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Mexico DF Report (longer this time)

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I wanted to round out my brief report on Mexico DF, the new 'upscale' Mexican restaurant in downtown SF, mentioned in this thread below:

http://www.chowhound.com/topics/41207...

I didn't make it back there today, so the report is just based on just one visit. I put the upscale in quotes, because I am not sure it really is upscale, other than in price. See this discussion also:

http://www.chowhound.com/topics/38200...

On to the report: There is a valet, but on Sunday night we didn't need it: plenty of street parking nearby. That probably wouldn't be the case any other day of the week.

The room is pleasant, with what I can only describe as still video frames of famous paintings on the walls from a Mexican painter; apparently the painter and stills will be rotated( currently the 'guest artist' is Orozco, IIRC). I found these interesting but a bit distracting: I kept doing a double take thinking they were a series of flat screen televisions.

Oherwise the room was fairly simple and much smaller than I imagined it would be. The entire middle of the room is taken up by a 14 person communal table that was empty our entire visit: if the place ever gets popular and the table is filled, it could mean a very noisy room. On our visit, however, with only perhaps four of the twelve or so remaining tables taken, it was quiet, or rather, *would* have been quiet had it not been for the booming Mexican music on the stereo. One nice touch: there is a counter overlooking the open kitchen, and the stools looked comfortable: would be a nice place for a solo diner who enjoys watching the line cooks. There is also a nice bar in the front, with a few high tables and large windows that open up in good weather. All in all, a pleasant vibe.

We were promptly seated at a well-spaced two top in the middle of the room; I had a fairly good view of the open kitchen.

Hubby had a club soda, and I ordered the 'margarita Polanco' while we checked out the menu. As my margarita's name implies, the various specialty margaritas are named for neighborhoods in Mexico City: mine had reposado tequila, grand marnier, lime juice and perhaps just a bit of simple sugar, served on the rocks with salt. The menu said it came with muddled fruit, but there was none,just a slice of lime, which was just fine with me (I'd worry that too much fruit would make it too sweet or unbalanced). In any case, an excellent margarita, strong, and not at all sweet.

There is a reasonably long list of tequilas, and no wines mentioned except house wines. The food menu is more limited than I had hoped, and no specials were quoted to us. Our server told us that all of the small plates were small, and that most of the 'platos fuertes' (mains) were fairly small as well; however, we thought portions were *mostly* reasonable, so this may have been a subtle upsell attempt.

Much (though not all) of the menu is in Spanish without a lot of explanation, and the server didn't attempt to explain anything unless we asked specific questions, so I guess they assume all of their customers are familiar with Mexican cuisine. Not a problem for me, but I noticed a bit of confusion and discussion ("what are nopalitos?" among some folks at a nearby table). Even hubby had to ask me to explain a few terms.

So, on to the food: we started with an order of halibut ceviche and a sopa de calabacitas. The halibut came out first. About five very thin slices of fresh fish, each perhaps an inch wide and two or three inches long, were served in a lime and olive oil (I think) marinade, with bits of onion. I thought the menu description also mentioned serrano chilis, but if so, they were MIA. It was served with about three or four round and slightly stale and somewhat flavorless chips. No idea if the chips were house made, but they certainly weren't exciting. No hot sauce or salsa was brought out with the ceviche, though I imagine they would have brought me some had I requested it.Though the fish was certainly fresh, it was quite bland; this was not a dish I would order again, particularly given the small portion size and the $12 cost (the server was right about the portion size on this one dish!).

