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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mexico Roundup I: Chile en Nogada Rules in Mexico City

There are far too many places I went to on my Mexico trip to review them all, and not all of them I liked anyway. So I'm just going to mention the highlights. The best thing about eating Mexican in Mexico is its sheer variety -- so much more varied than Mexican food in LA. I know that's obvious and true for any cuisine but it just hits you when you travel.

My favorite food moment was at Corazon de Maguey in the Coyoacan area of Mexico City of Frieda Kahlo fame (the area not the restaurant). I loved the tamarind Margarita made with mezcal even though I don't usually like tamarind as a solo drink. Mix in some alcohol and frappe it and I suddenly loved it. I also discovered mezcal, which I hadn't tried before, and bought four small bottles at the El Rey distilling plant in Oaxaca days later.

The top dish on this trip was chile en nogada, which fortunately was in season. My friend I was eating with told me it is a very labor intensive dish and worth trying. What's not to like about a poblano chile stuffed with a mix of ground meat, onion and pineapple, topped with a nutty walnut sauce and sprinkled with beautiful pomegranate seeds? It's from Puebla and associated with the country's independence, which explains the ode to the Mexican flag with its corresponding colors of green, red and white.

All patriotism aside, I fell in love with this dish. I've never been a big fan of chile relleno as I found it too heavy with the stuffed cheese and deep fried aspect. But this dish stuffs the chile with ground meat, which I love, and mixes savory and sweet with the pineapple in the filling. The walnut sauce looks creamy but isn't in the least heavy. The pomegranate jewels give the dish a tangy and refreshing bite. Just perfect.

I also loved the chocolate cake that had a surprise center oozing with 80% Oaxaca chocolate and came with a side of cotija cheese sorbet. See what I mean? You can't find this kind of creativity in any of the Mexican joints stateside. Ok, the flavor of the sorbet was a bit pungent for my taste but it was still a welcome take on traditional flavors and textures.

The venue was also gorgeous, as were the restrooms. They're important! Service was also solid. I'd definitely recommend this spot, although I was initially skeptical due to its central location lining the plaza.

We went to a neighborhood taco joint, El Farolito, which was also a revelation. It didn't just offer carne asada tacos. It offered skirt steak or rib meat. I learned that arrachera meant flank steak. Did I want that with cheese? Sure. It turned out it wasn't any shredded cheese or even queso fresco. It was manchego cheese, melted on the grill over the meat. Wonderful.

I couldn't get enough of the salsas either. Instead of the watery guacamole sauce or a chunky order of guacamole found here, our server gave us wedges of fresh avocado, just like that.

I like roasted salsas so it was nice having several to choose from. The salsa verde that I usually don't like was super fresh and concentrated in flavor.

I also liked the flan, which wasn't too sweet and had just the right consistency.

I had two things at Merotoro that I had never tried before and therefore will mention. I'm not sure how much I liked the flavors but I always like to try new ingredients and mix them with familiar ones.

First was salicornia, a green that was very mild in flavor but was an interesting accompaniment to the raw clams and cucumbers.
The second was barnacle topped with sea urchin on a bed of cherry tomatoes, avocados and red radishes dotted with greens.

The flavor was also mild but the texture was a bit odd, on the gooey side and chewy. It was definitely a type of dish not easily found out here and a great summer dish for its crunch and refreshing mix.

One other cool thing I had in Mexico City was fried parsley that came with a dollop of cream cheese in the middle at La Tecla, a trendy spot in the posh Colonia Roma neighborhood. Such an odd idea but somehow it worked.

Another dish that was just as novel but didn't work quite as well was the ancho chile stuffed with mashed plantain. I noticed the balance of sweet and savory was a big theme in Mexico and this place was no exception. It came with a side of bean sauce but it didn't do it for me. But glad I tried it!

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