Author Archives: Ziggy

Somtum Der – Now Derring in Red Hook

In the land of the new and exciting, its often easy to overlook the established and proven. The “What’s new” questions on social media by people that visited the city once or twice before have always been a mystery to me. Did you try any of the other 99.9%, like Pig and Khao, Minetta Tavern, Popina, etc etc. Are they stale? What exactly is wrong with them? There’s always something new and exciting, but the real question is who will make it past year one, or year ten. 60% fail in their first year, 80% fail within five, and very few make it to 10.

The Z-List Thai staple Somtum Der not only keep soldiering on in the East Village but is now doing it in Red Hook, Brooklyn. While East Village is ultra competitive as I keep saying for years due to the lack of tourists and abundance of students, opening in no-train Red Hook is just another level of Chutzpah. Generally Thai restaurants in Red Hook and neighboring Columbia Street Waterfront District (because real estate firms havent come up with a cute 2 syllable name) dont last very long. See Pok Pok, Krok .

Somtum Der was one of the first to introduce New Yorkers to fiery Isan food when it opened in East Village a decade ago. That was only a year after opening in Bangkok. Both places are in the Michelin guide if you care about such things. In fact the East Village location even got a Michelin star that lasted a whole 5 minutes. The new Red Hook location has exactly the same menu, with pictures. If you dont like menus with colorful pictures, you are probably not enjoying life to the fullest. If we were to give awards to menus with the most vibrant pictures, Somtum Der would be an easy three Kodak recipient.

While Somtum is known for the various namesake papaya salads, I der you to find a more flavorful bird in NYC. Just seeing the picture on the menu for me is like a kid hearing the ice cream truck. Along with the marinaded pork with the soothing sticky rice lollypops, the fried chicken thighs is a usual must. The thing about Somtum Der is that they can take any old, stale, dry meat or fish, and make it taste amazing. Thats not to say that its the type of meat we usually encounter here, but that’s the type of seasoning and marinades they use. Its sort of what Isan food is all about. Preserving meat and fish in historically poor areas.

Its also worth noting the weekly specials, in particular the sickest mushroom salad I ever had, Goi Hed. (invented by someone who thought the Beech mushrooms reminded them of uncircumcised penises). Out of the regulars, last time in Brooklyn we also enjoyed the garlic beef with rice, and a serviceable Pad Thai. My first Pad Thai in maybe 20 years. Blame the pictures.

The cool thing about the Brooklyn location is that it has a lovely garden that feels like you are in a neighbor’s BBQ. Another plus is that its in the heart of Red Hook, walking distance to the legendary Steve’s Key Lime Pie, an important former stop on my Brooklyn tour (RIP). I go straight for the raspberry Swingle these days. Might as well also check out the Merchant Stores Building next door. If it doesnt work out with Mrs Z, my next wedding venue will be at the The Liberty Warehouse. But next month will be 30 years, so who really knows…

Somtum Der
85 Avenue A (East Village)
380 Van Brunt St (Red Hook)
Recommended Dishes: Fried Chicken, Marinadet grilled pork, Mushroom salad (special), Garlic beef

Categories: Brooklyn, East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Foul Witch – The Witches of Easthood

The Witches of Eastwick is a 1987 flick starring the last remaining aging celebrities who didnt declare their political alliances (minus Cher). Foul Witch is a 6 month old restaurant in East Village. To be precise on a rather strange corner of Ave A (Houston), dangerously close to the tourist central Katz’s Deli, and Il laboratorio del gelato. By dangerous I mean you may be tempted to consider them for your first and last course, but I’m here to convince you otherwise, at least for the first course.

Foul Witch is the highly anticipated New American/Italian from the people that brought us Roberta’s, Roberta’s to-go, and Roberta’s in [name any food hall]. It seems like Roberta’s pizza footprints are all over the city, including in the nearby Market Line food hall in the form of a sound NY style pizza by an alumni. But with the now closed two Michelin Blanca, Carlo Mirarchi and co. long proved that there’s much more than pizza up their sleeves.

