If You’re Ever in Cartagena…

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Last night Greg and I were very excited about dinner. He’s traveling with me in Colombia, where I am on business. We’ve made a side trip to Cartagena, and he took the time to research the best restaurants and pick  out one that he was confident we would love—Carmen’s, in the gorgeous Hotel Ananda. Click on any photo to see it larger and view the full description, or to view a slideshow.

The meal so did not disappoint! We paid for a 7-course tasting menu with wine (about US$80 per person now with the low valuation of the Colombian peso), and received TEN courses and SEVEN wines.

The restaurant is based in Medellín and owned by Diego Angel, a former video game entrepreneur. Executive Chefs and proprietors Carmen Angel and Rob Pevitts are graduates of the Cordon Bleu San Francisco. The chef here in Cartagena, Jaime Galindo, is an incredible talent! He does not have a culinary arts degree but, rather, has learned on-the-job and through sheer raw talent or the don de cocinar. Having worked with chefs with degrees from the top cooking schools in the world, Greg was very impressed by the passion and talent that Jaime demonstrated.

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Chef Jaime Galindo – Job well done!

His brother Yonatan is the sous-chef. Not one course was less than spectacular, and we only felt one wine pairing was less than ideal: the rosé with the crab. The wine was just so acidic and overwhelmed the flavor of the food.

Kudos, Jaime and staff!!! The kitchen is small, and open to the diners. Everyone working there was nose down and focused on making every plate perfect. The restaurant serves not only the tasting menu that we had but a full a la carte menu and creative cocktails as well. In addition, front-of-the-house service was impeccable thanks to our terrific waiter, Juan Carlos, who took special care to ensure his Spanish-language explanations of the food and wine made sense to Greg and me.

Molcajete Loco: Something a Bit Different

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Greg and I were looking for a simple, local place yesterday, as it was a bit too cloudy for our traditional “Palapa Friday” on the beach. Greg had run errands in the Golden Zone the day before, and a very energetic abuelita had invited him into her restaurant. The place looked interesting and seemed to have a great menu, but he had just eaten. So he promised the lady he’d be back.

We went today, and the place is called El Molcajete Loco. It is located right next to the Oxxo on the northbound side of Camarón Sábalo, across the street from the Cinemas Gaviotas movie theater near Valentino’s. They have a raw bar street side with all the seafood you might expect (scallops, oysters, clams, shrimp, octopus), the expected local seafood dishes (ceviches, aguachiles, cokteles), cold and hot molcajetes (served in lava rock/pumice), plus they’ve got a cooked menu that offers some unique and very tasty items. Click on any image to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We sampled two things we’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Greg had dorado/mahi mahi served over a grilled pineapple slice and covered with poblano sauce, and I had a dorado filet covered with seafood and a coconut cream curry. There was so much food that I ended up bringing half home with me, but never ate it for cena as I was still full!

Christian is the chef. He told us he worked in a restaurant in Bakersfield, California; when he returned to Mazatlán he worked at Señor Frog’s, and then came to the Molcajete Loco. He obviously knows how to make sauces! There were three young men waiting tables, plus the lady Greg had met the day before who keeps things clean, and we were attended like royalty.  The owner was not around during our visit.

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Chef Christian

 

If you like local, simple places with good food and value, El Molcajete Loco is a solid choice. It is open-air, rustic, with the kitchen at the rear. In addition to beer they offer a good selection of non-alcoholic drinks, including agua de jamaica, horchatapiñadasnaranjadas, congas, and limonadas.

Cimaco Gourmet Restaurant: Something Different, with A/C

Greg and I have wanted to go to the restaurant in Cimaco, the department store in the Gran Plaza, ever since it opened. We figure that up there on the second floor, with all those windows and that terrace, it must be a pretty good view. And as we are quickly approaching the heat of summer, the air conditioning didn’t sound bad, either.

The interior is modern and fresh—they call it European style—and the views are spacious. We were delighted to find a menu offering a selection of foods we don’t regularly find in Mazatlán, including loads of great salads and international main dishes. Cimaco Gourmet has a pizza oven, and on Tuesdays if you buy a large pizza you get a small one free. They also offer a variety of custom, non-alcoholic drinks, served in cool Mason jars, and have a respectable wine selection and full bar.

Cimaco Gourmet is open from breakfast (I believe they said 8 am) through 11 pm, and the terrace will be especially inviting on a summer evening. The restaurant has a full bakery on site. While we didn’t try any bread, pie, cake or pastries, I will say they looked really good! Again, quite international, not just the traditional Mexican baked goods. By the way, the department store sells its bread half price after 8 pm, and it has quite a few bread options with Splenda instead of sugar.

Click on any photo below to view it larger or see a slideshow.

The store has a children’s play area right next to the restaurant, with supervision. You can pay to leave kids or grandkids there while you shop anywhere in the mall, and your first hour is free if shopping at Cimaco.

Greg and I found Cimaco Gourmet a welcome addition to the restaurant scene here in town. When you’re looking for something different, for a bit of space so you don’t have to sit on top of someone else, or when you’re looking for some good air conditioning and a view, check it out and let us know what you think.

