What a year for eating. My first bites of the year were in a New Years Day early morning daze at Blue Star Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon (Valrhona Chocolate Crunch was the best amidst stiff competition. These were hands down the best doughnuts of a pretty doughnut-free year). If that’s how a year starts, then the eating surely will continue at a high caliber. Just with less cholesterol.
We’ll break down the trends and analytical stuff in another category this week. This is about those thirteen bites that I still think about and remember almost every detail of. Sure, I could list thirteen bites alone from Pujol or Alma. That wouldn’t be very exiting, would it? Each one of these was an absolute masterpiece that reminded me why dining out can be so special.
It’s always striking to think about how basic, yet profound some of the world’s most revered dishes are. A croissant isn’t a whole lot more than crescent shaped butter. Well then, you try making one at home. Sushi is fish with rice, whether it’s from a supermarket in Topeka or right next to the sea in Vancouver. However, there is a reason that every fortunate diner to emerge from the domain of a Tokyo sushi master appears with the same life-changing daze that resembles the first few hours after your first kiss.
The world unfortunately views fajitas, Margaritas, and five pound behemoth burritos as the “cuisine” of Mexico. Not once did I encounter any of those in Mexico City, except the Margaritas. Let’s just say a Margarita in the Capital crafted by the hands of a Tequila-centric expert is a different story than the frozen slushies with the same name in Pensacola. Spring Break!
I’m not going to boldly pronounce a certain dish the “official” one for Mexico. Much like pimento cheese might be the unofficial dish of the South, I was told in Mexico City that tacos al pastor are the unofficial dish for that particular city. Cochinita pibil is regarded as the Yucatan’s unofficial dish, while mole negro represents the state of Oaxaca. Consider this an evolution of Hilary Clinton’s diplomatic food corps, where dishes act as senators.
The immensely gifted chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita is little known outside of Mexico City, like most of Mexico’s “celebrity chefs.” In the U.S., the young and talented Enrique Olvera is starting to become a commonly known name within gastronomic scholar circles. Still in the U.S., the most recognizable names within Mexican cuisine today remain Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy. It is incredible what impact they have had on bringing one of the world’s most exceptional and under-appreciated cuisines across the border to the north. But, it’s a completely different audience when cooking mancha manteles inside the Loop instead of for discerning locals who know their moles inside and out. (more…)