Pujol – Mexico City

“ So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being” – Franz Kafka-

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Intimacy is what this restaurant is all about.

This place is very romantic and exclusive; it is as if everyone is destined to be there that night, similar to a perfect setting for a movie. The place has mirrors all over the edge that meets the wall and the ceiling, thus you can see and be seen (and allows the person that is seated looking at the wall to be able to appreciate the scenery).

Enrique Olvera interprets fine dining in his own and unique way. He focuses in balancing traditional Mexican food, (which everybody should try), with more elaborate gourmet dishes and ingredients, granted that you wouldn’t try something like this menu elsewhere.

A pleasant beginning for the evening is a mezcal drink, a spicy & fruity cocktail that will open your appetite for the six courses you are about to degust.

One of the most popular Mexican appetizers are presented to you in small portions, so you can get acquainted with what Mexicans usually eat on the street, such as huaraches and tacos.

I have to make a special mention to my favorite – “Baby corn with chicatana ant mayonnaise”. One could never imagine that you could get a deli mayonnaise up from an ant, (too small…) but this is a delicate and unique flying ant, one that is only five days a year in Mexico, thus its rareness makes it so perfect to infuse the smoked baby corn, which is delivered in a gourd. (I thought it was a pumpkin at first glance).  Upon opening the lid, the smoke inside seeped out giving you a quick, albeit delicious smell of the perfectly balanced flavors.

The masterpiece of this place is the mole –mole madre, mole nuevo-, referring to an “old” mole that’s been kept for 1306 days to age, and a “new” mole that is freshly made. It is presented in two circles; mole madre on the outside, and new mole in the middle (like a bull’s eye). It is as an elder meeting a newborn. The tortillas with hoja santa, were so soft that they melted in my mouth; oh what a match!

Usually, they won’t give you silverware for this course; you have to soak the tortilla into both moles so as to mix them, just like a true Mexican would do (you won’t regret it). This dish seems so simple but yet is a complex throwback to the Mexican culture ancestors, and the combination of these moles is Enrique’s perfect creation.

For a sweet ending you will have a small portion of Mexican traditional desserts, such as tamales, churros, and even a flan. All of them are amazing; portions are tiny so you can eat all of them without guilt.

Unwind with the wine menu, which presents plenty of great options from different countries. If you are into deep, bold reds, I suggest one goes the Mexican path and try either Icaro or Ojos negros, if not, one can always pair this food with a glass of tequila or mescal – the place has a vast collection from all regions.

In summary, the service is flawless; they really put an effort in explaining everything to their guests, and also have the best attitude.

No wonder The World’s 50 Best Restaurants rates Pujol number 20th worldwide and it’s number 1 in México city.

 

Alinea – Chicago

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”   -Albert Einstein-

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This place is all about magic and surprises. One gets a mysterious feeling as when one is about to enter into a magic show or an unpredictable event.

The experience begins when one is trying to book online; it has to be done with at least two-three months of anticipation, and the seats are sold-out within 5-10 minutes, just like for a U2 concert.

The enchantment begins upon arrival to the restaurant (which is located in a pretty neighborhood, a small house-like entrance). One does not receive a menu, and is only asked whether one has any allergies. In essence, you are in the hands of the chef, ready for a hodge-podge of flavors, textures and aromas.

As one waits for the courses to start coming, the waiter hands out an alphabet soup which lets you know bits and pieces of the menu, but only if one is able to solve it; you only know what you ate at the end of the meal as they give you an envelope with the names of the actual dishes.

Given the rareness of this place, one can only expect an unusual type of dishware – a bowl made of pure ice (from which one needs to eat quickly before it melts), a coconut shell, a tree trunk base, a green apple diffuser. Among others, these different and amazing bases will blow your mind.

One of my favorite dishes was the: “Thai coconut, pompano, shellfish and kuzu”. It actually tasted like the perfect mix of Bali’s freshness and Tokyo’s gourmet touch.

Along this ride, you will feel as if the waitresses were your confidants (perhaps the booze has something to do with it). They are there to guide you along and share your amusement.

Chef Grant Achatz stretches his imagination and lets you have some meals in ways you’ve never tried them before. A great example of this is the lobster. Instead of giving you the regular piece of lobster, he offers lobster paper (you read it right). Such paper turns into exquisite lobster meat when you pour it in hot soup. Uniqueness is the term that stands for this chef.

As you may have noticed, I have a sweet tooth, thus I really appreciate an original and tasty dessert, and Alinea certainly would not let me down. I tasted the outstanding banana/apple balloon… yes, an edible balloon!!! You have to aspire all the helium that’s inside, and then eat the chewy part.

Beside the uniqueness of the flavor and the originality of the dessert, it’s impossible not to laugh when your partner sounds like a chipmunk talking. Such a blast!

I highly recommend the wine pairing. There are three categories for it, depending on your budget, but all three are amazing and they really put a lot of effort to find the perfect match for all of your courses.

Whether you want to experience something outside the box, impress yourself, or try something new, you have to come to Alinea. Trust me, it’s worth it.