The depth, breadth and sheer diversity of food in Mexico has always amazed me. I learn something new with each trip. This time I learned that fine dining is alive and well - no, make that thriving - in Mexico City. And nowhere is that more evident than at Pujol, one of the best new restaurants in D.F.
At times it seems like Mexico has the market cornered on big, barn-like restaurants capable of serving small armies of customers. Think La Catedral in Oaxaca, El Chololo in Guadalajara, El Gran San Carlos in Monterey or any one of the thousands of haciendas or convents that have been converted into restaurants of a grand scale. Though each one of these restaurants is vast in size and scope, they do what they do remarkably well. But fine dining is different. The scope may be as vast, but the scale is considerably smaller, where the chef can concentrate on detail and providing the guest with a dynamic eating experience. And so it is with Pujol.
Located in the Polanco district of Mexico City, Pujol occupies a small, sleek and very elegant space on a side street. The room is a study and contrast in white. White walls broken only by discrete and narrow strips of contemporary art, crisp white table linens, oversized white china, white jacketed waiters and blond woods. It's cool, it's trendy and sexy, but definitely not sterile. And for all the whiteness, the room still manages to be open and inviting rather than cold and stark.
The meal opened with an amuse bouche of mock quail egg. A puddle of light and airy cauliflower puree filled a flat-bottomed Asian soup spoon (white, of course). The puree was topped with a small dab of caviar and then a yellow puree, creating the look of a quail egg, but clearly a different taste sensation. (I'm sorry, but I don't remember what the yellow puree was, it's the only part of the meal I can't recall).
The amuse was followed by Carpaccio de Pato con Pipian Verde y Espuma de Mexcal - or, in English - Duck Breast Carpaccio with Pipian Verde and Mezcal Foam. The duck breast had been sliced wafer thin and shingled out across the (white) plate with the pipian verde drizzled over the top. The flavor of the mezcal foam was subtle more than anything and rounded out and balanced the flavors rather than being a single, distinctive component. The dish was meaty, earthy, floral and nutty with a soft smooth finish from the foam.
Good as the duck was, the Squash Blossom Soup with Coconut Foam was even better. The soup was served in a double Old-Fashioned glass and was designed to look much like a capuccino; deep creamy golden soup, topped with the snowy white coconut foam and garnished with a sprinkling of nutmeg. This is not a soup meant to be eaten with a spoon but rather picked up and drunk straight from the glass so that as the glass is raised, the heady aroma of freshly grated nutmeg stimulates the taste buds, followed by the light and sweetly airy coconut foam and then finally the lushly rich and intensely flavored squash blossom soup.
The entree was Costillas de Mole de Olla, or Short Ribs Braised in Mole de Olla. I made very short work of 3 exceedingly tender and surprisingly lean short ribs that were bathed in a suave and well balanced mole sauce. Decorative strokes of chayote puree, carrot puree and potato cubes the size of dice rounded out the plate and complimented the meat very well. Once again, as with every course, the flavors of the short ribs and the mole made their statement(s) by being seductive rather than bold and brassy.
Flan de Guayaba con Espuma de Rompope y Canela - Guava Flan with Rompope Foam and Canela Ice Cream - ended the meal. The Rompope foam had been stabilized with gelatin which made it a little denser than the other foams. It also provided a little more body to counter the texture of the flan which was more like a New York cheesecake than custard, with the canela ice cream providing a cool, spicy accent. The whole dessert was set off by a large circular tuile.
Service was flawless. And do try the bread, it's incredibly good, some of the best I've had on either side of the border. The roving bread waiter will keep your plate filled.
Chef-owner Enrique Olveras has said that he's only recreating the flavors with which he grew up. He has done a remarkable job of translating family flavors to the contemporary dining scene, proving why he is one of the darlings of fine dining in D.F. The accolades are well earned and well deserved.
Francisco Petrarca #254
55 45 41 11