeping my comments at a minimum, so the pictures will have to serve in helping you decide about restaurants when journeying there yourself.

Particularly enjoyed the abundance of vegetable dishes, including a no-pasta spaghetti, at Bowie Cocina de Humo, but the restaurant does take its name seriously. Every course is tinged with smoke-infused flavor. By the end of the meal, my mouth almost felt as though I’d been smoking. We found the much-heralded Nudo Negro with its show-off parade up to the kitchen to receive your amuse-bouche from the hands of a chef a tad bit pretentious, but the long-roasted eggplant, split open and topped with humus tableside, melts in your mouth.

There must be thousands of less expensive places to eat a Mexican-style breakfast in Mexico City, but the park-facing patio of Café Toscano on Orizaba is so pleasant the higher price tag was absorbed without question. Both the red and green chilaquiles are wonderful, and the fresh juice combinations round out the meals.

We loved the neighborhood comfort feeling of having pizza on the patio at Cancino Roma or shrimp arancini and a bowl of robust roasted tomato soup at Macelleria, where, as you can see from the featured photo, the restaurant correctly profiled us with the name of the house wine. Few tables at the popular Huset fail to order avocado pizza.

The variety and freshness of ingredients and recipes never disappointed us at Delirio. Fresh salads and sandwiches, moussaka and falafel and fresh meringues are among the celebrated bakery’s fare.

Veering even farther away from stereotypical Mexican food, the curries and toms at Galanga Thai Kitchen are worth seeking. The green papaya salad in particular drew us out for a return visit. With its flavorful chicken, roasted eggplant and falafel moistened with spinach, Paprika enticed us back for multiple meals as well.

From there, jump into downtown for the old-school formality of service in the high-ceilinged Casino Espanol, worthy of entering for viewing the stained-glass in its Porfirio-era home alone. The croquetas, boquerrones and seafood soup transported us to Spain.

We almost avoided Casino Espanol after reading a review describing it as the type of restaurant attracting old suits entertaining young mistresses, but there were only a pair or two seeming to fit in that category. The poor Mister and Vic, unsuited and in the company of old wives.

Whether squiring old spouses or young paramours, diving into a throwback to the past is a recommended ingredient balancing out all the trendy contemporary kitchens so abundant in this bustling culinary capital.

 

 

‘New York Times’ Making Amends?

Austinites gloated, but San Antonians exploded over the blasphemous claim made by John Edge on March 9 in The New York Times:

When it comes to breakfast tacos, however, Austin trumps all other American cities.

What? 

I have tried to refrain from jumping on the anti-Edge bandwagon, but….

Theoretically, Edge comes with impeccable foodie credentials, such as the upcoming Truck Food Nation (I confess.  I love this website.) and the fact that he currently is a finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award from the James Beard Foundation. 

But Edge was way off base with that line.  Reminiscent of the old Pace Picante advertisement blasting Cookie for serving “foreign” hot sauce (“This stuff is made in New York City.”), the headline itself is a dead giveaway:  “Tacos in the Morning?”  That is not a question; it is an assumption for a huge percentage of San Antonians and has been for their entire lives. 

Personally, I am partial to Tito’s thick, freshly made-by-hand, white corn tortillas way-overstuffed with chilaquiles, but there are a multitude of choices in virtually every neighborhood.  Veronica Flores-Paniagua of the Express-News writes that the paper’s food editor, Karen Haram, received nominations for more than 200 different breakfast taco destinations as the “best” in the city this past year.  San Antonians probably were eating breakfast tacos before upstart Austin was founded.

Dan Saltzstein‘s article, “36 Hours in San Antonio” in today’s New York Times, makes the paper more palatable to pick up again.  Saltzstein wandered far and wide off the beaten track to spotlight both upscale and quirky spots in San Antonio (although no breakfast tacos are mentioned).   He recommends a platter of the “succulent, charred-on-the-outside brisket” at The Smokehouse on Roland Avenue and the Texas burger, a Texas Monthly cover girl, at our favorite car wash, The Cove.

