Nicos

Established in 1957, Nicos is one of the oldest restaurants in Mexico. It is an amazing restaurant nestled between the once working class neighborhoods of San Bernabe, Naval, San Alvaro and Cobre de Mexico. By Mexican standards it is an expensive place and the presentations are certainly of fine dining level but the atmosphere is cozy and very family-style, so none of the uptight pretentiousness that usually come with fine dining experiences.

It is also a family run operation: the mom (Maria Elena Lugo Zermeño) is still around chatting with patrons and greeting guests and the son (Gerardo Vazquez Lugo) is the Chef and took over for his dad, the founder and Chef who died a few years ago. The best time to eat there is lunch (in fact it closes at 7pm every day). According to Google Maps it opens at 1.30 but at 1pm 2-3 tables were already taken and by 2pm it was completely full. So get there early or reserve ahead of time.

Among other distinguishing factors, the Nicos’ family pride themselves on employing and supporting local farmers and families. For example, their Mole is specifically made for them by a family who does just that and when the Chef says that something is “from” a certain region he actually means that he gets that ingredient from that particular region and not that it is originally from there but then produced somewhere else.

I don’t know if anyone who goes there gets the whole “spiel” and gets the attention we received from the Chef. I was in very good company on this day as we went there with the founder of “Gastromotiva” David Hertz and his Mexico City team. If you don’t know Gastromotiva you should check them out online at gastromotiva.org: they are a great non-profit based in Brazil and Mexico who give scholarships to kids from poor families and teaches them to cook and then assists them with job placements in the best restaurants of these cities. …Changing the lives of people through food… We were also joined by David’s friend and professional food journalist Gabriela Renteria (who writes about food for “National Geographic”, “Food and Wine” and other publications) who is incredibly passionate about food in a way that is inspiring to me and who’s been writing about food in a professional way for 20 years, way before food blogs and “schmucks” like me did so 😉 Gabriela was a friend of the Chef and knows all the best restaurants and is very involved in sustainability projects so we definitely got special attention and treatment I must admit.

The first thing you are greeted with is the most amazing salsa making operation. Having guacamole made for you by the side of the table is no novelty, but having salsa made by hand for you is a new level of customization and experience. Our waiter explained all the ingredients and asked us whether we wanted certain ingredients (like onions) and how spicy we wanted it. We had two salsas made, a green and a red one.

Another one of the side dishes is the “Cecina” which looks like chicharron (roasted pig skin) but isn’t. It’s actually salted and air dried beef cut super thin, so it becomes crispy like a paper bag.

And of course there is guacamole also made by the side of the table with the freshest avocados.

To start the meal and cleanse the palate there is a jicama lollipop with spices (jicama is a starchy Mexican root vegetable). It’s like eating a type of radish and it’s refreshing and crunchy.

The first appetizer consisted of these huge blue corn husks that were covered by a fungus that only grows during the rainy season. These husks are grilled and cooked over fire and then cut into small pieces and served with blue corn tortillas so you can make your own little tacos with the ingredients you like.

We proceeded to receive a white fish roll (dorado I believe). The presentation is like a Japanese maki roll but instead of rice there were slices of avocado.

The next dish consisted in a tortilla and a ball of paste made of mole and other ingredients. It is slightly spicy and has the consistency of peanut butter or squashed chestnut pâté. You spread it on your tortilla with the butter knife and eat it with those molasses-like drops you see on the side.

The next dish consisted in an off the menu item that the Chef tested on us. It was sustainably caught shrimp that was specifically trapped with the old school fishing cages, rather than by scraping the bottom of the ocean. It was grilled and served with a green vegetable leaf and a slice of a radish-type vegetable. It was good but nothing to write home about. What’s nice is that the head of the shrimp was also cooked to crispy perfection and served on the side with some habanero mayonese, which means that no part of the shrimp is discarded, something I appreciated very much.

The next course consisted of a sunny side egg served on top of a bed of vegetables and mole.

Since we had asked for a tasting of moles, the next dish consisted of the green mole made out of pumpkin seeds and served with an avocado slice, several other nuts and some greens. It was nice and delicate but not the best mole I’ve ever had.

When we got to the chocolate mole things got elevated! This is the experience I had been waiting for. I’m no mole expert but I would say that along with the one from Casa Merlos this is one of the best I’ve had. It was served with a ring of onion, some queso fresco and some greens. Very good!

At this point we were all very very full and asked for mercy… so we didn’t even look at the dessert menu (something I now regret 😉

The Chef however brought out some palate sweetening treats under a glass bell: one kind that was like a coconut meringue and the other that was like a soft jelly of the same kind that is sold on the street by many ladies.

