Sunday, January 27, 2013

Diner Shore: La Cabaña del Lago, Cuitzeo

Shore Dinners: La Cabaña del Lago
We hadn't been to La Cabaña del Lago, just south of Cuitzeo, Michoacán, in 5 years. But last Friday, while were visiting Cuitzeo with Jennifer Rose, and after I tried a so-so birria de chivito taco in Cuitzeo's very small Mercado de Carnitas, we voted unanimously to dine on the shore at La Cabaña del Lago.

Birria de Chivito in el Mercado de Carnitas
The place had first been recommended to us by the reclusive expat blogger, "Felipe Zapata", back in 2006 or '07. We'd stopped on the way home from SMA and enjoyed a fried shrimp dinner, overlooking the aqueous expanses of Lago Cuitzeo.

View from our table
On our more recent visit, we'd been exploring the wonderful ex-convent and adjacent church in Cuitzeo's center. We were not in the mood for carnitas or other mercado food. (In fact, we found very little in Cuitzeo centro in the way of street food. Surely, there's more.)

Church and ex-convent, Cuitzeo
To drive into La Cabaña del Lago is like driving into a time warp. The landscaped grounds and especially, the inside dining room are like being in the 1950's and '60s. The sensation is enhanced by the celebrity photos on the wall of the dining room reception area.

Pedro Infante
We chose to sit outdoors, under a small palapa, with the view of the lake, the shore birds, the guano stained rock islet, and the traffic on the old causeway.

Palapa chair and set a spell
The place appeared to have been considerably freshened since our visit five years before, but not enough to affect the very relaxing ambience. The inside dining room was especially spiffed up. But it was a nice day and we ate outside, watching the water fowl.

Flustered duck cluster
We spotted an intriguing appetizer on the menu, Tacos Dorados de Frijoles a la Tlaxcatecas. We decide to order some. There were 4, golden brown tacos nicely presented, accompanied by a thin but potent salsa picante.

Tacos de Frijoles a la Tlaxcaltecas
I had a very good michelada con Clamato, la Señora a Cerveza Victoria, and Jennifer a Coke.

Jennifer and I both ordereAncas de Rana, al Mojo de Ajo. Sra. Cuevas requested a simple Filete de tilapia a la parrilla.

Ancas de Rana al Mojo
Service was leisurely, but we didn't mind, as we soaked up the sunshine, enjoyed a refreshing breeze and looked out over the water (Sra. Cuevas said, "It doesn't even smell bad.") while chatting on a variety of topics.

It's a very long way from the kitchen to the palapa tables, so don't get in a hurry.

The platos fuertes arrived in their good time.
Presentations were simple but attractive, the food was good, but we couldn't help but compare the frog's legs with those at Mariscos La Güera. These were tasty and crisp but less juicy and meaty than those at La Güera at their best. Still, they were enjoyable overall.

The dessert offerings were meager: chongos or duraznos. We passed.

I enjoyed a cigar, we took pictures, then got the bill. It was, if I recall correctly, $412 pesos for three dinners, including drinks.


Food: ***

Service: ***1/2 But don't be in a hurry.

Price: $1/2  Our meals averaged out to about $140 pesos each, with tip.

Ambience: Relaxed; México, 1950, very enjoyable.

Rest rooms: Old line, but adequate. Paper towels available, and there was soap. No seat on toilet, and a somewhat "interesting" pissoir in the Caballeros' room. Click for view.

Worth a visit if you are in the area. Cuitzeo, a Pueblo Mágico, is very much worth a visit, especially for the ex-convent. Slide show of Cuitzeo, below.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Ropa Vieja y Vaca Frita: La Plazuela del Bosque, Restaurante Cubano

La Plazuela del Bosque, Restaurante Cubano in Morelia Centro has been in business about 2 years. We have lunched there twice in the last six months. I hadn't much experience with Cuban cuisine, but each visit to La Plazuela has pleased us.

Last Wednesday, we went with a friend and learned that "The Cuban Place" is offering a special comida for $180 pesos per person. The meal starts with a mojito or a soft drink if you prefer, two entradas, at which the Cuban Place excels; two platillos fuertes, rolls, Moros y Cristianos" (black beans and rice), plátanos machos fritos, and a substantial and good dessert. The value-price ratio is outstanding. The owners, and Chef Paulina Coria have done an excellent job.

