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

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).

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.

La Condesa Irina Lazaar

This is a little hidden gem in Bogota, Colombia. It took me about 5 visits to Bogota to discover this place, not even my local frieds knew about it and at the time of this writing it doesn’t even show up on Maps or Google Maps if you search for the name, even though it’s been open for 7 years already!!!

This is a lunch spot ONLY. Reservations recommended. Open Mon-Fri from 12 to 3.30 only, the place serves mostly the political crowd of the nearby city hall and offices (the corruption must be adding to the flavor ;-)). It’s closed Saturday and Sunday and it’s nestled inside the old beautiful, historical and slightly sketchy (at night) La Candelaria neighborhood.

American-Mexican owner and chef Edgardo Areizaga is a really sweet guy and a jazz lover, so if you are in a jazz group or on tour there make sure you stop by and bring him a CD! He’s got great food stories and even produced a jazz CD of a local trio that he wanted to support. What a guy!
He mentioned to me he wants to start opening other restaurants and cook less so try to go soon while he’s still there doing the cooking (although he said if he hires other chef they have to be better than him…).

La Condesa Irina Lazaar serves no wine (except for one local brand of Rosé -although you can probably bring your own wine and have them uncork it) but they have beer and other drinks (none of the amazing Colombian juices though). You walk in to a small dining room with about 8-10 tables and one step up, almost staged, is a big open kitchen where you can watch the chef and his two assistants prepare your food.


The restaurant has no menu but when you walk in Edgardo greets you and tells you what’s good that day. When I arrived he said the steak, the pork chops and the salmon were the thing to get today and he told us to sit down at table 7 by the window. A few minutes later he came to the table and said “I’m making you the steak and I’m making you the pork chop and I’ll make you a little sausage starter”… he kinda ready our minds… hmmmm… why argue?


The italian-inspired sausage starter with tomatoes was actually amazing. The steak cooked rare was delicious, juicy and tender. The huge pork chop was a tad dry if you ate it without the marbled fat around it (which I was at first trying to do to be “good” to by body) but when I cut into the fat and ate the meat and the fat together all the flavors and the consistency came there beautifully, with the right amount of juice and meat. Both mains came served with potatoes and a good salad and the appetizer was served on a bed of delicious cooked tomatoes.


The only dessert available was a chocolate cake which was very good, but I don’t think it was made in house…

This is probably too gringo if you are looking for local food but otherwise definitely worth a visit… and if you are a jazz musician especially so!!!

Le Galopin

Relatively new restaurant on the Parisian food scene. Not a lot of tables so a reservation is required. But it can accomodate shall groups of 4-6 people. At €54 for a 7 course fixed menu dinner (plus wine of course), this place is priced very honestly for the quality of the food. The no frill service and the friendly and courteous staff make it a great unpretentious but delicious spot in the heart of Paris.

Mushroom soup with the texture of a miso soup and a surprise of salmon roe at the bottom.

White asparagus with compote gelatine cubes, slices of kiwi, mint and feta cheese.

Perfectly cooked juicy chicken with a great assortment of fresh vegetables.


Rather than coffee (which in France pretty much sucks everywhere) this is a delicious coffee ice cream with kumquat and crunchy sweets.

This place is definitely worth another visit!

Bord 13

I’ve been to Malmö only once and I squeezed in a visit at Bastard restaurant and one at Bord 13. The latter was the clear winner and I would go back in a second! I didnt take a picture of the menu but this was one of the most creative northern cusine restaurants I’ve ever been to and everything was delicious.

They know how to use their fresh and local ingredients and they use whatever is available to them (hence that turd-looking dish which is really a chicken neck!).

Highly recommended!