Surf & Turf in la Condesa: Merotoro
The Condesa has grown up. Sophisticated eating coupled with mature ambiance, once confined to the Polanco/Lomas upper crust has finally crossed the park and landed on Avenida Amsterdam in the form of an interesting new venue: Merotoro. In their new locale chef Jair Téllez and owners Gabriela Cámara and Pablo Bueno, whose wildly successful seafood palace Contramar is on everybody’s ‘best’ list, decided to concentrate on interesting food in a comfortable environment with accessible prices.
The setting, transformed from a nondescript modern storefront, makes good use of the low-ceilinged rectangular space. The floors are warm retro terrazzo and the walls have been paneled in rough-hewn wood, a common design solution elsewhere but not here in Mexico City. A long colorful abstract panel adds a touch of vibrancy to the otherwise muted tones. Music is soft and appropriate - a rarity in this fiesta-loving town. Slow Food queen Gabriela, who was “extremely involved in every detail of the place” explains that the name comes from “Mero (the fish) and Toro (bull).
It’s sort of our version of “surf and turf” since everyone was asking whether the restaurant would also be seafood, and we wanted to make it clear that it would be different.” She goes on to point out that, “Our main interest in Merotoro is that the food be really good; seriously good." It is. The kitchen is in the capable hands of master chef Jair Téllez, formerly of Laja en Ensenada, who makes sure even the simplest dishes – a grilled fish or steak – are perfectly done. The small, constantly changing, unpretentious, and quirkily creative menu offers eight , seven main dishes and four desserts, most for under $150 pesos. Ingredients are chosen selectively and strategically, with an eye to seasonal freshness, smart combinations and the occasional salute to cultural tradition. Gabriela and Téllez, in developing their concept try to remain true to where we are. “In many cases that brings us to Slow Food, and, of course, in most cases, to local food”, Gabriela says. “With local, however, we don’t just mean local to here -we’re not there yet-, but local to the ingredient or the place of production. For example, we have many products from Rancho Cortez, which is in the Valle de Guadalupe, close to Ensenada. That, of course, is not local to here, but it is better than most ranches in terms of how they produce and grow their stuff. The sheep and cows eat only local grasses and therefore the meat and cheese from them is way better than anything else you can find.”
Start with a mixed salad of organic greens. Simple and perfectly dressed, it is crowned with roasted beets, which draw it out of the one-dimensional. I was fascinated by the idea of a sopa rústica de alubias, erizo y aceite de chorizo (rustic soup of white beans, sea urchin and oil of chorizo). This peculiar combination turned out to be rich and appealing, warm in color, creamy in texture, the flavor vaguely smoky with a touch of sea air - brilliant. Sardina fresca rostizada, toronja, berros y salicornia (fresh roast sardine, grapefruit, watercress and salicornia, a green succulent) is an exercise in harmony, the four potentially starring ingredients sing happily together like the Ink Spots.
From the plato fuerte section comes capellini con chile y jaiba a simple dish I would try to make at home, but could not do so well. Risottoa la Mexicana con camarones is undoubtedly a nod to Gabriela’s Italian/Mexican roots and it is appropriately picante. The filete de dorado al sárten con chícharros cremosos, bok choy y límon makes lovely use of these locally grown, seasonal greens. The fish is beautifully browned, but tender and juicy, the accompaniments herbaceous and bright. The star of the show for carnivores is the costilla corta de res lentamente horneada – short ribs slowly baked. Accompanied by small roast potatoes and onions, it’s falling apart tender, the sauce full-bodied, fruity and smoky--as good as it gets.
Of the four desserts, my favorite is the pastelito de chocolate y almendra con helado de almendra tostada in which the chef brings out the best of these two classic mouthwatering delights. Worth sampling is the pannacotta de lima con mandarina y chico zapote: here, the old world happily embraces the tropical new.
A caveat: the wine list is quite expensive, with few choices for under $600; this is not a good thing.
Dinner will cost around $500 pesos, below the average of most upscale venues. Merotoro is a welcome and much needed addition to the contemporary D.F. dining scene, and I hope its early success goes to show that we’re ready for something different.
Avenida Amsterdam 204 Between Iztacihuatl & Chilpancingo, Condesa see map
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 1:30-11:00 p.m., Sunday 1:30 - 6 p.m. (closed Monday)