Martha's back and Polanco's got her: Dulce Patria!

Where did she go?, they clamored. Aguila y Sol was THE place to see-and-be-seen and, incidentally, to eat. It was pretty nice in its original space on Moliere, but the wig-popping new venue a few blocks away was even flashier, more elegant, and oh so chic. Everybody who was anybody went--until it closed suddenly, a couple months after the move. The girl in the Little Black Dress stopped answering the phones to take reservations. The web page shut down. Nobody knew what happened. Naturally, tongues wagged, chisme flew in all directions. She – Martha Ortiz Chapa, chef/diva and cookbook author- hadn’t paid the bribes. She had run off to Tahiti. It was a tax thing. Nobody knew the answer. We may never know what happened, but there’s good news: she’s back with a vengance, and the party is just getting started. Dulce Patria, Ortiz’ new nueva cocina Mexicana hot spot is officially open for business. It’s an adjunct of the elegant boutique hotel Las Alcobas. Last night, to celebrate the Bicentennial, we went.
“Everything must change….” goes the song and so it has. Elegant and classy it still is (OK, this IS Polanco) but gone are the ‘good taste’ beiges and blacks. Now the slick décor is peppered with folksy Mexican touches: chairs are upholstered in colorful Oaxacan embroideries. Floors and water glasses are bright red. And the food is presented like a surreal Frida Kahlo still life.Crepe paper bows, potatoes cut in the shape of Aztec head-dresses, salsas drizzled in patriotic colors are all carefully highlighted by high-design black or white table service.
The glamorous chef Ortiz, clad in evening black, still circulates and greets her well-heeled guests. When queried as to the difference between Aguila y Sol and Dulce Patria her brief, encompassing answer was “it’s more festive”. And so it is.
The concept of the menu has not changed appreciably. Tradition is embraced, teased, stood on its head, and then re-fashioned into something 21st Century. The old place featured some of the best service in the city, and I’m happy to report, this is still true. The wine list provided was all Mexican and reasonably priced. We chose a Valle de Guadalupe Chardonnay, which was pleasantly dry and mildly perfumy. We started with a selection of appetizers.
A plate of very appealing poofy golden quesadillas were filled with fresh chèvre, or the market herb huazontle, or spicy meat. They come with a mini-cazuela of fresh hand-pounded red salsa. Two ceviches, one containing fish, jícama and fresh coconut milk, the other more traditionally tomato based, were both subtle, and fresh. A re-invented squash blossom flower soup is a knockout. Creamy and rich, the elusive aroma of this most beautiful nectarous ingredient is the star of the show. Only chef Enrique Olvera had been able to succeed at highlighting its flavor in his (now trés passé) foam. Everything is served in a whimsical, unpretentious, i.e. ‘festive’ way.
My dining partner, high-end travel queen, Saveur magazine representative and chef Adamarie King
(www.connoisseurstravel.com) ordered pork in mole amarillo. This essential Oaxacan classic was brought up to date as a spiced mango sauce, fruity, vibrant, with hints of clove and cinnamon. It didn’t overwhelm the tender juicy morsels of seared meat – “this could be served with fish” Ada mused, dipping her finger into the sauce for one last taste. Another standout was Jim’s fideos barrocos con pollo y mole poblano. This was an interesting conflagration of several beloved dishes: fideo seco, the dry pasta legacy of the Spanish, and subtle, balanced mole poblano. It worked, and the pinwheels of chicken were cute and celebratory. My pato en mole negro was less successful. It seems every well-known chef in town does his or her version of this dish. Ortiz’ mole was delectable, smoky, appealingly sweet. But it was a pitched battle between the mole and the lovely little timbale of shredded duck meat and the poor bird lost. It could have been chicken, I thought. But I spooned up every drop of the extra sauce provided in its little red clay pot (and even licked the dish when nary a designer-clad patron was watching). Prices, by the way, are predictably high, but average for a fancy Polanco joint, i.e. $500 and up per person, depending how much you drink. Desserts are playful throwbacks to classic Mexican childhood comfort foods. Silky, warm and sweet atole, the corn-based breakfast standard, was served in cute little cups and took me back to the hacienda on a cold winter night--even though I’ve never been to a Hacienda on a cold winter night. Old-fashioned mini milk and fruit sweets were served on a little rustic kitchen shelf from a Mexican doll house. Silly and fun. But that’s the idea. This is a party and a spectacle. We’re supposed to be celebrating Mexico in all its glorious and sensual pleasure. Dulce Patria succeeds as a pleasure palace. I’m glad it’s here and I’m glad she’s back. Welcome home, Martha.
Dulce Patria
Anatole France 100 (around the corner from the entrance of
Hotel Las Alcobas which is located at Presidente Masaryk 390) Polanco
Tel. 3300-3999
open Monday-Saturday 1:30-11:30, Sunday until 5:30
A note to my readers: Want to know more about 'fondas'? See my other blog: http://www.planetgoodfood.blogspot.com/