Wonderful Mezcal Tasting, Right Here in Mazatlán

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Heiman presents, with Chef Alastair at his side

Last week we attended a mezcal tasting at Water’s Edge Bistro, that very beautiful, tranquil and delicious restaurant in Centro Histórico at Sixto Osuna 48, on the corner of Niños Heroes.

Heiman Russek Negrete, from Mezcal Minotauro, joined us from Durango. Mezcal Minotauro distills organic mezcales made with wild agaves/maguey plants. Heiman gave us a brief presentation on the history of mezcal, in very good English, shared with us information on the types of magueys, the states in Mexico that are authorized to use the appellation “mezcal,” and he also told us a bit about the production process. One cool bit of trivia I learned was that Minotauro has been able to play a role in saving a couple of species of maguey that were thought to be lost. He also showed us what he said is his favorite book on mezcal. I took a photo of its cover, so if you are interested, you can look into obtaining it.

Heiman had four different mezcals to share with us. Chef Alastair and sous-chef Tony put together three small plates for us that were magnificent, and combined well with the mezcales. The first mezcal was white, young, and accompanied by a jicama taco of aguachile. The second mezcal was actually my favorite; the botana served with it was a mini-tostada with shredded meat—very savory. Unbelievably to me, I don’t have a photo of the second flight, but it was delicious. I guess I was enjoying it too much to fuss with the camera! The third mezcal was also very good. We drank it with shrimp and grilled vegetables on toast points. Heiman then served us a fourth mezcal as well. After that, I guarantee you I wasn’t taking any more photos! Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view it as a slideshow. The food was all outstanding, the event was very enjoyable, and what a value at 200 pesos!

We love Water’s Edge. Alastair Porteous is a terrific chef who believes in farm-to-table sourcing, and his wife, Tracey Grantham, very ably runs the front of the house. It doesn’t hurt that another of our favorite local chefs, Tony Acuña Pérez, is the sous-chef. We also love the ambiance: the restaurant is in an historic home that was restored by Mark Jay. It is spacious, with two large rooms and a gorgeous private patio in the back. They have a stellar dinner menu, and lunch specials that are unbelievable values: drink, salad and main course for 100 pesos! Water’s Edge serves Sunday brunch, and Alastair conducts cooking classes. Tracey tells me that for Carnavál they are going to have some small foods outside, with easy-to-eat-and-go convenience for revelers. The restaurant will also, of course, be open.

I urge you both to enjoy Water’s Edge, supporting high quality local cuisine, and to get on their list for special events. We really enjoyed the evening, and learned a lot as well. Plus, we are now looking forward to a mezcal tour of Durango, with a most amiable host and his wife!

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Restaurant Review: Del Pueblo y Para el Pueblo

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Del Pueblo al Pueblo, north side of Agenda Insurgentes, just east of the malecón

The Estero del Camarón, the estuary along Avenida Insurgentes, just east of the malecón, has long been a muse for me, a natural reprieve amidst the urban activity. Back when I drove Danny to school I passed by it daily, and, living so close by, we still pass by it almost every day in the course of our activities. The reflections of the sky in the lagoon, and the sight of the birds sunning themselves, make for an oasis in the middle of the city.

A few of years ago a restaurant went in on the north side of the road. Gradually, Del Pueblo y Para el Pueblo has encroached on the estero, much to my dismay. Such seems to be the way of things here. We ate at this small restaurant a few times after they first opened. We loved the location, the nature surrounding us as we ate, the sound of the birds in the trees and the water. The food, however, was nothing to rave about. I took photos, but never blogged about it; it just was not good enough.

The last couple of times we’ve eaten here, however, it’s been for breakfast. And their breakfast rocks! Maybe their food overall has improved. Lord knows they have developed the space very well. At first it was just the small building with a couple of outdoor tables. Then they put up tarps to separate the space from the street and give diners some privacy. Then they put up a tarp roof, followed by pavers for the patio, and, finally, a more permanent (tarp fastened to beams) roof. Next came a sound system, and now they have two full hot tables for breakfast buffet on Saturday and Sunday (8 am till noon), plus a rolling grill on which to cook eggs to order. The chilaquiles de camarón/shrimp chilaquiles are to die for! And they have a healthy plate as well (egg white omelet with nopales/prickly pear cactus, salsa and a bit of queso fresco)!

Breakfast is served from the buffet (95 pesos) or off the menu (average price 75-80 pesos, including juice or coffee and fresh fruit). The lunch menu includes the standard items you’d expect in a small roadside place. The bathroom is indoors, and has a functioning sink, soap and towels. One of the waiters speaks English well, and the owner does a bit.

The views are really pleasant. We definitely enjoy having breakfast at Del Pueblo al Pueblo. If you’re looking for a simple place, with a gorgeous view, something a bit different than our killer ocean views, Del Pueblo al Pueblo may just fit the bill. Check it out and please, let me know what you think.