The hype surrounding Foul Witch means in order to reserve a table, you may want to move to Sidney Australia for a few months where ressies open in the middle of the day. Unless you are a night owl, its virtually impossible to do so here. Are there day owls? I thought all owls are night owls by definition. I dont understand the rationale of releasing reservations at midnight, as oppose to 9 or 10 am as some are doing for us day owls.

Then how did you score one Ziggy? Another outstanding question Timmy. I tried for months. I must have had ‘Notify’ on for many days which for me rarely works. My plan was to arrive 15 minutes prior to opening and get seats at the bar. Instead, early in the morning on the day of, I had two tabs open on Resy (Claud, the other one) and lo and behold, after only a few hundred refreshes, a 5 PM spot opened up. I pounced like a morning puma.

I think every meal at Foul Witch should start with the “Fire and Ice”. Ice for creamy Stracciatella, Fire for ‘Nduja, that glorious spreadable Calabrian goodness. Why not just call it Stracciatella and ‘Nduja. Its not like the rest of the menu is a puzzle. Extra Brownie point for the the delicious free bread in today’s $10 bread NYC. And another brownie for room temp spreadable butter, another NYC luxury. Minus one brownie for no brownies on the menu.

The Veal Tortellini in Brodo is some serious witchcraft. In a very Italian fashion, big, deep flavors come from very little meat. And that sweetness from the amaretto in the Brodo adds another layer. Ingredients, and attention to detail are key as expected, and its especially evident in the Sunchoke Caramelle. Freakishly good candy shaped pasta with lemon, and poppyseeds.

The menu changes more often than the one shown online, so you may be disappointed or thrilled. And while the prices seem fair, you will be tempted to order more than the usual two dish per. One reason is that some of the smaller items like the excellent buttery Sorana Beans are more like glorified sides you’d want to pair with the mains.

The lone main we tried was also the lone miss. The roasted shoulder of goat had a nice flavor, but lacking in texture, and a bit too much gristle for our taste. The buttered turnips and ramps were the best part of the dish. Oh, I just realized why. Buttered! We skipped dessert.

Italian craft beer lovers would be in beer heaven at Foul Witch. Although I really liked my aromatic Portuguese white Douro blend, I’m not skipping the beer next time. Two drinks, 5 dishes, tip/tax amounted to around $200. The space is comfortable, and intimate. As one would expect, friendly and efficient staff, especially Arlet the Sommelier. Go! If you can get in.

Foul Witch
15 Avenue A (East Village)
Recommended Dishes: Fire and Ice, Veal Tortellini, Sunchoke Caramelle, Sorana Beans

Ave Q art on Ave A

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Best Things We Ate in CDMX

How does one come up with 10 on a four day trip? Its complicated. The long explanation starts with my childhood, and requires lying down on an old couch to tell the story. It has to be an old couch, preferably beige. The short version is that’s how we roll, especially on a food focused trip as such. I can actually come up with 10 items in just one of the days. That’s Mexico City for you.

Green Chorizo Taco at Mercado de Jamaica

I think Eva Longoria made a mistake here. This is a life altering taco that didnt require any salsa to enhance the flavor. But on Eva’s Searching for Mexico show on CNN, while I was delighted to see her visit the same place we did, I was terrified by the amount of salsa she added on this delicate beauty. This jewel was part of a tour with Eat Like a Local.

Pescado a la Talla at Contramar

Imagine opening a restaurant that evolves around a dish that eventually becomes a national treasure. And before you know it, you are the food consultant to the president. Thats exactly what happened to Gabriela Cámara, and her famous two color snapper. I’ve had wonderful fish with one of those colors before that is a bore fest compared to this experience, where you essentially make the fish tacos of your dreams.

