TACO TIME: Taco de Berenjena @ Pujol
Pujol is Mexico City’s most famous restaurant. It has become an obligatory destination for aficionados of creative cooking as well as a laboratory for young chefs. Founder, chef Enrique Olvera offers a unique and insightful approach to a fusion of European and Mexican cuisine. Traditional dishes are turned upside down, deconstructed and presented in surprising new ways while remaining respectful of the originals. Featuring a menu in a state of permanent reinvention, Pujol celebrates Mexican gastronomy’s extraordinary variety of regions, ingredients and techniques.
Like so many chefs these days, Olvera is influenced not only by what has been happening in Spain and Denmark but also by the cooking of Japan. His informally entitled "taco omakase" is inspired by the craftsmanship he has witnessed at Japan’s top sushi bars where chefs dedicate their careers to perfecting a single bite of rice and fish.
The omekase is really a small-bite 'streetfood' tasting menu accompanied by wines, beer and mezcal. While local stalls may not offer a tetela stuffed with sea urchin, a taco al pastor done with magret de canard or fish belly and charred avocado tacos, these homages to down home fare are exquisite--playful yet refined. What impressed me most on a recent visit was the simplest of all the offerings, the taco de berenjena. It comprises a delicate, denim-blue tortilla (made of locally grown, heirloom corn) blanketed by an hoja santa, the herb whose aroma recalls wintergreen and topped with a sushi-shaped slab of braised eggplant that rests on a dab of garbanzo puree. The commingling of delicate flavors is brilliantly carried out, not a one trumps the other. Umami meets umami. This is an unashamedly “nice” taco; it's a brilliantly conceived, self-contained dish in the spirit of a Basque pintxo. It is one of 11 courses in the fixed, ever evolving menu served only at the bar that demonstrates just how far Modern Mexican cooking has come and how good it can be.
Note: The taco bar menu is set, currently $2653 (without gratuity) and includes an obligatory pairing of alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. Note that dishes are not offered a la carte. It is necessary to reserve far in advance and is not served in the main dining room where a different a la carte or prix fixe menu is offered. The taco bar should be requested during the reservation process.
Food: (1-10) - 9.5
Service: 10; Professional to a tee.
Ambience: 9; Architect Javier Sánchez has designed a mid-century inspired room that is sleek and urbane yet surprisingly comfortable and homey. It is a space that works, considering that meals at Pujol are leisurely affairs. Music is also retro and appropriately low-key.