Martha's back and Polanco's got her: Dulce Patria!
Where did she go?, they clamored. Aguila y Sol was THE place to see-and-be-seen and, incidentally, to eat. It was pretty nice in its original space on Moliere, but the wig-popping new venue a few blocks away was even flashier, more elegant, and 'oh so chic'. Everybody who was anybody went--until it closed suddenly, a couple months after the move. The girl in the Little Black Dress stopped answering the phones to take reservations. The web page shut down. Nobody knew what happened. Naturally, tongues wagged, chisme flew in all directions. She – Martha Ortiz Chapa, chef/diva and cookbook author- hadn’t paid the bribes. She had run off to Tahiti. It was a tax thing. Nobody knew the answer. We may never know what happened, but there’s good news: she’s back with a vengance, and the party is just getting started. Dulce Patria, Ortiz’ nueva cocina Mexicana hot spot is officially open for business. It’s an adjunct of the elegant boutique hotel Las Alcobas. Last night, to celebrate the Bicentennial, we went.
“Everything must change….” goes the song and so it has. Elegant and classy it still is (OK, this IS Polanco) but gone are the ‘good taste’ beiges and blacks. Now the slick décor is peppered with folksy Mexican touches: chairs are upholstered in colorful Oaxacan embroideries. Floors and water glasses are bright red. And the food is presented like a surreal Frida Kahlo still life.Crepe paper bows, potatoes cut in the shape of Aztec head-dresses, salsas drizzled in patriotic colors are all carefully highlighted by high-design black or white table service.
The glamorous chef Ortiz, clad in evening black, still circulates and greets her well-heeled guests. When queried as to the difference between Aguila y Sol and Dulce Patria her brief, encompassing answer was “it’s more festive”. And so it is.
The concept of the menu has not changed appreciably. Tradition is embraced, teased, stood on its head, and then re-fashioned into something 21st Century. The old place featured some of the best service in the city, and I’m happy to report, this is still true. The wine list provided was all Mexican and reasonably priced. We chose a Valle de Guadalupe Chardonnay, which was pleasantly dry and mildly perfumy. We started with a selection of appetizers.
Very appealing poofy, golden quesadillas were filled with fresh chèvre, or the market herb huazontle, or spicy meat. They come with a mini-cazuela of fresh hand-pounded red salsa. Two ceviches, one containing fish, jícama and fresh coconut milk, the other more traditionally tomato based, were both subtle, and fresh. A re-invented squash blossom flower soup is a knockout.
Creamy and rich, the elusive aroma of this most beautiful nectarous ingredient is the star of the show. Only chef Enrique Olvera had been able to succeed at highlighting its flavor in his (now trés passé) foam. Everything is served in a whimsical, unpretentious, i.e. ‘festive’ way.
My dining partner, high-end travel queen, Conde Nast representative and chef Adamarie King (www.connoisseurstravel.com) ordered pork in mole amarillo. This essential Oaxacan classic was brought up to date as a spiced mango sauce, fruity, vibrant, with hints of clove and cinnamon. It didn’t overwhelm the tender juicy morsels of seared meat – “this could be served with fish” Ada mused, dipping her finger into the sauce for one last taste. Another standout was Jim’s fideos barrocos con pollo y mole poblano. This was an interesting conflagration of several beloved dishes: fideo seco, the dry pasta legacy of the Spanish, and subtle, balanced mole poblano. It worked, and the pinwheels of chicken were cute and celebratory. My pato en mole negro was less successful. It seems every well-known chef in town does his or her version of this dish. Ortiz’ mole was delectable, smoky, appealingly sweet. But it was a pitched battle between the mole and the lovely little timbale of shredded duck meat and the poor bird lost. It could have been chicken, I thought. But I spooned up every drop of the extra sauce provided in its little red clay pot (and even licked the dish when nary a designer-clad patron was watching).
Prices, by the way, are predictably high, but average for a fancy Polanco joint, i.e. $500 and up per person, depending how much you drink. Desserts are playful throwbacks to classic Mexican childhood comfort foods. Silky, warm and sweet atole, the corn-based breakfast standard, was served in cute little cups and took me back to the hacienda on a cold winter night--even though I’ve never been to a Hacienda on a cold winter night. Old-fashioned mini milk and fruit sweets were served on a little rustic kitchen shelf from a Mexican doll house. Silly and fun. But that’s the idea. This is a party and a spectacle. We’re supposed to be celebrating Mexico in all its glorious and sensual pleasure. Dulce Patria succeeds as a pleasure palace. I’m glad it’s here and that she’s back. Welcome home, Martha.
Anatole France 100 (around the corner from the entrance of Hotel Las Alcobas which is located at Presidente Masaryk 390) Polanco
Open Monday-Saturday 1:30-11:30, Sunday until 5:30
Martha Ortiz Chapa September 23, 2010
Esto es sólo el inicio y esperamos en conjunto con un gran equipo de trabajo mucho de que hablar y construir una opinión favorable de la gastronomía mexicana, con la seriedad necesaria, pero siempre con un guiño al paladar.
Cooking in Mexico September 27, 2010
I didn't know how much I was missing by living in a small Mexican town until I read this. What a feast for the eyes and imagination! Kathleen
GC October 13, 2010
Great news! I loved Aguila and Sol and I'm really eager to try Martha's new place! Daniela BR November 24, 2010
Me too! Lorenzo Gonzalez November 15, 2012
With every new blog post I read I am more intrigued. I need to get myself here!!