Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Review: La Casa Que Canta's Restaurant, Zihuatanejo

Ah.......Zihuatanejo. I can see why Andy wanted to end up there after escaping from Shawshank Prison and encouraged his friend Red to do the same. I'm so glad they did.

First of all, it's friggin gorgeous. Blue skies, blue water, green palm trees and wonderful people. What's not to like? After three busy days in Mexico City, it was so nice to escape the hustle and bustle of such a big (and polluted- whoa. I'd never, EVER seen such a thick blanket of dark brown smog in my life than when our plane left Mexico City....eek) city.

My second post will be a roundup of all the things we saw and ate, but I do have to devote one post to the best meal we had in Zihuatanejo. La Casa Que Canta is a world-renowned, world-class resort hotel and has been named one the world's BEST hotels numerous times by various travel publications. It was made even more famous by Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan's little vacay in the movie When A Man Loves A Woman. While planning our trip, I toyed with the idea of staying there until I saw that three nights at La Casa cost as much as a brand new Maserati. Well, ok maybe not that much but you get the idea. We ended up staying at the hotel right next door which was honestly just fantastic- we'll be staying there during any future trips to Zihuatanejo (but more on that in the next post!). Anyway, since we didn't stay at La Casa, we figured we'd just eat there. When we asked our concierge to make us a reservation, he mentioned that they have a strict dress code- no flip flops, no shorts, no t-shirts and "casual elegance." Um, what? It's Zihuatanejo, for cryin' out loud! You have to wear SOCKS? We asked another hotel employee and he said the same thing, so we gave up. I mean, I had brought a couple of casual beach dresses I could dress up with some jewelry, but J had nothing but shorts and one pair of jeans, which were also apparently off limits. Oh well.

We started the walk down the hill in search of a place to have dinner and was walking past La Casa when J said, "Let's just go in and see what they say- maybe our hotel guys don't want us to go to the competition!" So we walked in- he in the supposedly-offending shorts and t-shirt get-up, and I in some linen cargo pants and a white tank top. The minute we got inside of the beautiful restaurant, I knew we had to eat there. It was totally empty and the hostess definitely gave J the once over, but she was friendly and sat us immediately. YAY! Maybe because it was the off-season, maybe because J was right about our hotel guys, who knows. At least we were sitting on the edge of the gorgeous patio overlooking the ocean and their famous pool, holding menus in our hands.

After a quick look, we both decided to get the four-course tasting menu, astonishingly priced at only around $44 per person. Look, I know it's Mexico and a lot of things are cheap, but considering how much the rooms at La Casa cost, I was still surprised. We ordered a bottle of pino grigio and nibbled on the amuse bouche of mini grilled fish skewers drizzled with teriyaki sauce.

Amuse bouche.........

First up: a duo of appetizers. On the left side of the plate was some lovely tuna tartar topped with avocado, and on the left was an interesting take on a Cesar salad. A parmesan cracker "ring" was filled with whole baby romaine heart spears, dressed with Cesar dressing. Both were fresh, light and very delicious and we were thrilled that we actually got two appetizers- this would be a continuing theme throughout the meal so it actually ended up being more like an 8 course menu!

Tuna tartar and Cesar salad

Next came a small blue tangine which contained a single zucchini blossom ravioli swimming in a light cheese sauce- YUM. This was probably our favorite dish of the night. I could have just picked up the bowl and drank the sauce, but I figured that might be rude so I resisted. It was perfect for dipping our bread in though, so we went to town.

Squash blossom ravioli

For our main courses, J chose the filet mignon with peppercorn sauce and marlin baked in a banana leaf. Both were cooked perfectly and the peppercorn sauce had a nice bite to it. I have to admit, it was nice to sink my teeth into some meat after living on seafood for the whole trip. My main course of conchinita pibil on one side and grilled lobster tail on the other didn't disappoint either- both were tender and succulent.

J's main course

My main course

Dessert came in a pair as well- rice pudding topped with raisins and cinnamon and a banana cheesecake. The rice pudding was so refreshing- J hadn't really had rice pudding before that and fell in love with their version. The cheesecake was rich but not too heavy and had a nice, distinctive banana flavor.


The food, service and amazing views make La Casa Que Canta a must-visit destination, but the value of the meal just cannot be beat! After we finished eating, the staff told us that we could go down to the bar area, sit by the pool and have a drink, which we did. I can see why the hotel is one of the world's best and had to resist not sneaking into one of the bungalows to take a peek! The staff really made us feel at home, even if we weren't guests there. I highly recommend it for nice, sit-down meal to balance out all of the fish-taco eating you'll do if you ever go to Zihuatanejo.