The dining room, in a restored Colonial building in the Calle Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz #16, just south of Calle Las Casas and two blocks from the Tarascan Fountain, is casual and has a warm, welcoming vibe. The rusting hulk of a Cuban Chevy sets the tone to put the guest at ease.

A Mojito is a nice start to a good meal at La Plazuela del Bosque. They are not too strong but fragrant with fresh mint leaves.

La Plazuela is especially strong in its entradas or appetizers. Here's a few that we had:

From top, clockwise: Ensalada de Naranja y Manzana, Empanada Gallega, Papa Rellena, Buñuelos de Bacalao, Frituras de Yuca
These are all good, but our favorites are the Papa Rellena (a ball of mashed potato filled with picadillo, breaded and fried), the bacalao fritters (you'll want to eat more of those) and the Yuca fritters, of mildly herbal smoothness. The fruit salad came as a surprise and was perfect to refresh the palate after the fried items. There's a small lettuce and tomato salad on each app plate, with a delicious, mysteriously herbal dressing.

I was amazed at how many platillos fuertes came to our table of three. These were not full sized portions, but neither were they minuscule. First came Moros y Cristianos (black beans and white rice, in separate dishes.); fried plátanos, and the rest of the items shown in the image below.

From top left, clockwise: Frijoles  Negros, Arroz Blanco, Masitas de Puerco, Pescado Camagüey, Vaca Frita, Ropa Vieja, Picadillo, Plátanos Fritos 
Our group's favorites  were the Ropa Vieja, shredded beef in a tomato sauce; Masitas de Puerco, delicious cubes of sautéed pork; the Pescado Camagüey was perfectly seasoned and superb; and Vaca Frita, similar to Ropa Vieja but unsauced.

Some close ups:

Ropa Vieja
Vaca Frita

We agreed that the Picadillo by itself was missable. It works very well in the context of the Papa Rellena but lacked verve by itself.

Plátanos Fritos
Opinion was divide on the beautiful, golden Plátanos Fritos. To me, they had an aroma reminiscent of a good, healthy equestrian exercise. Others didn't pick that up. While I didn't hate them, I've never been a fan of fried plantains.

Regrets that I didn't catch the Pescado for a photo.

Dessert was surprising. My companions chose Pastel de Chocolate, which was enjoyed, although I dislike the current practice of adorning chocolate deserts with squiggles of chocolate syrup. To me, it's like admitting that the chocolate of the cake is lacking and must be fortified.

The first time I tried Natillas, a creamy custard, I was hooked. The version at La Plazuela del Bosque is especially well done. It's a cross between a light Creme Brûlée and an upside down flan. The spun sugar garnish was a beautiful embellishment.

One of us finished with a Café Americano and I had a Café Express Cortado. Two aguas minerales and our total bill came to $661 pesos. A 10% service charge had been included. That is a practice I dislike, but I would tolerate at this restaurant, as the food and service outweigh any minor irritations.

The Ratings

Food: ****

Service: ****

Price: $$+

Ambience: Casual and relaxing

Restroom: Ample, well tended, clean

Parking: Private lot to one side.

Wifi: Free. Just ask for the clave.

Hours: Open for breakfast at 9:00 a.m.
Comida from 14:00 hours until 23:00 hours, M-Sa. Until 18:00 hours Sunday

Tel: 443-312-5049

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Bolillo Brothers Last Stand

El Bolillo
In el Centro de Morelia, in the Calle Abasolo, not far above La Frontera and but below Fonda Marceva, there's a tiny shop where bread is sold. A glass and metal framed bread case half blocks the doorway, and you must sidle past to enter. Inside, you can buy bolillos and a few other bakery goods, but mostly bolillos; Mexican "hard" rolls. The Abasolo store is the last stand of the bolillo brothers and they are they last of their family to bake in the traditional way.

Fancy cuernos await the oven. Baking sheets made from metal oil cans.
The bolillos sell for $4 pesos each, 50 centavos more than pan ordinario elsewhere. They are well worth the extra cost. You will also find a scattering of ornate traditional breads in the style of Zinepecúaro, but the bulk of the business is in the bolillos. The bakery is nameless, but I call it "Panadería La Tradicional".

Alberto waiting for customers
The expendio de pan is presided over by Sr. Alberto García, younger of two brothers who produce and sell pan tradicional. His older brother, Sr. Benjamín García, 77 years of age, is the Maestro Panadero who every day makes bolillos with Alberto's help in a cavernous bodega in Colonia Ventura Puente. They are the last, remaining panaderos of their family since their father died, at the age of 109. "He fell down twice and died. That was it." explained Benjamín.

