World view: Anatol takes the cake

A 'flatbread' at Anatol
Back in the 20th century, there was a genre of restaurant that served something called “continental cuisine.”  The continent referred to was most likely Europe, although the trip across the Atlantic might, like the RMS Lusitania's, have been aborted.  It was basically an Americanized (over) simplification of classic French cooking, featuring invented dishes like Salisbury steak anathema to any European cook. It's now, happily, gone the way of bellbottoms and 8-track tapes.

The concept of borrowing and combining from multiple culinary traditions is relatively new, a product of 21st century globalization. A little lemongrass perfumes the bouillabaisse, wasabi spikes the snapper. But a chef needs to master a cuisine before he can successfully tinker with it. A culinary genius like David Chang (of N.Y.'s Momofuku) knows what he’s doing when he messes with tradition. Most ordinary mortals need to stay closer to home. Ella Fitzgerald knew the melody and the words; THEN she improvised.

That’s why the new spate of venues opening their multi-culti doors in our capital has been a hit and miss affair. Many Mexican chefs are going abroad to study and bringing back Big Ideas. Perhaps the aduana should be more vigilant and do some confiscating at the border.

In the case of Montagü, a pretty “bar de vinos” on Parque Lincoln in Polanco, the Concept doesn’t quite gel. The capable chef offers a sprawling assortment of dishes from French, Spanish, Mexican and American lexicons. Though a fearless fusionist, he’s at his best as a modern interpreter of Mexican cuisine. The wine list is carefully chosen and prices accessible. And the pretty view puts Montegü on the list for a quick lunch or happy hour. But stick to this continent's fare.

In La Roma, the talk of the town is Zapote, the latest see-and-be-seen spot to open its large glass doors. The mod, wood-filled space is beautiful, so is the menu, which features the local and organic. But once again, dishes that invoke Around the World in 80 Days, with a long stopover in Italy, just don’t cut the moutarde. Food can be lackluster.

Chef Ermini of Anatol
Anatol, on the other hand, is a newcomer that hits all the marks. Chef Justin Ermini, Connecticut-born and Culinary Institute trained, with an impressive résumé that includes N.Y.’s Daniel and several years in Florence, has brought considerable skill to his kitchen. The wisely collated menu is eclectic, featuring a number of Mexican, American and Italian dishes (the chef is Italian/American, working in Mexico after all). “I make what I, myself, like to eat…” he explains. “I don’t want to be pretentious.” He's not.

The smartly done dining room in the ground floor of chic Hotel Las Alcobas (which also houses Dulce Patria), is sleek but at the same time warm, a  fugue of muted wood colors. Lighting is kind and so, thankfully, is music – neither overcome sensitive faces/ears.

The menu, which morphs almost imperceptibly from week to week, is divided into five categories which imply tapas, i.e. small plates to share and accompany good wine or cocktails from the ample list. Many ingredients such as fresh cheeses and preserved meats, are made in-house.

Raviolo della nonna
The largest section is para comenzar, hearty and smartly chosen grazing plates. From Fannie Farmer’s Greatest Hits come mac & cheese--an upscale version that will nevertheless comfort the nostalgic. There’s also clam chowder, Cesar salad and, for the Canadians, a poutine featuring foie gras that vastly improves on the original. Best are satisfyingly rich Italian primi: an earthy cavatelli with pesto and a ‘touch of Tabasco’ to remind you you’re home, lovingly fried squash blossoms, tempura style,  crisp and faintly aromatic. And the star of the show--raviolo della nonna, a single filled little hill of pasta. "Whose nonna could have produced this?" I wondered as I took a bite of the chewy fresh pasta that conceals a payload of milky home-made ricotta. The whole thing is bathed in what the menu describes as “Sunday gravy”, a slow-cooked meaty ragù that makes Monday a letdown.  

“We didn’t want to be identified as a strictly Italian restaurant,” the chef explained;  so the little race-track shaped pizzas are here labeled ‘flat breads’. Compliments should ring for the guanciale flat bread: parmesan, goat cheese, conserve of tomatoes, an organic egg and house-made "cheek" bacon astutely arranged on a textbook golden/crunchy crust.          

