Puebla of the Angels: Angelopolitano

The essential cemita
The most exciting thing that’s going on resto-gastronomy wise here in the capital isn’t fusion, isn’t so-called cocina del autor. It’s the back-to-basics celebration of tradition. Remember when Rosemary Clooney stopped trying to make the hit parade and recorded a series of jazz/standard albums, continuing to do so for the next 30 years? (Well I do.) Traditions are deep-rooted, trends evaporate. New venues that pay homage to the past are opening and that’s a good thing.

So it’s with open arms that we welcome the latest house of mirth, the tongue-twistingly named Angelopolitano. Housed in the shell of an old residence on the hipster-free Roma/Condesa border, this smartly appointed but unpretentious establishment offers Poblano cooking with a modern touch. By that I mean that generations-old, family-tested recipes are artfully prepared.

Young Puebla-born chef Gerardo Quezadas respects grandma’s wise ways. He freshens flavors and presentation, bringing his food into the 21st century while maintaining the integrity of the 19th, from which most of these preparations emanate. Puebla, whose grandeur reached an apex during the late colonial and early independent eras, is steeped in both the indigenous and Euro styles. But lumbering sauces, laden with nuts, cream and a myriad of chilies and spices can overwhelm the contemporary diner used to more fine-spun fare.

The menu at Angelopolitano is anchored in Puebla standards such as mole, both the chocolaty poblano and the nutty verde varieties, but the anchor isn’t stuck in the mud. There are also rich green and red pipianes, and that classic, fruit-studded dish elusive to most D.F. menus, manchamanteles.  And a few more modern, creative dishes such as salmon with a mescal/tamarind/chipotle sauce.

Mole poblano is emblematic of the area and perhaps Mexico itself (mas mexicano que mole is the local version of ‘as American as apple pie’). But the amalgam of sugar, spices, seeds, chilies and chocolate, when unbalanced, can mute the palate. This kitchen’s version, from “Godmother Clotilda’s own 19th century recipe” is done right, no mean feat given that over 30 ingredients need to be juggled. The same expertise is brought to manchamanteles, once common on bourgeois tables. Dried and fresh fruit sweeten a spiky but light chili/tomato sauce and highlight the tender morsels of pork that rest in it. Bravo.

Start with that most traditional of antojitos: chalupas, topped with picante green and red salsas.

Soups are excellent, the seasonal flor de calabaza shines: this sunny flower’s delicate perfume is so often elusive – not here. And that most standard sopa de tortilla is exemplary –hearty and redolent of corn.

Cemitas, Puebla’s version of the torta, are served on their eponymous and very fresh buns, dotted with sesame seeds. That of mole verde is the best I have sampled anywhere. Chicken bathed in this nut and green chili based sauce is blanketed with shredded Oaxaca cheese and avocado. A hint of the perfumy cilantro-like but distinct herb pápalo can be detected. At $55 pesos, who’s complaining?

Also worth mentioning are the two pasteles, savory lasagna-like concoctions that should be on every Mexican cooks to-do list. The champandongo purposely resembles a chocolate layer cake. Tortillas are stacked with chicken, mole, sweet cream and queso Oaxaca, baked and ‘iced’ with more mole. The beautiful presentation turns the meal into a birthday party.
The prize- winning chile en nogada

And last but not least, chef Quezadas' chile en nogada, that quintessential independence day stuffed chili. is a feast for the eyes - winner hands down for the Miss Mexico prize.

The dining areas, two smaller at ground level and a larger, older-fashioned space above, are light, airy and sleek – walls feature contemporary black and white photos. But a welcoming old-time ambience pervades. And the familiar feeling is reinforced by the fact that as a matter of policy, the family employs people of the tercera edad. So if you no longer have grandparents, you will be well taken care of here by someone elses.

A small shop offers house made products such as salsas as well as mezcals.

Prices at Angelopolitano are reasonable – a light lunch can be had for under $130, a complete dinner with drinks will average $250. Pesos that is.

While the restaurant scene in Puebla itself has exploded in recent years, making our neighbor a worthy culinary travel destination, el D.F. itself suffers a dearth of good restaurants featuring this important regional cuisine. Angelopolitano fills the gap.

Puebla 371, near the corner of Sonora
Colonia Roma Norte
Tel.  6391-2121 / 6391-2020
Open Tuesday – Thursday 1 – 10 p.m.
Friday, Saturday 1 – 11 p.m., Sunday until 7 p.m.

Closed Monday