One of my few gastronomic complaints about Mexico is the lack of really good bread. I mean French baguettes--fresh, dense, crusty—the kind available on every corner of Paris (or my home town New York for that matter). And I’m always searching for croissants that actually taste like butter, not the typical “I-can’t-believe-it’s-not” kind so common here. Well, weep no more. Three new places have opened their doors recently in the Roma/Condesa area. And all three make the kind of bread that would more than satisfy any Parisian bread-snob.
Fresco by Diego is a restaurant/charcuterie/bakery with a fresh new look--part of what I call ‘The New Mexico City’: hip, casually chic, European. Beautifully designed using lots of wood, this friendly, open place reminds me of something you might see in northern California or southern France – it’s a “natural” look that is familiar and inviting. With only 5 outdoor tables, a lot of what’s sold here is ‘para llevar’. The kitchen is open so you can peer in and watch the experts at work. Young chef and owner Diego Pérez Turner spent years plying his trade in France, England and Holland. He learned to make quesadillas from a Morrocan chef in a Mexican restaurant in Paris. “He was always stoned on hashish, but made superb quesadillas” he told me. Turner studied baking in Holland, then after years abroad, returned to his homeland. With partner Rosi Lobaton, he decided to open a bakery, then expand it to include charcuterie, and finally complete meals. Rosi, whose husband is Lebanese, brings a middle Eastern touch to the menu. There are several Arabic appetizers, such as hummus, taboule, roast eggplant, and jocoque. The menu of main dishes is small, which I usually take as a good sign (I don’t trust restaurants that offer too many things on their menu—how can it all be fresh?) They make excellent lasagna, prepared with a well done Bolognese sauce and a dense, spicy tomato sauce. An outstanding duck in plum sauce is fragrant with ginger and pepper. Oblong-shaped pizzas are just right, with a thin, crisp crust, the sauce rich with concentrated tomato flavor. Sandwiches are ample – the “salmon marinado en casa” is my favorite. There are several salads and soups as well, and special dishes that change daily. But best of all are the breads and pastries – sweet rolls with cardamom, various fruit and cream tarts, croissants, cookies – and those baguettes! Dense and flavorful, they have a satisfying contrast between the soft, chewy inside and the crunchy outside--they will not disappoint. Everything is baked right on the premises so freshness is assured.
Another newcomer in the Condesa, Le Pain Quotidien is a Belgian chain bakery which promises to open in more locations around Mexico City. I’m usually wary of chains and don’t like to promote them, but I have to admit that the breads here are exceptional. The pain de campagne is weighty and redolent of sourdough, truly the best of it’s kind I’ve had outside Europe (it reminds me of the legendary Poilâne of Paris). Cakes and pastries are buttery good and the coconut macaroons are to die for. The pleasant, airy interior looks out on tree-lined Avenida Amsterdam, while classical music plays in the background – what a relief from the usual drone of pop music, or worse, television! The menu of salads, omelettes or a mixed breadbasket with imported jams is perfect for breakfast or lunch. Very good coffee is served a la francesa, that is, in bowls without handles. In the evening, there are several light “cena” offerings, such as “hot pot de pollo” and various bruschette, such as wild mushroom and Gruyere. There’s a small wine and beer list, too, if you want something stronger than lemonade or iced tea.
Fresco by Diego
Montes de Oca 23 (near Tamaulipas), Condesa
Open 10:30AM – 9PM, Monday through Saturday
Le Pain Quotidien
Avenida Amsterdam 309 (between Celaya and Av. Mexico), Condesa
Open Monday- Friday 7AM-10PM, Saturday, Sunday 8AM-10PM
Boulangerie Francesa Artesanal
note: Closed as of July 2010
This article was previously published in The News Mexico City