East Side/West Side: El Parnita & Dulcinea Do Mexican Right
I’ve never been a fan of the new-fangled; I resisted CDs, cell phones, even computers, for years. And that goes for food as well. I’ve been cynically sampling ‘upscale’ Mexican cuisine for decades, ever since I hung at El Olivo, Roberto Santibanez’ long defunct hipster spot of the ‘80’s (where, no doubt, more was snorted in the WC than consumed at table) and the long-running La Tecla started experimenting with such dubious nouvelle dishes as pasta with mole and deconstructed chiles en nogada.
Then a few Polanco chefs (you know who I mean) came along and did away with tradition altogether, going for global gastro-trends. Flor de calabaza became a foam. Unspeakble things appeared in sorbets and sauces. That’s why I celebrate what appears to be a new trend: a tweaked return to basics, or ‘grandma with a twist'. Pretention is exchanged for simple updating of the tried and true. New places at every step of the scale, are opening offering good Mexican food to 21st century diners used to clean preparation and pretty presentation. Cases in point at either end of the fancy spectrum: Limosneros and Fonda Kelly, which I recently lauded.
Aztec Cravings: El Parnita
The name of this unassuming antojería means ‘pal’ or friend’. They’ve been dishing out comida corrida for over thirty years, but just recently hit the charts--it’s where the arts and media crowd meet for lunch in uber-chic Colonia Roma.
The large renovated space recalls an ordinary lunch spot, blaring TVs and all – until one realizes that those ordinarily intrusive boob tubes show photos of works of art instead of Televisa toons. Ambience is likewise downplayed in a hip Paris bistro sort of way – umbrella-topped tables spill out onto the street and jazz softly plays.
Best of all is the food. It’s simple, but the flavors are vibrant.
Antojitos (corn-based snacks)rule. The marvelous tacos viajeros, tender, tangy pork served with red onions and an array of smoky and spiky sauces, are wrapped in house-made tortillas.
The fried shrimp taco is also a good choice, the fresh crispy sea creature served with greens—a crunch-fest. Another fine oceanic option is the ceviche, lightly marinated chunks of scallop and fish served with warm tostadas. Parnita’s variation on the Jalisco classic torta ahogada (drowned torta) is the best we’ve sampled in the city, a perfect balance of soft/crunchy texture and umami laden filling – with a perfect whallop of chili. Parnita is a friendly place and prices are friendly as well – lunch will run 100-150 pesos, if you behave yourself.
Avenida Yucatán 84, (Near the corner of Yucatán and Monterrey; view map)
Tel. 5264 7551
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 1:30-6pm
Dulcinea: gente "nice"
Leave your car with valet parking and stroll about in Polanquito, the lively heart of Polanco, Mexico City’s 'East side' neighborhood—it’s a delightful part of town. There are a lot of swanky options for dining, but I often head to Dulcinea, a simple café whose tables spill out invitingly onto the sidewalk. The crowd is a genial mix of young ‘ladies-who-lunch’, business types and foreign residents. And the food is carefully prepared and presented with flair.
Chef Lucy Acuña, who runs the show, studied at New York’s Culinary Institute of America. Chef Lucy acknowledges tradition, but gently pokes at it, and gussies it up a bit.
Her simple sopa de tortilla, for example, contains the usual garnishes of fried tortilla strips, roast chilies and avocado, but all served dry—the brick-red broth is poured at table over the garnishes, French bistro style. The crema de cilantro, pretty as a Seurat landscape, is lightly perfumed with avocado leaves.
Aguas de frutas are served in homey white enamel pitchers that seem straight from the marché de puces – a nice touch.
Several antojitos are offered. Sopes de arrachera is the most traditional – corn masa shells, fresh and crisp/tender, the meat buttery. Tiradito de pulpo blends thin slices of buttery octopus with a chili/tomato glaze, served over a puree of celery with a whisper of ginger. It’s both light and hardy—a winner.
A notable main dish is the arrachera, offered with mole de jamaica, a light, sweet-sour sauce. Pollito de leche (aka Cornish hen) is roasted and served with fruity tamarindo or jamaica sauces.
Desserts are predictable but satisfying: flan, crepes, chocolate mousse.
Dulcinea also serves breakfast. ‘The French Lady’ breaks her fast regularly here, and highly recommends the chilaquiles divorciados—with two competing sauces, red and green, as well as pancakes, better than Jemima ever made.
Dulcinea’s prices reflect its surroundings (it’s right around the corner from the Café Snob - I'm not making this up)– you’ll spend at least $250 pesos per person for a light lunch, without drinks. But the quality is good—you’ll get what you pay for and leave happy.
Oscar Wilde 29, Polanco; view map
Tel. 5280 8909
Open Sunday, Monday 9 a.m. -6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday 9am-1am
Branch: Tabasco 46, Roma Norte