Monday, May 31, 2010

Asador Bariloche, Morelia

The Asador Bariloche
had been recommended to me by our friend Peter, in Morelia. Yesterday, we had a chance to eat there. It's in Morelia Centro, on Ave. Madero at the corner of Calle Amado Nervo. Seven of us arrived just after the opening time, 2:00 p.m. We were the only diners in the restaurant during the more than two hours we passed in enjoying a leisurely comida.

Asador Bariloche is a Mexican interpretation of an Argentine steakhouse.  I'd viewed a promotional video on YouTube that made it appear very upscale. Al contrario, Horatio; it's quite casual, with a very typical Morelia ambience, set in a covered patio. (It was good that the patio was covered, as the afternoon sun was blazing fiercely.)

Guests waiting for rain.

The menu is long and at first somewhat daunting. Passing directly over the entradas, soups and salads, we homed in directly to the Parilladas and Combinaciones. Both categories are money saving package deals, designed for one to four diners. When I was looking at the right hand column of the menu, the prices made my head to spin. $700 MXN?? A closer look showed that that package was for four diners, and in reality, a considerable savings over ordering a la carte.

Fortunately, Peter was experienced at ordering in this restaurant, so we ended up with a very reasonable cost per person.

The salsas on the table included a fair salsa cruda roja and an excellent chimichurrí, with a distinctive kick of marjoram as well as the usual parsley and garlic. There was also a small dish of herbal requesón (ricotta like cheese).

Peter, Tere, Doña Cuevas and I shared the Combinacíon Cuatro, at $700 MXN, which included a individual choice of soups: Jugo de Carne, Sopa Tarasca or Caldo Tlapeño. Doña C said her Sopa Tarasca was fine. Peter's Caldo Tlapeño looked very good, chockfull of nicely cooked vegetables. My Jugo de Carne was less intense than that which I'd had elsewhere. Nor was it very hot. It had a few dried shrimp added, and was served with a small sauce of garnishes which did improve the soup.

Salsa and requesón with totopos
We all ordered various cuts of beef according to our preferences, ranging from an attractive arrachera, served sizzling on a heated comal, to "vacio", a thick chunk of beef, and my "bife de lomo". From our limited Argentine restaurant experiences in Mexico City, my impression is that at el Asador there is a loose interpretation of what these cuts should be. But I won't swear to it. All were in the 300 gram range before cooking.

The main courses arrived, plated very simply on attractive but oversized white plates, accompanied by nothing more than a small broiled chile serrano and a very small patch of  delicious, deeply caramelized, roasted onion. We should have asked for more of the onion.

Bife de Lomo

The steak was thick, tasty and fairly juicy. Doña Cuevas' cut was so rare, she asked for it to be cooked more. It came back nicely charred yet still delicately pink inside. My bife de lomo was resistant to the sharp steak knife, but reasonably tender when eaten. It was quite tasty, although not in the class of similar cuts I'd had elsewhere.

Tortillas came witout asking, but I requested bread. It arrived as small slices of buttered sesame toast and a small dish of herbed garlic butter. Nice, but failing my standards for good bread.

The only accompaniment to the meats was a large salad for four of varied lettuces, sliced tomatoes and thin rings of onion. It was already lightly dressed. It would have been much better if more attention had been paid to selecting fresh lettuce. I was picking out several wilted pieces or worse, before I'd eat it. We should have sent it back.

We also ordered papas fritas Francesas to fill out the empty spaces. They were nicely browned, crinkle-cut, and just a bit greasy.

For drinks, Doña C and I had agua mineral. I was pleased to see it served from a glass bottle, because, in my opinion, there is something cheap about mineral water from a can.
I also had a modest glass of Casillero del Diablo Cab Sauv. It was fine.

The Cuevas' passed up dessert, but some of our amigos had package deals that included postre. Larry received a huge portion of Flan Napolitano, plated on what looked like custard sauce but could have been condensed milk. I got a sample taste and it was a bit denser than regular flan, but good.