Being Italian and being an Italian espresso lover, connoisseur and snob, it has been strangely very hard (in fact impossible) to get a good espresso in Mexico but I thought I’d give it a try here and hope for the best. I could tell you it was the best I had in Mexico but it failed the test regardless. The texture was more like Turkish coffee (very grainy) and somewhat bitter in spite of the splash of milk.

I should mention that we’ve been eating for over 3 hours and this whole time the mezcal had been coming and flowing at the table in same or larger quantities than the water. I don’t drink but people seem to really appreciate the quality of the mezcal and allegedly this restaurant is known for their excellent selection of Mezcal.

After lunch the waiter brought out some hot tea with lime and added a splash of rum. He explained that this is called “teporocho” (also the word used to describe a drunk) and that in the old days people would order tea for 8 pesos and ask for a splash of this alcohol for an extra 2 pesos and that this is where the name comes from.

Pictured is the Chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo himself standing to the right of the food journalist Gabriela Renteria.

This was definitely a remarkable meal, and one that lasted 4 hours!!! It’s no wonder the Chef is a keen supporter of the Slow Food movement. So keep that in mind if you plan to visit 🙂

One thing I should mention is that when you walk out of the restaurant, to the right, across the street is the food store “La Nicolasa” which is owned and operated by the restaurant and offers some of the foods and ingredients used to make the dishes for sale. Think of it as a fair trade store with locally sourced ingredients.

On a side note, the fanciest part of the whole restaurant are the bathrooms and this slightly S/M leather and fur chair suspended by chains guarding their entrance corridor seemed so out of context. Not that it matters, we all found it amusing 😉

Check out and book at nicosmexico.mx

C.K. Dezerter

On a recent business trip to Krakow I was looking for a good lunch spot to eat some dumplings and other local specialties and I was recommended this place.

It’s only a block off the main square but that basically keeps it off the tourist map and yet still very conveniently located.

The food and the ambience was great. At lunch only a few tables were occupied so I took the one by the window which allowed for some people watching.

I basically knew I wanted to have dumplings. I think I got a mixed portion and they were delicious.

I also wanted to try some other local specialties and so I got the chicken liver and the herring. Both were very tasty but, in spite of the fact that they were appetizers, the portions were huge so I quickly regretted ordering two things and I ended up not finishing the huge plate of liver.

I would definitely recommend this place for a local no-frills spot away from the tourists. Don’t get me wrong, the menu is in English and Polish, so it’s not like it’s a hidden locals-only spot, but I was the only non-local in there at lunch so it seemed pretty authentic and the prices were very fair as well.

Officine Degli Apuli

Great restaurant of Apulian specialties in the heart of Bologna.

Often times restaurants that offer meat, fish and pizza in the same place are not that great or not that great at all three of them. Not the case here.

I’ve been going back to this place almost every year and the quality is consistent. I’ve been there with just a few people and with large groups of 15-20 people on a busy night and service can sometimes be a bit slow but the food is amazing.

On my last visit we’ve had a mixture of seafood and pizza.

The cold and hot seafood appetizer was beautifully presented and a great balance of flavors and textures. The cold part includes tuna tartare, caramelized red onions, squid with zucchini, baby shrimps in tomatoes:

You can order a real burrata cheese appetizer separately. It comes from Andria (where the best burrata is from) and this was one of the best burratas I’ve had outside of Puglia.

The hot appetizers includes “pepata di cozze” (which are mussels baked with bread crumbs and lemon) and are a specialty of Taranto.

Jumbo shrimps in warm tomatoes sauce:

Squid ink pasta:

Linguine with clams:

Paccheri pasta with Ricciola (yellowtail) and cherry tomatoes:

Octopus on a bed of fava beans purée and chicory:

Pizza “Martinese” with stracciatella cheese and capocollo meat:

Almond Semifreddo dessert:

Pistachio Semifreddo restaurant:

Tosokchon Samgyetang

Get ready for very very very long lines here, unless you time your visit appropriately: but the reward is a healthy and delicious ginseng chicken cooked the traditional way like they do in Korea – in a dense rich broth that bubbles inside a stone pot and with plenty of side dishes too!

This is what the place looks like from the outside:

Granted I visited this establishment near Gyeongbokgung Palace on Xmas day, I got there JUST in time before a tour bus pulled up and dropped off 50 Koreans that stood in line for an hour braving the bitter cold. But don’t let the tour bus fool you. It’s not a tourist trap, it’s just a very old place that has gained a great reputation and therefore ended up on some must-go-place list in Korea.

Here’s what the line looked like when I walked out after my meal:

The inside of the restaurant presents itself like this (see pic below), and you can choose between regular height tables and chairs or traditional short tables where you sit on the floor cross legged.

In the middle of the atrium there is a HUGE pot of shredded Ginseng root that burns and gives the whole restaurant the right smell.