Suadero Taco at Tacos El Güero (San Rafael)

Rule number one of fight club: Aim for tacos outside the gentrified areas, or in this case, areas that refuse to gentrify. Not only you’ll find them at a fraction of the cost, but quite tastier as well. Suadero, sadly rarely seen in NYC, is essentially the beef (brisket) version of Carnitas. Here you’ll find them just fatty enough, crispy, and quite tender. And you’ll most likely be the only tourist, but dont get intimidated. And dont skip on the sick pastor as well.

Chile en Nogada at Angelopolitano

Yet another rarity in the USA, and once you see and taste it you’ll understand why. It looks like a dish typically made once a year on a special holiday, and for some it is in Mexico (Independence Day). But at Angelopolitano, you’ll find it year round, even when pomegranate is not in season. Its a hearty combination of meat, candied and dried fruit stuffed in poblano chile, and topped with walnut cream sauce, and pomegranate. Typically served room temperature.

Pibil Tacos at El Turix

At the glamorous Polanco, you can either dine with ladies who lunch across the street at Maque, or sit on the sidewalk with construction workers at El Turix. We did both, for research of course. And the construction workers got it right. An outstanding Cochinita Pibil wrapped in a deliciouso soft tortilla from this busy hole in the wall. And you may also see many munching on the fine Panuchos (fried tortillas stuffed with beans, topped with shredded chicken)

Lengua Tostada – Amatista Tostadas (Coyoacán)

This is another one of those if you know, you know type place in the foody paradise Coyoacán. Popular with tour guides, other locals, and tourists alike. They dish all sorts of delights like a fine Aztec soup, and fancier Tostadas like Octopus and tuna. But that Lengua Tostada, covered with an intense but pleasant dark 7 chili sauce was the eye opener. A fiesta in your mouth. Try to go when they open or prepare to wait a little, especially if a tour occupies the entire second room.

“Veracruzanos” at La Cocina de mi Mamá (Coyoacán Market)

While most tourists head to the insta-heavy Tostadas Coyoacán, the locals sneak to the back of the market for this literally hidden gem. We had to ask another vendor who was very happy to bring us there, but its probably more fun to find on your own. This dish is exhibit A why Mexicans take their breakfasts very seriously. Tortillas filled with eggs, bathed in bean sauce, chorizo, onions, cheese and peppers. Sensational to say the least.

Taco course at Quintonil

Its hard to pick a dish from a meal full of standouts. Every dish played a role, but perhaps none bigger than the extravagant Taco course. There were charred avocado with Escamoles (insect caviar), smoked cactus salad, Oyster mushrooms, pureed beans from Oaxaca, nutty Crottin cheese, chorizo with oats, and more. It could have been a fine meal in itself, but at Quintonil its just another course.

Lengua Taco at Tacos “El Betin”

I think the term ‘hole in the wall’ was invented here. This was our first stop on a taco crawl in San Rafael. Great pastor, but the Lengua was like a smack in the face. Just about the most delicate, tender Lengua I ever had. Just like other spots in San Rafael, you may find yourself surrounded by locals, or a food tour.

Grandma’s Flan at La Casa de Toño

Come for the hearty pozole, the specialty at this American-like mini chain, but stay for Grandmas Flan. Nothing really out of the ordinary here. Just a solid flan, Caramel freaks like me, crave and enjoy. La Casa de Toño is one of a few good options open Sunday night, popular among locals too. You’ll get a number and wait to be called or displayed on the screen.

Categories: Mexico City | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Foxface Natural – A Star is (re)Born

Long time readers and my East Village food tour (RIP) participants are all too familiar with Foxface, the little sandwich shop that could. It is now Foxface Natural. As in the natural progression from a successful sandwich shop to a full service restaurant in the former Harry and Ida’s space. This first meal was a bitter sweet moment for me, after spending countless hours munching on pastrami at Harry and Ida’s over the years. They did call the cops on me once, but two nights in jail was a very small price to pay.

