Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Casa de las Sirenas supplies super food and a super view over the Cathedral in Mexico City (12-28-15)

Tonight's restaurant was located right behind the Cathedral and when we arrived we were escorted up three flights of stairs (after having climbed multiple pyramids during our day tour) to a beautiful terrace overlooking the Metropolitan Cathedral and part of the Zocalo (main square) just as the sun was setting. We prayed the food would be as good as our view and indeed it was.
Salsa rojo appeared but here it was the consistency of tapenade and packed a punch  as we shmeared it on the pumpkin seed rolls and flatbread.
We asked for the wine list and the waiter brought three bottles of red wine. When we said we were going to eat fish and wanted white, he returned with one option, luckily it was a good choice, Casa Madera Chardonnay 2104.
The starters were all superb hits from Samuel's Guacamole con Chicharon Placero with Chile Serrano, Cilantro, Onion, Tomato and Queso Fresco. The bowl was the size of cow head and was filled to the brim with at least a quart of guacamole and the chicharons were awesome. My Tostadas de Jiaba a la Campechana were loaded with fresh crab on a dribble of guacamole with tomato, olive oil, olives, capers and cebolla xnipec (a type of pickled onion). Will had the third home run with Tacos de Carnitas de Pato Estilo Mihoacan-duck confit in freshly made tortillas (we saw this at the far end of the room) and a hint or orange. The salsa rojo was just the right touch for these, as they came with no sauce of their own.
The main courses were just as good with Sam gobbling up his Rib Eye Grilled with a Salsa Estilo Chile Aceito which was made with peanut, sesame, chiles and was pasty but tasty.
Will & I split our two fish courses: Filete de Dorado con Verduras a la Parilla, Salsa de Herbas Frescas y Arroz Rosa Mexicana was a superb fresh fish with amazing veggies and a rose colored rice.
Filete de Huachinango was a Red Snapper with hoja santa y pipian and a portion of a bit too salty Shrimp with Mushrooms wrapped in a corn husk.
Will enjoyed a Corn flan with caramel/orange sauce that was okay, but won no prizes in my book.
The view and food combined for a truly memorable evening.


The St. Regis Hotel's J&G Grill is just great

We had planned to head out to a local BBQ place Sunday, but since the hotel pool was closed and I complained, we ended up with free dinner in the hotel.
I normally avoid most Jean Georges places, but this one run by Mexican-French chef Olivier Desboise Mendez turned out to be a hit.
We sat outdoors overlooking the Paseo de la Reforma and the only thing I have to complian about is the sad brown placemat on the beautiful wooden tables and the not so comfy wooden chairs.
Our server Alejandro was super helpful and brought us way more than we wanted when we asked to try things.
A yummy mini-taquito of octopus, avocado puree and Serrano started us off as an amuse. Will started with an excellent Grilled Black Pepper Octopus with Sweet Onions & Lime, that he said should have been warmer, but I understand the just over room temp logic. Samuel made his Pumpkin Soup with Corn Truffle & Amaranth disappear in what seemed seconds, and I adored my Kale Salad with Lemon, Serrano Chiles and a hint of mint...you couldn't taste the mint, which was fine by me. The kale was marinated a bit for softness and the chiles had just the right bite.
For main courses, Samuel did a second disappearing act with the Veal Milanese which he had French fries added to, Will hit the jackpot with the Braised Beef Short ribs and Apple Jalapeno Jam which was like a smoky liqueur glaze, while I adored my Paqueta or Pacific Grouper with lemon zest & olive oil grilled to perfection with grilled nopales (cactus) as well as charred snow peas and regular peas; the veggies here were amazing. The night before we had tried to inquire what esquites were and got nowhere, but Alejandro explained it was a corn soup with mayo and quickly brought a portion, which we fell in love with. Simply put it is a corn broth with corn, avocado & mayo for thickening, lemon, chiles and a radish garnish; sounds weird but tastes great.
We loved the "Don Luis" 201 Viognier from L.A.Cetto in Baja which was acidic yet creamy and worked with everything, although Will had a glass of red with his beef, which was oddly USA Columbia Valley Cab.
We tired and liked the acidity of a Late Harvest Casa Madero 2014 Cosecha Tardia from Valle de Parras made of 95%Semillon & 5%Gewurtz, but it was oddly served in a large water glass.
Samuel devoured his Warm Chocolate Cake but left the Vanilla Ice Cream, while Will & I split the most amazing Sweet Corn Cake with Cajeta(caramel) Sauce, popcorn and Mezcal Ice Cream, to which Will commented "there's alcohol in this."
We left promising never to poopoo hotel food or a JG establishment again.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Porfirio's in Polanco, Mexico City is pretty good, but pretentious (12-26-15)