And then of course there are the chickens. The menu only has two types: the regular white chicken or the more expensive and rare black chicken. All chickens are the small Cornish Hen variety and every order gets you a full one in your personal pot, but they are much much smaller than the chickens you might be used to so fear not: You can do it!

There’s only 4 dishes to choose from and they start at 16000 won (about $15) and go to almost double that, in the following order: white chicken (see picture below), white chicken with extra ginseng dried roots to sprinkle, black chicken and black chicken with extra ginseng dried roots to sprinkle (see next picture).

The extra ginseng root you receive to sprinkle on your dish looks like this (it’s small but makes a sizeable difference in the price):

Along with your meal you get tea (of course!) as well as a shot of ginseng liquor. If you like it you can buy a whole bottle in a gift bag for less than $10 when you leave.

Here are some of the side dishes you get. All you can eat Kimchi of course!

The menu is small, only 2 pages, with a brief history, explanation of how to eat it (in Korean and English) and the four options available (plus some side dishes).

On the way out admire the huge ginseng roots on display and the liquor bottles they make (and sell).

Definitely worth a visit if you are in the mood for a healthy chicken soup. Can’t beat it if you feel under the weather or if it’s cold. Prob wouldn’t wanna do it on a hot summer day. Definitely make sure to go early for lunch, like 11-11.30 or so, before it gets crazy busy!

Mushroom

Mushroom is an amazing food experience if you love… you guessed it, mushrooms!

Basically this Moscow restaurant (5-10 min from Gorki Park) makes almost every single dish (including desserts!) using some type of mushroom. That alone is so unique that it’s worth a visit!

If I had to categorize it (which I did have to) I would say it’s fusion-italian-french, simply because there are lots of pasta dishes, some pizzas and a whole truffle menu (including a season set with black and white truffles).

The quality of the food is great and the decor and atmosphere are very nice too so if you want something cool, original and different for a change you should by all means visit. You won’t be disappointed!

I usually don’t post multiple menu pages but since I find this so interesting I decided I would so that you can see the variety and creativity that goes into cooking everything with one (family) of ingredients.

Here’s the main room with open-kitchen and wood-fired brick pizza oven in view next to the bar.

Okay I failed miserably by starting with a dish that had no mushrooms in it, but tuna tartare is one of my weaknesses so I had to indulge. Exquisite.

Another weakness of mine is pizza and although I wasn’t going to, the smart waiter totally upsold me… What was I thinking ordering pizza in Russia??? I don’t know! This one is definitely disappointing by any Italian standards (the crust just was not right, way too crispy, more like flatbread) but the porcini mushroom and ricotta toppings were quite delicious and since we ordered it as an appetizer it was a good little forest into the mushroom world.

Bruschetta with salted milk mushrooms sour cream and horseradish was much more along the lines of what I should have ordered (and so should you!).

Timber mushrooms with crispy eggplants and tomatoes was ok but not incredible.

This wild mushroom cream soup was absolutely amazing! A must!!!

Tagliolini with porcini and truffle sauce also kept the standard very high. Creamy, buttery and delicious. Borderline French I’d say…

The truffle honey cake was as decadent as it sounds.

These two little truffle chocolate balls were offered to us as a complementary treat with tea and coffee and were as good as most European chocolate is.

This would not be my choice italian restaurant (although I wouldn’t go and eat Italian in Russia to begin with!) but the novelty of a single-ingredient-focused menu got my attention and curiosity and the meal was all in all very enjoyable and tasty.

This restaurant is part of the more popular (and upscale) “White Rabbit” restaurant.

If you are a high roller and feel like splurging the white set menu with 5g of white truffle will cost you about 5-6 times more than the average entree while the black truffle (also 5g) about 3-4 times. If you don’t want the set you can also order truffle as an appetizer by the gram (95 Rubles for black and 270 Rubles for white).

Amaya

Amaya is one of the new restaurants in Mexico City and it’s in one of these neighborhoods that used to be sketchy but are becoming more popular and, shall we say, hipsterish. In fact it’s right across the street from the Parker Lenox jazz club / night club.

Their menu changes daily and they have a large wine list that includes wines from the no-sulphate movement and they also sell wine in case you try something you like.

On my visit our party tried 5-6 different things and everything was delicious.

Tostada de Ceviche. Delicious.

Salad with eggplant hummus. Very delicate.

Aguachile. Like a ceviche in small cold soup. Delicious.

Grilled octopus on a bed of artichoke purée. Super tender.

Chirimoya pannacotta with mandarin sorbet and persimmon. Exquisite.

El Califa

When famous Pujol chef Enrique Olvera craves some tacos he goes to Taqueria El Califa! That says it all! This is my tacos place of choice, in Mexico City and in the world! I come here every time I am in Mexico! There are 10 locations across the city, they deliver until 4am and they are open until 4am so you really have no excuses to miss it. This is the perfect late night joint (I’ve been there for lunch at noon and was the only one and I’ve been there for dinner at 2am and it was packed!) and on top of it all it is super affordable like most things in Mexico!

