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Nicholas Gilman is a renowned journalist and food writer based in Mexico City.

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Quintonil: Falling Stars

Quintonil: Falling Stars

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It was nice to dine in the company of five of the best chefs in the city. I was willing to give Quintonil another try, after a rather disappointing tryout some months before. After all, the young and talented chef, Jorge Vallejo, worked in Pujol. And the French Lady, who I trust the most, loved the place.

To celebrate its second anniversary the quietly posh venue was offering a special menu, a collaboration of chefs Vallejo and David Kinch, of Los Gatos, California’s 2-star Michelin, Manresa. Nine courses with wine pairing were offered - sounded promising.

The “50 best” list in which Quintonil holds 21st place describes it as such: “A gastronomic tour of Mexico is on offer at this one-year-old, boundary-pushing restaurant whose star is very much in the ascendancy.” Sadly, this was not to be the case; the sky was bleakly starless that ill-fated night.

We started with a few small hits. Tiny is a better word for these botanas, which came out one by one, with so much space in between that we all finished our artisanal beer that was offered as an aperitif.

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The first two were designed by chef Kinch. A single, malt ball sized asparagus croquet was one of the best things I ate. Its warm, crunchy, lightly breaded crust gave way to a burst of liquid asparagus cream, rich and redolent of that springtime green. It was like a romp through green pastures and I wanted five more, but one was all you got.

A while later a mini cazuela of chicharrón de callo de hacha, which really did taste intensely of scallops, kind of like those pastel colored poofy things you get with rijstaffel but so much better--but again only one per customer. We asked for more and got three little pieces…sigh.

Two of chef Vallejo’s offerings were served--after another lengthy break. A steak tartar had several intriguing ingredients – maíz nixtamalizado for example, but tasted of nothing in particular. Better was an airy cloud of potato in little bowl smothering bits of minced, smoky longaniza de Valladolid. By this time we had been sitting for an hour and had ingested about 50 grams of food each. My stomach was rumbling and I was feeling the force of the Champagne, which followed the beer.

A more substantial appetizer finally arrived, sea urchin, bathed in agua del mar, a sweet/salty brine light enough not to disguise the delicate flavor of the fish. Good. Abulón en mantequilla de algas, puré de limón amarillo y coliflór rostizado was not. The dollops of the three accompaniments were so tiny as to be unnoticeable – with the exception of the harsh lemon. I love roast cauliflower, which seems to be everywhere these days--but not when I can’t find it. The abalone itself was characterless. But then out came Jorge’s rutabaga en mole de quelites. I don’t know how this abominable idea could have occurred to him, but please don’t ever serve it to me again. It tasted like old socks – Feh!

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Roast pork, the main event I suppose, was done medium rare, pink and juicy--a welcome presentation in our this city of overcooked meat. Its “norinade”, a marinade of nori seaweed, was interesting at best. Melding didn’t happen.

Desserts were 50-50. Thumbs up for the fluffy lemon natilla with fresh thyme; thumbs down for a festive plate of little plops of mamey and cookies – been there, done that at Dulce Patria.

Overall, this anniversary meal was disappointing. The highs were few, the lows were many. We sat for hours. Service was very friendly and efficient, but I fault the kitchen for slow delivery. The wine was not carefully chosen. And the price tag was the highest this critic, and his four disgruntled dining companions, had ever seen in Mexico -- a whopping $2900 pesos with tip.

“I could’ve saved that for Per Se!” one chef grumbled. “I’m still hungry,” moaned another. “Let’s go to the St. Regis, for a drink; they do a great avocado pizza there,” suggested yet another.

That we did.

Quintonil
Newton 55, Polanco
Tel. 5280-2680, 5280-1660
Open Monday - Saturday 1 - 11 p.m.
website

Food (1-10): 7
Service: at times, off handed
Ambience: generic Polanco mod - pleasant enough
Price:  Tasting menu $1300, with pairing, $2425. a la carte can be done for $800.
Open: Monday – Saturday 1:00 – 11 p.m.

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