Alberto, left; Benjamín, right.
I recently was privileged to be welcomed by the brothers and spent about two hours observing the baking. I'd been invited to see the other steps leading up to the baking, but I would have had to arrive at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. The early hour didn't daunt me, but I hesitated to be out on the street in the barrio at that time.

La calle del barrio
What makes the breads of the bolillo brothers special?

These are true artisanal breads, made by hand (the only machinery used is a mixer-kneader), without chemical accelerators or so-called "improvers". The process is slow and deliberate: from mixing and kneading, then fermentation in a wooden trough (also "artesa" said Benjamín); then dividing and shaping hundreds of pieces by hand. All over many hours, in the cool, dimly lit bodega.

Benjamín and the fermenting trough
Then comes a lengthy repose under well used mantas or proofing cloths, on long boards hung on wall brackets. This all before the oven is fired and prepared to receive the breads. The wonderful crackling crust, browned bottoms and light internal crumb are achieved through the combination of long slow rising and baking directly on the deck of the domed oven. Most of all, the excellent qualities come from the 59 years of experience that Sr. Benjamín Garcia brings to his craft, assisted by Alberto, his younger brother.

Ranks of rising rolls
Swaddled bolillos rising
I asked  them if they set aside a portion of dough each day to add to the next day's mix, and I think I heard, "sí". This is a sort of starter that helps develop structure as well as flavor in the breads.

The oven can be heated with leña (firewood) or by a gas torch. The leña  makes better bread, said Benjamín, but the gas is quicker and cleaner in use.

Inside view of oven
When I arrived, a little after 7:00 a.m., the baking room was cool and the brothers went about their routine in a calm and practiced way. (Quite a contrast to the intense, high pressure environment of the American bakeries where I have worked.)

They began by heating the domed interior of el horno with a gas torch. This took a while to bring the temperature up enough for baking. (Of course, the brothers use neither thermometer nor timer in their work.)

Alberto then took a large can which he filled with water, then used the very long pala (baker's peel or paddle, in this case, about 10 feet long and about 6 inches wide) to place it deep in the interior. Next, he wet a mop on a equally long pole and swabbed the oven deck to remove any ashes.

Hermanos al horno
Benjamin neatly tore old advertising flyers into rectangular sheets, mixed a bit of flour and water, and pasted the paper against the edges of the oven opening to keep the steam inside.

While the oven filled with steam, they took a short break and chatted with me. I learned that sales had declined, partly due to the higher cost of these bolillos, as mass produced, cheaper bread appealed to more people, even though that lacks the special qualities of the brothers' bolillos.

They were the last of their family to practice the craft, because the younger generation was uninterested in working the long hours in the middle of the night.

Benjamín told me that although, at 77 years, he wasn't as sprightly as he used to be, he could still do the work. He held up his hands to show that they were still straight, not chuecos, or crooked.

I asked him when he slept. He said that he got about four hours of sleep in twenty four, but those were good, pure, uninterrupted hours of sleep. He went on to say that when he was younger, he used to work 18 hours, all the time on his feet, but he was unable to do that now.

Now the oven was heated and steam filled the dome.
Benjamín set up a few props to support the very long pala and another prop to hold the proofing boards, and the baking began. He lifted and inverted each unbaked bolillo from the folds of the manta to a small, transfer peel, moving the bolillos in pairs to the oven peel.

Meanwhile, Alberto had opened a bag of milk and poured it into a small pet dish. I wondered, "Where is the cat?" But there is no cat. To my surprise, Alberto took a small cloth and applied milk to each bolillo. This was another small detail that enhanced the browning of the crust.

Alberto applying milk to the bolillos

I was a bit puzzled that neither Benjamín or Alberto slashed the top of each bolillo with a razor or knife. How did they get that beautiful split along the side of the top? The secret was later revealed in full when Alberto took some leftover dough and demonstrated the shaping of a bolillo. Just enough "hoja" , a leaf, or a lip, is left in the forming so that when the raw dough piece is turned upside down on the peel, the oven heat and the steam causes it to split open without the extra step of a cut. This also avoids the risk of deflation. A touch of genius, but one requiring a deft and practiced touch.

