Accentuate the Positive: Á de Acento
Eating well in Colonia Condesa can be tricky. While there are many options, most of them are in the ‘meh’ to mediocre category. Which is why, when one of my trusted scouts alerts me to a quality spot, I pay attention. Tucked away on pretty, quiet Cuernavaca (a street whose eponymous city is no longer either), is Á de Acento. I like this place very much. It is a welcome respite from the usual mega-sized Condechi cocktail party establishments. It's relaxing to be in and exudes unpretentious sophistication. And the food is good.
One enters the restaurant through a small shop area featuring quality gourmet products. The potentially cavernous space has been spiffed up in a sort of 'cheap and cheerful' manner, which adds to the casual boho effect – this is no slick Polanco palace. It is divided into two levels, ground floor soaring and airy, upstairs an open sun-drenched deck that gives the impression of being outdoors. Vintage red and white-checkered floor tiles blend nicely with painted brick, pastel stone, wood and wall-hung plants. It’s Soho meets Berkeley. Music, which stays in the background where it belongs, is eclectic and kind on the ears-- discreet conversations are possible here.
But most important is the food, which reaches for the stars and almost touches them. Owner and enologist Paulina Velez has left the kitchen in the capable hands of chef Victor Zárate, a young graduate of Ambrosía, Mexico City’s finest culinary institute. The chef, a Veracruz native, brings a love for fine ingredients to his kitchen and has created a small menu based on a combination of market and season. He insists that “We have the very best providers in the city – we got them before we even opened. Sometimes I base my weekly menu on what they bring me, instead of the other way around.”
The menu morphs weekly – certain dishes are ongoing or change slightly according to what’s new in the market. It is based on French, Spanish and Italian cuisines with many references to Mexican tradition. Zárate explains, “We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves as a Mexican restaurant as we also do things like risotto and couscous, but the Mexican influence is strong. Almost all our main ingredients are from this country and part of its cuisine.”
From the second section, ravioles de rabo de toro (oxtail) bring Spain and Italy together. The flavors are rich, the pasta bathed in a reduction of beefy roasting liquid. But texture is a problem here--the meat is on the tough side, the pasta itself lacks correct al dente bite.
The third section gives the chef a chance to really shine. Very fine ruby red tuna, seared in a black pepper crust, is left beautifully rare as a great slice of that fish should be. It rests in a shallow pool of velvety anis-tinged green sauce that begs to have a finger dipped into it.
Lechón (suckling pig), its skin crisp to the point of crackling, is succulent and still juicy within. Its sauce, a simple reduction of the juices, is subtly perfumed with orange and lemon. It rests on a small bed of the very best Spanish rice, Calasparra, whose chewy tenderness, much like risotto, is the perfect compliment to the buttery meat. I only wished there was more of it.
And the ever present pork belly, a house special, also done correctly, i.e. textbook crisp/buttery, sits in a very light pépian, the green pumpkin seed sauce from Puebla or Oaxaca.
Dessert options, while well done, seem perfunctory. They’re less creative than the rest of the menu: pay de limón or crème brulee scented with lemongrass and ginger have already made the rounds.
The wine list is astutely chosen from around the world. There are extensive offerings by the glass and some very interesting national choices that even include two from Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, not generally considered a wine region in Mexico.
Price to quality average for this level of dining: comida with a glass of wine will range from $500-800.
Á de Acento is a good option to relax, catch up with friends, take out of towners. It’s adult, honest, laid back and classy--all at the same time.
Á de Acento
Cuernavaca 85, Condesa
Tel. 55 5260 4721
Open Tuesday - Saturday 1:30 - 11 p.m., Sunday, Monday 1:30 - 6 p.m.
Opening Doors: Áperi, San Miguel de Allende
When I first visited San Miguel de Allende twenty-five years ago it was an idyllic but gastronomically challenged destination. Then began the 'Pueblo Magico' effect--it exploded. Although the powers that be insisted it be renamed a “city", the dining scene remained provincial. Umpteen foreign-food restaurants and a few stalwart venues for 'greatest-hits' Mexican fare fed visitors from all over. Charmed by lovely colonial patios and panoramic views, it was easy to imagine you were eating well. Locals who knew better stayed home. High-aiming, but ultimately mediocre establishments, failed to disprove the maxim that “you don’t go to the provinces to eat.” Other than in Jalisco, the north-central area of Mexico (known as el Bajío, which also comprises Querétaro, Guanajuato and Aguascalientes) is not known for its cuisine. There are exceptions – great barbacoa and carnitas can be found if you know where to look. So recently, armed with enthusiastic recommendations but still cynical, I sat down to comida in San Miguel’s newest fine-dining locale, Áperi.
Áperi is Latin for ‘open’, and this new spot certainly opens the door to a new level of sophistication in town. On many counts it is the best kitchen in the area. Young chef Matteo Salas has an impressive resume, starting with his place of birth, Milan. From apprenticeships in several Spanish, French and Italian foodie hotspots, to his last gig as chef de cuisine at the much touted (but now defunct) Oca in Polanco, chef Salas has worked his way up the ladder of culinary success.
The food at Áperi is contemporary, worldly, carefully crafted and honest. Fashionable cooking techniques such as al vacio (aka sous vide), smoke and foams are used, but prudently. The moderately sized menu is well planned, leaning toward the pan-euro, but never turning its back on the homeland.
