Another Mexico City Report, Mostly Pujol
First, thanks to all for your reccos! I never posted to ask, as reading all the other posts more than informed me!
Had a great 5 days in D.F. We tempted fate like crazy by eating huaraches from one of the food stalls at Teotihuacan but we were desperate! We called it the huarache of death, but, so far (2wks later), we're not sick. Delicious! Shredded chicken atop a layer of black bean puree, topped with queso fresco, crunchy cabbage, some lovely avo slices. SOOO good.
Pretty good tacos at a taqueria a few blocks behind the Sheraton near Chapultepec, possibly called El Cantinero, or Camararo. Can't recall and foolishly didn't write it down. Basically, if you're facing the Sheraton at the Glorieta there, you head to your right one block, go two blocks, take a left, walk about one block. Sign is orange, always packed! Tacos on the greasy side for miss picky here, but really, as one would expect. Chicken chorizo got major raves from the gals as did chiles con queso. I liked the plain chicken which, when adorned with the various salsas, was spicy and terrific.
Hacienda de los Morales, only b/c it was a Sunday night and we couldn't face eating at the hotel. Most of the food was pretty eh, but the chicken mole was tasty and we enjoyed it! Still, the maitre d' disparagingly refered to us as bambini and said another not so nice thing, though with the resto only 1/4 full, why did he care?? Too bad for him that I speak fluent spanish.
Best meal was definitely Pujol, though as you'll see, I didn't love it 100%. It was either that or Aguila y Sol, we only had one night to go for either meal, sadly, though I suspect the food is sort of similar in philosophy, if not preparation.
Here's a link to the blog, not mine, but I guest blogged: thisisgonnabegood.blogspot.com
If you want photos of the food, check out the blog. You'll have to scroll down a little, as she's posted a few other things since putting up Pujol.
Otherwise here you go:
In preparation for our Mexico City trip, I scoured the Chowhound Mexico board to see where to eat, for street food, for taquerias, and for our one really fine meal. Consensus for the latter was divided between Aguila y Sol and Pujol. After reading both menus, we decided to go for Pujol, based mainly on my obsession with Huachinango (red snapper) and Pujol’s preparation looked more interesting. Because we were still on East Coast time and because as far as we’re concerned a 7pm reservation is fine by us, we arrived at the restaurant a good 30 minutes before any other parties, but this was fine, as we then received all the waitstaff’s attention, but not overbearingly so.
After ordering, we were given the amuse, which was far and away the largest amuse I’ve ever had. Sure, the container was big, but there was so much of this weird foam concoction. At least four times the amount you’d get anywhere in NYC, which would’ve been cool if this hadn’t been one of the saltiest things I’ve ever eaten. It was a deconstructed quesadilla and as such, had a base layer of a cheese foam, atop which lay a foam of masa, topped off by lime foam. Interesting idea and pretty to look at, but wow was it salty! I know I’m repeating myself here, but can’t stress this enough…and it worried me about the rest of the meal.
We started with the Mil Hojas de Atún, which might make you think you were getting, say, a millefeuille of tuna or poké, though it was basically just tartare, with 1/4in square chunks. There were pieces of some sort of chewy thing, was it squid? No, it was cheese, possibly fried, since it was called chicharrón de queso. I guess the Mexicans have no fear of mixing cheese and seafood, something I’ve always avoided, but in this case, given that I forgot it was cheese and mistook it for squid, I guess it worked out OK. There were the cutest, teeny tortilla chips and a great salsa verde. Either the salsa or the whole dish itself was oversalted, giving more weight to my quesadilla suspicions. I know this sounds like I didn’t enjoy this dish, but actually I did; it was just salty.
The other app was a ceviche, which was either totally awesome and we’re so glad we had it, or it gave us a parasite and we may never forget it…jury still out on that. Still, flavor-wise, it was one of the hits of the evening. The fish was possibly cod or sea bass, drizzled with a pepian verde (pumpkinseed) sauce and a laced with a mezcal foam—yes, they’re still way into foams, but appropriately flavored, they can be tasty—and a housemade ketchup. We really enjoyed the fresh flavors of this, it definitely sparkled with citrus tanginess and the fish sure tasted good on the way down.
