Friday, August 22, 2014

Around The World In Three Days (in Mexico City) 3

Jing Teng: Free parking!
Dim Sum Madness: Jing Teng

It had been scarcely 3 weeks since we had eaten dim sum at Chef Jon's in Whippany, NJ. But there we were, hurtling along in a taxi on Viaducto in Mexico City, to our destination in Colonia Viaducto Piedad, to the latest dim sum magnet for dim sum mad foodies.

Mexico, and even Mexico City, has not been known for good, authentic Chinese restaurants. Our previous favorite so far was Mojing, in Centro, where we ate twice before. But Mexico Cooks! wrote that the restaurant had again changed hands and the food was now dreadful (I'm paraphrasing here.)

I think first read of Jing Teng on Nick Gilman's Good Food In Mexico City blog. There was a glowing review recently on Mexico Cooks!. I think that David Lida, who was a pioneer in el DF in finding the nearby Ka Won Seng Chinese restaurant, may have also mentioned Jing Teng. We are but happy followers of these pioneering bloggers.

On arrival, we stepped inside to a surprising scene. The joint was jammed. Even more surprising, there at the second table inside was Mexico Cooks!, her wife and a friend.  Hurried greetings were exchanged, and we hastened to the dim sum steamer bar.

We'd read that the dim sum was served from bamboo steamers on a centrally located steam table. The young and cheerful waitress, the only Spanish speaking staff member, helped us select choice morsels. The dim sum are served by the steamer tray. It's a real adventure, because we were not always sure of what were were getting. But I did recognize and asked for Hau Kau (steamed shrimp dumplings), Pork and Sweet Potato (?) dumplings, and Steamed Buns with Pork filling.

Assorted dim sum
The scene was hectic, swirling with customers and staff, but we did all right for the most part. Sra. Cuevas selected a steamer tray with two large "tamales" filled with glutinous rice, chicken (?) and other morsels, wrapped in lotus leaves. I found these to be too heavy and too much.

Lotus leaf glutinous rice "tamales"

We were asked permission whether two newcomers could sit at our table. We were but three, and the table was made for six. Of course!

The newcomers were Españoles living in Mexico City for many years, and our conversation covered many topics. We shared dim sum. One item was a Steamed Butter Bun, which I did not like at all. It has a bright, egg yolk colored, slightly runny filling, and far to much artificial vanilla. But no matter, there were far more items from which to choose. I regret that I didn't get to the tripe, prepared in at least two ways.

Our Spanish companions ordered a large, family size bowl of congee (rice gruel, a distant cousin to atole, but far more interesting, in my opinion.) The congee had bits of pork, perhaps chicken, egg drops and shrimp. It also had rice vermicelli, something I'd never seen nor heard of before. Our Spanish companions gave me a small bowlful. I could have eaten more. It's on my list for my next visit.

Another odd item were steamed buns of a particularly silicon like texture, with a purple spiral that swirled through the entire bun. The Mexican waitress told us that they were camote buns, although Mexico Cooks! told us that they were really zarzamora. The filling was a starchy, lightly violet color. Could it have been taro?

Mysterious buns

Coconut Taro Rolls (Not from Jing Teng)
We ordered a vegetable dish with the help of the Spanish speaking waitress. It was long, green and coarse, in a light, soy sauce broth. It was somewhat disappointing; not much flavor, and stringy.

Unfortunately, we had chosen our dim sum in haste, so we were filled before we could fully satisfy our dim sum madness. ¡Lástima! There was no room left for dan tot, or tiny custard tarts, nor other desserts.

We asked for the check, and the total was pleasant. This interestingly varied and delicious meal for three cost only $375 pesos. The tea was free.


Food: ****

Service: *** The cheerful waitress keeps up as best she can, but expect to participate in your own service.

Cost: $$ Very inexpensive.

Ambience: It's as if they moved in and put in some tables and chairs, but forgot to hire a restaurant dining room designer. Just deal with it.

Definitely want to return.

Location: Sur 65-A 3256, Viaducto Piedad, 08200 Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal, Mexico ‎
+52 55 5440 2732 ‎

(Shows up on Google Maps as "Shiun Chang" and also "JING TENG GONG SHI CHA CAN TING"

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Around The World In Three Days (in Mexico City) 2

Restaurante Lvsitano is a cute and cozy, informal little place, with friendly staff. There's a general feeling of good cheer

We'd been reading a lot on various food blogs of LVSITANO (the "v" is pronounced as a "u".)

