Alache: As Good as it Looks
I love that in this town aspiring young chefs can still open a restaurant on a shoestring. That hasn’t been feasible in my hometown—New York—since the end of the last century when the Lower East Side was the gastronomic crucible. Here, pioneers like Lalo and Marco Margain of Broka Bistro showed others that it is possible to land in a marginal neighborhood and if you’re good people will come. And you don’t need a million dollars to do it.
Alejandro Zárate is a talented young chef with impressive credentials. He could be manning the kitchen of a hoity-toity Polanco palace if he wanted to, but that’s not where he’s at. His new weekday breakfast/lunch-only joint is situated in a tiny, easily pass-byable locale on a too-busy avenue at the north end of Colonia Cuauhtémoc. A chalk sandwich board announces daily specials. It took the pleading of urban food archeologist El Gastronauta to even get me to try it but I’m so glad I did.
Zárate, at 28, is already a veteran chef of the prestigious Estudio Millesime; He also worked at Candela Romero, Rosetta and Kaye at home and at the much lauded Boragó in Santiago de Chile. He has absorbed the precepts of refined cuisine, but what he does at Alache is decidedly down to earth, at least on the surface; his sophisticated sensibility sneaks up on you. At comida-time, he offers a three course menú del día based on whim and what's new at the market for only $220. The dishes may sound pedestrian but are sophisticated, gorgeous to look at and fun to eat.
Alache’s name refers to a violet colored edible wild flower; the chef loves the myriad wild herbs our markets have to offer and almost every dish makes use of them.
On one visit, a vegetarian tostada de 4 quelites included several I had never seen in a restaurant including the delightfully tart lengua de cordero. The greens were tossed raw, or cooked, as called for and augmented with a shard of fried parmesan. On another occasion this had morphed into a sope of squash blossom flowers filled with fresh cheeses and decorated with wild greens.
Gazpacho de pepino con callo de almeja was really a polished version of the west coast ceviche-like aguachile. Only the original almost always tends towards the over acidic. Here, the cold cucumber broth balanced nicely with the meaty chunks of clam; the dish was close to perfect.
The deceptively proletarian enchiladas mineras, one of the few dishes to originate from the state of Guanajuato, was so gorgeous I didn’t want to eat it; flecks of toasted guajillo chiles studded the crimson sauce that bathed the prepared carrot/potato filled tortillas.
Desserts were knockouts: I loved the "Mellow Yellow", named after Donovan’s 1967 tune; it was a tropical fruitfest composed of a mango sorbet, soupy maracuyá, fermented pineapple and candied orange peel.
At Alache the technical aspects of the kitchen are well addressed: flavors are in equilibrium, frying is light, broths are correctly clarified. The space is unremarkable and the outdoor ambience is marred by constant traffic. But, minor shortcomings aside, this should be a destination on everybody’s list. I see a bright future for this talented chef.