For our mains, well, here was the big disappointment: they were out of my beloved Huachinango! So we settled on the tuna medallions, which were, weirdly crusted in bacon bits and then seared and placed atop lentils with lardons and garnished with yet another foam, this one a browned butter. This was pretty darned salty, as you can imagine, but in that bacony salty goodness kind of way…
Our other main was actually just the scallops app, as we were really not in the mood for the heavier sounding meat dishes, nor the Bass al pastor as it echoed too many notes from the ceviche. The scallops were transcendant and for them alone, I’ll probably remember this as a top-ten all time meal, even though, in retrospect, it’s really not. There were two perfect scallops, large, firm, juicy, and sweet and yeah, pretty much as sensuous as that sounds. These were topped with a little frizzle of epazote, which is kind of like sorrel, in that it’s green and yet citrusy. They were accompanied by two little triangles of what they called pan de elote, which is basically cornbread, only this had the texture of baked polenta with the sweetness of really awesome cornbread, possibly made from actual corn, rather than solely the meal. The pan was paired with a tangle of huitlacoche. It was kind of clever, really, separating the corn and its fungus and yet serving them side by side.
For dessert, we had the Chocolate Triple, which was their riff on the now standard molten chocolate cake, only this one had, as accompaniment, a not-so-standard scoop of roquefort gelato. It really tasted like roquefort and worked really well as a counterpoint to the richness of the bittersweet chocolate.
Upon talking to the maitre d’, it was explained to us, as far as I could understand, that what the chef at Pujol is doing is deconstructing and reconceiving traditional Mexican dishes. Hence the seabass al pastor—comes with the traditional accountrements of tacos al pastor, only it’s fish and really aesthetically presented. This was successful sometimes and others, like the foam quesadilla extravaganza, not really. Thinking about traditional Mexican foods, I’m not really sure where fish and bacon come together, but maybe I’m just underinformed. The ambience was lovely, kind of reminded me of Annisa, beige walls, black and white photos, all sleek yet warm. Maybe on my next trip to D.F., they’ll have that Huachinango on the menu.
Pujol was a big disappointment for me. I enjoy a good deconstruction now & then, but separate or together the pieces have to be cooked properly. Soft-shell crab app was soggy, duck was tragically undercooked, tuna was overcooked....I have a feeling the kitchen was missing somebody important that day.
Thanks for taking the time to post such a long report!
The ceviche app you described sounds remarkably similar to the duck breast carpaccio we had there a couple of years ago. The duck breast had been sliced wafer thin and was rich and silky. It was set off beautifully by the pipian verde and mezcal foam.
Two other dishes we had there were truly outstanding. The Sopa de Crema de Flor de Calabasas Capuccino and the Shortribs en Mole de Olla. The soup was presented in a clear double old fashioned glass. The bottom layer was the flor de calabasas soup which was vibrantly golden yellow, dense and decadently rich. The soup was topped by a layer of crema foam and then dusted with with a sprinkling of nutmeg. The intent of the soup was to activate all the senses. The heat of the soup and foam would release the volatile oils in the nutmeg so that you smelled the soup before even tasting it. The foam would provide a light and slightly sweet introduction to the palate to be followed by the bold soup making a statement. I have to say it succeeded at every level. I don't know if this soup is still on the menu, if it is, it is definitely worth ordering. The shortribs were spectacularly tender, my only quibble with the dish is that the portion was too small.
I would agree that foam is over used. I do know that a number of the young chefs doing alta cocina cuisine in D.F. have spent time in Europe including stints at El Bulli the birthplace of foam.
How along ago were you at Pujol? I also know that Chef Olvera has been in the U.S. attending the IACP conference. Do you know if he was in the kitchen the night you dined? If he wasn't that could explain the abundant use of salt, which was not a problem when we ate there.
Pujol certainly isn't perfect but it does turn out some pretty interesting food.
We were just there on maybe March 24th. I think that the Chef was indeed back in the kitchen. Our waiter told us he'd be in NYC but was now back, at least I'm pretty sure that's what he said. My spanish is pretty close to fluent, but I'll happily admit that I sometimes get confused on hearing tenses...
No, Pujol's definitely not perfect, but then what is? In all, I definitely thought it was interesting and flavorful. I'd like to give Aguila y Sol a try sometime! Have you been? How do the two compare, in your estimation?
I've been to both several times... Aguila y Sol wins for me, hands down. I'm not a foam-hater, but I'm not sure it needs to be in every dish. I also found that Pujol's dishes were a bit less interesting to my palate. I had a deconstructed taco de chicharron amuse bouche, which was fine. I think I like tacos de chicharron better, though. We had the duck and a fish special. Both solidly prepared, both good, with good ingredients. It just wasn't....um.... very memorable. The presentation was unappetizing. I wish I had tried the lovely-sounding soup above. :-)
I left hungry, sadly.
Aguila y Sol is more traditional in the sense that there is no foam on the menu. However, the food is not traditional mexican. Haute cuisine Mexican, maybe? It's riffs on the traditional, with contemporary touches. I have truly enjoyed all my meals there, and felt like the dishes were complex and well executed.