Friday, April 06, 2007

Pujol, Mexico City

Brownie is guest blogger for today:

In preparation for our Mexico City trip, I scoured the Chowhound Mexico board to see where to eat, for street food, for taquerias, and for our one really fine meal. Consensus for the latter was divided between Aguila y Sol and Pujol. After reading both menus, we decided to go for Pujol, based mainly on my obsession with Huachinango (red snapper) and Pujol’s preparation looked more interesting. Because we were still on East Coast time and because as far as we’re concerned a 7pm reservation is fine by us, we arrived at the restaurant a good 30 minutes before any other parties, but this was fine, as we then received all the waitstaff’s attention, but not overbearingly so.

After ordering, we were given the amuse, which was far and away the largest amuse I’ve ever had. Sure, the container was big, but there was so much of this weird foam concoction. At least four times the amount you’d get anywhere in NYC, which would’ve been cool if this hadn’t been one of the saltiest things I’ve ever eaten. It was a deconstructed quesadilla and as such, had a base layer of a cheese foam, atop which lay a foam of masa, topped off by lime foam. Interesting idea and pretty to look at, but wow was it salty! I know I’m repeating myself here, but can’t stress this enough…and it worried me about the rest of the meal.

We started with the Mil Hojas de Atún, which might make you think you were getting, say, a millefeuille of tuna or poké, though it was basically just tartare, with 1/4in square chunks. There were pieces of some sort of chewy thing, was it squid? No, it was cheese, possibly fried, since it was called chicharrón de queso. I guess the Mexicans have no fear of mixing cheese and seafood, something I’ve always avoided, but in this case, given that I forgot it was cheese and mistook it for squid, I guess it worked out OK. There were the cutest, teeny tortilla chips and a great salsa verde. Either the salsa or the whole dish itself was oversalted, giving more weight to my quesadilla suspicions. I know this sounds like I didn’t enjoy this dish, but actually I did; it was just salty.

The other app was a ceviche, which was either totally awesome and we’re so glad we had it, or it gave us a parasite and we may never forget it…jury still out on that. Still, flavor-wise, it was one of the hits of the evening. The fish was possibly cod or sea bass, drizzled with a pepian verde (pumpkinseed) sauce and a laced with a mezcal foam—yes, they’re still way into foams, but appropriately flavored, they can be tasty—and a housemade ketchup. We really enjoyed the fresh flavors of this, it definitely sparkled with citrus tanginess and the fish sure tasted good on the way down.

For our mains, well, here was the big disappointment: they were out of my beloved Huachinango! So we settled on the tuna medallions, which were, weirdly crusted in bacon bits and then seared and placed atop lentils with lardons and garnished with yet another foam, this one a browned butter. This was pretty darned salty, as you can imagine, but in that bacony salty goodness kind of way…

Our other main was actually just the scallops app, as we were really not in the mood for the heavier sounding meat dishes, nor the Bass al pastor as it echoed too many notes from the ceviche. The scallops were transcendant and for them alone, I’ll probably remember this as a top-ten all time meal, even though, in retrospect, it’s really not. There were two perfect scallops, large, firm, juicy, and sweet and yeah, pretty much as sensuous as that sounds. These were topped with a little frizzle of epazote, which is kind of like sorrel, in that it’s green and yet citrusy. They were accompanied by two little triangles of what they called pan de elote, which is basically cornbread, only this had the texture of baked polenta with the sweetness of really awesome cornbread, possibly made from actual corn, rather than solely the meal. The pan was paired with a tangle of huitlacoche. It was kind of clever, really, separating the corn and its fungus and yet serving them side by side.

For dessert, we had the Chocolate Triple, which was their riff on the now standard molten chocolate cake, only this one had, as accompaniment, a not-so-standard scoop of roquefort gelato. It really tasted like roquefort and worked really well as a counterpoint to the richness of the bittersweet chocolate.

Upon talking to the maitre d’, it was explained to us, as far as I could understand, that what the chef at Pujol is doing is deconstructing and reconceiving traditional Mexican dishes. Hence the seabass al pastor—comes with the traditional accountrements of tacos al pastor, only it’s fish and really aesthetically presented. This was successful sometimes and others, like the foam quesadilla extravaganza, not really. Thinking about traditional Mexican foods, I’m not really sure where fish and bacon come together, but maybe I’m just underinformed. The ambience was lovely, kind of reminded me of Annisa, beige walls, black and white photos, all sleek yet warm. Maybe on my next trip to D.F., they’ll have that Huachinango on the menu.

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