Hubby's soup followed shortly. Well, sort of. I noticed the line cook frowning and heard him having a conversation with a runner while dishing up the soup about how the ticket said the soup was 'squash' but that the ticket had to be wrong. Didn't think too much about it till the soup came out: and it wasn't any sort of squash at all! It was a sort of a tortilla soup, with bits of tofu and avocado, and fried tortilla strips. Hubby accused me of forgetting my Spanish, and suggested that perhaps calabacitas really meant 'tofu', but no, clearly the menu was incorrect and listed yesterday's soup...or something....ok, I could have lived with that mistake, but the line cook apparently knew this and let it go out nonetheless. I wanted hubby to send it back right away, but he said he liked the taste and 'didn't want the hassle'. I might have fussed anyway, but our server also went MIA until after our mains were served,and hubby clearly wanted to drop it (or eat it, rather). Sigh. As for the taste of the soup: it was ok, but nothing at all unusual: I've had similar soups at many places in the bay area (and for considerably less money). It was a bit greasy.The portion size was reasonable.

Ok, on to mains. For his main, hubby actually ordered one of the appetizer/botanas: duck flautas. I ordered carnitas. We also ordered one side of frijoles de olla and one order of arroz mexicano. Both mains came promptly after we finished our starters.

This is where the meal really picked up. First of all, while I think the idea of duck in a flauta might be sort of like gilding the lilly, I have to admit that these were excellent flautas. They very much reminded me of dishes I've had in the real DF: about four decent size rolled and fried duck-filled tacos, drizzled with a wonderful and very spicy red salsa, crema and cabbage. Yumm!

For the carnitas there is a choice of a half pound ($15) or full pound ($26) order. I ordered the half pound, and it came with pickled onions, the same wonderful red salsa that was on the flautas, and an equally if not more wonderful salsa verde, that was also incredibly complex and spicy.This was easily the most heat I've had in a Mexican restaurant in the bay area, but it wasn't just heat, it was delicious heat. The carnitas were also served with perhaps six housemade corn tortillas, were also delicious: grilled, fresh and not too thick.

The carnitas were crispy, and could well have been fried after braising, but weren't at all dry. Both crispy and juicy at the same time, with a nice porky flavor. One bite of carnitas with some of that salsa, wrapped in a tortilla, and the soup incident was completely forgiven! Fifteen dollars suddenly didn't seem to be too much to pay, especially since the number of tortillas was generous. A good strategy (which apparently is popular these days in Mexico City) would be to order a half pound or full pound to share with friends. I'd be happy with carnitas and margaritas in the bar, anytime.

The beans and rice were both generous servings; one serving of each was plenty, or even a bit more than plenty, for the two of us. Beans,flavored with epazote, were very good, rice was fairly pedestrian, though it did have some nice little chunks of carrots that added some sweetness.

Onto dessert: we were pretty full at this point, but wanted to sample at least one to share. They had a chocolate cake with chili and salt, but that was a bit adventurous for hubby, so we decided to get the vanilla ice cream with shortbread cookies and cajeta (after I explained for hubby what cajeta was...). The ice cream was ordinary, and the amount of cajeta was just sad: no more than perhaps a teaspoon or two drizzled over two scoops, so it just gave a hint of carmelized taste....the shortbread cookies were very good however.

Total cost for our meal for two margaritas, a club soda, three apps, one main (the carnitas), two sides, and one dessert was $92 with tax but before tip.

In general,service was fine, other than the soup thing, particularly for a new restaurant. My only complaint was that the crumbs weren't wiped from the table before dessert (though they did bring new flatware) and water glasses weren't always kept filled. Minor, but for these prices I'd expect it.

Some of the other menu items included various types of tacos and quesadillas, a little gems salad (take on a Ceasar I guess?), and a few other botanas and mains. Judging by what we saw going to other tables, I'd like to try the whole sea bass 'al mojo de ajo'. I was a bit amused by the description of one salad as being cucumbers and other vegetables deconstructed Mexico City 'street style' or some such. Sure enough, it was sliced peeled vegetables in a paper cone! No way I'd ever order that for $8 or so in a restaurant...unless I was incredibly homesick...

anyway, that salad sort of reflects my bottom line thoughts: there is some very good food to be had at Mexico DF, but it really isn't upscale, creative Mexico City cuisine, at least IMO. It is, with perhaps just a few exceptions, the type of food you'd get at a neighborhood taqueria or from a street stand in that city. I'll definitely go back, but mostly for some drinks and perhaps snacks in the bar when I find myself hungry downtown. I'd be more likely to have dinner if the menu was more varied and had at least a few more unusual specials, but clearly, Mexico DF has promise.