It's at near the west end of Calle Guanajuato, in Colonia Roma Norte, about half a block from Avenida Insurgentes (Mexico City's Amazon River of an avenue.)

Although I'd made a reservation, it was unnecessary as the restaurant was depopulated when we arrived at 4:00 on a Saturday. A couple of hours later, it was packed.

I'd only a fleeting acquaintance with Portuguese cuisine a few years ago, at the Sol Mar Restaurant in Tarrytown, NY, but that's more Brazilian than Peninsular Portuguese.

Once seated, we were brought a basket of very good, crusty bread, a dish of tangy green olives, and a little crock of o.k. tuna paté.

We ordered drinks: a cerveza, a limonada and a large Gin and Tonic for me.

Appetizers are prominently featured and we chose Sardinhas Fritas (good), a little chicken pot pie thing, and shrimp croquettes, small, and with too more dough than shrimp.

Sra. Cuevas wanted pulpos (octopus) for her main course, but they were out. I steered her to a Pork with Clams Alentejena dish. It was passable, but monotonous.

Jennifer had a big loin of cod "Narciso". I don't know what that entails. I must ask her. (Looks like a heap of onions atop a piece of cod.)

Bacalau "Narciso"
That's all, folks! One fig, cut in two.

This time, we skipped dessert, (expensive!!) and two of us had coffee.

I might go there again, but order differently. They were doing a very impressive Pescado a la Sal, ($600 pesos) and an appetizer which caught my eye: a fat chorizo, grilled over a pottery dish.


Food: ***1/2
Service: ***  (There was a screwup at one point, when we were brought main courses which were obviously ones we hadn't ordered. We firmly rejected them and soon the correct ones arrived.)

Cost: $$$+

Ambience: Cozy and informal.

Hall to the baños
 Location and contacts.

Guanajuato 239 Local B Roma Norte (entre Insurgentes y Monterrey)
Tel: 55 6383 0464

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Around The World In Three Days (in Mexico City) 1

In Three Parts.

We just got back from visiting family in New Jersey. As is our custom, we dedicated a few days in Mexico City for decompression and gourmandizing. This time, we had the pleasure of the company of Jennifer Rose.

Since we can eat Mexican food all the time in our home territory of Michoacán, our restaurant meals, with the exception of a few odd ones in the Hotel Stanza's Wings restaurant (a sort of Mexican Denny's), were all International/ethnic cuisine.

(Since I was using an iPad for the first time to take photos, the results were not often the best. I'll provide links to the photos taher than dispalying them here. (OH! The shame!).

Our first stop, on Friday evening, was El Jamil, a long established Lebanese restaurant in the Hipódromo-Condesa Colonias. It's on Avenida Amsterdam # 306  at the corner of Calle Celaya.


The genial co-owner host spoke English, and was helpful in explaining some of the dishes to us. But, not being total noobs, we were already familiar with most.

Appetizers, or mezze play a big role in Middle Eastern meals. We had Hummus with meat, roasted eggplant with tomatoes,and jocoque with garlic. All three had bold, tart flavors.

My companions split an expensive bottle of Lebanese red wine. I abstained, but for a sip. Instead, I requested mint tea, which was very nice, made with whole mint leaves, not teabags.

We ordered only two main dishes. Sra. Cuevas had Cilantro Shrimp, which were very nice, although few in number.

Jennifer and I split an order of Roasted Lamb Ribs, which are sort of baby lamb chops. They were cooked nicely, but some had very chewy edges.

For dessert, Jennifer had Baklava, in the form of cylindrical cigarette tubes. They tasted much better than they looked.

I got a spectacular and delicious Fideos Con Natas. It has a base of crisply golden fried vermicelli noodles, a modest amount of sweet syrup, and heaped with a cloud of soft milk curds.

We quite enjoyed our meal, but our evening was marred when we requested that they call a taxi. That was duly done, but what appeared was a luxury SUV, totally in excess of our modest needs, and an exorbitant rate of $150 pesos to carry us to our hotel. We refused and got out.

The situation further deteriorated when the waitstaff refused to call the number of another taxi service whose card I had. We had a long, long wait to grab a roving taxi.

Food: ****

Service: * Several points off for the taxi caper!

Cost: $$$$$+ Very expensive. With care and vigilance, could be somewhat less.

Ambience: Informal, casual. A bit drab. Outside terraza available.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Costanera Montclair, NJ

Every year we meet our niece and her husband for dinner at some mutually agreeable place between their home in Connecticut and my Mom's house in New Jersey. For three consecutive years, we met in the Tarrytown-Irvington, NY area. This year, niece and husband were attending a family function in Maryland, so it was convenient for them to join us in Montclair, NJ.

