The Mercado Roma, Part 2 : Eat Til You plotz
Many years ago, I spent a week in an apartment overlooking Barcelona’s wonderful Mercado de la Boqueria. This Nouveau gem whose bounty provided expert cooks with the best the Mediterranean had to offer had not yet been discovered and exploited by Bourdain and his ilk, converting it into a zoo of photo-snapping tourists and few shoppers. At the rear of the market was a stand sporting about 10 stools, that was the forerunner of the upscale micro-market restaurant. Three people, a chef, a hostess/server and a scullery maid ran the tiny kitchen that produced an amazing array of Mediterranean dishes. Feasts of superb grilled seafood, arroz negro and roast vegetables were magically concocted in this dollhouse-sized workspace, all served with a nice cava and espresso to boot, proving it is possible to crank out laudable cuisine under such circumstances. This amazing place was discovered, has expanded and is now untouchable. But it has been emulated in myriad markets in Spain and beyond.
And now we have the Mercado Roma. The only difference between its micro gourmet-erías and traditional Mexican comedores del mercado is the menu and the trappings, as professional expertise and fine cooking can take place at any level, and the only formula for success of such mini bistros is a smart concept and small, astutely chosen menu. The Mercado Roma houses many good eateries, and a few not up to par. Here I chronicle the best of the bunch.
Uruguayan born Chef Daniel Frydman presides over La Ahumadora, his first public venture (he comes from a long line of caterers). His all-seafood bistro is perhaps the star of the Roma, producing superb dishes utilizing sea creatures fresh from the Pacific coast, sold right across the aisle. Pismo clams, generous and sweet, are simply prepared with a bit of lemon and sprightly guacamole or else lightly grilled. Ceviches are similarly done with a breezy touch, more Peruvian than Mexican in the brevity of their maceration, which highlights the freshness of the materia prima. From the “caliente” section of the sensibly short, revolving menu, white clams are perfumed with a surprising bit of chorizo and served in a small cazuela--their divine juice is not to be wasted. The finest oysters money can buy, in Mexico, anyway, are best ordered with a little mignonette – I don’t care for the heavier handed New Orleans treatment. And the ceviche “con mucha hortaleza” is good for those who crave greens. I will return here again and again. Chef Frydman is also in charge of a stand nearby which produces more than serviceable Middle Eastern salads and falafel, as well as the aptly named Barbacoa del 23, whose bounteous tacos of perfectly done barbacoa, served with an array of heady salsas, cost just that: 23 pesos.
While I remain a big fan of Ricardo Muñoz Zurita the man, I was repeatedly disappointed by his Azul Antojo which offers nice antojitos that look better than they taste. Tostadas themselves are light, fresh and crisp, but the toppings are bland – you couldn’t tell one from the other blindfolded. Insipid aguas are served in very un-PC plastic cups with useless tops. I wish I could kvell but can only kvetch.
Querétaro 225, between Medellín & Monterrey, 1 1/2 blocks from Av. Insurgentes is open daily from 10-7, a few bars and restaurants upstairs stay open late.
A note to my readers: My new video series, Provecho! debuts on Mexicoreporter.com; See: http://www.mexicoreporter.com/2014/06/24/provecho-a-mexican-classic-makes-its-come-back/
Fabienne says: Great Article!!!! A new Market...just when you think you got it ALL!!!! COOL....I recognize the pastéis de nata, To die for!!!!
Michael Parker S. says: I'm into it—sure, you can lament this or that folly, but gentrification means life for an old neighborhood like the Roma that was all but abandoned for dead after the '85 quake. Creating a "fashion" for traditional markets is urgently needed or you and I will end up fighting for the last icy tomato in Superama (a division of Wal-Mart, please note).
Guzina Oaxaca, at Mazaryk 513 (tel. 5282 1820) in Polanco is chef Alejandro Ruiz' venue for great Oaxacan cooking. It's worth a visit.
Casa Virginia is chef Mónica Patiño's latest venture, located above Delirio at the corner of Alvaro Obregón & Monterrey, the Porfiriana house is beautifully restored and home-style food is delicious Tel. 5207 1813
Sesame at Colima 183, Roma, is chef Josefina Santacruz' venue for authenically prepared Asian street snacks. Try the pho, it's divine.
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