Jaso: Mexico's Best?
"Forget the hole, there’s plenty of donut”, admonished my dining companion Suzanne, as I tried in vain to think of something to criticize. “This place is a gift.” And so it goes, after two spectacular meals, I hereby proclaim Jaso Mexico’s # 1 restaurant of the moment.
Located in the center of Polanco, this “Contemporary American” restaurant is the baby of American chef Jared Reardon and his wife, master pastry chef Sonia Arias, a native capitalina. Together they’ve created a superb gastronomic temple, featuring local, seasonal and organic raw materials. Foams, vegetable and fruit reductions, and other already well-worn standards of contemporary alta cocina are used intelligently and discreetly here. Asian influences are evident, but one does not get the impression of trendiness for its own sake.
The couple met as students at The Culinary Institute of America, and later worked together at Bouley in New York’s Tribeca. Returning to Sonia’s home town of Mexico City, they were able to realize their dream of opening their own restaurant. Jared is passionate about food, and unlike many emerging star chefs, he never strays far from his kitchen. “Yes, he’s always in,” the waiter informed us, when I asked if I could interview him for this article. The food, although based on classic French concepts of preparation and presentation, is influenced by the teachings of Ferran Adrià of El Bullí near Barcelona, a legendary destination of international chowhounds, where experiments with “molecular gastronomy” have turned the culinary world upside down in recent years. How to get the most flavor out of a beet? Why not make a reduced beet jell-o cube. What to do with the mundane sardine? How about serving it over olive oil ice cream? Both chefs work with purveyors of exquisite artisanal products, from nearby or within the Federal District. Fresh raw milk, delivered twice daily, is used for ice creams, sauces and desserts. Hand-fed organic baby lamb and wild mushrooms from the State of Mexico grace the menu. Chef Reardon makes two trips weekly to the Central de Abastos, the city’s huge wholesale market, where he seeks out an inspiring array of foodstuffs to work with, creating new dishes for his constantly evolving menu. Sonia, the dessert and pastry chef, is inspired by Mexico’s fabulous variety of fruits, and is equally fastidious in her selection of high quality ingredients. The interior of Jaso is a series of sleek modern rooms, simple but elegant, splashed with sunlight during the day, and romantically lit at night. Service is attentive and infallible--as it should be at this level.
On our first visit, we were offered an ameuse-bouche of mint-and almond-scented “cappuccino”, served in a martini glass with tiny cubes of beet aspic as a surprise at the bottom. For our second repast, this cocktail had morphed into a foam of cactus fruit and jamaica (hibiscus blossom), providing a sweet and sour contrast to several small grilled shrimps. The confit of baby octopus, served on a bed of piquant eggplant puree, was tender and flavorful. And how about this for an appetizer: raviolis of foie gras bathed in black truffle sauce and beurre noisette, with bitter chocolate, black grapes, lashings of parmesan cheese, dotted with aged balsamic vinegar? This befuddling combination of mouth-watering, but seemingly egotistical ingredients, actually worked, each of its parts surprisingly discernable.
We sampled a succulent lechón (suckling pig) twice, in different guises. One was beautifully complimented by a beet reduction sauce, the other cooked sous vide (i.e. sealed in a bag and slowly cooked in its own juices), with a hint of star anise to compliment the delicate flavor of the meat. Sea-bass with puree of earthy wild mushrooms was another successful combination. Grilled skate, highlighted by finely diced pineapple, was glazed with the brown sauce traditionally served with Japanese eel - a simple and beautiful treat. Wild Atlantic salmon (a rarity in Mexico) was marinated in miso, soy, and mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine), then grilled and accompanied by coconut-jasmine rice and a puree of broccoli spiked with spry slivers of grapefruit – the total an exercise in culinary harmony.
Be aware that you may not find any of these dishes on the menu when you visit, as everything depends on what the chefs find each week, and what new discoveries they’ve made in their kitchen/laboratory. The bitter-sweet olive oil ice cream I tasted during my trip to the kitchen is part of an experimental dish that may never see the light of the dining room. Go with an open, adventurous mind.
Jaso’s dessert menu is divided into two sections, Fruits and Chocolate. From the latter we chose the chocolate brioche topped with a crispy orange cookie lid (and served with the best pistachio ice cream I’ve ever tasted) - as rich as it sounds and looks. This frozen wonder is also available as part of the “degustación de helados”. An interesting fruit concoction is a velvety parfait of mamey – a subtle and beautiful fruit chef Sonia describes as undervalued – I’m sure it will appear on her menu in new guises if we wait long enough.
Finally, complimentary madeleines, fresh out of the oven, added a Proustian reflection on all things good, present and past. Jaso is pricey (at least $750 pesos per person with wine – be aware that tip and tax are added onto the bill in addition to the printed prices), but well worth the splurge. Au courant, hip, smart, and delicious, Jaso is great. Financial crisis or no, I’m saving my pesos to come back soon.
88 Newton, Polanco, Mexico, D.F.
Tel. 5545-7476 Open Monday – Saturday: 2pm – 11:30pm
All credit cards accepted
Note: this review first appeared in The News Mexico
Kim Grover May 9, 2009 Have been twice, after having been to Biko (#98 on the world ranking and Mexico’s only entry in the top 100) and had the menu de degustacion which was completely different on both occasions. Superb is the only word. Service great and best of all with zero attitude. My # 1 without a doubt.
Anonymous October 6, 2010 Having eaten all over the world, I can attest that Jaso is my #1 pick!!!!! Not only the food, and the service, but the attention to detail is amazing right down to the placement of silverware on the table! Course after course delights you more than the one before. Just as soon as you say that there can be no more surprises, and you can't possibly eat another bite, here comes another delightful dish! As you are peeling yourself from the table, you leave thinking......ahhhhhhhhhhhh, once in a lifetime.
AnonymousJuly 4, 2012 I agree with both reviewers. i live between NY and London and travel extensively. I often eat at fine restaurants for business and personal meetings. hands down, Jaso is my favorite dining experience to date. The food quality and creativity is unparalleled and the service is always excellent. And it's so refreshingly unpretentious. Jaso is perfection.