A Rainy Day and a Transcending Meal – Day 6, Puebla and Mexico City
One last meal in Puebla and we knew it had to be a great one. Our concierge had recommended Mural de los Poblanos as a spot for the best local fare. One block off the Zocalo, we entered through a narrow entrance into a large open courtyard. On our right was a massive mural and on our left a beautiful fountain.
Having had such a poor experience at lunch we decided to start slow. Mixed salad and vegetable soup (sopa poblaa), both had clean simple flavors, and it helped restore our confidence. The soup was poured tableside and consisted of roasted squash, zucchini and peppers in a clear vegetable broth. Next was a trio of cemitas: milanese, relleno and ceviche. All three came on the classic sesame bun and tasted good, but the relleno stole the show. A mini relleno with a red chile sauce, it reminded me of a sloppy joe.
With the lack of crisp vegetables—or really any vegetables—during our trip, we next ordered a salad consisting of purslane, avocado, tomato and cheese. Purslane is a simple green that grows everywhere. Look outside and you will probably have it growing as ground cover in your garden. Wash it really well and add it to any salad. It is almost like a succulent—it has a nice green watery flavor and offers a nice crispness.
A due of chalupas was next, and classically they came out with a red and green salsa and some shredded pork. Like most of the Pueblan food, they were simple and delicious.
What really stole the show was the drink at the end. I will be damned if I remember the name, but I had seen it on all the menus and had to try one. It consisted of Rum, crème de cassis, sweet vermouth, mint, sugar and a few other ingredients I could not decipher. It had a very floral taste, and while it was very sweet, it was nicely balanced.
Back to Mexico City. As soon as we got off of the bus and into a cab it started raining really hard and before long it turned to hail. Let me stop here a moment and offer a word to the wise: do not take the first cab you see when you get off a plane or bus in Mexico. They will charge you twice the price. Instead, walk out of the station and catch a street taxi.
Well, after another death-defying taxi ride through a crazy hail storm, we made it to our hotel. Worn out from travel we chose to stay and eat at the hotel, as we could not really go out in the weather anyway. Sopa Azteca was my selection and it was a welcomed comfort on a rainy day. They had burnt the tortilla strips a little and it gave the soup another note of richness.
Tonight was the night. We had secured a spot at the famous restaurant Pujol, which is notoriously hard to get into. Enrique Olvero opened this gem a few years back and it has quickly become one of the top restaurants in the world. Set inside a dimly lit 40 seat dining room, Olvero and his team spin magic into classic Mexican creations.
As you sit you are presented with a paper envelope with a wax seal: your personal menu for the night. Upon opening, it congratulates you for being a part of the night, and on thin rice paper it explains the night’s 6 course tasting menu.
Right off the bat, they set the stage and coax you in. Course one was a sample of “street snacks” starting with a powerful single bite; Bocol Huasteco. Essentially a little fried ball of corn and cheese. The snacks also included a chilled asparagus soup with a dried chile “cracker,” chia tostada and baby corn with chile mayo, powdered ants, and coffee. The corn came out in a hollowed gourd with smoking corn husks. The smell alone opened the senses beautifully. At this point we looked at each other with giant smiles in anticipation of what was to come. Our palettes were singing with joy.
I have to stop myself here and not bore you with all the details. I can think and talk about food forever, but for the sake of the story I will highlight the stars.
Chilacayote Aguachile was one of the selections for the next course, and while I was unsure of what exactly I was ordering, I could not have been more excited when it arrived. A salad of mint and other herbs on top of a charred avocado and shredded chayote squash, bathing in a sauce of cucumber and chile. The dish ate so light, yet it was so filling and satisfying. Even after what ended up being more like 10 courses, this was still one of the most memorable bites.
Next was the middle course consisting of a lamb taco on a cilantro-poblano tortilla; a suckling pig with chickpea puree on a red corn and guajillo tortilla, and octopus tostada. Not a single one of these can be forgotten easily and I would happily make a meal of any one of these dishes over and over again. The Octopus was tossed in a habanero mayo with fresh oregano, and the tostada shell was made of squid ink. WOW!!
On to the entrée round. It was all moving so fast, yet paced so perfectly in retrospect. Hardly ever a moment of hesitation, never a doubt of timing, just a perfect pace set by a well oiled machine, one course after the next. Rustin, Misshale and I were sharing everything so it made it hard to really dig into each dish, but it did offer a sample of everything.
The entrée round featured a confit white fish on a tomato jam, avocado mayo, cilantro and mojo de ajo, with a beautiful fried green leaf on top. I cannot tell you what the leaf was, but it was magical. It tasted like spinach and basil made a baby. The rabbit with pepian rojo, carrots and guajillo was my winner of the night, even though it was visually the most boring. And the plating award went to the chicken dish with black radish, adobo chile and onion ash.
While we sat and reveled in the moments of pleasure after the entrées, we were greeted with the mole course. Freshly made tortillas with two varieties of mole to dip in: their mother mole, which has been cooking continuously since they first opened (947 days), and the mole nuevo. For the mother mole, they add ingredients—whatever is in season—every day to change the flavor. One day it could be sweet, one day spicy, the next smokey. A revelation in itself.
The silent assassin was the dessert amuse. We were waiting for our Happy Ending (the wording on the menu for the dessert course) and along comes a little rice bite. Coconut milk, sesame oil and leche. It is not worth sharing the photo, since it looked like a worm or booger on the plate, but Olvaro managed to pack every ounce of flavor into this single bite. Perfection.
Last but not least came the Happy Ending. Avocado Ice cream, cookie with a lavender cream, and churros with a chocolate rum sauce.
All in all, Pujol is a restaurant that has it together. Every moment was perfectly staged. From the flavor build up of each course and the story they told, to the shot of mezcal with an orange juice back, rimmed with grasshopper salt. This restaurant was close to perfect. Upon request they even allowed us to go in the back and view the kitchen and talk to the chef on duty, a young female chef. Overall, it was a very inspiring experience.
“Centro has been incredibly generous to Intercambio over the years and they’re great partners with us. They’re fun to work with, always provide amazing food that people talk about for months following an event, and they truly value their diverse workforce. At our annual spring fundraiser they provide high quality food for 300 participants at no charge – and that is a huge part of its success. They have many employees who participate in Intercambio as English learning students, and they value the ongoing education and advancement of all their employees.”
-Lee Shanis, Executive Director and Co-founder, Intercambio
“Having Centro as a partner has really elevated the status of our event. Their support is enabling Thorne to connect so many of our community’s low-income youth to nature, which in addition to building earth stewardship has benefits for heath and wellness, academic achievement, social well-being! We’re very grateful to have them as our community partners”
– Keith Desrosiers, Executive Director, Thorne Nature Center