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High-end Mexican [split from Boston]

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(This post was split from http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7643... -- The Chowhound Team)

I find the concept of high-end mexican funny... What exactly makes mexican food high end other than the price? If a guy in a tux brings me a $30 taco is that high end?

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  1. What if your taco involved luxe ingredients & techniques?

    1. Mexican food is one of THE great world cuisines, right up there with French, Chinese, and possibly Italian. Until you have had a really well made Mole (sorry Angela's is good, but really doesn't attain that level) made with 30+ ingredients, or had some of the other dishes from Pueblo, or Mayan/Aztec inspired stuff, you are really missing something.

      3 Replies
      1. re: StriperGuy

        I would probably also add food of the subcontinent (India, Pakistan, etc.) to the great cuisines list.

        1. re: StriperGuy

          I love to make mole at home, starting with homemade turkey, chicken, duck, or pork stock, and even lobster stock, followed by as many ingredients as possible. Diana Kennedy and even Rick Bayless, especially before he was on TV, and Zarela, are wonderful guides. Toasting the whole spices and nuts first before grinding is key, as is toasting the whole chiles, then soaking them, pureeing them, putting them through a sieve, then cooking them in a bit of hot fat to concentrate before adding stock and the rest of the ingredients for a long simmer.

          For me, the more complicated the better, the more ingredients the better. Even with a huge number, more than a pound even of dried chiles, it comes out so complex, so layered....sort of like making a real cassoulet starting with rendering your own duck fat and making both pork and duck confit in advance, or making kimchi stew starting with making two kinds of kimchi and then the pork and chicken stock and then the pork shoulder.

          Or the paella....lobster stock and then ...well, real paella is easier. But still complex, layered flavors...try making your own chipotles in adobo....you'll never go for the can again. A real Catalan Romesco sauce? Did somebody say mole?

          If you like the complex stuff, and have the temperament to do it at home......even chicken and dumplings can be sublime. I'm from the south. I'm trying right now to perfect buttermilk biscuits. Grate the butter on a microplane. As well as my own sour dough.

          the point is, it's expensive and labor intensive for restaurants but as far as I can tell, easy enough to make real mole and real stocks on a big scale..I would if I had the freezer space. Where is the consumer demand?

          Who does the real thing in Boston restauants?

          1. re: Madrid

            Ahhhhh, a Paella, that I observed being made... starting with grinding chicken liver, gizzards, garlic, and parsley in a mortar and pestle, until it was a fine green paste; ending over an open fire; only took three or four hours...

        2. Just like not all American food is a McDonald's hamburger, not all Mexican food is a cheap taco. Striperguy is right on.

          1. Your comment makes me sad, hargau. If your only experience with Mexican food is Taco Bell, I highly recommend any of the restaurants listed here. You might also try mid-range Mexican places like Tu Y Yo or Jose's. The depth of flavor in fine Mexican food is, as StriperGuy says, one of the great cuisines in the world.

            28 Replies
            1. re: Boston_Otter

              Sadly, Tu y Yo and Angela's included, there is really NO top notch Mexican in Boston that takes it to the Great Cuisines level.

              I ate at Colibri in SF last week and was reminded just how good it CAN be. I had their chicken with Huitlacoche which the Mexican bartender recommended. It was marvelous.

              1. re: StriperGuy

                Agreed Striper. I was fortunate to experience places like Fidel's Norte Mexican Restaurant in Carlsbad CA (just north of San Diego), Javier's Crystal Cove in Newport, CA, and El Mercado in LA. The local ingredients and the authentic recipes/regional influence on the West Coast take Mexican to another level. The same goes for BBQ down south versus our local outposts. We are lucky, though, to have some very good Mexican places like Angela's, Cantina La Mexicana, Mexico Lindo, etc. I spent two years in Philly and another in Syracuse, so please believe me when I say, we could be much worse off.

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  hey stripes, pup to meet uncle? did you go to the Pine St. location of Boulangerie that i raved about on your pastry thread?