My first meal, of most likely many, at Foxface Natural was a memorable one. Though there’s one tiny issue with the place I should tell you about first. Its not really open yet. This was a pre-opening hummus and oysters themed event with chef Maoz Alonim of the famed Basta in Tel Aviv. EWZ historians will tell you that I dont normally attend such events, as I’m more of a “see you in about a year” type. But I attended this one, as I’m all too familiar with chef/owner Sivan’s capabilities.

So this is more of a public announcement rather than a lengthy review. What we got was a small preview of things to come. And with Sivan’s range, its anyone’s guess what will be on the menu on day one. Although something tells me the plate of the most distinct tasting pickles I’ve ever seen, and I, will exchange pleasantries in the future.

The old smoker that stayed behind is responsible for most of the hits. A superb lamb shoulder sitting on top of ultra creamy hummus, with a punchy green S’chug (Yemenite hot sauce). I’m more of a red S’chug guy, but good S’chug is good S’chug. Another hit was a slow smoked goat that comes with a soothing spiced yogurt sauce, almonds and mint.

And just because we dont eat nearly enough Feta at home (inside joke), we just had to try the Feta with eggplant, roasted in the new wood fired oven, sitting on a beautiful nettle puree. The lone dessert of Tahini Gelato with pistachios was just the proper finish.

Its a refreshing “mom & pop” debut in an increasingly corporate Manhattan. Old Harry and Ida’s fans will not recognize the new space, about a year in the making. The bar dominates the long room (I forgot to take pictures), and its safe to expect good wine. There will be wonderful smoked meat, glorious fish, but more importantly with Sivan, expect the unexpected.

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

CDMX – If I Can Offer Just Ten Tips

A follow up to “If I Can Offer Just One Tip”. We only spent 4 days, but somehow managed to see, do, and boy oh boy eat plenty. Not only I try to include tips that you wont find on every other list, but some are actually contradictory in a way. This is designed more for first timers. Stay tuned for the obligatory top 10 dishes which will be fairly easy to do in this case even with such a short stay.

Stay in/near Centro

Classic Ziggy fashion, starting with the one where he loses half of the audience. But hear me out. I’m not so much advocating the heart of Centro but the south/west edges, or really in/near Colonia Tabacalera or Juárez. Much of the advice out there is to stay in La Condesa or Roma areas which are some of the most gentrified areas of CDMX. I found them not terribly different than what you find in large US cities. Different but not terribly like the beautiful chaos of Centro during the day. We enjoyed spending most evenings in La Condesa/Roma, and Ubering back to our hotel (10 minutes, cheap). Many of the sites are so spread out, you’ll be Ubering plenty no matter where you stay. But we found the Barceló México Reforma location perfect for us first timers. Walking distance to all the sites in the Centro, the up and coming neighborhoods of San Rafael and Juárez, and close enough to the night scenes of Roma.

Sunday is Fun Day

Its a double-edged sword for foodies. Many restaurants close or close early on Sundays. But this is also a pleasant day to spend in CDMX. The canals and boats of Xochimilco are essentially a one giant party on Sundays. The otherwise crazy busy Reforma is closed to traffic, so a good day to bike the monument filled blvd. You got afternoon dancing at the Alameda de Santa María, and much more. Since most likely you’ll spend less than a week in CDMX, try to have a full Sunday be part of the plan.

Frida Kahlo Museum – Temper expectations

Its a wonderful little museum no doubt. But the commercial and touristy aspect of it is a major turn off. Between buying the timed tickets well in advance, the crowds, standing on line to get in. Want to take photos? That’s another fee. All that planning and hoopla for a crowded 45 minute quicky, without any of the wonderful Frida work on display. If you are a Frida fan, its an obvious must. Otherwise, watch the movie (its great even today) prior to your visit if you go, or skip altogether.

Although Coyoacán in itself is a must

On the other hand, Coyoacán, the location of Frida’s museum is a stunner. You got the fantastic Coyoacán market, the main square surrounding Fuente de los Coyotes, the artisan market of Allende Garden on Sundays, and just wandering around the streets is such a pleasure. And we happened to find some of the best food we’ve had on the trip here (more on that on the next post).

