Mexico à la Carte

Authentic flavors, crispy textures, and unforgettable ingredients: this is the magic of the new cuisine in Mexico’s capital, where kitchens transport us from the city to the sea.

Text & Photos: Vivian Bibliowicz
       

 

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It’s eight in the morning, and the sun is shining on this particular summer Saturday. My nose leads me to the Rosetta bakery in search of fresh croissants. Next, I’m off to Abarrotes Delirio to buy some balsamic strawberry marmalade. I cross my neighborhood, Colonia Roma, where Mexico City’s culinary map has recently become a major attraction.

Aromas and flavors invade much of this enormous metropolis, where diners have become true connoisseurs, critics, and devotees of an increasingly varied and surprising gourmet menu.

 

Stars of the Sea

Amanda loves the capital’s fine dining scene. She strolls along Álvaro Obregón, Colonia Roma’s main thoroughfare, known for its French flair and mansions from a bygone era. She stops at Cocina Conchita, where she takes a seat at the bar and starts chatting with Akim, who turns out to be the restaurant’s provider of fish and seafood, including abalone, Kumiai oysters, sea urchins, and shrimp. Mixologist David Mora offers them a michelada and a Clamato with wasabi. The bar showcases fresh cocktails, with a seaside atmosphere.

 

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Diego Hernández, chef at Cocina Conchita.

The phrase “quitame el apuro” (deliver me from haste) decorates the wall that leads to the kitchen. Smack in the midst of urban bustle, Cocina Conchita charms diners with the popular cuisine of Ensenada, Baja California, and a 1970s beach ambiance. We’re served a starter of shrimp fresh from the boat seasoned with Serrano chilies, cilantro, and avocado: a taste of the sea with the texture of butter. “For two generations, we Mexican chefs have dedicated ourselves to finding ingredients,” explains Diego Hernández, from Cocina Conchita. “Years ago, people were just concerned with reviving traditional Mexican cuisine. The previous generation taught us the technique. Now it’s up to us to find the best products.”

They brought the sea to the city, and we fell in love. The results are unmistakable: it’s simply impossible to tire of the crispy textures, creamy flavors, and fresh acidity of these small plates.

Above Cocina Conchita, the bar Departamento serves classic cocktails and a menu featuring haute cuisine snacks. 

Nicolás loves La Docena. He walks four blocks to Álvaro Obregón and Frontera, the most popular corner in the capital, and finds an empty seat at the seafood bar that opens out onto the street. He orders an enormous platter of chocolate clams and six grilled oysters. He follows it up with a fried shrimp po’ boy sandwich with homemade tartar sauce and ketchup. And he can’t resist getting the only dessert on the menu: a dulce de leche volcano with banana ice cream. It’s unbeatable.

 

Demanding Palates

Eduardo García is a master of technique; that much is obvious once we’re lucky enough to get a table at Máximo Bistrot. García runs a simple, pristine kitchen that is always faithful to its ingredients. We can’t get enough of the hamachi (yellowtail) with avocado and Serrano chilies or the asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and poached eggs. There’s a reason why they’re some of the menu’s main attractions.

 

  • Eduardo García, chef de Havre 77 y sus fabulosos steak frites. // Eduardo García, chef of Havre 77 , and his fantastic steak-frites.

 

With an unassuming honesty, García has changed local palates. Across the street, his recently opened Lalo boasts a communal table with affordable prices for curious diners. We sample the escamole (ant egg) omelet, the star ingredient being Mexico’s answer to caviar.

Also worthy of mention is García’s new brasserie Havre 77, located in a beautiful Belle Époque construction in Colonia Juárez. This place is a remedy for nostalgia: onion soup, foie gras, and roasted chicken with mashed potatoes. The real luxury is found in the quality of the ingredients.

The same building also houses Rokai, a seafood bar offering the freshest catches of the day. I sample a tartar made with tuna, sea bass, and white corvine on a bed of dashi, topped with a perfect tomato brunoise. Just a mouthful and I’m in heaven!

Demanding diners also adore Eloise on the south side of the city. Filled with glorious anticipation, I join chefs Abel Hernández and Eduardo Morali. As we chat, the sinful flavor of the foie gras crème brûlée and risotto escargot fills my mouth. I’m especially lucky, as I’m treated to the last white truffle of the season, served with some perfectly made eggs.

Although Hernández considers the goal of getting a diner to thrill to each bite a tall order, his eyes flashing as he talks, I come away thoroughly convinced that it’s entirely possible.

 

Addictive Bites

  • Kaye y la cocina sin reglas de Pedro Martín Rodríguez. / Kaye and Pedro Martín Rodriguez’s experimental kitchen.

 

Jonathan loves finding new places. He has reservations at Kaye, where chef Pedro Martín Rodríguez lets loose. Jonathan hops on an EcoBici public bike and cuts through Parque España, salivating in anticipation. He has heard about the gazpacho made with jícama and worm salt; the foie gras with chilhuacle, a rare chili pepper from Oaxaca, served with spiced bread; and the flavor-packed mole manchamanteles. He doesn’t want to wait another day to try them. And the chef won’t let him leave without sampling the Iberian ham with rice from the region of Murcia, prepared like a risotto. Jonathan will be back.

I had heard that Olivier Deboise had come from Puerto Vallarta to take over the kitchen at J&G Grill. Deboise invites me to try “a few little things” he has come up to add to the main menu from New York chef Jean George. Deboise has brought a taste of the sea to J&G Grill.

“Have you been to Carlota?” he asks me. Moments later, we are sitting in front of the kitchen as Joaquín Cardoso and Sofía Cortina work their magic. Cardoso serves us some mackerel tataki, topped with a concoction of garden-fresh tomato, beer, soy, and chili pepper.

Mexico City has never eaten so well. in

 

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