We always spend a lot of enjoyable time in researching different restaurants. This year we agreed on Costanera.

We had a reservation for 1:00 p.m. but we all arrived early, the restaurant was nearly empty just after 12 noon. Costanera is a BYO wine restaurant, and we were well supplied. We brought one bottle of California Cab Sauv, Carnivor vineyards; a bottle of Galician Albariño, and a bottle of Portuguese Albarinho.

Our waiter was a fun sort of guy, good at advising us as to the options. One of our favorite parts of a restaurant meal is choosing and eating appetizers. We started with these crisp peanut, corn nuts and banana chip nibbles along with a zippy, creamy jalapeño based dipping sauce. (This was the spiciest thing in our meal.)

Our niece started with some delicate, tiny but pricey clams on the half shell.

Her husband got these fried Yuquita sticks, accompanied by a cold Huancaina cheese sauce. (sorry, but it looked like liquid nacho cheese sauce to me. The yuca part was pretty good.)

Sra. Cuevas made a good choice in ordering this magnificent Chupe de Camarones, a colorful shrimp soup enriched with a lightly poached egg and cubes of queso fresco. This could have made a light meal by itself.

She also ordered Tacu Tacu a fried mash of rice and canary beans. I tried to dissuade her from ordering it, but she did, and it was pretty tasty, but overpriced at $6, IMO.

I had been dreaming of a starter of assorted cold raw shellfish, but the kitchen was out of oysters. Just as well, as I might have been let down by the mini clam component. So I fell back to my second choice, ceviche mixto. The Peruvian style of ceviche includes choclo or giant corn kernels (something like, but different than maíz pozolero), and a hunk of sweet potato. The dish was notably less acidic and hardly picante compared to Mexican seviche, despite the presence of ají amarillo in the marinade. It was light and fresh and enjoyable.

On to los platos fuertes: the women decided to share a filleted broiled branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass. It was simple, pure and honest. It was accompanied by a finely chopped relish of red onion in a citric juice.

Our nephew selected Seco Norteño, or braised shank of lamb. The serving was a suitable meal for Alley Oop, and came with roasted potatoes and canary beans.

I almost forgot to include what I ate: Pescado a Lo Macho, which despite its name, was a delicate fillet of white fish (dare I use the word, "Tilapia"?), garnished with assorted seafood, in a light aji amarillo  sauce.

Despite our near satiation, we succumbed to the lure of the dessert menu. To our disappointment, the kitchen was out of lucuma ice cream. Niece instead had Pastel de Tres Leches (which we inevitably have at every Mexican birthday party), nephew had Crema Volteada, a dense flan, and I had a warm Combinado Clásico, a homestyle dessert of arroz con leche and a fruity, purple gel, all served in the same dish.

Pastel de Tres Leches
Crema Volteada (Flan)
Combinado Clásico
Three of us shared a large French press pot of pretty good coffee, one of the better deals on the otherwise rather pricey beverage menu.

We all had an excellent time. There were only a few duds, the clunkiest of which were tostones, large, chewy, almost flavorless disks of fried platano macho. These should be avoided.


Food: ****

Service: *****

Ambience: Woodmen of the World Lodge

Cost: Some nice lunch specials are offered everyday, at reasonable prices. Lunch Menu here.
But to explore the greater depths and farther reaches of the cuisine, we ordered from the more costly dinner menu.

So, for our meal for four, you may view the check here.

Contacts and Location

Costanera Restaurant
Tel: (973) 337-8289
511 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair NJ 07042

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mock Duck, Lions' Heads and Xiao Long Bao

Ever since my Aunt Norma took me to the Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan's Chinatown many years ago, I have been a fan of dim sum. Dim sum encompass an endless variety of Chinese noshes or antojitos.

Our last, great dim sum restaurant meal was at Sunny Shanghai, in San Bruno, CA, back in 2011. Alas, it has since closed. Many future dim sum delights will be measured against that experience.

New possibilities appeared during my culinary investigations while planning a visit to northern New Jersey.
I found Chef Jon's Authentic Chinese Restaurant in a suburban shopping center in Whippany, NJ.

The dim sum menu is offered only on weekends, from 11 to 3, so we made haste to arrive at a little before noon on Saturday. The dining room was still quiet when we arrived and we were warmly welcomed by the youthful wait staff.

We settled down with the several menus, but I found the most useful was the web site menu, read on my iPad. Luckily, the restaurant featured wifi.