Take Your Probiotics?

I’m not a gastroenterologist and dont even play one on the internet, hence the question mark. This is just something I picked up from another blog. The biggest problem with Mexico City is the chance of getting sick. No matter how careful you’ll be, its always a possibility, and perhaps not a destination for very sensitive stomachs. But we followed the advice of taking Probiotics daily starting a week prior to the trip, and other than minor tummy trouble on the last day before departure, we were fine. Coincidentally, or not, on the day before departure we forgot to take our Probiotics.

Watch your step

Remember when I said the biggest problem is getting sick? I lied. The most dangerous thing in Mexico City might actually be the sidewalks. The city is essentially built on a lake by the Aztecs. The clay the city rests on dries up, collapses and results in broken and uneven sidewalks all over. I had a few close calls, and I imagine its not easy to navigate on a wheelchair. While you marvel at the scene and architecture, its very easy to lose focus.

Dont overlook the smaller museums

CDMX is a museum powerhouse, with world class museums scattered all over the city. So with everyone and their mothers flocking to them, its easy to overlook the smaller, less popular ones like the colorful Museo de Arte Popular, and Museo Mural Diego Rivera. The latter houses a Rivera masterpiece that miraculously survived the great earthquake of 1985 when it was inside a hotel. Pound for pound they can offer a better experience and fun/crowds ratio for people with limited time.

Do the Anthropology Museum, but preferably with a guide

This is more of note to self, but a tip nonetheless. We did not see the museum with a guide, but wished we did. Its an awe-inspiring, world class museum that attracts tourists and locals (including many school trips) alike. Whether you are into anthropology is almost irrelevant in this case. While you’ll admire the design and artifacts, the crowds, and the sheer volume of information is overwhelming and may be best appreciated with a guide.

Take Uber over Taxi

We had a 50% success rate with taxis, and 100% with Uber. Uber is cheap, reliable, and its very hard to get scammed when you agree on the price upfront. On the other hand, taxi scams are unfortunately more common. If you must take a taxi from the airport, at least make sure they dont sell you an oversized car for over $500 pesos. If you only need a sedan, ask for a sedan.

Design your own taco crawl

That’s not to say, dont take a tour. Absolutely take one, but might as well make it something that’s more outside your comfort zone, like the market tour of Eat Like a Local mentioned earlier. But designing a taco crawl in CDMX is fairy easy and fun. Here’s one idea in San Rafael: Lengua and Tripa tacos at El Betin, Suadero and Pastor at El Güero, and El Barrigon with beer at Porcino.

Categories: Mexico City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Quintonil {CDMX}- Where Hyper-modern Meets Tradition

Even the street names of ultramodern Polanco are snobby sounding… Isaac Newton, Galileo, Alejandro Dumas (or Dumbass as per Shashank). Just about all the streets are named after important writers, philosophers, politicians, and food bloggers. Walking around the area is like playing Jeopardy. Who is President Masaryk! Compared to the rest of Mexico City, the Polanco neighborhood feels like a Beverly Hills gated community without the gates.

Its a rather picturesque, unapologetic enclave filled with ladies with big hats who eat avocado toasts at places like “Snob bistro”. Yes, its a real place inside an attractive development, straight out of Coconut Grove. But yet, we counted three yellow boots, locking pricy cars for some reason. Too important to pay their tickets, or too many spare beemers? There’s a video that went viral recently showing a Polanco resident yelling at a parking officer.

Its therefore not a surprise that Pujol, Quintonil and other CDMX elite are in Polanco. Frankly, I “settled” on #9 world ranked Quintonil over #5 Pujol because I fell asleep and missed my Pujol reservation window. I could barely score one at Quintonil. But while Pujol is the more famous, there’s really no consensus in the city on who’s the best.