The presentation is often underwhelming but the flavors are all there!

Things not to miss are the tacos al pastor (with pineapple of course), the queso fundido (with Rajas or with mushrooms), the Chicarrón de queso (to be eaten with the onions and cilantro side you get), the Gaona taco, the Rib-Eye taco and so much more. They also have very good Horchata drinks and fresh juices like orange with chia seeds…

Here’s what I had for my lonesome noon lunch today:

Meauxbar

After working with U2 in New Orleans my crew and I definitely needed a well deserved meal to celebrate and although there was no time to hit the usual restaurants everyone knows about, we decided to try something that got good reviews and was on the way to the airport.

Meauxbar is sort of a farm to table bistro with some very interesting dishes. Nothing fancy but good food and nice atmosphere in which executive chef John Bel and his team provide sober renditions of inventive dishes that are a joy for the palate and are easy on the eyes and the body.

I’m a lover and a connoisseur of burrata and I have had some incredible ones in Southern Italy (where burrata IS from), some really bad frozen ones in Italian restaurants around the US, some decent ones from stores, farmers and restaurants. Well let me tell you, this burrata was one of the best ones I’ve ever had in the US! I don’t know how they do it but I asked the waiter and he said it was not imported from Italy but made by a nearby Louisiana cheese maker which really surprised me. Served on a bed of summer squash, sunflower seeds and peaches vinaigrette, honestly this burrata was so authentic tasting that it might as well have been served on a bed of rocks and it would have been delicious anyway!

Would have been a shame to be there and not have some gulf products so we tried the special of the day (scallops on a bed of kale and rice) and the Gulf Fish courtbouillon, both very good.

The $35 pre fix lunch came with a dessert and I had the fennel mousse which was truly exquisite as well!!

Cosme

I started taking pictures for this food blog idea years ago and the first restaurant I did it at was Pujol, in Mexico City.

The same famed Pujol chef Enrique Olvera then opened Cosme in New York and so I had to try it and in doing so I feel like I have almost come full circle, in a way 😉

Cosme is a much more lively, sceney place than Pujol (which is classier, quieter, more dimly lit, more elegant and with an older crowd, at least the night I visited). It’s in the Flatiron District and you can sit at the tables in the back, at the bar in the front or in the lounge chairs of the entrance/foyer area, the menu is the same, the attitude and surrounding company changes a lot.

We tried mostly seafood appetizers. The scallops were good but the radish, but the giant jicama (yam bean root) shavings it came with were a bit overwhelming, especially visually, as they covered everything. The Uni tostada with bone marrow salsa was really good and, most notably, the Fluke with ants and sesame were the absolute winner!

The octopus memela with black beans, salsa verde and queso fresco was great as a dish but would have not been as remarkable without the bed or flavors around the tentacles.

Considering this should be THE Mexican spot in NY I expected a lot more from the herb guacamole, which was underwhelming and a bit bland.

The corn tempura softshell crab with shishito mole and tomatoes was probably the best entrée (and by that I mean main course… another misappropriated and misused word of the new English language).

Eins Unter Null

What sounds like Rammstein song title is instead the name of an exquisite new restaurant in Berlin, in fact, probably one of the best new restaurants in Berlin. Smack down in the middle of Berlin's Mitte, EinsUnterNull already received their first Michelin star so I'd recommend going while you still can get in.

Given the city's affordability one can still enjoy an inventive, adventurous, multi-course luxurious lunch or dinner for half of what this meal would cost in NYC, for example.

The 5 course lunch menu was only 45 Euros and there is also a 3 course option for 29 and a 4 course for 37.
Dinner is much more expensive and starts at 82 Euros.

Eins Unter Null means "One Below Zero", and that's because their main dining hall is in the basement. However I went for lunch and the downstairs was closed so I was seated on the ground floor with sunlight and a view of the street.

The style of the restaurant and the kitchen is very modern and minimalistic, lots of wood (tables, chairs and even some utensils) almost Dutch or Nordic I would say.

The kitchen is in full view but behind a wall of glass so you can observe without being bothered by the noise. The place is actually very quiet. The staff is obviously very nice but very knowledgeable. Ask for the Italian hostess/waitress Martina who is also an accomplished musician and works here because when she ate there "the place blew her mind", she said!

The food was incredible indeed and the menu is so interesting.

The absolute winner for me was the so called "Mushroom Bread with onion blossoms and linseed oil", basically a layer of super thinly sliced mushrooms that smell so fresh you can imagine the moss and the trees. But the rest of the menu was as imaginative as it was delicate as it was tasty.

Even the desserts were delicious, from the crumbly one to the beet root chocolate cookies.

This place will be the first restaurant I go to when I return to Berlin.