José had helado frito, a big ball of vanilla or strawberry ice cream, wrapped in a pastry and deep fried. It was dressed with the mandatory condensed milk and a ubiquitous dusting of cinnamon, atop the obligatory zig-zags of chocolate syrup. The strawberry version was loaded with fruit.

Helado Frito
I had a decent espresso sencillo.
The coffee cups and saucers were unusually attractive.

Summing up; Asador Bariloche is a good choice for good cuts of beef. Costs are reasonable if you order Parilladas or Combinaciones for two or more persons. Service was well meaning but unpolished. We had to ask for salad tongs, serving spoons and I probably waited over 10 minutes for my glass of wine. So, in all, the service was variable.

La cuenta was seriously big, its arrival mitigated by a unique presentation.
My Ratings (Top scores are 5 *****):
• Food: ***1/2
• Service: ***
• Price: $-$$ per person
• Ambience: Pleasant but warm (temperature) in afternoon. Typical Morelia patio restaurant setting.
• Restroom. Good

Av. Madero Ote. No. 635
Colonia Centro
Morelia, Michoacán, México

View Morelia's Best Eats in a larger map

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Berros and the Papas

Crema Fría de Berros y Papas

When it's hot weather here at el Rancho, we look again for cold, easy to prepare foods to tide us over until the cool rains begin again. Last week, I made Cool Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup; this week, it was cool, fresh green soup of watercress and potatoes.

This soup is not very difficult to make, but you must buy 2 very large “manojos” or bunches of berros. We often get them at the vegetable stand of Juana and Arturo Padilla, in the Pátzcuaro mercado. There are other places to find it, but you have to look. This herb, Nasturtium officinale, is not always available here, so I try to take advantage of it when it is. Locally, it is very inexpensive. I paid 5 pesos for each manojo of berros.

Recipe follows.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Birdsongs In April Mornings

El Gorjeo de Las Aves En Las Mañanas de Abril. 
Ziracuarétiro, Michoacán

Imagine a place set in lush green hills, with  a semi-tropical climate and bountiful fruited orchards. Bless it with plentiful waters where families may frolic in pools of fresh water. Then, develop a lovely, park like area near the balneario, and build a beautiful, casual restaurant that takes full advantage of the hillside setting. Enhance it with stone paths and pools and cascades and colorful birds. Decorate it tastefully in a way that harmonizes with the regional cuisine. Offer a short menu of choice foods, made in house when possible: breads, conserves, fresh fruit aguas; uchepos, tortillas and more. Provide excellent yet unobtrusive service.
Do almost no advertising, and open everyday of the week from 9:00 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Colorful Comida in May

Elaborate piece at the Concurso de Las Bordaderas

Dinner for 6 after the Concurso de Las Bordaderas at Santa Cruz, Michoacán. May 19, 2010

• Cool Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup, olive oil croutons, goat cheese with fresh basil and thyme

• Cazuela de Milpa (Calabacitas, Granos de Elote, Chile Poblano, Nopalitos, y Dos Quesos)

• Black Bean Carnitas Cakes, Lime Cilantro Crema, Salsa Verde 

• Agua de Jamaica

• Melón

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Don Cuevas' Restaurant Salsa Acid Test

After a year of arranging restaurant breakfasts and sending out email notices, I'm retiring as breakfast co-ordinator for the Pátzcuaro R.O.M.E.O.s Men's Breakfast  Group. R.O.M.E.O. is an acronym for "Retired Old Men Eating Out."

I enjoyed most of it, with very few problems. But a frequent challenge is getting suggestions from the group as to the next week's restaurant venue. Many members ( I use the term members loosely, as we don't have by-laws, memberships, officers or dues) are reluctant to make suggestions.

After several years as an informal member, and a year of co-ordinating, I have devised an acid test which helps me decide if we should return to a restaurant. This test may be applied generally to eating out in Mexico, not just geriatric breakfasts.

It's based on several factors, but the main one is salsa, or salsa, if you prefer.