From the outside, Jorge Vallejo’s, Quintonil, just like so many great ones, like Osteria Francescana, looks unassuming. While inside, the smart decor, and the pampering of a world class spa, sets the ‘we are not in Kansas anymore’ tone. This was a birthday treat, as was the entire food focused trip. And the result was two unforgettable hours.

The fun actually starts when you reserve months in advance. Do I want a main dining room a la carte, the seemingly insect heavy bar tasting menu, or the dining room tasting menu. The latter two require a significant deposit, roughly 5x the a la carte option. But the fine print states that one can simply opt for the dining room tasting menu upon arrival (when booking the dining room), which raises the question, why would anyone pre-order that over the cheaper a la carte. And after the 4th glass of the excellent matching wines, I tried, unsuccessfully, to get to the bottom of it with my new BFF waiter, while Mrs Z kicking me under the table. After the fourth kick, my facial expression changed, and by the look of his, he probably suspected I was having a stroke, or gas.

As for the food (Its about time Ziggy, sheesh), not one dud, and nothing stood out above all. And that’s a good thing in this case. Like a winning team without a star. Every dish complemented the next and previous. A harmonic flow of colors, textures, and umami. What looked like a simple melon salad, was actually an extravagant melon, tomato, horchata, and pumpkin seed concoction. And what looked like a another photogenic concoction, was a tasty riff on the classic Scallop Margarita with a vivid Aguachile, wasabi, and nori.

In between single courses, you even had a chance to play taco master with carefully selected ingredients that filled the table. There was charred avocado with Escamoles (insect caviar). Smoked cactus salad. Salsad oyster mushrooms. Pureed beans from Oaxaca. Nutty Crottin cheese. Chorizo with oats, and more. Add delicious corn tortillas and you got a flavor jammed fest.

Then comes a perfectly cooked Striped Bass with seafood infused basmati and a coconuty sauce. A young goat with chickpeas puree, and herbs, was aromatic and superb. The dishes featured more science than my combined 4 years of college. Its avant-garde alright, but undeniably Mexican.

The scrumptious desserts really complete the experience. All four of them. A Cactus paddle sorbet. A delightful Creme Fraiche with passion fruit and caviar. The stupendous Guava “rocks”, with pink peppercorns, and caramelized white chocolate. And just when you are about to get too full, comes a birthday flan for the ages. One of those meals, and yet another reason to visit this food paradise.

Categories: Mexico City | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Au Cheval – Anatomy of a Burger

When your spouse goes, “I feel like a Burger”, in NYC you might as well take your Ibuprofen 600 right at that moment. Not in 20 minutes, not in an hour, no sense of waiting any longer. Take it, and call in sick the next day. In most cities in the US its a fairly simple request. But here, before you know it, your mind goes berserk with a circus of possibilities. What kind, what kind of place, where? Do you want shake shack, other fast-food, fast-casual, diner, any of the 798 restaurants we know, steakhouse? All offer 50 shades of burger. You can also sub burger with pizza and get the same results.

With that said, this time wasnt as bad as before, and Au Cheval came to mind fairly quickly. A place that opened to much fanfare three years ago. You see, I’m one of those weird food bloggers that can wait years to eat at a popular place. I’m fairly low on the FOMO scale. I have one or two names in my head that stick around for a while until I forget about them or replace them. At the moment the name is Foul Witch. Cant reserve it for the life of me.

Au Cheval in Chicago, IL. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/PLATE

Au Cheval is a Chicago import that’s billed as a diner. I dont know about Chicago, but calling this a diner in NYC is like calling an old school steakhouse, a shoe store. They both sell stuff. To find the place, you may need to play restaurant hide and seek. Even when you find the tiny alley, you still need to look for it. Once you enter, it feels like a hidden speakeasy.

There’s nothing extraordinary about the burger. “Then why are you dedicating an entire post to it, Ziggy?” Another good question Timmy. The answer is, as per above, NYC is blessed with a number of fancy burgers. And this is just a really solid burger. Its more of a sum of its parts situation, as opposed to a particularly noteworthy patty.