A Passage to India - Restaurante Taj Mahal, the best in the country

   As a small child I appeared as a beggar in a play called The Hungry Ones, by Indian author Asif Currimbhoy at New York's Café La MaMa. They painted my upper half dark brown and I wore a dhoti. One night, it fell off, exposing my torn underwear and white legs.
   Many years later, I was living in the East Village in a fifth floor walk-up bathtub-in-the-kitchen studio, on what was known as Curry Row. It was above an Indian restaurant, which isn’t a coincidence as virtually all the storefronts on the block were Indian restaurants. I swore, when I moved in, that I would try every single one while I was there – the average bill in these places was $5, so this wasn’t a preposterous idea. I only got about halfway through when I started to suspect that there was really just one big kitchen that produced all the food; it all tasted the same. It always smelled like curry inside and out (as did I, my friends reported), which was very nice, I thought, until I realized that the cockroaches felt the same way. But I still loved Indian food. I journeyed to Rajasthan, eating my way to the border of Pakistan. And now, when I return to New York, I visit my favorite venue for Haute Indian, recommended to me by author Gita Mehta, Devi. It’s not on Sixth Street. And a dinner there costs way more than $5.
So when I moved to Mexico I really missed what had become for me comfort food. Here, in El Day Effay, the cooking of the Continent is little known and not well represented. Its Mexi-spañol name ‘comida hindú’ is a misnomer if ever there was one; not all Indians are ‘Hindus’. It is so called to avoid the possibly derogatory word “Indio”. Despite certain similarities between Mexican and Indian cooking i.e. salsas, breads and moles : salsas, breads and curries - our sophisticated capital has only been host to a couple of Indian/Pakistani places not worth shelling out the mega pesos they charge. So I almost flipped my turban when one of my detectives told me about a good new place called Taj Mahal right here in the Condesa. I Eco-bicied right over. It is good indeed. The dream realized of two brothers from Bangladesh, Azad and Atik Hosain, who have been in Mexico for several years importing clothing, is not technically Indian at all, but Bangladeshi. Their cooking is similar to that of the Bengal region to which it once belonged. While most dishes offered here are generic Indian-national, a few byrianis, or rice platters and several curries are featured which are typically Bangladeshi. “My friends and clients pleaded with me to open a restaurant”, Azad explains over a cup of spicy chai. “The hardest part was finding the ingredients…and the chef”.

Located on a quiet tree-lined street just past Mazatlan, the simple, pleasant space features all the Amer-Indo décor requirements: ‘exotic’ chachkas, a big Elephant embroidery, hanging batiks and a TV providing lively Bollywood dance numbers. A few tables are set outdoors, which in good weather is a tranquil alternative. The familiar menu brings me right back to, well, maybe not exactly Connaught Circle, but First Avenue. Start with some samosas, golden and crispy outside, savory within: Indian umami. Also memorable are onion bhaji (which means botana). Chicken tikka tandoori is slices of tender, fragrant baked breast lightly dressed with oil and vinegar to bring out the flavor. A tikka masala is creamy, piquant and complex. Jalfrezi, a Bengal/Bangladeshi specialty, is a curry in which meat (or in our case shrimp) is marinated then fried with chilies and tempered with a bit of cream.It is tangy and just fiery enough - the lovely brick-red sauce concealing a payload of tender shrimp . From Saag (spinach) to Shazlek (lamb marinated in yogurt and grilled) careful spicing is in order. There are many vegetarian options including an alluring array of 'pillau' or rice dishes. Most importantly, the curries at Taj Mahal are distinct– you can make out individual elements.  Chef M.D. Ayubali, who hails from Dhaka but has experience from Dubai to Santiago de Chile, is a master. Several typical desserts are offered: gulap jam, or rose-water scented bread balls, or fini, a milk sweet - comfort food for Indians. And there is a full bar. Prices are on the high side but, considering yur options it's worth it. Allow $300 pesos per person for dinner. But they are pesos well spent. The Indian food at Taj Mahal is the best in the city – go for it!

Restaurante Taj Mahal
Francisco Marquez 134 (between Pachuca & Tula, 1 ½ blocks from Mazatlán)
Tel. 5211 8260
Open Daily for lunch and dinner

Note: all photos by NG except the one of NG which was taken by India-phile Val Clark



“You have to accept the fact that sometimes you are the pigeon, and sometimes you are the statue.” Claude Chabrol

There’s been a bitchfest in the Mexi-food press recently between chef/restaurateur Rick Bayless and Jonathan Gold, revered L.A. Weekly food critic. Seems Gold (and some self-styled experts on Mexican cuisine) claim that Bayless, who is involved in a new restaurant in L.A., said he’s going to show California what REAL Mexican food is. The high and mighty Gold says 'how dare he! We have our own cuisine here' etc. Forget it. A lot of hokum. Nobody’s listening to what anyone really said. Just click here to read the whole story.

Sounds to me like those Hollywood-ites just can’t be told nothin’. You’d think there would be room for everybody in the sprawling multi-culti Angelino culinary scene. Apparently not. I see not a hint of prepotency in Bayless’ offer to bring his (mostly) central and southern Mexican cooking to California. Nobody ever said it was brand new there. Certainly not Bayless. I think it’s sour grapes. Pure jealousy. The same nonsense has been going down here in the old country for decades vis-à-vis Diana Kennedy. The D.F. Food Mafia never liked the idea of an extranjera telling them what-for. Sure, there have been other food writers and recipe collectors here, but none so completist as this great lady, and none in English. After more than 40 years of grueling work, the Brittish diva has finally been recognized here, perhaps reluctantly by some, for what she’s worth. She's the person most responsible for educating the world about true Mexican cooking. And Rick Bayless has, in a sense, taken it one step further by promoting an understanding of this extraordinary world cuisine in a manner accessible to a larger public. I hope he doesn’t have to wait for his 90th birthday to be recognized for it. “Authentic” is a Mad Men word, used to sell books, in Bayless' case. We’ve all got something to sell. I think I’ll skip the burritos and go out for some tacos de guisado and wait for the dust to settle.