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Did not have time, was in and out in48 hours.

                  2. re: StriperGuy

                    SG, can you describe the chicken and huitlacoche dish a little? I have a lot of huitlacoche in my freezer and I'm always looking for new uses for it. Thanks.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Cool.

                      The prep I had was just a simple breast of chicken, nicely marinated, stuffed with Huitlacoche, and grilled. Couldn't have been simpler or tastier. As I said, I was in SF, not Boston.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        The chicken with huitlacoche dish at Tu y Yo was one of my favorites back when I used to go there. No idea if it's still good. I love me some corn smut!

                        1. re: yumyum

                          It was okay at Tu y Yo, the version I had in SF was stunning...

                  3. re: Boston_Otter

                    We loved tu y yo years ago ...they made their own chipotles in adobo, and the sauces were rich, layered, and spicy. Going back maybe 5-6 years ago, when they'd gotten a lot of publicity, we noticed the dishes were much less spicy and much less complex. We mentioned it to the waitress who said, oh yes, we changed, our customers told us to tone it down so we did, and no one wanted the chipoltes. So you can get crickets now, but the traditional recipes? I hope someone will tell me they've gone back to their roots....

                    1. re: Madrid

                      Sorry, but I have eaten at Tu y Yo more or less since they opened, and it good, but never THAT good.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        but got worse.

                    2. re: Boston_Otter

                      Sorry i don't eat at Taco bell. I have traveled thru Mexico and had some very good Mexican food. But even the most complex, with the most ingredients and the most flavors I would not call "high end". The idea of "high end" to me means small portions, high prices, and a lot of stuffiness.. Just as i don't like "high end" Chinese food. Doesn't mean i don't love great Chinese food with complex flavors and techniques...However i wouldn't call any of the best Chinese restaurants "High End"....

                      1. re: hargau

                        That's a weirdly narrow and highly idiosyncratic definition of "high end," however, so it's no wonder people were confused by it.

                        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                          It is also one that's pretty widespread, which is why the cuisines of certain ethnicities will never really take off in a high end manner - people expect, even demand, that prices be low for "XYZ food".

                          1. re: jgg13

                            jgg, i think your observation is accurate in most small cities and towns, but fortunately there are a few U.S. cities that have enough open minded and financially endowed foodies to support such high end places, incl.- NYC, San Fran, Phila.,Chicago, Portland OR, TX, AZ, NM and more.

                            Along these lines, just look how much flak La Verdad gets on this board for selling $4 carne asada tacos- regardless of the fact that they're made w/ a much more expensive cut of beef,multiple labor intensive artisinal sauces, hand made tortillas, and all on prime expensive real estate. And Orringer is not trying to do 'high end' here; just better quality with authenticity and some inventiveness.

                            On striper's pastry thread, someone voiced that the reason Boston has no great pastry shop is that Boston hasn't 'wanted to' support one( not enough people w/ the taste and means to support one). And this would also seem to be true of 'high end' mexican or chinese. it's interesting isn't it: Menton, #9 Park, Sorrelina etc etc can command some of Boston's highest dining prices>> evidence of how America's/Boston's concept of Italian food has grown enormously since the first major waves of Italian immigration. Maybe it's going to take that 100 years or so, for the food of the Mexican wave of immigration- to gain the level of acceptance( respect, craving, financial commitment)that Italian food has achieved.

                            -----
                            La Verdad
                            1 Lansdowne St, Boston, MA 02215

                            Menton
                            354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              "hand made tortillas"

                              I thought LV only used one tortilla?

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                menton isn't italian.

                            2. re: Jenny Ondioline

                              I guess its the reference of "high end" that gets me... Lets use the Chinese food example for instance..What Chinese restaurant in this area would you call "high end"???

                              Fuloon??? Excellent food, excellent prep, excellent complex flavors, high end?? Certainly not.. Same for Peach farm or shangrila or sichuan gourmet, great taste, winsor, the list can go on and on.. I dont think anyone would refer to any of these places as "high end"... As some of the best chinese food MA has to offer? Sure... but high end??