Our first night in Mexico City took us to a very beautiful if  extremely noisy, high end "meat joint" in Polanco that was recommended by the hotel. We were seated in a very nice, but quite dark large room in large comfy leather chairs at a huge table that seemed built to hold the monstrous trays of meats being delivered to them. There were odd chandeliers that looked like they were wrapped in plastic red cellophane as well.  We noticed video screens portraying what Sam said was a kid's play area, and sure enough we were told that on weekends they have this for the kids to run off and play; a novel idea, and I guess the parents can watch. Wrong, the video changed shortly thereafter and often had loud music videos put on by a nearby DJ, which just is not what I want when I am trying to relax and enjoy my food.
We ordered some of the fun frozen drinks called Josephina de Limon. Will had limon made with Mezcal 400, Controy (Mexican Cointreau), lemon juice, and soda while my Josphina di Pepino featured the same ingredients with cucumber instead and both had Chile Trajin lined glasses for a dash of spice, and chili flakes were also brought if we wanted to shake them on; I did. We saw fun carts going around the place which were delivering corn on the cob and we later saw it was smothered with what seemed to be mayo and then crunchy flakes and served on a raised to mouth level apparatus that allowed you to turn the corn and eat it--brilliant and fun. We even saw one dish being delivered with a smoking train to a table of some kids.
Our first server Luis spoke English, but then they switched as larger groups arrived and we got Abraham, who was nice, but his English wasn't so great. We let Samuel do the translating and he has been so superb, there are words we just cant seem to get translated as they are the same on both menus. Last night it was "esquites" which Abraham said was something in a glass? It's on the menu for tonight's dinner, so I will try and inquire yet again as it is translated as "popcorn" and "esquites" in many places; that's a ton of help!
We ordered away and Samuel explained that we wanted a rest of at least 20 minutes between the courses, as the food has been so filling and rich and we wanted to enjoy and relax. We saw the monster portions arriving around us and knew this was a smart move.
We had also received our wine, my favorite Mexican wine called Gabriel 2013 Adobe Guadalupe from Valle de Guadalupe which is 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Malbec yet has the most awesome chocolate flavor that makes it work so well with not only mole, but so many other intensely flavored Mexican foods. I hope it is on the menu many more times.
We had also received a pate of salsas (tomatillo, rojo(red) and mucho rojo(super spicy red). There were amazing crispy chili dusted tortillas in a stand as well as a bean dip with queso fresco and an amazing salsa made from the nopal cactus that I am in love with. At this point someone came over to take our order, yet we had done that ages ago; I felt the place was ruled by a low level of confusion.
Sam started with El Tamal which was a magnificently presented chicken tamale with salsa verde on top of an adorable wooden "bus," the kind that you might know from Puerto Rico, but here turned into a raised plate...loads of fun. Incidentally, once again many of the photos of these dishes from all week and future meals can be seen on my FB page....
Will ordered the Degustacion de Ceviches which were three different ones of fish, shrimp and octopus. I tasted the fish which was okay, but he said all three were exactly the same preparation; so much for variation! I chose form the daily special "Quesadillas" which had 5 or 6 different ingredients that you choose and then come with a yummy thick sour cream dip and lettuce (not sure for what), so I thought two were just the right size: Huitlacoche (a Mexican mushroom, also called corn truffle that I adore) and Flor de Cabeza, the same Squash Blossom that Will had the previous night, which was superb. Oddly, when these arrived they were giant empanadas, not quesadillas; it seems that each place uses these words as they please and it all makes no sense to me. Despite the nomenclature, they were awesome and also huge portions and I was so thankful we had asked for that break.
About 9 minutes after they cleared the starters, the main course arrived and we tried to explain that we had asked for 20 minutes at minimum. We were all stuffed from the dips, salsas and starters and needed time for sure, but Abraham seemed to tell Samuel that he understood 20 minutes from when he took the order to begin with...which was stupid. I had to talk to the manager, and it was all eventually straightened out, but not without them all staring at us like we were nuts; Samuel said that he overheard the staff calling us "the 20 minute people..." That said we had another 20+ minutes, time to digest and also some excellent wine on its own before the main courses did arrive all freshly redone. The folks around us seemed to order platter after platter of whole pig, whole cow, whole everything all cooked and looking amazing, but they all ate so fast. We sat down at 745pm or so and finished our starters at 845pm and then got the main courses about 925pm and headed out around 1015pm, yet the 5 folks next to us had four various monster plates, dessert and more, all in under 90 minutes! It seems Mexicans eat very fast.
Samuel ordered the Tacos de Suadero of steak, cilantro and onion and loved them, while Will went with the Chile Relleno Picadillo, a stuffed Poblano with ground beef, almond & tomato all in a rich thick chipotle sauce with crema. It was delish, yet the sauce seemed to have some seeds that he got super-spiced on. My Filete Tampiquena was a dream steak marinated simply and grilled to perfection so that I could enjoy all of the superb salsas on it should I want a kick (& I did). On the side was a bowl of beans which actually had potatoes and frank slices in it as well, avocado and then three miniature, but nonetheless rich and filing Chicken Mole Empanadas, which were NOT empanadas, but really rolled and not fired tortillas, hence really enchiladas...nomenclature yet again.
We split one dessert of Flan which was so beautiful when it arrived with a giant ball of spun sugar. The flan here was more like a vertical torte than a flat custard, but still delicious.
We had noticed that every table got this "tree" of flat colored discs after dinner and we finally got our "house gift" called Pepitoria. I wondered why they all came and nobody seemed to eat them, as they were the blandest floury discs on earth, save for the little drizzle of honey in the middle of a couple of them. They would save a ton of money if they eliminated them. On the way out we grabbed the delicious little milk chocolate logs that were on the front desk; they were yummy and should replace the Pepitoria!
Overall, a fun experience, a pretty good dinner, a price tag that would freak out anyone from Puebla or Cholula as our meal here with 2 drinks and one bottle of wine rang in at just over $200 (still a good deal compared to the US), but remember that our lunch for 4 was under $20!

