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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mexico Roundup II: Nab an Elote on the Street and Keep the Mole Red in Oaxaca

Another revelation while traveling in Oaxaca was the versatility of squash blossoms and nopales. I want to add them to everything now, just like they do -- in quesadillas, soups and salads. I'll probably get flamed for saying this but I was generally disappointed with the food in Oaxaca. Sure, I could have gone to the wrong places and ordered the wrong things or gone on an off-day. But I concluded I'm likely just not a Oaxacan cuisine-kind of person.

For example, I didn't care for memelitas, a local delicacy of tiny tortillas topped with a bean spread, meat or veggies and sprinkled with some fresh cheese.

I also didn't like the tetelas at Itanoni that got rave reviews on message boards. These are corn masa triangles filled with beans, cream, queso fresco and salsa. Finally, I didn't like quesillo, the stringy, super heavy cheese they add in virtually everything.

Having said that, I did have some awesome things. Some of my fave dishes in Oaxaca were from Oscar Carrizosa, the chef at Casa Crespo who shared his kitchen with a group of us (although not cheap, I highly recommend his cooking class) and showed us how to make a multitude of dishes like mole Coloradito (red mole) with chicken thighs, squash blossom quesadillas, potato and cheese croquette and mezcal (a regional spirit similar to tequila but with a worm inside the bottle) sorbet to finish off the very full meal. After having such excellent tortillas, I was inspired to buy a tortilla press and make my own. I just can't go back. He took us shopping at the market beforehand, which added to the experience.

I should add that I also didn't care for tlayuda, that ubiquitous street food revered by all, apparently except for me.
It's a large, thin tortilla topped with bean spread, shredded lettuce, quesillo, avocado chunks, tomatoes and any kind of protein that floats your boat. I got ambitious when visiting the 20 de Noviembre Market in Oaxaca and got the one with chorizo, beef and al pastor. I didn't care for it. The meats were far too salty and I didn't love the combo with the other components. I also didn't like the way the tortilla shell tasted.
I did love the elote, or Mexican-style corn on the cob sold on the streets. I got it "con todo," of course, which included salt, butter, chili powder, cheese and lemon juice.

One of the biggest disappointments was La Biznaga, which got rave reviews and boasts a beautiful, artsy and inviting space but seems like a tourist trap serving diluted, overrated and overpriced food.

The only thing worth mentioning was the chile relleno that came in a mild green sauce but everything else was outright bad. The al pastor fish I had was completely lacking in flavor.

At Itanoni, I thought the use of hierba santa, a local herb, in a tortilla rolled up with some beans would be good but I didn't think the flavors gelled very well. And the tetelas mentioned above, well, the cream was too strong and ruined it for me. I just didn't care for the tortillas to begin with, despite wanting to like them after seeing how they were hand-made right before me. I liked the drink infused with herbs.

I had another unremarkable meal at Los Danzantes, which I was glad had a location in Oaxaca as the wait in its Coyoacan location in Mexico City was too long so we went to Corazon de Maguey. In retrospect, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I liked Corazon a lot better than Danzantes, or at least the Oaxacan location didn't impress. Interesting because Corazon and Danzantes are owned by the same group.

I had chile en nogada again but this version wasn't nearly as good as that of Corazon. Could it be that things are never as good as the first time? Nah. I'm convinced the restaurant wasn't as good as Corazon. Even the drinks weren't as good.

1 comment:

Jean said...