The first courtesy taste is a hollowed out pumpkin. It’s smoking. The smoke is scented with hickory. There’s baby corn on a skewer slather in coffee mayonnaise with the powder of ground up ants. While the preparation and flavors are completely nontraditional and the experience lasts only a couple of bites, it’s the best elote I’ve ever eaten.
I first discovered Enrique Olvera at Mistura, Lima’s annual gastronomy festival, a few years ago. He gave a presentation on Mexican food that echoed many of the same sentiments I was seeing in Peru about rediscovering native ingredients. He seemed cool too. Not in the least bit cocky, as many Latin American chefs can be. Pujol has been on the top of my Mexico City restaurant list ever since. The restaurant is now a decade old as Olvera opened it right after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
His biography on Pujol’s website states that “following a period in which he once again reinterpreted the traditional Mexican recipe-book, Olvera’s culinary proposal now focuses on a more personal approach. It explores and creates based on Mexico’s extraordinary universe of ingredients, yet never ceases experimenting with both contemporary and millennia-old culinary technique. As always, everything is seasoned with imagination, humor, and his signature obsession with detail.”
Apart from the initial scented smoke, there weren’t foams or other gimmicks on the Menu del Tierra tasting menu (the other option is the menu del mar). Rather, what I found were Mexican ingredients presented in ways in which those ingredients could stand out in a sophisticated yet not overly flashy way. Even using your hands was sometimes called for in plates like the Suckling lamb taco with avocado and green pea puree.
The beer selection is surprisingly good. There are must have Mexi-microbrews like Cucapa Obscura and dozens of tiny batch varieties you probably won’t find at any other restaurant here. While there are Argentinean and French wines, they are listed alongside top Mexican ones.
The restaurant was #36 (up from #49) on San Pellegrino’s list of the world’s best restaurants in 2012 and has been rising steadily for the past two years. I’ve heard echoes of disappointment from other writers who may have built it up to El Bulli status or weren’t expecting to pay the price of a meal there (which is quite reasonable in my opinion). I wasn’t let down.
Pujol’s Menu de Tierra (aka Land based Menu)
1.) Infusión de quelites (Herbal infusion)
2.) Taco de chicharrón de queso y guacamole (Hard shell cheese taco with guacamoles)
3.) Ensalada de jitomate heirloom (Hoja de frijol. Quesillo frito)
4.) Huevos con nopales (Eggs with prickly pear)
5.) Tamal de tuétano y chipilín. Salsa verde cruda. Queso cotija (Bone marrow and chipilín tamal. Green tomato sauce. Cotija cheese)
6.) Taco de cordero lechal. Puré de chícharo y aguacate. Salsa de tomate y hoja santa (Suckling lamb taco with avocado and green pea puree, tomato and hoja santa sauce)
7.) Cerdo pelón en recado blanco. Frijol alfayayocan. Vegetales encurtidos (Yucatecan pork with recado blanco. Alfayayocan bean. Pickled vegetables)
8.) Plátano dominico pasado. Ralladura de macadamia. Hierbabuena. Crema agria (Banana. Macadamia zest. Spearmint. Cream)
9.) Camote enmielado, guayabate, helado de yogurt. Gelatina de leche, crujiente de amaranto (Sweet potatoe with honey. Guava and piloncillo pure. Yogurt ice cream. Milk jello. Amarant crunch)
Francisco Petraca 254
Mexico City (D.F.), Mexico
52 (55) 5545-3507
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.