Three steps of forming a bolillo
When eight or 10 bolillos were aligned along the very narrow  pala, the small door was pulled aside and the peel inserted deep into the oven, With a swift and sure backstroke, Benjamín withdrew the peel, the breads remaining inside.

This continued steadily and unhurriedly over the next 45 to 60 minutes. I was amazed that out of approximately 300 bolillos*, only 2 ever fell off the pala during the loading.

Soon after the last bolillos were introduced into the oven, the first ones were coming out. I'd expected that Benjamín would use a broader pala to extract the finished bolillos, but I realized that as the oven was loaded with bolillos in various stages of doneness, the same, long and narrow peel (about 6 inches wide by 12 feet long) as before was more precise and necessary in order to reach only the fully baked rolls.

Bolillos, recien salidos del horno
Soon the first bolillos were taken out and dropped into a woven canasta panadera** on the floor. Benjamín offered me one, hot, well browned and crisp crusted. When it cooled enough to handle, I broke it open with my hands and held it up to my nose. The aroma was subtle but enticing. Nothing was needed to add to the sheer pleasure of eating a bolillo fresh from the oven.

Hot and crisp crust

Steaming hot and light inside

*A wild guess on my part.
**I'm not sure this is the correct name for thse broad, round, sombrero like baskets, but it will do.)

Before long, many more rolls were pulled from the oven and deposited in a basket, then moved to a plastic crate, preparing to transport them to the expendio on Calle Abasolo.

The oven having cooled somewhat, Benjamín then loaded the fancy cuernos. But it was time for me to leave.

Benjamín loads the cuernos

I thanked them for their time and for allowing me to observe and photograph. I also bought another 5 hot bolillos to take to our hostesses at Casona Rosa.

If you love well made, crusty brown rolls, (possibly the best in Morelia) I recommend "Panadería La Tradicional" on Calle Abasolo, Centro, Morelia. Just look for the "Bolillos 4 pesos" sign just outside the small shop. It opens at about 8:30 a.m. and is open until supplies run out. You can also buy them at the baking facility, at Calle Leona Vicario #573, Colonia Ventura Puente, Morelia. It's definitely off the tourist track. You are more likely to find bread at the Abasolo store.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

aquiles 744 Bistro and Supper Club

A new, and distinctly different restaurant has opened within the last six months in Morelia. Our friend Rose Calderone, of Casona Rosa enthusiastically recommended it. It's called aquiles 744, and it's located in a corner of the Hotel Pórtico, at Aquiles Serdán 744, Centro, Morelia. A couple of young men have dared to venture beyond the typical dismal fare of the comida China cheapy buffets that dot the city, and have instead presented us with a fresh, "small plates" approach to dishes from China, Japan, Korea, but especially, Southeast Asia.

The restaurant is located across the street from the very different Spaghetteria Giancarlo, which was reviewed here earlier. It presents itself as "aquiles 744. Bistro and Supper Club". That's very cool, but really, there's nothing bistro or supper club about it. But I won't club them over the head for that conceit.

Entrance to the side of the main door to the Hotel Pórtico
I was more than a little skeptical about the pan Asian approach, especially considering that Morelia is so far from cosmopolitan dining sensibilities, but I tried to keep an open mind.

The space is very small but intelligently arranged and the seating is comfortable. The lighting is supplemented by large glass windows.

I was pleasantly surprised how good our meal was, but of of course, we liked some of the "small plates" of food better than others. I do have some reservations regarding their approach to dining; and that is that there are no "platos fuertes" or main courses, nor "guarniciones" or accompanying vegetables, etc. It's a place where small plates of distinctive, Asian derived platillos are meant to be shared. We did that, and from this viewpoint, it was very enjoyable and fun. But if you are looking for an in depth menu and a major feed of Asian food, you may be less satisfied.

We began with some very well made Wontons Camarones. They were so good that we ordered a second round. They were thin and perfectly fried, with a savory shrimp paste filling. The intense red sauce added much to this appetizer.

Wontons Camarón
I had "Camarones Chili", which is an interpretation of Singapore Chili Crab. I chose a rather low level of picoror chile heat, having barely survived a recent dish of Camarones a la Diabla at La Mesa de Blanca. At $120 pesos, it was the most expensive dish on the reasonably priced menu. Like many dishes at aquiles 744, it's served over a sticky and delicious short grain rice.

Camarones Chili

Rose had an Ensalada Thai.

