Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dancing with coyotes

Right in the heart of Coyoacan, two playful bronze coyotes crown a fountain in the Jardin Centenario. Coyoacan's name comes from the Nahuatl language and may mean "place of the coyotes" - but no one's quite sure. The park is at the heart of this historic and beautiful neighborhood, once a village but now absorbed into the urban sprawl of Mexico City.

Coyoacan's shady streets lined with historic buildings, its plazas with street cafes and shops,  naturally attracted artists, actors and writers. Diego Rivera, the famed muralist, and his artist wife Frida Kahlo lived in Coyoacan, as did Mexican movie star Dolores del Rio and filmmaker Luis Bunuel. Much like other similar charming artsy neighborhoods throughout the world, it has become a tourist attraction, and the streets are crowded on weekends and holidays, the sidewalks jammed with vendors and sightseers.

Detail, historic house in Coyoacan
Our host brought us to Coyoacan on a Monday afternoon, and took us to Los Danzantes restaurant, just past the coyote fountain. The menu is sophisticated, using traditional and seasonal Mexican ingredients with a contemporary and adventurous flair. The parent company owns not just restaurants, but also operates its own mezcal distillery, producing high-quality brands of this traditional Mexican spirit.

Los Danzantes
Mezcal is distilled from the sap of the Agave plant, Agave americana, a plant sacred to the pre-Hispanic people. Also called maguey, it was so useful it had its own deity, the goddess Mayaheul. The maguey's thick leathery leaves make fiber for rope and textiles, and its thorns provide tools. Maguey plants may live for decades before maturing and gathering sugar enough to grow a tall bloom stalk. When the stalk is cut, the sap collects in the hollow center, and the fermented sap is pulque, a mild boozy liquid enjoyed by the early peoples.

Pulque wasn't strong enough for the Spanish, who distilled it to make mezcal, a fiery spirit with a smoky flavor. [The Man I Love] sampled some fine artisanal mezcal, which is served neat, and accompanied with chile-salt and slices of orange.

Los Danzantes makes cocktails with mezcal, and the smoky taste is interesting with icy crushed fruit. Here a virginal-looking coconut-pulp drink and a murky dark tamarindo with a chile-crusted rim look like angel and devil - but they both pack a helluva wallop.

The more familiar tequila is just a type of mezcal, made from the blue agave. I wanted to try something one of our colleagues had ordered the other night, so I asked him to choose a good brand for me.

This is a shot of a fine Don Julio tequila, served with lime, salt and a little shot of sangrita, a mixture of tomato and citrus juices. As a refinement of the American frat-boy drinking technique, one takes a sip of tequila, a bite of lime, and a sip of sangrita, and perhaps a lick of salt. Unlike frat-boys, I was advised to sip slowly and savor the flavors.

Our meal was delicious, including a fondue of huitlacoche, the so-called "Mexican truffle," a murky black funky-tasting fungus that grows on corn. I had a salad with fruit, pecans and goat cheese, while [The Man I Love] had shrimp served with herbs, sweet peppers, and squash blossoms, in a creamy sauce flavored with hibiscus. Others in our party had seared tuna steak in green sauce, and grilled beef steak with french fries

As we finished and waited for dessert and coffee, Chef Rubén Amador Reyes came out of the kitchen to say hello. We thanked him for a wonderful meal, and he allowed me to take his photo, with [The Man I Love] and our esteemed host, Jose-Antonio.

Guavas stuffed with cream
Nothing could be better than a wonderful meal, good friends, and a cocktail kick to make you want to howl at the moon!


Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Gracious! I would so love to eat and drink and take photographs with you.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I love the color of that house! That dinner looks amazing... I've long wanted to try huitlacoche.

Speaking of coyotes, I had a comical run-in with a coyote last December.

smalltownme said...

I love your travelogues. My husband was treated to the tequila with tomato/citrus on his trip last year. He loved it. He replicated it for me when he returned/