Because San Miguel doesn’t produce a cornucopia of goods, “local” and “market-driven” are not the main themes here. The best our land has to offer is brought in (fish from Ensenada, for example) and the seasonal is acknowledged (artichokes are currently featured.)
As a starter, a deceptively simple salad is artfully presented. Small, mildly pickled beets have been whisked by the grill to add greater dimension, and served with caramelized pecans, sweet beet foam and a light horseradish cream. The whole thing is blanketed with delicate baby spinach leaves. Sweet, salty, sour and umami beautifully intermingle – and it’s lovely to look at, too.
Pork belly (aka panceta) seems to be everywhere these days. Here, it’s offered as an entrada, which, considering its richness is just as well--a little goes a long way. Cooked al vacio for 36 hours, it’s buttery tender, perfumed with black truffle oil, and a surprising hint of mustard seed. Blue corn kernels and a few lentils provide a welcome textural contrast to the slightly gelatinous star of the show.
The lines blur between starters and mains: it doesn’t really matter. The brief selection of platos fuertes includes a masterfully seared Baja tuna whose light herb and cream sauces let the fish stand ahead.
A plate of house-made ravioli filled with sage-scented mascarpone is a creative variation on the classic Italian burro e salvia; the pasta is correctly al dente.
A thick magret (duck breast), seared to seal in the juices, is bathed in a pretty mixed-fruit sauce that is just sweet enough, without going overboard. I loved this dish, although I could have done without the strawberries--a fruit that tends to cloy and therefore hold center stage.
Desserts also celebrate and elaborate on their main ingredients, be they chocolate or almond or pear. They’re worth saving room for.
Áperi’s décor is simple and modern, wood setting off stone, the outdoor patio a peaceful respite from the bustle of town center. Music is mercifully low key, the staff hip, friendly and knowledgeable. Prices are comparable to those in the city for a place on this level: expect to spend $500-700 per person. It was a long wait, but the door has opened to fine, fine dining in San Miguel de Allende. Kudos to Chef Salas.
Inside Hotel Dos Casas
Quebrada 101, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
Tel: 415 152 0941
Open Monday - Friday 8 a.m.- 12 p.m., 2 - 4 p.m., 6 - 9 p.m.
Suzanne Kimball was a foodie before they invented the word. A sometime food writer, stylist and later fixer for photo and film shoots in Mexico, this Polanco habitué was an inspirational restaurant spy and co-conspirator for my review meals. I occasionally attributed her caustic comments to "S". She'll be missed.
Relevant and recent posts:
Casquivana (Chiapas 173, Roma) is a fine new bar/restaurant specializing in regional tacos. www.casquivana.mx
Who doesn't like dumplings? Buns & Dumplings, Mercado Carmen, Amargura 5, San Angel is Chef Luís Chiu's (of Asian Bay fame) new venture. It's a stand in the back of the promising new Mercado Carmen. "Buns" i.e. steamed open bread filled with slow cooked pork belly or succulent duck breast hit all the marks as do the steamed dumplings and won tons. This is no fusion-confusion, it's the real thing.
Umami BBQ D.F.'s most eccentric chef, Quim Jardí, formerly of La Rauxa, is back doing banh mi, craft burgers and what he promises to be the best pizzas in DF. Visit his Umami BBQ at Sonora 86 in Roma/Condesa. Oh, and there are bbq ribs too.
Olivier Dekeyser is a pâtissier divine. He does Belgian style cakes and pastries to order for any occasion; see his site: http://elpostrebelga.mx/
☻ Asian Food in el D.F.
☻ Shopping Gourmet
☻ Rosetta - Nearly Perfect
☻ Máximo Bistro
See: POSTS, above for 2008-2012
☻The Best of Talk of the Town Part II
☻The Best of Talk of the Town Part 1
☻10 Top Tortas in Mexico City
☻Treasures of the Centro part 1
☻2014: The 10 Best
☻Bug Eyed: Eating Insects in the city
☻Livorno & La Locanda
☻The Tamal Queens
☻Sesame - where pan Asian pans out
☻ Mercado Roma: where to eat
☻Mercado Roma - shopping
☻Morelia en Boca 2014
☻Best Cocktails part I
☻Best Cocktails part II
☻Chowzter's London awards
☻ Lusitano - Portuguese
☻Dominique is now a bistro
☻ Estiatorio Mythos
☻ Taco Hopping: el Centro
☻The Best of 2013
☻De Mar a Mar
☻Yuban great Oaxacan Cooking
☻ Acapulco puts on a party
☻Rokai brings a little bit of Tokyo...
☻Angelopolitano: poblano Condesa
☻Mushroom season in Mexico
☻Touring the world's best barbacoa
☻World view: Anatol takes the cake
☻Dim Sum at Jing Teng
☻ Food trucks in Mexico City, ...
☻Celebrating July 4th in Mexico
☻Lincoln stays mid-century
☻ “Best taco in Mexico"
☻Close to home: Maximo Bistrot
☻On the Town: Tapeando
☻Q&A With Máximo's Chef
☻The Best Thing I Ate This Week:
☻Tacos de Pescado
☻And the Angels Sing: Turtux
☻The Women of Mexican Cuisine
☻The Feria de Tamales -Coyoacán