October 2016
  • Day3

    Centro Historico

    October 31, 2016 in Mexico ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    On our final day, we took a trip to the Centro Historico, the old downtown. The main plaza, known as the Zocalo, is in the same location as the Aztec city Tenochitlan. In fact, part of the massive Metropolitan Cathedral was built with stones from the Aztec's Templo Mayor thanks to Hernan Cortes and his conquistadors. Remnants of the temple's foundation can be seen just behind the church. The massive plaza is also flanked by the National Palace. The whole area looked quite European. As a result of the shifting soil, many of the structures are noticeably crooked (see the picture inside the church).

    The plaza was filled with hundreds of little boats in preparation of the day of the dead festivals. Each boat was filled with pictures, painted skulls, and little gifts to help support the spiritual journey of the departures. We actually saw little, colorful altars everywhere we went. We caught the tail end of the parade on Saturday which featured many people, young and old, dressed up as skeletons with painted faces joining in the celebration.

    With our only impression of Mexico coming from the resort towns in Yucatan and the Pacific, Mexico City offered a completely new experience.  The city featured a modern downtown with top notch restaurants, and of course taco and torta stands. There are permanent rotating art exhibits along Paseo de Reforma, and no shortage of celebrations and festivals. We were lucky to visit during the fascinating dia de muertos festival in which Mexicans celebrate the lives of their relatives. There is an amazing cultural history in the 7000+ ft high Valley of Mexico, home to one of the West's first cities (Teotihuacan), the Aztecs, and then many influences after Spanish colonial conquest. It's definitely worth the quick flight from the US.
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  • Day2

    Polanco

    October 30, 2016 in Mexico ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    After a delicious but late dinner, we were able to easily sleep in a little longer... An extra hour more than we had planned because we didn't realize CDMX's daylight savings had taken effect while we slept. We definitely didn't complain. We enjoyed some coffee before setting off to the upscale Polanco neighborhood for a food tour.

    It started in a restaurant called Guzina Oaxaca where we learned about the common ingredients used in salsa and mole. The owner/chef, one of the top 20 in Mexico we were told, helped save the pepper that gives mole negro its black color which is often incorrectly thought to be from chocolate. There are around 45-50 ingredients in a typical mole (vs around 5 in a salsa) and no single ingredient should overpower the rest. Our tour guide, Luis, was very interested in hearing about our Pujol mole experience and was hoping to make it there soon.

    Our next stop was a tamale shop. From the three vegetarian options, we chose the frijol y queso and nopal (cactus) y queso. They were equally delicious. We also tried a different type of atole (traditional warm corn drink) than we had the night prior at Pujol which was a chocolate version.

    Luis took us through the lively Lincoln park which is lined with old Spanish-style mansions that have since been converted into beautiful restaurants. The park was named after a statue of Abraham Lincoln was gifted by president LBJ in the 60s. The park was swarming with people and festivities. In the park was a public viewing of the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Mexico that was taking place in the city that day.

    At our next stop, we enjoyed mushroom quesadillas with hibiscus agua fresca. We learned that the difference between a taco and quesadilla is how they're served - tacos are rolled while quesadillas are folded in half.

    The next two stops were for dessert. First we went to a packed ice cream shop to try "mamey" fruit ice cream. The fruit is the shape of an avocado but pink on the inside and brownish on the. The ice cream was just the right amount of sweet. We followed the ice cream up with a stop at a gourmet chocolate shop that is known for its chocolates designed to taste exactly like other treats such as Mexican cake, mango and chamoy, pistachios, guava and so many others. The chocolates were served with mezcal and, surprisingly, the combination was quite pleasant.

    Agua and Sal, known for its fresh seafood, was the next destination. We enjoyed a refreshing ginger drink and an awesome Marlin tostada. The Marlin was cooked to have a similar texture and taste to pulled pork.

    Finally, and thankfully because we were getting full, our last stop took us to a restaurant known for its tortilla soup. Our guide, forgetting that white meat is not included in our vegetarian eating habits, told us that it contained pork skin. Nonetheless, we tried the soup and it was pretty good, but Brittany was thankful she didn't have crispy pork skin floating around in hers.

    The tour ended close to the highly rated anthropology museum so we decided to stop in. Not being big museum people, we were going to opt for a tour guide but learned they were unavailable on Sundays, so Nico was the impromptu guide. The Mexican history is really fascinating. The exhibits featuring Teotihuacan, Aztec and Mayan history were especially interesting. The Aztec sun stone was the most impressive display.

    We waited out the rain in the museum. On our way back to the hotel, we took a stroll through Chapultepec park and were treated to a pretty sunset over the castle.
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  • Day1

    Pujol

    October 29, 2016 in Mexico ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    After reading through a number of foodie travel blogs, one restaurant was recommended throughout: Pujol. There is also an episode on the Netflix series "Chef's Table" that highlights Pujol and chef Enrique Olvera that we watched before our trip.

    We arrived at the restaurant a few minutes prior to 9:30pm and just before a few other parties that must have had the same timeslot. Although the cozy restaurant was packed, we were pleased with the spacing between the tables which allowed for ample privacy.

    As noted in blogs and on Chef's Table, the menu comes delivered in an envelope with a wax stamp of an E. One of the waiters walked us through the menu and asked if we had any food allergies or dietary restrictions, and assured us that our pescetarian diet was of no concern. We allowed for a few compromises: insects and lard. We couldn't pass up the chance to try baby corn that is served with an ant sauce and Enrique's most prized dish, mole madre, which is prepared with lard.

    We started with tequila cocktails and several street food appetizers. While good and showcasing some unique flavors and ingredients, the starters weren't exceptional in our opinion.