The best corned beef in town
Larger plates, in the para continuar department, include a rib-eye of quality, a friendly roast chicken for those missing home, and the best corned beef on rye (here named the Brooklyn sandwich) I’ve ever had--and I know from corned beef. The beef is ‘corned’ by the chef himself, and the rye bread baked by the co-chef, experienced L.A. native Mayra Victoria, who also takes care of pastries and desserts. Meat is generously heaped on and will not let down those used to Carnegie Deli style excess, although elements are infinitely more balanced than they would be there. Mazel Tov!

A standout from the dessert menu is a little parfait, amusingly labeled "Triffle" (sic) served in what looks to be a baby food jar, of brownie, cream and helado de piloncillo, that rich brown sugar sold in cones. It's rich and light at the same time. And "pie" de temporada (an unfortunate spelling of the anglicized word "pay") is not a foot but good old American pie a la mode. 

The carefully chosen wine list--with a wide price margin—is helpfully divided by body type, i.e. light to medium. And, as is currently fashionable, a menu of gussied up cocktails is offered: the architectural gin & tonic has to be seen to be believed--and it tastes good too.

Anatol, while setting the stage with various culinary traditions, doesn’t slight any of them. The elegant but casual ambience doesn't veer from the 'East Side' Polanco norm, but the high quality of the fare certainly does. Toques off to this welcome addition to our city’s dining scene.
Chef Mayra's masterpiece: Triffle

Presidente Masaryk 390, corner of Anatole France
Tel. 3300-3950
Open Monday-Wednesday, 1-11p.m., Thursday-Saturday until 
12 a.m., Sunday 12 -5:30 p.m.

Montagü gastro-wine bar
Ariosto 16, at the western end of Parque Lincoln, Polanco
Open Monday-Wednesday, 1-10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday until 11 a.m., Sunday 1 -6 p.m

Guanajuato 138, Colonia Roma
Open Tuesday – Sunday 1-9 p.m.


Orient Express: Dim Sum at Jing Teng

Steamers at Jing Teng filled with tempting goodies

When I think about what I miss of my former life in the Big Apple, it's family, friends, and good Asian food. I  always head straight to Jing Fong (20 Elizabeth St. in N.Y.'s Chinatown) every time I visit. Then I ride the 7 train out to Flushing which is every bit as good as going to Hong Kong itself. Back in el D.F. I make do, but things are getting better. 

To make authentic foreign food, you need authentic foreigners, and Mexico City, unlike other great world metropoli, is not culturally diverse, at least not for its size – almost everyone here is Mexican. There are no true neighborhoods where a foreign community lives, Condesa aside. Sure there are small Korean clans, Argentines galore, Cubans, Lebanese, a few of everybody. But a cultural melting pot we're not. Eating 'world cuisine' here is a recent phenomenon. So if, like me, you’ve slogged through gloppy, celery and corn-starch laden meals in our so-called ‘Chinatown’, eaten pseudo-Thai food that tasted like mole, wierd cheesy sushi or paid through the nose for tony Indochine in Polanco, you’ll be happy to know that there is indeed good, genuine Asian food in this city—you just have to know where to find it. 

More Chinese immigrants seem to be showing up every day - no surprise -  and with them their culinary customs. 

Right here in the Big Taco: dim sum!

Dim sum, Wikipedia informs us, "refers to a style of Cantonese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is also well known for the unique way it is served in some restaurants, whereby fully cooked and ready-to-serve dim sum dishes are carted around the restaurant for customers to choose their orders while seated at their tables. Eating dim sum at a restaurant is usually known in Cantonese as going to "drink tea" (yum cha, 飲茶), as tea is typically served with dim sum."

Until recently, finding dim sum in Mexico was about as easy a locating a good pozole in Guangzhou. But there's good news for Asia-philes. 

Jing Teng, a Chinese-for-Chinese restaurant has opened its doors. And there are at least 15 kinds of dim sum offered every day, from around 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nary a westerner is seen in this simple 'locale'. In fact, only one employee (and none of the diners) I queried even spoke a word of Spanish. Information, and a menu were hard to procure. But the bamboo steamers are laid out so all you have to do is point. 

You'll find such steamed favorites as  siu mai (open dumplings stuffed with pork) ha gow (shrimp dumplings) and various bao (those poofy white spongy buns - the ginger pork was particularly flavorful). 

Lovers of innards will enjoy tripe steamed with black bean - ngau bak yip - and chicken feet done several ways. Nor mai mai – glutinous rice “tamales”--are satisfying if a bit bland. From the baked/fried table the custard tarts and little empanadas stuffed with sweet bean paste stand out. 