We started with Salty Soy Milk Soup. Our waiter tried to guide us to the sweet version, but ever since our first taste, in the now closed Foo Loo Soo Restaurant, in Campbell, CA, we preferred the "Salty" version. It had mysterious but tasty chunks in it as well as preserved mustard (?) greens. I think that the chunks were pieces of yu tiao, a sort of Chinese unsweetened cruller vaguely similar to a churro.

Salty Soybean Milk Soup
At the same time, we had Scallion and Beef Pancake, a variety of our old favorite Scallion Pancake. This embellished version was o.k. but too heavy and with too much Hoisin Sauce.

Scallion and Beef Pancake
We then moved on to the centerpiece of our meal: the Xiao Long Bao, hence "XLB". XLB are the famous Shanghai soup dumplings. Our waiter demonstrated the correct technique to eat them.

Pork XLB
The dumpling is carefully picked up with chopsticks and placed in a Chinese soup spoon. You then bite a small hole in the side of the dumpling and slurp out the savory juices. You can then season it with a vinegar-soy sauce mixture and shreds of fresh ginger.

XLB Demo
XLB dipping sauce
The XLB were very good, despite the somewhat heavy dough. The crab version was not worth the extra money as there was only a minuscule trace of crab present.

During the next pause, I studied the hot and spicy specials poster, written in in Chinese, without a clue but for the help of our waiter. These are posted separately because as a Shanghai restaurant, the main menu does not have Sichuanese and Hunanese dishes.

Sra. Cuevas was taken with the idea of Vegetarian (Mock) Duck, and ordered it despite my insightful counsel. I chose Red Cooked Meatballs, which turned out to be the famed Lions' Heads.

There was a disparity between the image of the Vegetarian Duck as depicted on the Chef Jon's web site and the reality.

Web Mock Duck
Real Mock Duck
The Vegetarian Duck was chewy and mildly flavored, with thinly sliced mushrooms inside. I wasn't fond of it, but la Sra. enjoyed it, and what she couldn't finish immediately, she demolished the remainder that evening at the house.

The Lions' Heads consisted of three, large meatballs in a luscious gravy, flanked by baby bok choy. (I wished there had been more bok choy.) The pork meatballs themselves were light and unbelievably tender. We ate about half and took the rest home.

The Missing Photo appears!

Lions' Heads Meatballs
We enjoyed our meal and although some dishes were better than others, which is to be expected.

The final check was remarkably modest. The total was $43 USD, plus a tip.


Food: ***1/2

Service: ***** Very helpful and attentive waiters.

Ambience: Standard, pleasant Chinese suburban restaurant; booths and tables.

Cost: $$ Bargain!

Restroom (men's): Clean but needed tidying.

Parking: free, close by and lots of it.

Chef Jon's Authentic Chinese Cuisine
831 State Route 10 East, Whippany, NJ 07981
Tel: (973) 585 6258

Monday – Thursday:11:30 am – 9:30 pm
Friday – Saturday:11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Sunday:11:30 am – 9:00 pm
Reservation Highly Recommended.
Welcome to B.Y.O.B.
We Accept All Major Credit Cards.

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Centro Castellano, Colonia Centro, Mexico City

Back in the '90s, during our first visits to Mexico City, we discovered the pleasures of dining at the Centro Castellano restaurant, on Calle República de Uruguay. The CC serves the old school variety of Spanish food, in an atmosphere to match. There are at least three dining rooms on the ground floor, all decorated in a lavish taberna Española style.

Horno de leña
Tile mural near kitchen door
Back in those days, a couple could dine lavishly, even excessively, on the rich specialties of the restaurant for a modest sum. I have a somewhat hazy memory of an early meal there costing about $350 pesos. Now, it is somewhat more costly.

In the afternoons, the restaurant offers a complete Menú del Día for $200. We prefer to order a la carte, based on an earlier experience of lackluster menues.

About two weeks ago, we walked from our hotel to the crowded street where the restaurant is located. (I must note that another famous, Old School Restaurant, this of Basque influence, is very close by: El Danubio. Although both are ostensibly Iberian, the two could not be more different.)

We were warmly greeted and seated near the kitchen door. We had at least two, helpful waiters.

Mario. A captain of the dining room.
One of them motioned to me to come into the kitchen to look it over and to meet the chef and his team. I could hardly believe this. I was welcome to bring my camera, but the kitchen staff plied me with so many delicacies that I had scarcely time to photograph them.

Don Cuevas in the kitchen. Chef on the right.