I look forward to other reports and hope other 'hounds try it!

Mexico DF
139 Steuart Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 808-1048

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  1. Tofu in the tortilla soup? Really?
    How were the beans? Black or pinto? Refriend or whole?

    I'm glad they have good salsas. I really liked Dona Tomas, but one gripe is that they don't have a hot, home made salsa. If you ask for a little heat they give you a bottle of an habanero sauce.

    Well, I am going to check the restaurant out soon. Thanks for the report.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Mari

      I had to read the thing about the soup three times to get it - the soup delivered was not the one on the menu and it was an unfamiliar soup. I've had lots of soups in DF but never had tofu as a garnish, I would have liked to know what the restaurants name for it was.

      1. re: larochelle

        "It was a sort of a tortilla soup, with bits of tofu and avocado, and fried tortilla strips."

        1. re: larochelle

          yes, I think it actually was tofu, See below. Maybe others will try it and let me know what they think it was, but if so, consider it as being just for the sake of research, because it definitely wasn't one of the better items we had (IMO).

          1. re: susancinsf

            It might be Panela cheese which has a similar consistency to tofu and a mild flavor.

        2. re: Mari

          Yes, I think so. Could have been bits of cheese I suppose, but hubby thought it tasted like tofu, it looked like tofu and it seemed too perfectly cubed to likely be cheese (I have heard of putting cheese in tortilla soup). Have to admit that the two sips I had had none of the white little cubes, just broth, a bit of tortilla strips and some avocado, so I wouldn't swear under oath it was tofu, but almost sure it was.

          There is actually a choice on the sides menu between frijoles de olla, which we had, which are whole stewed pinto beans; and refried beans. Can't remember whether the menu specified what type of beans are used for the refried or not, but we didn't try them.

          Pretty sure there was some habanero in these salsas, at least in the red. I hope you report back with your thoughts!

          1. re: susancinsf

            Some fresh Mexican cheeses are about the texture of tofu, don't have much flavor, and can be diced into sharp cubes.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Why would a chef ruin tortilla soup with chunks of tofu? That alone would keep me away from this place.

              Thanks for the report. I will stick with Colibri if I want upscale mex. in SF.

              1. re: luckygrlllll

                Whether cheese or tofu, and it could have been a type of Mexican cheese per several of these posts, they were small little pieces, hardly chunks. and, whatever they were, they didn't have a lot of flavor, so they certainly didn't ruin it at all, but it just wasn't that exciting of a soup to begin with, and more importantly from my point of view, it wasn't what we ordered.

                The salsas, carnitas, duck tacos and tortillas were all better than comparable dishes I've had at Colibri, even though I think Colibri is one of the better of SF's limited options. In particular, salsas were waayyyyy better.

                If I were coming from outside SF I would never choose Mexican as a dining option. Well, perhaps if I were coming from Australia, but even then I'd choose a lower end place in the Mission or Fruitvale, not either Colibri or DF.

          2. re: Mari

            I had dinner at Mexico DF last night. There's NO TOFU in the soup. There are now three soups on the menu, one of them was tortilla soup garnished with avocado and coijito. So now we have our answer.

            1. re: larochelle

              ok, though the cojito cheese I've had before is semi-soft and crumbled, didn't know it would hold into a firm little cube like this was.

              but much more to the point, how was dinner?

              1. re: susancinsf

                I'll try to do a more in-depth post later but I pretty much came away with the same feelings you did. I really wanted to love it, particularly because they are a stone's throw from my office, but its just....not there.