The regular menu, which is in Spanish, (if you can get the waiter to bring you one--our attempt to say 'menu' with hand gestures only caused a bit of confusion) lists many tempting casseroles, soups, noodle dishes and green vegetable to augment the feast. Prices are reasonable: most dim sum plates are 30 pesos, a few 40 or 50. 

Go around 'brunch' time, i.e. 10-12, for the best and freshest selection. 

Jing Teng 
Calle 65 sur,  near the corner of Av. Santa Anita, Colonia Viaducto Piedad
Metro:  Viaducto
It's 2 blocks from Ka Won Seng, another favorite; 


Everybody’s Truckin’: Food trucks in Mexico City, part I

They roll into town, park, cook, sell, then disappear, vanishing like a gastronomic Brigadoon. They’re those food trucks, ubiquitous in Los Angeles for decades, now common in New York’s hip outer boroughs, but until recently relatively unknown in Mexico.
“A food truck, mobile kitchen, mobile canteen, roach coach, or catering truck is a mobile venue that transports and sells food.” explains Wikipedia. Some form of these rolling kitchens have existed in the U.S. since the 19th century. Here in Mexico City, where automobiles were relatively expensive and space was cheap, the trucks were not a common sight. Puestos, those little homemade shacks, pushcarts and simple improvised tables serve as venues for preparing and selling  wonderful and now much celebrated street food. Recently, however, a new breed of industrious culinary-academy-trained restauranteurs  have motored into town providing a sophisticated alternative to on-street dining. The new breed of street food is international, schooled and designed. 

You can't miss this purveyor of Viet tortas...
Trucking to ‘Nam - Ñham Ñham
A Bánh mì
Few Vietnamese walk amongst us in the Big Taco, and, until now, none of their brilliant cooking, in its authentic form at least, was to be found. The proprietor of Ñham Ñham, a spectacular red and yellow vehicle, which parks in Plaza Rio de Janeiro, studied cooking in Viet Nam and shares her skills with fellow Chilangos. Bánh Mì, the fusion paté sandwich, legacy of the French colonists, have been trendy in North American cities for years. Now they will give our beloved tortas a run for their money. Grilled meat, subtly aromatic with lemongrass, mint and/or tamarind is served on a crunchy roll with fresh vegetables. Pho (pronounced “fuh”), a rice noodle soup which is  the classic Viet breakfast is also available as is an Asian salad and those delightful summer rolls, packaged in rice flour ‘tortillas’ and thankfully not fried at all. Vegetarian versions of all of the above are on offer. The $70 tab for a sandwich may seem steep, but quality is high – vale la pena.

Ñham Ñham
Corner of Puebla y Orizaba, 1 block north of Plaza Rio de Janeiro,  colonia Roma
Daily from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Don Kebab sometimes runs out before closing time...
They Drive By Night - Don Kebab
This purveyor of felafel,  kebab  sandwiches and other permutations of middle eastern take-away is wildly popular, often attracting crowds. Thursdays through Saturdays they pull up along the Sonora side of Parque México behind the bus stand and sell until they run out, ostensibly from 8 p.m. until midnight. Best bet is the marinated, good quality beef, grilled to tender perfection and served in a warmed pita with salad and pour-it-yourself salsas, one picante the other the classic yogurt-sesame familiar to aficionados of falafel. The combo, which includes fries and a drink costs $70.

Don Kebab
Av. Sonora facing Parque México, Condesa
Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m. to midnight

Fresh from the sea - Barra Vieja
Flying Fish - Tostadería Barra Vieja
Paella at Barra Vieja
This high design four-wheel seafood house, which parks in Pedregal does creative mariscos and, quality-wise is up there with its best stationary brethren. Barra Vieja’s tostadas of ceviche, pulpo and callo de hacha (scallop) are fresh as could be. And there are such creative offerings as tacos of pulpo con pesto de quelites octopus dressed with a wild green sauce, and almejas rasuradas, clams prepared in a soy dressing and served in their own shells. On weekends they pull into the parking lot of a restaurant and do a more than passable paella. 

Tostadería Barra Vieja
Camino a Santa Teresa, in front of ‘Pro México’s parking lot, weekends in the lot of Salón 777,
Blvd. de la Luz 777, Jardines de Pedregal  - see map

Open from 1-5 p.m.

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