                              So what would be high end?? Maybe Myer & Chang or Blue Ginger perhaps?? Even those i wouldnt call high-end but more high-end wanna be.. But even they come across as too "high-end" to interest me. Id prefer a meal at the list above for 1/4 the price.

                              guess its just my definition......

                              1. re: hargau

                                myers & chang doesn't aspire in any way to be high end.

                            3. re: hargau

                              har, i think i grasp what you are saying and I agree that even Mexican restaurants with the most complex of dishes- are not generally high end. I also think that there do exist elegant restaurants that serve great and sophisticated Mexican food in elegant surroundings, w/ elegant presentation and service, but there are not many, and none in Boston at this point. I think swank equates 'elegant' w/ high end w/ white tablecloths, sophisticated subdued decor and lighting, and genteel service. Same great ethnic food but different packaging. Certainly Sol Azteca and Casa Romero are more elegant than a taqueria, but i think they are still not the level of elegance that swank is seeking.

                              so swank, wait for the dust to settle on these new spots and then either try them or go to NYC for what is likely the closest experience to what you are seeking.

                              -----
                              Sol Azteca
                              914A Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02215

                              Casa Romero
                              30 Gloucester St, Boston, MA 02115

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                swank, maybe you could take a trip to Philly:

                                from the website for Paloma:

                                " What is Mexican Haute Cuisine?
                                "Haute cuisine" translates loosely as "fine dining," a term not ordinarily associated with Mexican food in the United States.

                                At Paloma, chef-owner Adán Saavedra applies the classic French cooking techniques in which he was trained to the ingredients of his native México. The result is a cuisine that is both visually stunning and unforgettably delicious.

                                Perhaps most important is what this cuisine is not. It is, first and foremost, not spicy unless you want it that way. It is neither heavy nor greasy. You will see no tomato sauces slathered with melted cheese. There are no nachos, no refried beans, and no burritos.

                                The emphasis at Paloma is on fresh, high-quality ingredients prepared with care and style. Once you try Chef Saavedra's gloriously refined masterpieces, you will never think of Mexican food the same way again.

                                ¡Buen provecho! "

                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                  Funny, my favorite mexican restaurant of all time (unfortunately named Tequilas, which is unimaginative and doesn't really lead one to expect much) is also in Philly. Fantastic food, attentive service, great ingredients, daily specials, etc. It really opened my eyes to how good Mexican food can be, and how it can be "high-end dining". There are dishes and flavors I had there that still haunt my memory years later.

                              2. re: hargau

                                Would you call Blue Ginger "high end" chinese food?

                                I have had some really great Mexican food in AZ and TX. The stuff here in Boston doesn't compare. E.g., a duck confit stuffed roasted chile in TX....mmmmm. Even the guacamole w/ chips in AZ was better than the stuff here for some reason...chunkier fresher avocados...

                                -----
                                Blue Ginger
                                583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

                                1. re: hargau

                                  Just because Boston lacks good high-end Mexican (or Chinese) food doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, or that it shouldn't be introduced there. IMO it's closed-minded people who categorically dismiss the concept that prevent such places from succeeding.

                                  When you were traveling through Mexico, did you ever eat at places like Cristian Morales? Mexican cuisine, and fine dining by anybody's definition. A restaurant like this would be a credit to any city. http://www.chefcristianmorales.com

                                  And who in Boston wouldn't like to have a Chinese restaurant like Jai Yun in San Francisco? A tasting menu of a dozen or more courses, tiny servings, careful plating, seasonal ingredients, and a bill that's right in line with places that have Michelin stars. Some claim it's the best Chinese restaurant outside of China.

                                  If you disagree with the whole notion of "high end" dining, that's one thing. But to pretend that only European food is worthy of that treatment goes beyond ignorance and begins to verge on cultural chauvinism.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    wow alan, could you fit me in your suitcase next time you travel and eat?