                I'll check out their lunch service once that add it. And I'll go back for dinner in a couple of months to see if things have smoothed out.

                1. re: susancinsf

                  I bet $20 its Panela not Cotija. BTW, Cotija is a strongly flavored, aged cheese a cojito is a frail male with a limp =)

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    wrist?

                    ha, yea, I've been doing that a lot, messing up my Spanish which is now beyond rusty. I was kicking myself this morning when I realized I forgot to get a copy of the menu. Now my post will just have to be from memory so the dish names and descriptors will not be as precise.

                    1. re: larochelle

                      No not a limp wrist.... just a limp i.e. can't walk normally.

                      1. re: larochelle

                        meanwhile,my Spanish is back on the upswing thanks to some work projects, so I guess my only excuse is that I was following your lead on the spelling. :-)

                        I also wanted to ask for a menu and forgot. But in any case if they have three soups it has definitely changed and expanded. Would be interesting to know how often they change it.

              2. For the level of food reported.... I have a hunch that you should try El Rey Pakal in San Rafael. I think most of their Antojitos might be impressive by Mission standards.

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/361831

                1 Reply
                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Eat Nopal: yes, on my radar. Send me an email (see my profile) if you'd like help organizing a Chowdown there!

                2. I heard a rumor that the head chef (and some of the sous chefs) started out at Fonda... I couldn't find a website, anyone know?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: adrienne156

                    Yes, from tablehopper....

                    "the ~MEXICO DF~ project that will hopefully be open by the end of May in SoMa. Felipe Sandoval, owner of Maya, partnered up with Victor Hugo Juarez, who owns some taquerias (both are originally from Mexico City)—they brought on David Rosales as executive chef. He was formerly at Fonda in Albany, and most recently in Oregon. The concept is to serve Mexico City-style dishes with an organic focus"

                    http://www.tablehopper.com/2007/04/ch...

                    1. re: larochelle

                      Thanks!

                      1. re: adrienne156

                        Damn ... Maya

                        1. re: rworange

                          ?

                          1. re: adrienne156

                            Not a Maya fan. I would be wary of a Felipe Sandoval project. Who knows though ... could be better than Maya ... but given that, I'll watch Chowhound for reports rather than rushing over there.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Yeah, the rest of my party wasn't excited after hearing about it being associated with Maya, so I was overruled as they decided to wait out the crowds. Judging by some of the comments on here so far, I think you (and the friends) may be right.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Yeah, I agree about Maya. Our office had two Xmas lunches there cause somebody loved it. Blahbittyblahblahblah.

                    2. I went to Mexico DF on Tuesday. For the "Is it upscale?" question, I'd say it's more similar to Colibri than to Maya or Zazil. It sort of has a Mexican bistro feel. The menu is relatively limited by it is printed with the date at the top, so perhaps it will rotate. Also, a hostess mentioned that they'd soon have casual lunch take out like at Maya (which I get at least a couple times a week since I'm close by).

                      For two, we ordered a bit much: guacamole ($9), tortilla soup ($7), huarache w/ short ribs ($10), enchilada con tinga ($13), and steak a la tampiquena ($20).

                      The meal started with an amuse: a little cup of strawberry "aqua fresca." It was really thick, basically a puree of fresh strawberries. She asked if she could get a full order as her drink but was told that while they've gotten a lot of requests for that, they couldn't since it was from the kitchen, not the bar. She got a muddled virgin strawberry mojito ($3) as an approximation.

                      The guacamole was tasty enough but I do prefer Colibri's tableside preparation. There wasn't all that much heat to it, so I asked for some salsa and was brought the carnitas accompaniments mentioned by susaninsf. I totally agree on the salsa verde--it has deep flavor and a good medium-hot spice to it. Chips were fine but not as good or fresh as Maya's, which are great.