I had a small taste and thought it was o.k., but not the best of its class which I'd had elsewhere. (Yes, an unfair comparison) I thought that the beef would benefit from being cut into thin slices rather than fingers, and that it needed to be grilled to best bring out the flavor. Points + for the excellent and varied salad greens.

Señora Cuevas ordered Bulkogi. This was not bad, but under seasoned and again, needed to be grilled to develop the characteristic caramelized crust on the meat. It was more of a stew or a braise than a grilled bulkogi.


We had a surprise dish that we hadn't ordered (probably due to some confusion and hesitance in choosing a chicken dish.

It was Fideos Siam; cold rice noodles with minced chicken in a tart lime and fish sauce dressing. 

Rose's chicken choice was Pollo Aquiles, a specialty of the restaurant. I thought it was pleasant but too sweet for my liking it very much.

The staff, Pablo and Rodrigo, were very pleasant and genial, and their friendliness enhanced our experience immeasurably.

L-R: Rose, Pablo, Rodrigo. Srta. Aydé from the kitchen is missing from this photo.

They treated us to a specialty coffee, "Cafézcal", above, served cold, and powered by a hefty slug of mezcal. After sharing a bottle of a Spanish white wine with my compañeras, I was quite woozy after the cafezcal.

The other complimentary dessert was a very pleasant and delicate pannacotta with a fresh berry sauce.

Of the desserts, the truly outstanding dessert was Nieve de Rambutan. In fact, it might have been the best dish of the meal. A must if available.

Our check was $850 pesos; the bottle of Spanish wine, $260 of the total; about $67 in USD.


Food: ***1/2  +Points for creativity.

Service: ****

Price: $$-$$$

Ambiance: attractive space; casual cool and hip. Comfortable seating.

Rest Rooms: A commodious unisex restroom off the Hotel Pórtico lobby. Ample space and all in very good order.

Tel: 312 14 46 ext. 102

There's an online menu at MoreliaLaCarta (used here without permission. Uh-oh!)


  • Wonton de Camarón (8 piezas)
    Fritura de Ravioli Cantones
  • Wonton de Queso (8 piezas)
  • Sopa Miso con Tofu
    Sopa caliente de frijol Japonés
  • Ensalada Thai
    Con Rib Eye y aderezo cítrico –picante al termino de su preferencia
  • Ensalada Miso
    Aderezo Japonés con pollo y setas
  • Fideos Siam
    Fideos Tailandeses servidos fríos con pollo
  • Pancit
    Fideos Filipinos calientes con camarón y verdura
  • Bulgogi
    Receta Koreana de carne de res marinada sobre arroz blanco
  • Pollo Aquiles
    Receta de la casa a base de agridulce y jengibre sobre arroz blanco
  • Camarones Chilli
    Adaptación del Singapore Chilli Crab (20 min de preparación)


  • Panna Cotta
    con culis de fruta de la temporada
  • Banna Lumpia
    Rollo frito relleno de plato y cacahuate con helado de vainilla


  • Naranjada/Limonada
  • Garrafa de té helado, naranjada ó limonada
  • Té helado
  • Refresco
  • Perrier
  • Cervezas
  • Smirnoff
  • Bacardi
  • Torres 5
  • Captain Morgan
  • Appleton
  • Tequila Azul
  • Matusalem
  • Etiqueta Roja
  • Torres 10
  • Absolut Azul
  • Tradicional
  • Mezcal
  • Etiqueta negra
  • Don Julio
  • Vino Montebuena

De la Casa

  • Cafezcal
  • Neblina
  • Keikura
  • Mezcalinha
  • Shitake
  • Shitake con arandano
  • Licor de Reishi


  • Chocolate
  • Americano
  • Americano expresso
  • Espresso
  • Espresso Cortado
  • Espresso Doble
  • Café latte
  • Macciato
  • Capuccino
  • Cappuccino especial (vainilla o caramelo)
  • Frappuccino
  • Frappuccino con sabor
  • Moka
  • Moka frappé
  • Nespresso
  • Carajillo (Licor 43)
  • Café Irlandés


Todos nuestros desayunos incluyen jugo ó fruta, café ó té y mini muffin
  • Fruta de la temporada
  • Huevos al gusto (revueltos, estrellados y a la mexicana)
  • Huevos con jamón y rancheros
  • Chilaquiles
  • Chilaquiles con huevo
  • Chilaquiles con pollo
  • Pan francés
  • Crepas (jamón, champiñones ó queso)
Don Cuevas