Less is More: Cercano Comedor
For the decades that I have known it, lovely Parque México has not been host to an eating establishment whose food lives up to the view of the park’s verdant deco beauty. Cafés have come and gone, a pleasant Italian restaurant vanished in a puff of bureaucratic mystery. But sophisticated fare has been relegated to the back alleys and inner sanctums of the Condesa and that’s a shame.
It is therefore a gift to have Cercano Comedor on the scene. It’s an unashamedly simple, wood, brick and light-filled, pretention-free venue whose food is better than good and whose view is a feast for the eyes.
The Comedor was brainstormed by talented young chefs Elsa Olmos (formerly of Baja’s Corazón de Tierra) and César Vázquez of Polanco’s consistently undervalued Nexo. The two came up with the idea of a relaxed dining room offering a variety of dishes culled from myriad nationalities—Spain and France are the touchstones—but always rooted in seasonal materia prima.
César, who acts as executive chef while manning the kitchen at Nexo across town, insists that, “we don’t want to fall into any category, we’re sort of a bistro, but we also do what to us is comfort food. It’s sort of comfort/cocina del autor, if you will.”
Elsa, who specializes in desserts but who is acting chef and master of all aspects of the kitchen, concurs. “I don’t want to make food that is so challenging that it gives people a headache. The kind of risky juxtapositions that can drive people crazy. So we stick to simple combinations and pay attention to technique.”
Most dishes are pared down to a few ingredients, so the challenge becomes balancing them well. A simple sashimi of the day in aguachile and nori cream brings a punchy Pacific-style ceviche and mellow Japanese seaweed together; the sauce never trumps the fish. I adore the estofado de pulpo y almejas con alubias, chorizo y salsa verde. This Cantabrian classic is served, appropriately, in a little terra cotta cazuelita; octopus is buttery, white beans al dente, chorizo there for umami and the salsa verde (the northern Spanish variety, i.e. olive oil perfumed with garlic and parsley) brings it all together the way the score of a classic movie ties in with the drama.
The line blurs between appetizers and mains: there are only four offered at any given time. Tender glazed short rib with a buttery mille feuille of potatoes is as a French grande-mère would have it done, as is the Paris-bistro-classic filet. Fish of the day is cooked perfectly – César has proven himself master of “a point” fish and meat done-ness. It’s presented nestled on a bed of emerald greens and a swirl of “vichyssoise” i.e. very creamy buttery potatoes.
And, of course, mention must be made of the sweets, which move beyond the “comfort” category and dazzle with their goodness. The caramelised banana tarte tatin has already become a “destination” dessert. But I also like the fruit-filled meringue—it’s like eating a cloud.
The wine list, curated by Andrés Amor, of Padella, is choice and affordable.
And best of all, prices are eminently accessible; lunch can be procured for less than $400.
While glitches, especially in the area of service, need to be ironed out, this is to be expected at this youthful stage, I see Comedor Cercano as a neighborhood classic in the making.
Avenida México 157, between Michoacán and Teotihuacán, Condesa; See map
Telephone 5564 6810.
Open Tuesday – Saturday 1:30 – 11 p.m., Sunday 1- 6 p.m., closed Monday
Food - (1-10) 8
Ambience - 8; music while eclectic, can bounce off the walls, I prefer a sidewalk table with a view
Price - $300 – 500 pp