                                    aside from that, you might want to re-read hargau's post.Nowhere did i see him say that only european food was worthy of high end treatment.

                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                      Hargau suggested that high-end Mexican food is a guy in a tux serving a $30 taco. S/he also stated that none of the "best" Chinese restaurants are "high end."

                                      I'm not going to get into a discussion as to what the "best" restaurants are, and truth be told, you're more likely to find me at a taco stand on the street than in a place that serves perfectly frenched rack of rabbit in a delicate mole. My point is that the two aren't mutually exclusive.

                                      If hargau is saying that there's no good high-end Mexican (or Chinese) food in Boston, I'm in no position to argue - I moved away in 1989. But if the claim is that high-end food can't be based on those cuisines, s/he's wrong.

                                      High-end food (fine dining, haute cuisine, whatever you want to call it) isn't limited to any culinary tradition. There are brilliant and innovative chefs doing amazing things with all kinds of food.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        Yes i was speaking of Boston since this is a discussion of Boston restaurants. And with Chinese i listed many of what are considered the best chinese restaurants in boston and they are mostly holes in the walls to just average in ambiance/price/"end". However they have excellent/complex foods (and yes exotic 10-12 course banquets too). I also listed 2 places that are as close to "high-end" chinese as we get and find their food to be not any better then what i can get at what some may consider a dump.

                                        As for Mexican in the Boston, no i have not tried the new "high-end" ones listed but i have tried the normal-end places and the holes in the wall in the Boston area and find them lacking compared to normal places i have been to in Tucson, Texas, New Mex, mex, California.... However in all cases some of the best mex food i have had was from avg to below avg "end" places made by someones grandma in the back. Same for many other cuisines as well. I doubt any "high-end" vietnamese place would make better foods than my favorite dives or medium-end type places.

                                        Im not saying that high-end Chinese or Mexican places do not exist anywhere as im sure they do but im also quite sure i can get food just as good if not better from non-"high-end" places.. Now contrast that with say a steak house or a french restaurant. (in boston anyways).. Not many places i can think of where i can get better steak or french from a hole in the wall.. Just seems to work that way.

                                        But also i guess i am biased against so called "haute" dining overall but even more so with cuisines where i know i can get better food with out all the glamour. And some long fancy menu name and creative stacking of my pricey food on a non-round plate with a thumb smear of sauce doesn't impress me anymore than a $17 hot dog at the Butcher Shop. Its about the food itself for me... But by all means if your into this sorta thing, have at it....

                                        Anyway, im done being called names and labeled by people who don't agree with my opinion. Especially ones who haven't been in the state in over 20 years.

                                        1. re: hargau

                                          Who says I haven't been in the state in over 20 years? I moved away, I wasn't excommunicated.

                                          And I'm not saying that high-end places of any persuasion "make better foods than [your] favorite dives." Or mine. (But speaking of Vietnamese, you should check out Crustacean in Beverly Hills - the food's tasty, and the koi pond under the Plexiglas floor is kind of cool.)

                                          My point is that great food is where you find it. Simple, mid-range, or sophisticated, European, Central American, or Asian. Or any combination thereof. Don't assume that French food is fancy (think cassoulet) or that Mexican food is cheap (think chiles en nogada). Enjoy the chow for what it is.

                              3. I find the concept of high-end French food funny. What exactly makes French food "high end" other than the price? If a guy in a tux brings me a $30 ham-and-cheese sandwich is that high end?

                                Oh, wait. Generally speaking you don't get sandwiches OR tacos at fine-dining places. You get gourmet food, whether it's chiles en nogada or a torchon of foie gras.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  I think this is more than a semantic or financial argument. "High End French" might include luxury ingredients, plated spectacularly, and served in a rarefied atmosphere. It may or may not be your bag, but it would be much different than French bistro food which is more simple and rustic fare.

                                  "High End Mexican" exists, but not in Boston. Me, I like my Mexican food down and durty, and best eaten off a plastic plate with sand between my toes. I think Topolobampo in Chicago is going for high end Mexican, for instance. Check out their menu online and see what you think.

