Mexico City part 1: Izote de Patricia Quintana
I’m back! I know- it’s been absolutely forever since I last blogged and I promise (if anyone is still reading this!) that I won’t take such long blogging breaks anymore. Life, work, Scrabulous and other things have gotten in the way of Tuna Toast but I am happy to be back and even happier to report about my recent trip to Mexico City.
I went for just a few days last week to meet up with J, and saw and tasted so many gorgeous things that I think I’ll have to break my Mexico City posts into several. First of all, I love Mexico City. It’s such a vibrant city with so many smells, colors and flavors and is definitely what I like to dub a “real big city.” To me, Paris, Tokyo and New York also fall into that category- and Los Angeles, the one I actually live in- does not. Sure LA is technically a big city but with a lame mass transit system that few people use, the inability of residents to get anywhere without a car and restaurants closing their doors at around 11:00 PM, it just doesn’t have the energy or convenience of the other cities I mentioned.
Having planned my trip in advance, I’d made reservations at Izote de Patricia Quintana for our first night in the city. I’d read a lot about this restaurant whose chef has helped put Mexico City on the gourmet map by drawing heavily on indigenous ingredients and was very excited to try it. The restaurant was very colorful and was filled with fashionable men and women- it is located in Polcano, which many call the “Beverly Hills” of Mexico City. We ordered drinks (tequila for my friend, a dark beer for J, margarita for me and “Coke Light” for my friend LS who doesn’t drink) and looked over the English menu. There were so many interesting options that it was difficult to make a choice, but after consulting each other on what we were getting (to make sure there were no duplicates!) we ordered our food.
We were given a basket of large, crispy tortillas made with blue corn and a trio of salsas. All were very tasty, with the salsa verde being everyone’s favorite. They were the perfect accompaniment to our drinks- my margarita was perfectly tart and strong, while JI’s tequila shot came with a second shot glass filled with a savory, spicy tomato juice. It was so delicious I would have drank it as a soup had it been served to me in a bowl. I also loved that the waiters would bring your glass to the table and then fill it up with the tequila of your choice. Ditto if you ordered a tequila and tonic- they would pour the tequila into your large glass until you said to stop, then top it off with the tonic. I’m not really sure if they would keep pouring if you just sat there until the tequila filled your glass but I imagine they would.
We had decided to share a couple of appetizers to whet our appetites. The shredded venison with achiote and picked onions was my favorite- it had a very chewy texture that was strange at first, then became addictive….each rope-like piece was so flavorful and, when rolled in warm, handmade corn tortillas, was pretty much all you needed with any cocktail. The four small tamales were also good but so tiny that it was really a challenge to split them all up between the four of us. Since they were each a different flavor we wanted to try them all, and the one with huitlacoche (black corn mold) was definitely the winner. It was slightly pungent in the way a truffle is and added a nice contrast to the slightly sweet masa surrounding it.
After those plates were cleared, our main courses arrived and so many different scents wafted through the air I could hardly wait to dig in. J had a beautiful fresh chile stuffed with sweet, tender chunks of salmon ceviche. It wasn’t tart like most ceviches but just slightly tangy and mellow- I definitely tasted pineapple juice in there somewhere- and was so perfectly cooked in the acid. JI’s chile and cinnamon rubbed steak was so flavorful and aromatic- it’s something I’d love to try at home- and we noticed that a lot of people had ordered it as well. L ordered the rib eye with an apple and sweet potato puree which was less sweet than you may think and a wonderful match to his juicy steak. I went with the lobster enchiladas with pumpkinseed sauce which, quite honestly, was the best I’d ever had. The pumpkinseed sauce was sweet and creamy at first bite, but that sweetness slowly evolved into a mellow yet fiery heat in the back of my throat. It was so deep in flavor and, had I used a few pieces of bread to sop up the sauce after I’d eaten the enchiladas.
Being vacation and all, we had to order dessert (of course) and the four we chose were all very impressive. J went with a trio of sorbets- the guava being the best one- which came with a Florentine made with pumpkin seeds. L had to go with the chocolate box with chocolate truffles, blackberries, raspberries, and a vanilla custard sauce which we all pretty much dug into once we saw the creamy custard literally spilling out of what looked like a paper bag made of chocolate. Talk about over the top! JI’s crepes filled with a hazelnut chocolate filling and a vanilla custard sauce were voted our favorite, and my crème brûlée of mamey (a melon that looks kind of like a mango and I saw everywhere at the Mercado) had a golden, crispy topping and hid a pile of warm berries at the bottom of the dish. I took a couple of bites and couldn’t eat anymore but the rest of the table ended up making a pretty big dent in it.
We rolled ourselves out of Izote with full bellies and big smiles. I saw Patricia Quintana wandering around the dining room but was too shy to say anything to her. I think it’s cool that a female chef is making such an impact on the culinary world, and we certainly enjoyed her unique creations.