You cannot beat this view!

More Zihuatanejo photos to come!

Monday, June 25, 2007

More Random Mexico City Eats

Here's the final Mexico City post before I move onto our favorite part of the vacation- Zihuatanejo!!

We ate some fanastic al pastor tacos at a little place near our hotel which were just amazing.

Before that, we had some quesedillas, flautas and sopes with nopales at another small restaurant- we didn't realize that everything was totally deep fried, but it was good.

After a walk around the city and a tour of the "house of tiles" we had a mediocre lunch at Cafe de Tacuba (the restaurant, not the band!). The palce was beautiful but the food was just so-so.

We were too full after that to try any of the gorgeous pastries a bakery we stopped into but I did manage to snap some photos of the delcious-smelling sweets!

The next day we strolled around Frida Kahlo's old neighborhood, Coyoacán, and didn't have time to eat but did enjoy checking out the colorful and eclectic buildings. One thing I noticed were that a lot of the trees were covered with circles of chewed gum......sort of disgusting and beautiful at the same time, no? The street food looked great, but unfortunately we weren't really hungry.

Overall, we had a wonderful time in Mexico City. The people, flavors, colors and vibe were all warm, rich and unique.

And that wraps up D.F! Up next: Dinner at La Casa Que Canta, fish tacos at La Sirena Gorda, and much more!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Review: Contramar, Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City

During our recent trip to Mexico City, we had the pleasure of dining with our lovely friend Kasia at Contramar, which has been widely touted as one of the best in D.F. Since the restaurant serves only the freshest food, their operating hours are from 1:00- 6:00 PM. We took a taxi to the restaurant and arrived a bit early to find the staff having their daily, pre-opening meeting. After a short wait, we were allowed into the wide open and well-lit space. I was excited!!!

Contramar specializes in seafood, and has a large menu featuring everything from octopus to ahi. Kasia recommended that we start with the ahi tostadas (a favorite of her husband's who unfortunately was here in Los Angeles and couldn't join us). We then asked the waiter to recommend the other dishes and in the end we ordered the tostadas, ceviche, the pescado al pastor tacos, grilled marlin and some octopus in a chile sauce (hey- we wanted to try a lot!). An array of accoutrement were set on the table- some pickled onions, sliced chiles and a bread basket- and we were on our way to a Contramar meal!

First up- the ahi tostadas. They were everything Kasia had described- fresh ahi marinated in what seemed to be a light soy dressing and layered on a crispy tortilla topped with avocado and aioli. Similar in flavor to an ahi poki that you'd find at most sushi bars in Los Angeles, it was the perfect way to get our appetites going. The ceviche was also very fresh and light, which thin slices of yellow and red bell pepper perched atop tender, just-cooked (in lime juice) white fish. I noticed that it wasn't too tart, like a lot of ceviches tend to be.

When the marlin was brought out, I was dismayed to find it topped with my arch nemesis- the BLACK OLIVE! Eek! The fish looked so lovely, however, that I couldn't resist taking a bite as it was, and resisted the urge to scrape every single offending black sliver. It was actually pretty good and the olives didn't overpower the flavor of the marlin. I didn't dig into with the fever that Kasia and J did, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. My eyes were drawn away, however, when the tacos appeared. They looked like the cochinita pibil or al pastor tacos I'd seen here in Los Angeles- a mass of shredded meat reddened by sauce, topped with marinated red onions. However, the "meat" here was made of fish, and in the following days in Mexico I'd discover that this dish existed in many restaurants throughout Mexico City and Zihuatanejo. We all loved it, and J and I vowed that we'd search high and low for this dish upon our return to Los Angeles.

The true show stopper came in the form of the octopus. It was a simple-looking plate of octopus chunks covered in a red sauce, but once we took a bite, we were wowed by the complexity of its flavor and the extreme tenderness of the meat. WOW. It had the texture of pillows (not that I eat pillows) and was just spectacular.

We probably should have ended the meal with that dish but we couldn't resist ordering some raw oysters. They appeared in all their glistening, brined glory but the minute I slid one down the hatch, I was overwhelmed with the fishiness factor. They were also room temperature, which isn't really how I like my oysters. J, like a trooper, ate four of them, and we both think they were the cause of some unpleasantness later on......a bit for me, a lot for poor J. I think we'll skip the little suckers next time.