for a lovely lunch in Cholula (near Puebla, MX) get thee to GUEROS (12-16-15)

We headed towards Mexico City with our guide Monica, who will join us again several times this coming week and had planned to spend much of the day in Cholula to visit the archeological ruins and Gran Piramida as well as the famous church built atop them, Nuestra Senora de los Remedios.
We headed into town and right on the Zocalo (main square) I led our group to Gueros where the food was truly excellent and the huge meal for all four of us with drinks and tips rang in at just over $20US!
Cecina was what Monica ordered and the salt dried beef came here on a huge plate with enough to serve everyone. Awesome salsas of green (here looking like a creamy runny guacamole, yet packing a punch) and red, warm tortillas, guacamole, and more made yummy little sandwiches. Sam loved his Chalupas, they really are taco pizzas and an order of delicious guacamole with tostado chips, while Will returned to his Sopa de Tortilla, which is a meal in itself.
I had chosen this place for its Pozole, which is not even on the menu, but famed throughout the region and it was stupendous.
Hot soup with the hominy balls can be ordered with either chicken, pork or "mixto" which I chose and it comes with every piece of every animal you can imagine cooked to perfection in the slightly spicy broth. There is a side server of chili flakes, onion, and many garnishes that you can add as you please; this was not only a meal, but an experience.
Gueros means blonds...an odd name for the place, and the "U" has two dots over it like an umlaut, changing the "u" sound to a "wu" sound, or here gweros.
whatever, it's a find in an adorable little town.
We also tasted fried grasshoppers in the market with various spices of chilis, lime, garlic and more...crunchy and tasty. The wild dish of the market was a giant round slice of jicama on stick looking like and all-day sucker that you have splashed with lime and salt and then your choice of seasonings. The hot chili is the hottest I have ever had and our lips were indeed on fire for some time, but the flavor was intense and yummy.
Off to Mexico City.

