The continuing transformation of Mexico City’s centro histórico into a happening glamor spot is astounding.
It was quite by accident that we noticed the latest venue for chic Mexi-dining. A very old building, which for years sat waiting to be restored to its colonial splendor, has at last been reincarnated as Limosneros, the newest entry in the centro’s list of top-notch restaurants.
The story goes that the building was home to the local artisan’s guild, whose members collected funds (limosnas i.e. “donations”) to build various public buildings. Fast-forward to the 21st century, whose post-modern style is in evidence here. Juan Pablo Ballesteros, son of the family that owns the venerable Café Tacuba just around the corner, took it upon himself to acquire and restore this two-story Spanish colonial edifice, exposing volcanic stone walls, brick ceilings and cantera doorways. The effect is tradition gone mod. Tones of black, brown and beige abound. Some wood gives warmth. Lighting is low. Music is patron-friendly - that is, it stays in the background where it belongs.
But the best news of all is that the kitchen puts out some of the most refined Mexican food in the city. An intriguing menu has been designed by gastronomic scholar José Luís Curiel and chef Lula Martín del Campo. It updates classics in a hip, modern but unpretentious way. Unlike at other high-falutin´alta cocina Polanco palaces, this food aims to please without ostentation or dubious re-invention. Presentation is pretty, almost Japanese. But recipes generally stick to the contents of grandma’s larder or gently introduce a new but familiar element--always straight from the market, not from the lab.
I love the antojitos offered as entradas, and could make a meal of them. Flautas de flor de Jamaica are golden crunchy tortillas, stuffed with a sweet-sour mix of fragrant purple hibiscus flowers and topped with cream. Elegantly served on a slab of dark grey slate, this dish is illustrative of the attention paid to detail, respect given to marketplace comfort food; not a cliché is in evidence.
Likewise, the tamal de camarón crocante is another twist on the ordinary, a corn tamal served in a banana leaf, crowned by a quick/deep-fried shrimp, which is to be devoured head, shell and all—a smart texture-fest.
|Cazuela de cuitlacoche|
A little cazuela de cuitlacoche presents this oh-so-delicate black corn mushroom, lightly sauteed and gratinéed, to be eaten on mini white wheat tortillas that have been pre-shmeered with a spikey ‘chipotle varnish’. It’s a perfectly balanced yin/yang experience and goes to show what a cunning Mexican kitchen can do.
A comforting sopa de quelites is, as the delighted Miss L exclaimed, “Mexican matzoh ball soup.” The wild greens swim in a sea of rich chicken stock, the matzoh-like corn masa balls bobbing about like beach balls in a Frankie Avalon picture.
Even better is a refined sopa de tortilla, one of the best I’ve sampled. An old-style recipe is barely tampered with: the brick-red broth is enriched with two kinds of chilies and topped with the usual assortment of avocado, chicharrón and fresh cheese. Deep.
|Tamal de camarón|
The main dish menu is divided into meat and fish; the kitchen excels at the former. A standout is filete al limón, a buttery-tender cut of beef swathed in a subtle, quiet, red chili sauce perfumed with lime. The sauce doesn’t over-whelm, as a good French sauce wouldn’t. It’s Aztec-Gallic fusion at its best.
Costillas en salsa de morita y mezcal are falling-apart tender, and recall those crowd-pleasing red ribs that old-style Chinese restaurants used to offer. But a more complex smoky aroma from the mezcal marinade reminds you that this is Mexico not Chinatown.
Recommended for the non-carnivorous are the huazontles capeados, the stuffed amaranth greens in their tomato caldo given pizzazz by a fresh goat cheese. It almost goes without saying that products are local and even organic when possible.
The dessert menu follows current DF trends and doesn’t stray much; included is the ubiquitous but well realized crème brûlée de mamey and a heady volcán de chocolate, a melting chocolate dessert with a ‘blackberry mole’.
Featured on the drink menu are fine artisanal beers and mezcals. Tequila, as is the current fashion, is played down and pricey as well - 90 pesos a shot – ouch! There’s an astutely chosen wine list featuring Mexican vintners, but prices are high; it would be nice to see a couple of purse-friendly house reds, as none offered are under $550.
The caveat vis a vis drink prices is only to say that food is reasonable – a meal with a drink should cost $350-500 per. Well worth it for the quality.
Small details of service add a level of delight here, e.g. the small handmade tortillas that are served in a little embroidered pouch, the amuse-bouche of esquites (a corn dish mostly known as a street food), or the excellent trio of salsas that appear at the table seconds after being seated.
|Juan Carlos photo: Peter Norman|
Limosneros has not been open long and I have no doubt that it will just get better. And it’s already very good – it trumps all other ‘high-end’ options in the centro and most in the city. Palms up.
Allende 3 (near Tacuba), Centro
Tel. 5521 5576
Open Monday-Friday, 1:30 -11 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sunday 9a.m. - 7p.m.