Its a regular burger on steroids, especially once you add the suggested fried egg and bacon. The bun is a perfectly soft brioche. Just the kind of softness and sturdiness you want from the supporting role. You get three thick cut, peppery and salty bacon strips that add just enough crispiness and flavor. The egg I usually find is more for aesthetics, but that’s not a negative. You get much of the juiciness from the American Cheese, and the “dijonaise”. All this results in a very satisfying bite for burger lovers, and most likely haters. Hence the long waits early on.

Its not a cheap burger if you opt to include the bacon and egg. Its $22 without, and just north of $30 with. Add the fries which I recommend sharing, and its way past your normal burger with fries price. But thats Manhattan for you these days. As for the rest of the menu, its actually quite interesting. I heard. I havent even glanced at it, but the many reports sound promising. Some, like Eater even claim, the burger is one of the least interesting items. But judging by how many burgers we’ve seen parading the room, good luck trying to order anything else.

Au Cheval
33 Cortlandt Alley (Tribeca)

Au Cheval

Categories: New York City, TriBeCa | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CDMX – If I Can Offer Just One Tip

Mexico City will open your eyes. You might as well forget everything you know about Mexican food and Mexican culture. If you think that tacos mostly come with hard shells, or the Day of the Dead parades have been around for a long time, prepare to be surprised. The latter was actually inspired by a recent James Bond Movie. And the former, Ok, I dont know anyone who eats at Taco Bell regularly, but you get my drift. They are out there.

This city may also change the way you travel. We American city slickers, often lean toward smaller… villages, small towns, country side, places that are total opposite of where we live. Mexico City, the largest Metropolitan in North America, challenges that theory. I’ve been thinking about going back from the moment we left. You get a sense of unfinished business.

I’ve never had so much to write after a short trip. I have many useful tips, even though we just barely scratched the surface. I will offer more tips in no time, but today I will offer just one. I dont want you to think I’m lazy (I most definitely am, but I dont want you to think that), but this tip is a rather important one.

Take the half day Markets and Street Food tour with Eat Like a Local.

“But Ziggy, arent you a guide, or a former guide or something? And so, arent you biased?”. Good question Timmy! It’s true. But I only love to write about experiences I like. There are some tours I took in Europe and the US that I never mentioned here. And being a former guide, and someone who’s been taking tours all over the world, gives you a decent understanding of what a good tour should be.

Simply put, this is an outstanding tour. It’s a little more expensive than other tours in CDMX but you do get what you pay for and then some. Mainly you get the benefit of a limit of 6 guests, which is the lowest I’ve seen outside of private tours. It’s a female only, CDMX born group that focuses on responsible tourism including paying the vendors well. Judging by the smiles and hugs we witnessed, this is not a gimmick.

The focus is on Merced and Jamaica markets with some snacking in Condesa at the beginning and end. What you get is a brilliant array of street food including insects, tacos, fruits, sweets, huitlacoche (corn fungus), incredible corn in a cup, and a life altering green Chorizo taco that did not need any salsa or anything really. About 20 tastings but we never felt too full. Very good pace, and plenty of much needed rests for a drink when needed. With a small group (us and another couple) it was like a local showing us around. You get a better understanding and appreciation of local culture (see first two paragraphs).

Taking food tours anywhere is usually a good idea. In addition to the usual benefits there are the added intangibles like meeting other travelers, and spending time with a local. And so you are often at the mercy of the person you meet, and Panda, our guide (thats her nickname) is just the right kind you want to spend four hours with. They bill their tours for people who hate tours. You wont find too many tours out there that involve subway rides, and such small groups. But this is also for people who love tours.