El Mural de los Poblanos is perfect in Puebla, Mexico (12-25-15)

El Mural de los Poblanos is appropriately named sure to the numerous murals by local artists covering the walls. Local folks of fame are featured in some,  and others are more abstract, but quite interesting even though  we did not know the meaning behind them. Here the décor is a colonial style room with fine linens and crystal; very upscale compared to everything else which is quite casual.
The servers were attentive handsome young men, but never invasive, like the evening prior.
We enjoyed and amuse of mini-open-taco with shredded beef, crema, cheese, lettuce and a dab of refried beans which was yummy.
Will & I enjoyed Casa Madero 2V, and excellent Mexican white blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc which worked superbly to cut the spice of my starter:
Totritas de Camaron con nopales romentos en salsa de chile pasilla, which was like a floury shrimp cake in salsa with both seaweed and the nopales cactus steamed on the side, again to cut the spice on occasion. This was a rare special from the holiday menu featuring items made only at Xmas.
Samuel had a superb chicken consommé to which a number of fun items were added as he requested them and Will had the Quesadillas de Mercado con tlalitos which were corn tortillas with squash blossoms, mushrooms & Oaxaca cheese.
For the main course we switched to a yummy bottle of red Rivero Gonzalez Tinto 2012 from Valle de Parras in Coahuila, another famous wine region. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Cab France was a superb blend for a great foil to my Sliced grilled Duck in Mole Poblano which was perhaps the best mole ever. It came with carrots, string beans, rice and of course more tortillas, but I could not eat any more starch.
Samuel went for a famous local special, Tacos Arabes de cordero made with spicy lamb, olive oil and jocoque which is a Lebanese sour cream all in a spicy chipotle sauce, none of which he would share.
Will had the spectacular Cecnina de Tepeaca which is top quality (strip loin) salted and dried beef with grilles nopal cactcus, refried beans, grilled gooey Panela cheese(think mozzarella), guacamole and white chorizo.
We were full but had clearly found the best food in all of Puebla..today onto Mexico City.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Casona de la China Poblano, Puebla's (Mexico) pricey and pretty spot for local cuisine (12-24-15)

After quite a harrowing delay of close to 7 hours on our flight to Mexico, we finally arrived at our hotel at about 6am on Xmas Eve, went to sleep, woke up before noon and spent the day touring as much as we could see. Dinner was early as we needed sleep. So we headed to the beautiful courtyard of Casona de la China Poblano, a pleasant colonial building in the center of town. It was deserted and as we enjoyed our meal the staff almost annoyingly hovered over us.
We started with yummy margaritas and looked around the quaint courtyard over which the hotel rooms opened up on. In the center was the larger than life statue of La China Poblano, the fabled daughter of a Mongol king who was abducted to Mexico. Well, Samuel noted that her blonde braids and fair skin made her look more like a little Dutch girl!
Amuses came in the form of mimelitas, small pizza like squares with salsa and queso fresca, which is very tasty in this region as it is indeed so fresh.
Will had a gorgeous Sopa Azteca of avocado, pasilla chilis, chicharron, queso fresco and crema de rancho, a sour cream of sorts. Samuel had the even more intriguing and tasty Taquitos Santos made from chicken and cheese, but here wrapped in root beer leaves with chili Serrano sauce that packed a punch. Think of it as a Mexican version of meaty/cheesy stuffed grape leaves, but bigger.
Sesame seed rolls with salsa verde and red salsa(hotter) arrived and we enjoyed these as well, but little did I know my starter of Las Cemitas Poblanasa "Mercado del Carmen was several miniature sandwiches with the same bread stuffed with a slaw, salsa and then some kind of small fried square of meat and perhaps ground seeds, but we never did find out, as language for food is a big problem here, even when Samuel speaks the language so well, as the dishes are so local.
We ordered a superb Santo Tomas 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Baja that was very full bodied and went brilliantly with the traditional signature dish of the region, which both Will & I had, Mole Poblano or chicken breast in mole with tamale, rice and full of delish flavor.
Samuel ordered guacamole as his main course, even though a starter, yet they brought an bland soup broth which he could put some things in like onion, cilantro and such; he did not want to speak up, so he ate it.
We were full and spent the rest of the evening walking through all the Xmas stuff in town and visiting churches, which was fun.
We thought our dinner was okay, but it sure didn't win any prizes for the first night. Praying for better as we move through 2 more weeks in Mexico.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

