I wanted to round out my brief report on Mexico DF, the new 'upscale' Mexican restaurant in downtown SF, mentioned in this thread below:
I didn't make it back there today, so the report is just based on just one visit. I put the upscale in quotes, because I am not sure it really is upscale, other than in price. See this discussion also:
On to the report: There is a valet, but on Sunday night we didn't need it: plenty of street parking nearby. That probably wouldn't be the case any other day of the week.
The room is pleasant, with what I can only describe as still video frames of famous paintings on the walls from a Mexican painter; apparently the painter and stills will be rotated( currently the 'guest artist' is Orozco, IIRC). I found these interesting but a bit distracting: I kept doing a double take thinking they were a series of flat screen televisions.
Oherwise the room was fairly simple and much smaller than I imagined it would be. The entire middle of the room is taken up by a 14 person communal table that was empty our entire visit: if the place ever gets popular and the table is filled, it could mean a very noisy room. On our visit, however, with only perhaps four of the twelve or so remaining tables taken, it was quiet, or rather, *would* have been quiet had it not been for the booming Mexican music on the stereo. One nice touch: there is a counter overlooking the open kitchen, and the stools looked comfortable: would be a nice place for a solo diner who enjoys watching the line cooks. There is also a nice bar in the front, with a few high tables and large windows that open up in good weather. All in all, a pleasant vibe.
We were promptly seated at a well-spaced two top in the middle of the room; I had a fairly good view of the open kitchen.
Hubby had a club soda, and I ordered the 'margarita Polanco' while we checked out the menu. As my margarita's name implies, the various specialty margaritas are named for neighborhoods in Mexico City: mine had reposado tequila, grand marnier, lime juice and perhaps just a bit of simple sugar, served on the rocks with salt. The menu said it came with muddled fruit, but there was none,just a slice of lime, which was just fine with me (I'd worry that too much fruit would make it too sweet or unbalanced). In any case, an excellent margarita, strong, and not at all sweet.
There is a reasonably long list of tequilas, and no wines mentioned except house wines. The food menu is more limited than I had hoped, and no specials were quoted to us. Our server told us that all of the small plates were small, and that most of the 'platos fuertes' (mains) were fairly small as well; however, we thought portions were *mostly* reasonable, so this may have been a subtle upsell attempt.
Much (though not all) of the menu is in Spanish without a lot of explanation, and the server didn't attempt to explain anything unless we asked specific questions, so I guess they assume all of their customers are familiar with Mexican cuisine. Not a problem for me, but I noticed a bit of confusion and discussion ("what are nopalitos?" among some folks at a nearby table). Even hubby had to ask me to explain a few terms.
So, on to the food: we started with an order of halibut ceviche and a sopa de calabacitas. The halibut came out first. About five very thin slices of fresh fish, each perhaps an inch wide and two or three inches long, were served in a lime and olive oil (I think) marinade, with bits of onion. I thought the menu description also mentioned serrano chilis, but if so, they were MIA. It was served with about three or four round and slightly stale and somewhat flavorless chips. No idea if the chips were house made, but they certainly weren't exciting. No hot sauce or salsa was brought out with the ceviche, though I imagine they would have brought me some had I requested it.Though the fish was certainly fresh, it was quite bland; this was not a dish I would order again, particularly given the small portion size and the $12 cost (the server was right about the portion size on this one dish!).
Hubby's soup followed shortly. Well, sort of. I noticed the line cook frowning and heard him having a conversation with a runner while dishing up the soup about how the ticket said the soup was 'squash' but that the ticket had to be wrong. Didn't think too much about it till the soup came out: and it wasn't any sort of squash at all! It was a sort of a tortilla soup, with bits of tofu and avocado, and fried tortilla strips. Hubby accused me of forgetting my Spanish, and suggested that perhaps calabacitas really meant 'tofu', but no, clearly the menu was incorrect and listed yesterday's soup...or something....ok, I could have lived with that mistake, but the line cook apparently knew this and let it go out nonetheless. I wanted hubby to send it back right away, but he said he liked the taste and 'didn't want the hassle'. I might have fussed anyway, but our server also went MIA until after our mains were served,and hubby clearly wanted to drop it (or eat it, rather). Sigh. As for the taste of the soup: it was ok, but nothing at all unusual: I've had similar soups at many places in the bay area (and for considerably less money). It was a bit greasy.The portion size was reasonable.