Categories: Mexico City | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Contramar {CDMX} – The Culinary Gringo Happy Place

How to not look a tourist? A strange question people have been asking since the beginning of time. In NYC my usual answer is walk fast, ditch your family, abduct a dog from the dog park, and ask random strangers if they like comedy. No one will confuse you for being a tourist. You may go to jail but its a tiny price to pay for the privilege of living like a New Yorker.

But the real question I have is what is wrong exactly with looking like a tourist. Is the tourist stigma really that strong in some parts of the world, or is it the fascination of trying to live like a local, and get a taste of local culture. Perhaps a combination of the wants?

Living in a city like NYC, the flip side resonates with me more. Locals should try to look more like tourists. We often take this fascinating city for granted, and spend our time rushing to the next task. We may pass by the same building 300 times without seeing what tourists see. What if we pause, slow down, smell the roses, and play with the squirrels from time to time.

Anywho, if you are a gringo like me, looking like a local is practically impossible in Mexico City. Especially when you are having lunch at the excellent Contramar, surrounded entirely by tourists. As is the case with many such establishments these days in CDMX, gentrification, and the price points of a Contramar price out the vast majority of the local population. Hence, a destination for the food tourist.

Contramar opened in 1998 by Gabriela Cámara, one of the most influential chefs in Mexico. In fact since 2019 she is also the culinary advisor to Mexico’s president. Sort of the Mexican version of Biden’s senior Ice Cream advisor, and Trump’s burger consultants. At some point Gabriela opened Cala in San Francisco, and the two restaurants were the subject of Netflix’s A Tale of Two Kitchens. The pandemic, Cámara’s move back to Mexico for the presidential job, and other factors contributed to the closing of Cala a few years back.

But Contramar continues to shine, partly thanks to their signatures – tuna tostadas, and the “red and green” fish. The latter is called Pescado a la talla on the menu, and it is glorious. Its a butterflied red snapper, cooked with a red chili sauce on one side, and parsley sauce on the other. Unlike other such dishes we’ve had, the fish is sauced prior to cooking. You’ll see it being paraded all over the place, along with a tray of taco accessories. The tacos we made from this fish were addictive to say the least, though I give the nod to the tangier red side.

And as good as the famous buttery, silky smooth tuna tostadas were, the Galician octopus app was equally as outstanding. Galician style octopus is one of my favorite dishes on the planet, and this was a beautiful and delicate version. We also couldnt find much fault with their famous fig tart either. Even though much of the flavor came from the base, not so much the fig. Another looker, like the rest of the dishes.

Cant get reservations? No problem. Just email them. This is not Pujol or Quintenil where reservations are hard to get. Its important to also mention the Margaritas at Contramar set the stage for pedestrian drinks the rest of the trip. The main room is stunning, comfortable, and the service is like a super friendly well oiled machine. Touristy or not, Contramar is in the business of culinary happiness. Go!

Categories: Mexico City | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

This is CDMX

CDMX – Ciudad de México – Mexico City to those not familiar. If you’ve never been to Mexico City city, there’s a decent chance you never heard of it referred as CDMX before. I was in that camp up until six months ago when I decided to make a birthday trip out of it. And now all I can think of is what took me so long, and where in NYC can I get a decent Suadero, or green chorizo taco.

The good news is that I will write in more detail about CDMX soon, especially about the food. The bad news, I scheduled mouth surgery right after the trip (yesterday) so I am out of commission in NYC for a few weeks unless you want me to review Oatmeal. Quaker’s Raisin, Date, Walnut is winning that horse race for now.

But for the time being, I will just tell you, in all my years of travel, I’ve never seen anything like CDMX. The combination of distinctly different neighborhoods, sprawling markets, street food everywhere you turn, jaw dropping monuments, world class museums, is on another level. I expected to see different, and I got that and then some.

It’s incredibly rich culture is best understood via food of course, although there are some interesting boutique museums that help describe in other ways. In addition to the plethora of street food, and I mean plethora, you got a hefty amount of contemporary options including two in the coveted “top 50 restaurants in the world” list. Will tell more soon.

Categories: Mexico City | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Blog at