                                  http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...

                                  1. re: yumyum

                                    Right next door to Topolobampo is Frontera Grill, which is also a Bayless resto, with MUCH better food in my opinion.

                                2. Boston will be the last northern US city to accept Mexican food, trailing Newark and Detroit. And with all those National Merit Scholars, pitiful.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    Oh dear, I hadn't realized we hadn't accepted Mexican food here. Guess I shouldn't have gone to that taqueria for lunch today.

                                  2. Since the list mods have moved this discussion from the Boston board to General Topics it's probably going to take off in a zillion different direction. So I'll throw my dos centavos into the fray.

                                    There really and truly is "high end" Mexican dining. Not so much in the U.S. but it certainly, and quite exquisitely, exists in Mexico where it goes by the identifier "alta cocina". I've heard it refered to a "fusion" cuisine, but that isn't accurate at all. The poorly conceived, weird and wild flavor and ingredient combinations that often defined attempts at fusion food, is not what alta cocina is about. It's not about welding a bunch of ingredients together in non-traditional ways. In fact, the best practioneers of alta-cocina are well grounded in traditional Mexican cuisine and cooking techniques - and make no mistake, a good portion of Mexican cuisine is about technique - and then filtered through the contemporary lens.

                                    I have been lucky enough enjoy alta cocina in several venues in Mexico and can say without hesitation it is some of the most exciting food I have ever eaten. It's fresh, it's light, the flavors are deep, multi-faceted and utterly seductive. The dish that started me down the alta cocina path was a simple variation on squash blossom soup at Pujol in D.F. It had been envisioned as a "cappuccino" that would arouse all the senses, and with the exception of hearing, it did. The soup arrived in a clear, wide, double old fashioned glass. On the bottom was the most intensely vibrant goldenrod colored soup. It was topped by a stark white coconut foam, which in turn was topped with a light dusting of freshly grated nutmeg. You first smelled hints of nutmeg, then tasted the lightly sweet coconut and then finished with the creamiest, richest possible soup that tasted exactly like squash blossoms and created an incredibly luxurious and velvety mouth feel. It was very simple but grabbed the senses at once, not to mention it tasted like a million bucks. The same with a trio of impeccably fresh ceviches at Aquila y Sol (now sadly closed). Then there was the foie gras soup, the raviolis, the oysters, the hog jowl and egg...they all grabbed the taste buds and delivered far beyond expectations

                                    Alta cocina really goes far beyond typical Mexican food, including even well made moles (well perhaps with the excpetion of Abigail Mendoza's mole negro, that transcends everything). The vast majority of Americans really have no concept, nor an adequate frame of reference to understand that Mexican food is far, far mor than a plate of enchiladas, rice and beans, and that it's not searingly hot all the time, nor covered in a molten mantle of yellow cheese, nor heavy leaden or fattening.

                                    Even those areas here in the U.S. with large Mexican populations don't always "get" alta cocina. I live in San Diego, we're literally right on the border. We're also the land of taco shops (and pretty amazing carne asada burritos) with one on nearly every corner, many of them quite good. Yet, I can't find a restaurant doing even moderately decent alta cocina in town. That is in part because the customer base won't accpet that Mexican food is something other than a taco or burrito.

                                    30 miles away, tho' it's a different story. This restaurant in Tijuana is serving absolutely spectacular alta cocina in an equally spectacular setting -http://www.streetgourmetla.com/2011/0... . Read the article and scroll down and take a look at the photos. The food photos are down a ways. I would defy anyone to say this is not "high end" Mexican cuisine. Plus, a substantial portion of the menu served in the above link is locally grown and sourced, making it very close to being farm-to-table as well.