Who ever heard of a Mexican Mexican restaurant (that is, in Mexico) that didn't serve its guests salsas without having to request it?* We have, on several occasions.

Picture this scene: a plush dining room in an expensive, deluxe hotel in Pátzcuaro. Let's call it La Mansíon de Peluche. Tablecloths, uniformed waiters, chandeliers, warm croissants, butter curls, but no salsa, for God's sake.  That was a warning clue that the buffet breakfast that would follow would follow the path of insipidity. The presence of sliced hot dogs in their innocent, undisguised nudity, was more evidence that it was a kitchen that did not care.
 A request for salsa brought a heedlessly improvised dish of it after a short wait. Someone in the kitchen should have thought of this beforehand. This kind of plush service does not come cheaply, either. I'd rather pay for good food than for pretentious plushness.

Another hotel, a refuge more squarely located, and another buffet, with bad value/price relation down to an art. I was just trying to recall what we were served last time for $80 MXN. I think that besides beverages, there was huevos a la Mexicana of no particular distinction, some chilaquiles... there may have been more, maybe some bacon, but I can't remember. It was also notable for a lack of salsa. I felt cheated, but the servers were too busy getting more huevos (which had run out early before all of us got some) that I gave up on it.

Last Tuesday we breakfasted at  a new restaurant, "La Vista Incomparable", on the hill overlooking Pátzcuaro. The coffee was decent, the food wasn't bad, although not great. The fruit plate was unusually good and distinctive. Points!  On the other hand, the bread was dreadful. And there was no salsa. Again, $80 (these prices include or voluntary tip.)

Let's turn now to the positive side. Here is the Pátzcuaro Salsa Hall of Fame
• Fonda Mamá Lupe. A intense, brick-red sauce is on the table. No asking necessary. It has kick and good flavor. Try it on Hot Cakes instead of syrup. (Just foolin')  Sorry, I don't find a photo, but I'll soon remedy that.
I just picked up the print from the drugstore; here:

• Patio Las Brisas. Three salsas, in varying styles and strengths. You may have to ask for the dark, oily extra picante salsa.
Serious salsa, not for the fainthearted, at Las Brisas

Cooked Table Sauce, Patio Las Brisas

La Surtidora. Damn fine salsa. You don't need to start a petition to get some.

*Free* molletes with Salsa Cruda in center
A *free* amuse bouche of molletes at La Surtidora. Salsa cruda in center.

Listen, do I need to start bringing my own salsa to the plush but negligent restaurants? Would they care?
• Restaurante Lupita's (antes, Restaurant Cha Cha Cha). Nice salsa, innocent looking, but picante. Not very characterful. It's based on tomatoes and chiles perón.

Over in Morelia, even lowly Hamburguesas Richards offers decent salsas for its food, particularly its tacos al pastor.

Do I need to bring my own salsa to the restaurants that don't provide it? I don't think they'd give a whit, but
here's a recipe for my  Salsa Verde. It's not unique, but it's good.
Peel then wash a kilogram of tomates verdes, also known as tomatillos. Cook in simmering, lightly salted water until just starting to turn tender and translucent. Do Not Overcook. Drain in a colander and cool.
Roast, then sweat 6 medium to large chiles Poblanos. After 30 minutes of sweating, peel and seed. You may add 1 chile Jalapeño or 2 or more chiles serranos to the mix if you like the salsa muy picante.
Also partially roast  half of a peeled white onion.
Wash and disinfect a good handful of cilantro. Blot dry in paper towelling
Wash, disinfect a good handful of cilantro, and remove any large, coarse stems. Blot dry with a paper towel.
Place the peeled roasted chiles and the cut up onion in a food processor outfitted with the steel S-shaped blade. Pulse until a coarse consistency is reached. Add the cooled tomatillos along with a teaspoon of salt. Add the cilantro. Pulse to combine. Add some pure water to thin the salsa to desired consistency. Taste for salt.
You are done. This freezes well in small containers. There's little excuse for being out of salsa verde.