He dined on shrimp enchiladas at Aldaco’s Stone Oak, and waited in line for wild mushroom lasagna at Andrew Weissman’s Il Sogno.  He hit the Green Lantern on Stone Oak Parkway and wandered into Casbeers for a bit of “church music that goes way beyond hymns.”  In this whirlwind trip, he squeezes in museums and shopping at The Twig Book Shop and Melissa Guerra’s at Pearl.

Phew!  How could anyone do all that in 36 hours?  Saltzstein must have been zipping around faster than a New York minute, a phrase Barry Popik claims actually originated in Texas.  But, more importantly, why would anyone spend only 36 hours in San Antonio?  Then I looked back; the vacation schedule, despite the headline (Who writes these headlines for the Times?), stretched out over a 48-hour period – actually even longer because it ended up precisely 48 hours later upon arrival at the San Antonio Zoo, which has way too many acres of animals to see in a New York nanosecond.

Hey, New York, thanks for extending us a Texas minute to explore some of our charms.  Next time, try the breakfast tacos.

Some recent great meals around San Antonio, from a non-New York perspective:

  • The Cool Cafe, 123 Auditorium Circle:  A crepe filled with spinach, mushrooms and liberal amounts of olive oil served with sweet and crisp roasted potatoes; huge chunks of salmon cooked shish-kabob-style and served over basmati rice; half-price wine on Sunday.  Better hurry, because the new owners of the Havana Hotel seem inclined to want the Mediterranean cafe out of the way.  Liz Lambert has completed work on the hotel to instill it with the same coolness factor as the San Jose in Austin, and I am happy to learn the great basement Bar will no longer be filled with dense clouds of cigar smoke.  If Lambert can make a former “motor court” hip, she certainly should be able to make a building with the architectural bones of the Havana inviting.  Did I mention the Cool Cafe knocks 50 percent off all wine on Sundays?  Call first to be sure it has not been evicted:  210.224.2665. 
  • Tre Trattoria, 4003 Broadway:  Considering I have not been blogging long, it might arouse suspicion for me to mention this meal again.  Sorry, but this is my vision of a perfect Saturday lunch for making a couple feel as though they are on vacation:  grilled radicchio with lemon vinagrette; a pizza topped with goat cheese, pistachios and balsamic cippolini; and a bottle of A Mano Primitivo.  One might think Jason and Crystal Dady were bribing me, but they would go broke if everyone who came in placed such a budget order.  Price for two, including the bottle of wine:  $41.30.
  • Azuca Nuevo Latino, 713 South Alamo:  For a while, the kitchen seemed to suffer from attention-deficit as management focused on a northside location, but everything appears back on track.  Few restaurants present food with more artistry.  Would highly recommend garlicky tostones, tender grilled squid and the tropical fruit garden for dessert, much more decadent than it sounds.  The caipirinha is a nice change from margaritas or mojitos.
  • The Filling Station Cafe, 701 South St. Mary’s Street:  The place to grab a sandwich, such as the turkey habanero on rolls made in the teeninsiest kitchen.  There might be all of three tables tucked inside, but there is additional seating outside.  Have used Jon’s services several times to provide sandwiches for meetings, and everyone always raves. 
  • Zinc Champagne, Wine & Spirits, 207 North Presa:  The name immediately lets you know the beverage side of the menu is well-stocked; yet the bartenders do not complain about making something off-menu – such as what I have christened a “tequito,” a mojito with tequila instead of rum.  Zinc is open during the week for lunch, but seems to be trying to keep that secret.  Pears, goat cheese and pecans perk up a small Zinc salad, and the portobello patty melt with spinach, nopalitos and cheese is hearty fare.  The sweet potato fries arriving on the same plate keep me from exploring the menu much farther, despite the high praise friends lavish on the Texas salmon salad with pearl couscous. 
  • Easter lunch was bountiful, but my sister-in-law asked me not to give out her address.
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