                      The tortilla soup was total tortilla overkill after the guacamole. The top of the soup was entirely covered with tortilla strips, plus chunks of avocado and cheese (definitely not tofu). The soup had OK chile flavor but wasn't as rich as Colibri's, which I also prefer for being served in nice copper pot, poured tableside.

                      Things really picked up with the antojitos. The huarache had slices of flavorful beef on top, plus two thin strips of short ribs to the side. A successful dish.

                      I remember the enchiladas less clearly, but basically they were defined by a bold chile sauce (guajillo?)... think red mole. There was a slaw on top that provided an interesting contrast of sour and acid.

                      The tampiquena was great. I don't think I've had it at Maya before, but it's sounds a lot like what's on the Maya online menu. There was at least a half-pound of thick steak sliced and fanned on the plate, accompanied by rajas and a mole negro enchilada. We got a side of rice ($3) for some reason, and it was superfluous.

                      I had reason to celebrate and tried two of the margaritas: first, the tamarindo ($9) with tamarind juice and a nicely spicy chili rim, then two of the standard silver lime margarita ($8). The tamarindo was pretty interesting, but both could have used more tequila and more fresh lime juice for my taste. I'm picky about margaritas and am almost always disappointed by anything other than Tommy's or what I make at home. Usually solved by sticking to beer.

                      Overall, it was a good experience and we'll probably return in a couple months. The service was warm (if not as quickly efficient as it could be), the open kitchen was interesting to watch, and the three main dishes were quite interesting. It came to $90, but if we'd known better what and how much to order, we could have kept the bill much more reasonable.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: RenR

                        Thanks for the report; how was the mole negro enchilada? Were you given a choice as to how well done (or not) your steak was cooked?

                        1. re: susancinsf

                          It was a good house-made mole with some texture to it (likely from ground seeds or nuts). Both the mole and the rajas added real interest to the dish.

                          Yes, the steak was cooked to order.

                      2. How busy was it on the nights for those of you who have gone? Was there a wait? I'm thinking about heading out with a group tonight, but will make reservations (do they take reservations?) if there might be a wait...

                        (Thanks in advance)

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: adrienne156

                          They take reservations and are on Open Table. It was not at all busy Sunday night, and you could have walked in with a group without a reservation, but I suspect that a Friday night would be much, much busier.

                          1. re: adrienne156

                            We had reservations. It was packed on Wednesday night when we arrived at 7:30. There were a few empty tables when we left at 10:00.

                            FYI - We made reservations on opentable.com. They seated us at the communal table with two other parties. Personally, I find this unacceptable, if I bother to make a reservation, they should bother to give me my own table. I didn't make a fuss, just made a Note To Self: When making reservations at a restaurant with a communal table, notify them that I will not accept being seating there.

                            1. re: larochelle

                              Hmm.. Even though I don't mind sitting at a communal table (I've met a surprising number of industry people doing so) - I totally agree that a reservation should warrant a table, or atleast a warning otherwise. I'm thinking the counter might be a fun and easy place to be seated... None the less - thanks guys!

                              1. re: larochelle

                                I think I would have made a fuss! I also find that unacceptable...

                                1. re: larochelle

                                  Yeah, I admit I was annoyed about that, too. But given that I thought all of the service was lackluster that night this certainly wasn't a standout.

                              2. Went there for dinner last night and thought everything was fantastic! We sat at the counter in front of the open kitchen and watched the cooks constantly frying up fresh batches of tortilla chips, and making/cooking fresh corn tortillas all night long.

                                They did have a full wine menu, although we tried the pomegranate margarita, white sangria and a Bohemia. They offer their beers "michelada" style which is in a tall glass over ice, with a salted-rim and squeeze of lime; very nice.

                                Had the tuna ceviche with avocado, radish, and tortilla chips to start. Cabrito (goat) tacos were very good as was the short-tib hurache. They cut off a 1/4-inch slice from the short ribs (bones and all), seasoned them up and roasted them separate to serve with the hurache so you can gnaw on the flavorful, meaty bits of love. Also tried the squash flower quesadilla with Oaxacan cheese, and it was also delicious. Salsas that came with the food were great, and they have even hotter sauces to be delivered upon request.