a reasonable review for REDWOOD in Bethesda, MD (12-1-15)

A while ago we won a 4-course tasting for 2 with wines at the charming Bethesda eatery, REDWOOD. It was chilly last night and wet, so we were grateful for the (albeit $4) underground parking at Bethesda Row (which is not validated for diners) and proceeded to the virtually dead restaurant at 7pm. It's quite a pretty place with lots of redwood touches such as the tables, walls, accents, etc and tall glass windows overlooking the shops on Bethesda Row (a pedestrian mall) and even lots of outdoor seating which was not in use with 48degree temps and lots of rain!
The bar was quiet and occupies a large area, but we were seating in one of two adjacent areas.
We were seated and presented with the 4-course tasting menu, which had no options at all. They also left a wine list, despite the fact that pairings were included. After our bread arrived (super hot mini-baguettes with superb whipped butter that melted so fast), a manager arrived to apologize and ask if we wanted to move to the other dining area as a group of 70 or so were expected at the bar area for a match.com event! We moved as quickly as you could snap your fingers.
Our server Nely was awesome, and she explained the menu and poured the first glass of Biutiful Prosecco, which we have had before and is okay. This was paired with a Farm Beet Salad which was a huge salad of purple & golden beets, beet greens, arugula, orange sections, whipped goat cheese and a divine Pistachio-citrus gremolata. the flavors burst in every bite and I have to say I was impressed.
Next came huge bowls of Yellow Beet Gnocchi with sliced cooked red beets, sliced red cabbage, asparagus, cherry tomatoes all in a garlic-herb butter sauce with roasted black garlic cloves and a dash of red beet cream. It was very rich and quite indulgent, so we left about 1/3 of each of our bowls, which Samuel was happy to take to school today for lunch (we told him it was veggie gnocchi, as he would never have eaten beets!).
The Mountain View Pinot Noir 2013 from Central Coast, California was an intense 13.9% alcohol pinot with lots of flavor and worked perfectly with the food.

We were quite stuffed and had a 30-minute rest before the next course arrived. Laguiole-like knives (actually Fortessa) arrived but were not needed for the very tender and tasty Wood-grilled Flat Iron Steak with grilled Asparagus and housemade steak sauce. We could not really figure out the ingredients of the "secret sauce" but knew there was an aged balsamic and a smoky element that gave it both a bitter and sweet taste. It was good, but I was not overwhelmed; Will liked it more than me. The True Myth 2012 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon was divine with the intense flavors on the plate, again which part of went home for later as we were so full.
A trip to the loo had me passing the now very busy bar, but sadly the 20 & 30-somethings from match.com had left the restrooms quite a mess; don't parents teach their kids to clean up after themselves? Indeed, when Will went to the W.C. (which was how 3 of the 4 were marked), these dot.comers were all in a line waiting for the one bathroom that had a man/woman figure on it, not knowing that the three others with "WC" on it were also bathrooms!

The dessert was Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate ganache and Orange segment and I cautiously asked Nely if there was  a lighter fruit option. Will loved his cake, but I adored my White Chocolate/Cranberry Whipped Mousse on Graham Cracker Crust with Cranberry Sorbet atop and dots of Cranberry Coulis. It was light and so refreshing as well, especially the sorbet. Grahams' Late Bottled 2008 Port was a delight and we waddled out with our doggie bags.
I only wish we had some choices and could have created our own 4-course menu, then perhaps we might have been a little less full, so maybe we will go back to Redwood to try some other items on the menu next time.