*There's a bargain breakfast buffet restaurant, in a non-elegant hotel. It does serve salsa but it serves neither bread or tortillas. In all fairness, I have to say that they do not normally serve breakfast but open specially for our group. The key to its popularity is that the food is both abundant and cheap.

(I see some bugs in this blogpost, but I can't correct them now. Hasta pronto.)

Salsa Update: On Sunday, May 23, we were at the restaurant El Gorjeo de Las Aves En Las Mañanas de Abril at Ziracuarétiro. They served one of the best table salsas ever made. Here is a photo. Among other things, it contains nopalitos.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What the Pho?

Michoacán's Best Vietnamese Restaurants?
What the Pho?

There aren't any. You want Vietnamese type food, you must cook it at home. (It's also true of Chinese food, if you want anything much more than  chow mein and stir-fried salchichas or pollo agri-dulce. But that's another story.)

We are big fans of Vietnamese cuisine. Back in Little Rock, AR, where we spent 10 years toiling before retirement, we discovered the Van Lang Vietnamese Cuisine Restaurant, on South University Avenue, across from the gates to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. During our last 3 or so years in that capital city, we probably ate at Van Lang on the average of once a week. Often it was our first stop after landing at the LR Airport, even before driving to our apartment, 10 minutes away.
The two things we miss most about LR (it's hard to think of many others) are Van Lang's and the Public Library System.

For some time I've wanted to make Pho, a classic Vietnamese soup of beef or chicken plus rice noodles, accompanied by a platter of fresh herbs to add al gusto. There are numerous elaborations on the theme, but the basic soup consists of a beef stock made from scratch, spiced with ginger, cloves and star anise, perhaps some lemongrass, and various sliced cuts of beef.

This lit my fire to do it at last: some inspiring photos of Asian noodle soups, including Pho, by "hwinnp", on one of my favorite forums, Any Port In a Storm.

The chicken version, Pho Gai, may be less demanding to make, but for me, the beef version is more attractive. Being undemanding of "authenticity", I was able to make a very satisfactory pho.

Certain ingredients may be hard to find. But looking for them is a big part of the fun. You may use the absence of star anise in the Pátzcuaro Mercado as an excuse to go to Mexico City for a couple of days.

Fresh ginger root, another vital flavoring, is not a problem. It's frequently available at the stand of Los Padilla in the Pátzcuaro mercado. I got a very nice, 6 inch branch for 7 pesos.

Lemongrass? just ask for té de limón at the herb stands, although if you want it green and fresh, you'll have to look around.

For the beef, I went to La Carnicería La Norteña in the mercado and asked for a kilo of beef suitable for Caldo de Res, plus an equal weight of huesos para el caldo. The latter are free. More bones would have been better. Note: I wash the meat and bones in cold running water for a few moments before beginning to cook them. Nevertheless, some of the meat gave off a pissy odor during the first cooking, but it totaly dissipated during the second cooking. I think that this will probably not occur again. I may go instead to a different carnicería next time.

Fish sauce, I think, may be obtainable at better supermarkets in Morelia, such as Superama.

Below is the recipe downloaded from the NY Times Online, that served as my base from which I improvised. I'll insert my comments and changes like this.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Visit To Tacámbaro and Mansíon del Molino

We took a drive yesterday for the first time to Tacámbaro, Michoacán. We first heard of it from the Pátzcuaro Birders Group. It's on the edge of La Tierra Caliente, or Hot Lands. About 50 miles of winding, mountainous roads lead up from Opopeo, through darkly fragrant pine forests and then down through sunny avocado groves. As we started up, we got behind a fully loaded manure truck, carrying a load to the groves. It smelled so bad (Worse than any cacá de vaca) that we pulled off to the side in order to let it get ahead. When we resumed our movement (ugh!) we quickly caught up because the poop truck, in turn, was slowed by a big logging truck. But soon, the natural Pine Fresh dissipated the odor.