    The second course was a vegetable mole dish with mushrooms, greens and crispy banana chunks. The flavors were excellent and we looked forward to trying the mole madre.

    For the third course, Brittany got the Amarillito tamal served with fava beans and Swiss chard; Nico opted for the lobster tostada. The tamale was exceptional and Brittany savored every bite. The lobster tostada was also quite good. The tostada shell was served on top of the serving bowl and the server recommended it be broken up into the crudo-style lobster.

    Course number four featured a buckwheat zucchini blossom and mushroom risotto for Brittany, and fresh seabass with beurre-noisette for Nico. Brittany's dish had a smoky flavor (due to the cheese) and the mushroom were cooked to perfection. The zucchini blossoms added a complementing touch try the cheese. The fish was one of Nico's favorite dishes ever. The preparation of the fish was on par with that of the best Italian restaurants, but what really stood out were the accompanying fresh corn tortillas meant to scoop the food. The combination created a delicious array of flavors.

    Course 5: the Oaxacan specialty mole madre. Two types of mole, one new and the other aged 1111 days, accompanied by fresh tortillas. The presentation of the course itself was a bold statement, relying on a sauce to serve as an entree. However, it did not disappoint. The flavors were really exquisite - one could discover new tastes with every bite. We had to ask for more tortillas (since this course wasn't served with silverware) to scoop up the rest of the delectable dish.

    After the first 5 courses, we were already pretty full but couldn't miss out on the dessert. There were 6 small items served. The first was a pulque sorbet served with chile powder which was very refreshing and cleared the pallet. The remaining 5 desserts were brought out together, and we were instructed to try them in a certain order. The highlight was definitely the churros. They were perfectly crispy and a little bit doughy with just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar.

    Two and a half hours later, we were finished, full and quite pleased. Overall this was definitely one of the best meals we've ever had. The price, when compared with Michelin star restaurants elsewhere, was quite reasonable. Also, as a result of the primary cuisine inspiration, we've added Oaxaca to our list of future destinations.
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  • Day1

    Trip to Tehotihuacan

    October 29, 2016 in Mexico ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    We woke up early in an attempt to avoid traffic in town. We caught a quick uber to the omnibus station (only $3 for 20 mins, the exchange rate is quite favorable at 19:1) and then hopped on a bus to Tehotihuacan. We chose this method of transport to bypass the tourist crowds and save money for better things (see: dinner footprint). We hit some traffic out of town so the drive took around 75 minutes. Along the way, we saw lots of colorful houses built up into the hills.

    Upon arrival at the archaeological site, we paid our $3 admission and headed towards the pyramids. The first thing we noticed was that a plethora of vendors were selling a toy/souvenir which made a loud, puma-like growl. It was persistent throughout our stay and quite obnoxious, but what can you do... The site was pretty impressive. The pre-Columbian and pre-Aztec city is estimated to have been home to over 100,000 people in the first centuries BC. What remains are a series of structures along a long road (the Avenue of the Dead), with a number of large plazas for gatherings, and two large pyramids: one in honor of the sun and the other in honor of the moon. One can climb up on both pyramids to look over the entire city ruins. At 216 ft, the pyramid of the sun is the third largest ancient pyramid in the world. Many believe that this was the western hemisphere's first great city.

    For lunch, we decided to try a restaurant recommendation Brittany had found in a travel blog. The blog had noted that it was just outside of Puerta 1 but we soon found out it was actually outside of Puerta 5, a half mile walk away. Although a bit touristy for its location in a cave, La Gruta was tastefully decorated with an altar for Día de Muertos. Vegetarian options were scarce but our waiter kindly suggested the pollo fajitas... without the pollo and with oyster mushrooms instead. The atmosphere and cold beers made it a fun experience.
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  • Day0

    Day 1

    October 28, 2016 in Mexico ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    For Brittany's 30th, we decided to avoid Halloween and check out Día de los Muertos south of the border instead. Thanks to our Southwest companion pass, the flight to Mexico City was quite cheap. Some Marriott points came in handy as hotels were pricey due to the festivities and the F1 grand prix. We sat next to a guy that was headed to CDMX (ciudad de mexico) for his bachelor party and who happened to be a chef in Telluride. We talked about our upcoming reservations at Pujol (one of the acclaimed best restaurants in the world - located in CDMX) and he recommended some favorites in LA and San Diego.

    After a 5 mile drive that took an hour due to traffic that appeared to be worse than our current hometown's, we arrived at our hotel. The Marriott Reforma is in a bustling part of town, the Zona Rosa, that is close to a variety of shops, restaurants and bars. We also discovered that the first annual Día de los Muertos parade (first thanks to the James Bond film Spectre) will take place a short distance away.

    We walked to Mercado Roma, a modern food hall, for dinner. We tried a tostada de callo (scallops) and an empanada de pescado with two Pacificos to wash it down. Next we tried a torta vegetariana that had eggplant, cheese and avocado and 2 artisanal Mexican beers. The flavors of the torta really stood out, complemented well by spicy pickled vegetables.

    Following dinner, we decided to join the long line at the churro stand. Fortunately the friendly couple in front of us showed us that you order first and then wait in line to pick up your food. After around 30 minutes, we were almost up to pick up our churros and Mexican hot chocolate. The couple in front of us started having an intense conversation with the churro chef. I was able to recognize a few words from a TV show we recently started watching (Narcos), such as "hijo de punta," "pendejo," and "tienes juevos"? That's when I realized it wasn't just a friendly conversation. We figured out later that the couple was mad because the chef/cashier had let several people bypass the long line. To top it off, the chef got a slap before the couple stormed off. He was so shocked that he left our churros in the fryer a little too long. They were a bit crunchy but still good...
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