When we were seated at our table once again, things proceeded less well. I ordered an appetizer from the suggestions menu; Pimientos Piquillos Relleno de Cangrejo. The presentation was gauche and the crab salad filling undistinguished. But not bad.

Pimientos Piquillos Relleno de Cangrejo
Señora Cuevas had Setas al Ajillo, a generous portion of bracket mushrooms, infused with garlic and olive oil.

Setas al Ajillo

We spent some time choosing our platos fuertes. Lamb was represented on the menu in two ways: lechal or chuletitas de cordero. When we asked about the difference, we were told that lechal was very young, milk fed lamb, sacrificed at two weeks old! I was too softhearted to order this. So, I asked for chuletitas de cordero, or baby lamb chops.

Doña Cuevas wanted fish, and I recommended Huachinango Deshuesado a Las Brasas, a whole filet baked with parsley and garlic. But due to user error, she asked for an elaborate version, covered in mariscos. I was very surprised to see this when it arrived, and when we expressed some doubt, our waiter brought a menu so we could confirm it. Sra. Cuevas accepted it. The presence of surimi (two ways: fake crab and fake anguillas) among the mariscos was not a crowd pleaser. Neither were the well cooked vegetables

Filete de Huauchinango covered in mariscos
My baby lamb chops were good and especially abundant although cooked a degree more done than I prefer. The Papas Francesas were not very hot. Presentation: what you see is what you get.

Although the food was okay, neither of us was able to finish our mains, and as we were traveling, para llevar was not a viable option.

Of course, we had no room for dessert, but I did have a good café express.


Food: ***1/2

Service: *****

Cost, in 100s of pesos, per person: $$$$$

Ambience: Spanish Taverna

Key words: Huge portions

En fin: Very nice experience, but the food needs work.

República de Uruguay 16, Col.Centro
5518-2937 / 5518-6080

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hotel Fornos Mexico City

Hotel Fornos front entrance. Photo from hotel website

The Hotel Fornos is on Calle Revillagigedo, near Calle Márquez Sterling, a long block north of Arcos de Belén, in the non-historic part of Mexico City Centro. It's not very far from the Ciudadela and the Hotel Pal, where we had stayed several times. It's also close to the foodie mecca of Mercado San Juan and surroundings. Metro and MetroBus: Balderas.

From its website, it looks quite nice, with a touch of elegance, even, and the prices are very reasonable.

We stayed at the Hotel Fornos recently. The hotel seems very well maintained and has some aesthetic styling, particularly in the retro-Thirties lobby. ("Retro" may be the wrong word, as the lobby and main part of the hotel dates from the Thirties.)

Hotel Fornos lobby: scene for a '30s musical

Although we had phoned in a reservation for a King room, at $340 pesos; when we arrived, I noticed that a king jacuzzi room was available for $540 pesos. I went up to the third floor at the back of the hotel, looked it over and liked what I saw.

The view from the bedroom window was a scene of Industrial Chic.

I LIKED this view!
The room was ample, with the basic bathroom on one side of the foyer and a space set aside for a capacious jacuzzi tub on the other. There was a simple but more than adequate closet, with, of all things, many wire hangers. There were two pairs of plastic flip flops sealed in plastic bags. But those were not very useful.
There was a long dressing table with mirror, but no drawers! The lack of drawers was not a problem for a short stay, but would be inconvenient for longer stays.

The jacuzzi was warm and soothing. The bathroom proper was of the old style 3 in one type. Be sure to put the toilet roll aside before you shower.

A wooden sliding door separated the entrance/bathing area from the bedroom. The bedroom looked out over the buildings next door. Ventilation was adequate, but there was no fan.

The whole place was sparkling clean.

We would have had a restful night were it not for some noisy other guests, who carried on loud conversations into the early morning hours. No blame to the hotel.

We had requested a wake up call, but it never came. Luckily, I awakened naturally, in plenty of time to pack and get the taxi* to the airport. It was before dawn, and I noted that the street was well lighted in the vicinity of the hotel.

*Taximex provided swift, efficient service and the fare to the airport was just over $100 pesos.

I conclude that the Hotel Fornos is an agreeable place to stay, but mostly useful to me if I were wanting to do a lot of shopping at the Mercado San Juan area, only a few blocks away. For most of our visits to Mexico City, we'll stay at the Hotel Embassy. The neighborhood there is of greater interest to me. (Mainly a more attractive environment, and many more restaurants close by.)

Hotel Fornos
Calle Revillagigedo 92
Colonia Centro,
México, D.F.
Tel: (55) 55104732

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