                                If there is a wait, they have a small room that is sectioned off from the restaurant with curtains and has nice lounge chairs where you can order a drink and wait for your table. Service was very friendly and prompt. I'll definitely go back.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Cheffytown

                                  Can you give us more information about wine: when you say they have a full wine menu, do you mean that you were offered an actual list apart from the few wines listed on the cocktails menu? If so, did they offer it or did you have to request?

                                  Also, was the quesadilla made from a tortilla (corn? flour?) or hand-formed from raw masa dough (ie what is sometimes called 'Mexico City style')?

                                  perhaps more crowds will mean fresher chips, if so, not a bad thing. When I was there, nobody was making tortillas or frying up chips....

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    When we went, we had the squash-blossom quesadilla also, it was the hand-formed from raw masa dough - very good, it was one of the best things we had. Also, our chips came hot from the fryer but they were still just okay - not particularly corny or salty if you know what I mean.

                                    1. re: larochelle

                                      well, you said the magic words, I will definitely be back to try it. Could it possibly be that I don't have to travel even as far as LA to get my 'quesadillas estilo DF' fix? Would be worth putting up with only ok salsa for that!

                                      (I am sitting here scratching my head wondering why I didn't order it. Probably on some level I was just too sure I'd be disappointed....)

                                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/40995...

                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                        Maybe its too tacky... but if you use a really fancy condiment dish.... you might want to "steal" some salsa from your favorite taco truck to take to D.F.?

                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                          A little late, but El Huarache Azteca serves a squash blossom quesadilla made with masa. I believe La Gran Chiquita does as well.

                                          -----
                                          El Huarache Azteca
                                          3842 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601

                                          Taqueria La Gran Chiquita
                                          3503 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Even later ... I was looking for some info about La Gran Chiquita and came across this 2003 report whic mentions that at that time they served squash blossom quesadillas
                                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/23607

                                  2. Link:

                                    -----
                                    Mexico DF
                                    139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Thanks, Robert, for pulling up this thread. Muy helpful.

                                    2. I went there for a late lunch last week with a work colleague. We looked at the posted dinner menu before going in, to get an idea of the food. I'd planned to order the squash blossom dish, but it wasn't on the lunch menu. He wanted a burrito (they had several listed on the dinner menu, if I recall correctly), but they weren't available except for takeout. We settled on tacos (carne asada for him, pollo asada for me), and a side of nopalitos. I had a melon agua fresca; he had a mojilto (which he said was good). The tacos consisted of two tortillas loaded with chopped meat and a little guacamole, and a little cup of salsa (different ones for the different meats). It was very plain-looking, but the chicken was delicious--a nice grilled flavor. I had to eat half of it with a fork before I could pick up the tortillas. The nopalitos were fine; they tasted basically like grilled peppers with a little cheese. The bill was $39 before tip, which seemed a bit high for a small lunch. The service was friendly and efficient except when I tried to pay the bill (we were late getting back to the office). However, I will definitely go back and try some other things as well.

                                      1. I'm going to have to try this, as I truly miss anything resembling interior Mexican cooking in SF.

                                        As far as the guacamole lacking heat, though I often fix it that way at home, my understanding is that traditionally it is to be a foil for all the spicy food on the table - not to add to it. Most of the time I've eaten in Mexico, it is not spiked with salsa.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: epicurious_sf

                                          Traditional recipes for guacamole are often just avocado, lime juice, and salt.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            please someone end my misery, excuse my ignorance, and remind me what the DF stands for? thanks.

                                            1. re: mariacarmen

                                              Distrito Federal (basically, how they refer to Mexico City)

                                              1. re: lmnopm

                                                thanks!