Ok, on to mains. For his main, hubby actually ordered one of the appetizer/botanas: duck flautas. I ordered carnitas. We also ordered one side of frijoles de olla and one order of arroz mexicano. Both mains came promptly after we finished our starters.
This is where the meal really picked up. First of all, while I think the idea of duck in a flauta might be sort of like gilding the lilly, I have to admit that these were excellent flautas. They very much reminded me of dishes I've had in the real DF: about four decent size rolled and fried duck-filled tacos, drizzled with a wonderful and very spicy red salsa, crema and cabbage. Yumm!
For the carnitas there is a choice of a half pound ($15) or full pound ($26) order. I ordered the half pound, and it came with pickled onions, the same wonderful red salsa that was on the flautas, and an equally if not more wonderful salsa verde, that was also incredibly complex and spicy.This was easily the most heat I've had in a Mexican restaurant in the bay area, but it wasn't just heat, it was delicious heat. The carnitas were also served with perhaps six housemade corn tortillas, were also delicious: grilled, fresh and not too thick.
The carnitas were crispy, and could well have been fried after braising, but weren't at all dry. Both crispy and juicy at the same time, with a nice porky flavor. One bite of carnitas with some of that salsa, wrapped in a tortilla, and the soup incident was completely forgiven! Fifteen dollars suddenly didn't seem to be too much to pay, especially since the number of tortillas was generous. A good strategy (which apparently is popular these days in Mexico City) would be to order a half pound or full pound to share with friends. I'd be happy with carnitas and margaritas in the bar, anytime.
The beans and rice were both generous servings; one serving of each was plenty, or even a bit more than plenty, for the two of us. Beans,flavored with epazote, were very good, rice was fairly pedestrian, though it did have some nice little chunks of carrots that added some sweetness.
Onto dessert: we were pretty full at this point, but wanted to sample at least one to share. They had a chocolate cake with chili and salt, but that was a bit adventurous for hubby, so we decided to get the vanilla ice cream with shortbread cookies and cajeta (after I explained for hubby what cajeta was...). The ice cream was ordinary, and the amount of cajeta was just sad: no more than perhaps a teaspoon or two drizzled over two scoops, so it just gave a hint of carmelized taste....the shortbread cookies were very good however.
Total cost for our meal for two margaritas, a club soda, three apps, one main (the carnitas), two sides, and one dessert was $92 with tax but before tip.
In general,service was fine, other than the soup thing, particularly for a new restaurant. My only complaint was that the crumbs weren't wiped from the table before dessert (though they did bring new flatware) and water glasses weren't always kept filled. Minor, but for these prices I'd expect it.
Some of the other menu items included various types of tacos and quesadillas, a little gems salad (take on a Ceasar I guess?), and a few other botanas and mains. Judging by what we saw going to other tables, I'd like to try the whole sea bass 'al mojo de ajo'. I was a bit amused by the description of one salad as being cucumbers and other vegetables deconstructed Mexico City 'street style' or some such. Sure enough, it was sliced peeled vegetables in a paper cone! No way I'd ever order that for $8 or so in a restaurant...unless I was incredibly homesick...
anyway, that salad sort of reflects my bottom line thoughts: there is some very good food to be had at Mexico DF, but it really isn't upscale, creative Mexico City cuisine, at least IMO. It is, with perhaps just a few exceptions, the type of food you'd get at a neighborhood taqueria or from a street stand in that city. I'll definitely go back, but mostly for some drinks and perhaps snacks in the bar when I find myself hungry downtown. I'd be more likely to have dinner if the menu was more varied and had at least a few more unusual specials, but clearly, Mexico DF has promise.
I look forward to other reports and hope other 'hounds try it!
139 Steuart Street
San Francisco, CA 94103