The dessert tray that the waiter brought out had a beautiful mound of fresh lychees, various cheesecakes (including a Nutella one!) and a couple types of flan, but we were too stuffed to indulge. Kasia ordered an espresso and I got a coffee, and we finally ended our seafood fest.

After lunch, we took a walk around her neighborhood, where we couldn't resist getting some freshly made sorbet from the local stand (did I say we were stuffed? naw....!). Most of the ices were made without dairy and there were so many flavors I couldn't decide what to get! I finally settled on a scoop of elote (corn) and one of passion fruit while J got strawberry and lime. The corn one was slightly sweet and creamy but the passion fruit blew my socks off- so tart and delicious with the crunchy seeds still in it. YUM. J loved his lime ice as well.

Our Mexico adventures will continue with another post coming soon!!!!!!!!!!

Avenida Durango 200Mexico City, TX 06700 Mexico
+52 55 5514 9217 / +52 55 5514 3169

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mexico City: Dinner With Friends

We're back from a week in Mexico (3 days in Mexico City and 3 in Zihuatanejo) and had a fabulous time! I wish I was still in Zihuatanejo, listening to the sound of crashing waves and living almost entirely on seafood. I took a ton of photos, ate lots of great food and will have the next ten or so posts dedicated to our trip. So, I hope you're interested in Mexico because otherwise you might get bored of the Mexico Series!!

We started our trip in Mexico City. After the 3 1/2 flight from Los Angeles, we checked into the W Hotel in Polanco. I was looking forward to staying there since I'd heard a lot of good things about it. It was nice, but I have to admit it just wasn't our style. The constant throbbing of bad techno music, the outwardly sincere yet impersonal service and the I-Think-I'm-Hip crowd which poured into the bar area every night just did not suit us at all. Yes, the rooms were large and the hammock in the shower was interesting, but next time I think I will skip the W. It simply wasn't worth the price and the staff tried to nickel-and-dime us for every little thing, in addition to claiming that I didn't pre-pay for our three nights there. I finally printed out a copy of my credit card statement for them to look at, and although they said they would resolve it, I find myself checking our account every couple of days to make sure they don't try and charge me again. It just isn't something you'd expect from such a renowned hotel chain.

On to more pleasant topics! On our very first night, we were invited to have dinner at Cesar and Abril's house- they were friends of friends but I am happy to say they are good friends of ours now as well. After the short trip from our hotel, we were welcomed into their lovely apartment by Seattle resident Erin, who was staying with the couple for two months while studying Spanish at the local university. After a few minutes, we were joined by Abril's brother Lucas and his girlfriend Jasmine and we dug into the homemade appetizers of green grapes rolled in soft cheese and nuts (delicious!) while sipping on wine and talking. We felt so well taken care of in their home and lucky to have met such warm people who had obviously put a lot of thought into the whole experience. Their adorable dog, Scott, trotted around the room and we gathered at the table, ready to eat!

Erin cooking up a storm.....

Salad to start the meal.....

First up- a fresh, colorful salad of greens, tomatoes, red onions, red bell peppers and beautifully rich avocados. It was yummy and refreshing- and one of the few salads we would eat during the week! Abril also made a spinach, mushroom and cheese pie which she called a "spinach cake." It reminded me of quiche but with no eggs, and was wonderful as well.

The beautiful spinach "cake"

For the main course, Erin whipped up a delicious pot of shrimp in a tomato and garlic sauce which she ladled over spaghetti. J and I sat and enjoyed the food while they spoke rapidly in both English and Spanish, putting our feeble attempts at Spanish to shame. We discussed music, food, my personal experience, I find that non-Americans are so much more passionate about food and Mexicans are no different. Food is not just something they enjoy- it's a necessary part of and expression of their culture. I know Americans love their food, but the way other cultures talk about, think about and enjoy their food is on a level much deeper than here in the United States.

Our lovely hosts, Abril and Erin

J chatting with our other lovely host, Cesar

After dissecting a plate of gorgeous pastries that Abril bought from the local bakery, we ended the evening sipping on Don Julio tequila (muy sabroso!) and patting our full bellies. Cesar, Abril and Erin- thanks for being such amazing hosts and having us over for the delicious food and fabulous company. Your hospitality was so wonderful and made us feel so welcomed on our first night in Mexico City.

Stay tuned for more Mexico City and Zihuatanejo posts!