                                    And finally, for anyone who caught the Iron Chef episode last Sunday (Feb. 13th) with IC Jose Garces in Battle Mexican Chocolate, almost every single dish that was created for that episode from both chefs was "high-end" or alta cocina. The challenger lost by a single point and it was a very, very close battle. The more interesting thing was watching the judges who clearly had no idea Mexican food could taste the way it did. The presentations were spot on, I only wish I could have been there to taste it all :-)

                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      I am drooling.....
                                      I visit Mexico every year. I have not sought out "high end" anything (I just might now!!!). I think that it is because when I am there- I am always soooo casual and stomping around on the beach or the wilderness or the markets. I am just not thinking of fine dining and the street food is just so terrific. I would just as soon get a bucket of sea food and some tequila and hit the beach.

                                      Mexican food and drink is just so darn warm and relaxing that I just don't associate it with getting pants and shoes on :)

                                      Thanks for posting this, I am sure it will open up new things for me!

                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                        diva, so generous of you to share those complex dishes w/ us!
                                        if you haven't already guessed, this started as a thread on the boston board. but the CH groove masters decided it should be a general topic. your post really spiked the talk and gave it a more U.S. macro-feel.the boston CHs do some arguing about the best tacos/mexican fare here but in reality,it's pretty dependably mediocre in boston, with one or two exceptions.You are one lucky diva with all that great cocina mexicana around you.

                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                          OC, we argue about tacos a lot in San Diego too :-)

                                          High end Mexican cooking is amazing stuff. The sheer volume and diversity of the raw goods they've got to work with is stunning. For years some of their best and brightest have come north to the U.S. or overseas to Europe. Many are returning home and opening places that reflect what they've learned abroad as it's applied to the traditional kitchen. Pretty heady stuff.

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            Hola DD!
                                            I can attest that yes, we do argue about tacos and burritos in SD.. ; )

                                            Street gourmet LA should have his own food show...love his blog and his latest was
                                            Javier Plascencia's, Mision 19 in TJ...Wow, this place looks unbelievable and I can't wait to dine there!
                                            See that Rick Bayless was at Laja yesterday and praises Mision 19..

                                            1. re: Beach Chick

                                              I'm off to Merida on Monday. Are you interested in a road trip to Mision 19 when I get back?

                                              RB has been all over in Baja the last week :-). Apparently he kept saying "why didn't I know about this" . Baja is the real rising star in the Mexican cuisine world these days. SGLA is right on about that :-)

                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                Have fun in Merida DD..
                                                I would be interested in a road trip to Mision 19..I leave tomorrow for vacation too but let's discuss later gator.
                                                Have a cold one and some great food for me!

                                                www.streetgourmetla.com

                                        2. re: DiningDiva

                                          U R making me hungry.

                                          What does D.F. stand for?

                                          I know where I am eating next time I am in Tijuana. Wish I had known about that place.

                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                            D.F. is Distrito Federal, a collection of colonias (neighborhoods) that comprise most of Mexico City within the state of Mexico. Polanco is one, perhaps the fanciest, and home to Pujol and other alta cocina venues.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Ah muy bien, gracias.

                                            2. re: StriperGuy

                                              DF = Distrito Federal = Mexico City.

                                              I've also noticed a fair number of high-end places in Mexico - including Mision 19, the place DD mentioned in Tijuana - referring to themselves as serving "cocina de autor." Not sure whether it's the same thing as or a subset of alta cocina, but everyplace I've seen describe itself that way has had some pretty impressive-looking dishes on the menu.

                                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                                Oh, I'm sorry, D.F. is short hand for Mexico City.

                                                Tijuana and Ensenada both have some really good high end places. In Ensenada

                                                3 Muelle
                                                http://masaassassin.blogspot.com/2009...

                                                Manzanilla
                                                http://tomostyle.wordpress.com/2010/0...

                                                El Sarmiento
                                                http://www.buenavida.com.mx/2010/03/e...

                                                Dulce Patria (Mexico City
                                                http://goodfoodmexicocity.blogspot.co...

                                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                                  DF = Distrito Federal = Mexico City

                                              2. Your post is rude and simply reflects your lack of knowledge about Mexican cuisine, though I lived in Boston for awhile and can understand why you might not know the subject.