Delightful, Delicious, DELIRIO

Cerrado por remodelación” admonished the handwritten sign pasted to the shuttered door of chef/TV diva Monica Patiño’s N.Y./Parisian style deli, Delirio. We D.F. residents all know what that means. It’s a close cousin of the Mexican’s reluctance to ever say “no”. Will it re-open? Shall we hold our collective breaths for the dreamed of renovation? No way. But, amazingly, Ms. Patiño & Co. have taken to heart the failings of the previous incarnation of their unique gourmet emporium and re-inaugurated in a highly improved version.
The pretty retro resto/store, located on the corner of Monterrey and Alvaro Obregón in La Roma, has been opened up and fit with rustic bistro tables. The shelves have been re-stocked with products, almost all of which are artesanally produced and local. Gone are the useless Asian items, the mediocre imported oils and vinegars, the overpriced breads, the exorbitant wines. In their place are smartly packaged store-branded products, carefully selected and priced to sell. And all of them are hecho en México. Olives and olive oil from Baja California are both green and fruity. A whole shelf is dedicated to a pastel rainbow of house-made marmalades that make good gifts. Breads are varied and of excellent quality. A small, but well-chosen stock of national wines, in a range of prices from $200-400 (pesos) are worth sampling – many are unavailable elsewhere. Behind the deli counter, several salads are made fresh daily, as are pâtés and terrines, cakes and tarts. There are European-style cheeses and preserved meats, all made in central Mexico, which perhaps should be renamed “little France”. I caught the boss herself overseeing her kitchen on a recent rainy Monday. An advocate of ‘Slow’ and local foods, Patiño explained that she has decided to put her money where her mouth is. “Most of what we offer is Mexican-made and organic as well” she proudly proclaimed. Now an eat-in establishment with tables and chairs inside and out, customers can select from the charcuterie offerings, design an upscale sandwich, and grab a drink—all, usually, for under $100 pesos. Ambiance is adult – no loud music or TVs in sight – and you are surrounded by good smells, busy chefs and dappled sunlight. The ratio of price to quality is good. It’s always nice to nice to see a diva make a comeback…good luck to Monica Patiño!

Delirio de Monica Patiño

Monterrey 116 (corner Alvaro Obregón), Colonia Roma
Tel. 5584 0870
Open Tuesday-Saturday 9AM-9PM, Sunday until 7; closed Monday

A note to my readers: Hear my interview with Ana Maria Salazar from her national news show:

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SCHOOL LUNCH – Zéfiro Restaurante Escuela

It’s a far cry from those lunchroom hairnet ladies of my youth. And the food’s a whole lot better. It’s Zéfiro, a new lunchtime spot inside the culinary school at Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. The UCSJ is a non-mainstream school (similar to New York's New School for Social Research) offering interesting courses in a plethora of subjects including gastronomy, and Zéfiro is part of the training—all the workers here are students. The name means zephyr, a gentle breeze—and indeed, this new restaurant is a breath of fresh air in the Centro Historico.
There seems so be a trend in new, upscale Mexican restaurants: regional cuisine featuring unpretentious but aesthetically pleasing presentation. Young chefs are now choosing less common dishes from the Mexican lexicon, and that’s a good thing. Sophisticated diners in search of the authentic are looking beyond the same old plato Tampiqueño or enchiladas de mole. Nor are any foams or Asian ingredients in sight. Phew… The recently opened Casa México (see my previous review) is an outstanding example of this ‘alta-baja cocina’ trend, which continues here.
The setting is a large open room facing the interior courtyard of a renovated neo-classical building. Elegant and airy, the wood floors and exposed stone walls provide a warm but rustic elegance. The young staff is eager and attentive. The carta has been honed down to a few offerings in each category: a couple of soups, a simple arrachera or filete de pescado or a standard caldo de pollo or fideo seco. The inventive prix fixe menus featuring regional cuisine, and which change weekly, are what I recommend.
On a recent visit we were served a complementary naranjada and free (!) water – no added costs and no plastic bottles to toss. I chose the $180 peso menú del día, which includes three courses plus wine, dessert and coffee – a great deal as there are no sneaky extras to pad the bill. I started with vuelve a la vida (mixed seafood cocktail), which was one of the best I’ve had. The young chef gets out of the way and lets the ingredients do the work – tender octopus and shrimp are complimented by a light tomato and lime dressing. The second course, sopa de lima (a tradition of the Yucatan) was fragrant and hearty but could have used an extra tweak of limón. My main dish, something called ‘pacholas’ turned out to be very thin ground meat patties flavored with fragrant spices. The flavor was reminiscent of Middle Eastern kefta. They were formed into quirky triangles and accompanied by the best black beans I’ve had since Cuba. The dessert, called nido de abeja (bee’s nest), was a beautifully balanced torte of crumbly crust, chocolate mousse and light pastry cream served with a little dollop of good vanilla ice cream - an exercise in harmony.
The filete de pescado al mojo de ajo, a comida classic we sampled from the regular menu, however, was only B+ although the fish itself was fresh and mercifully not overcooked. Better was an ensalada de nopales nicely dressed with a vinaigrette which would have made Julia Child proud.
I could nit-pick all day: too little seasoning here, an under-garnished plate there. But, considering the constantly changing menu and reasonable prices, I will refrain. I give these noble students an ‘A’ for effort, ‘A-minus‘ for food, and my best wishes for a smooth road to diploma-dom.
Zéfiro is an excellent choice for those who want a civilized, tranquil and reasonably priced Mexican lunch in the centro.
Note: Every Tuesday, a ‘Menu del Bicentenario’ is offered, consisting of regional dishes from all over the republic – this month San Luís Potosí is featured.
Zéfiro Restaurante Escuela
San Jerónimo 24 (between Bolívar & Isabel la Católica, metro Isabel la Católica)
Tel. 5709 7983
open Monday through Friday 1-5PM
Notes to my readers:
* I have inaugurated a new blog as a forum for my non-Mexican writings.
*Author Nicholas Gilman and Mexico City are flatteringly mentioned in the Washington Post:

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