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Guadua, Puerto Escondido: Oaxaca restaurant review

The best restaurant Puerto Escondido has to offer

Alvin Starkman M.A., LL.B.

Guadua ranks arguably as the best restaurant and bar in Puerto Escondido in terms of both ambiance, and quality and creativity of fare. In fact for this reviewer it’s a full notch above the rest.

The restaurant’s designer has done an impeccable job of creating an atmosphere fitting a bistro on the beach, yet with class and subtlety, and a conspicuous lack of that all-too-prevalent and overpowering nautical paraphernalia. No walking over an arched mini-bridge onto these sturdy hardwood planked floor boards. With its full open concept, there’s nary a wall to hang a dolphin, a net, or an oversized photo of the owner’s big catch. While structurally a palapa, the configuration is more than simply functional cross beams and uprights supporting palm leaf; posts are erected at aesthetically pleasing and unusual angles, worthy of note in Architectural Digest. Lighting, while somewhat dim for late night dining, is provided by bulbs dangling inside smartly strung over-sized patterned burlap balls.

Waiters are quick to welcome, take your drink order and arrive back with a basket of warm, multi-grain hand-sliced loaf. The recorded music consists of tasteful Latin-style new age, but only until the fifty-something Cuban-born troubadour sets up with his companion off to a corner to serenade with familiar soft rock and the odd Spanish tune. Otherwise there’s the sound of the surf, with the sand virtually at your feet and ocean merely yards away.

Our first appetizer was tuna timbal with couscous, consisting of chilled and properly fluffed couscous lightly tossed with cucumber, purple onion, avocado and diced fresh tuna marinated in garlic ginger soya sauce. Each ingredient retained its distinctive flavor. The soya was used sufficiently sparingly so as to not overpower. Equally impressive for its ability to showcase each component was the eggplant bruschetta … a purée with roasted tomato, melted Roquefort and homemade mayonnaise, over the requisite thick rounds of toast.

The seared white fish baked in rosemary butter was prepared to perfection, and arrived with sides of salad and mashed potatoes. My long pasta with parmesan and cream cheese with cracked cardamom was cooked to the optimum degree of doneness, but required a bit of doctoring to bring out the Indian spice. The tuna loin lived up to its “rare on the inside” billing, often a struggle to achieve when dining in southern Mexico. Once again the marinade, a teriyaki, was well understated.

We completed our cena with snifters of Torres 10 brandy, and shared the lemon pie frozen to perfect consistency, with hibiscus flower coulis, and then a personal size dark chocolate cake filled with melted white chocolate, accompanied by vanilla ice cream and cacao brandy sauce.

The menu selections at Guadua cover all the usual bases, so there’s little if any likelihood you’ll have difficulty finding offerings which call out to the palate. But the expected ends there. Whether it’s the guacamole with grasshoppers or grilled vegetables with balsamic vinegar from the appetizers; arugula salad mixed with slices of parmesan, fig and lemon olive oil vinaigrette; a burger or baguette; tomato dill soup with sautéed shrimp; a filet mignón basted with green pepper brandy cream sauce; or the more standard seafood selections, each is accented with its own Guadua touch.

With tip and taxes included, appetizers, soups, salads and lighter fare range from 50 to 100 pesos; and entrées from 100 to 160 pesos. Hard to beat? I thought so too!

Guadua
Tamaulipas esq. con Zona Federal
Col. Brisas de Zicatela
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Tel: (954) 107-9524

Alvin Starkman together with wife Arlene operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ). They provide guests with a unique Oaxaca accommodation style which combines the service and comfort of a Oaxaca hotel, with lodging style characterized by quaintness and personal touch. Alvin received his masters in social anthropology in 1978, and his law degree in 1984. Thereafter he was a litigator in Toronto until taking early retirement. He and his family were frequent visitors to Oaxaca between 1991 and when they became permanent residents in 2004. Alvin reviews restaurants, writes about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, tours couples and families to the craft villages, ruins, towns and their market days and other sights, and is a special consultant to documentary film production companies.

Posted by titosarah 09:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged food Comments (0)

El Tigre: restaurant in Oaxaca is as authentic as they get

It's perhaps not for everyone, but this roadside eatery near Oaxaca is safe, welcoming, and serves the freshest meals imaginable ... and complimentary mezcal to boot.

Alvin Starkman M.A., LL.B.

It’ll cost María Sara and her husband Hilarino about $7,000 USD to get electricity for their tiny, roadside eatery, located about an hour outside of the City of Oaxaca. It’s feasible only if they can get some of their neighbors to chip in. But that would detract from the allure of their restaurant: fresh meats delivered to the premises daily and kept cool in an insulated box; hours of operation governed by nature; no stove or oven, nor subtle din of an electric fridge; and no TV revisiting Mexico’s last soccer triumph.

El Tigre is about the last vestige of Old Mexico you’ll encounter on a visit to Oaxaca, while at the same time as comfortable, accommodating, and safe for North American gastrointestinal tracts as you’ll find in the finest white linen restaurants in the downtown core. Sure, the wood-burning hearth over which all of their daily offerings are prepared, produces distracting smoke from time to time. And it’s doubtful that the blocks of ice cooling the Coke, Fanta and Corona will keep the beverages as cold as most are accustomed. But save and except for these shortcomings, if you’re heading to Mitla, or out towards Hierve el Agua, a visit to El Tigre is not to be missed.

You’ll be warmly greeted by María Sara and her daughter-in-law Alma. Conceivably Hilarino will be there as well. He runs the mezcal operation alongside the restaurant, the implication being that if you order mezcal, it’s on the house.

But you’re stopping for the food and the open air ambience and basically nothing more. There’s no menu, so you’d better either have a minimal knowledge of Spanish, or read on and take notes. Each morning María cooks up a different stew, be it beef in green sauce, pork in red, or something similar. Otherwise the standard choices available every day are quite simple: grilled chorizo (Oaxacan sausage); a plate of cecina (sliced pork lightly dusted with chili); tasajo (thinly sliced beef); eggs, either scrambled alone or with chorizo, or fried; quesadillas; and memelitas. María is used to this writer bringing by North American tourists, who have often commented that it was the best meal they’ve had in Oaxaca. You can ask for anything to be cooked on the comal, over open flame, sans lard, oil or butter.

The accompaniments are sliced tomato and onion (disinfected), boiled black beans, and freshly made salsa with garlic, chili, tomato, and little more, served hot off the grill in its molcajete, the pestle and mortar used in preparation. You’ll generally see a pot of simmering corn kernels being softened and readied for the next day’s grinding into a masa for making tortillas. And yes, of course the tortillas, made with hand-ground cornmeal and prepared on the comal before your eyes complement every order.

Since 1994 El Tigre has been serving the surrounding communities, the odd visitor en route to and from to Hierve el Agua, and those in transit between Oaxaca and the district known as the Mixe. The main attraction for many Mexicans is the mezcal produced on site by Hilarino, using the age old traditional techniques of his grandparents and their forebears. But for those who yearn for a taste of down-to-earth, unadulterated southern Mexico, El Tigre is a must --- uniquely Oaxacan, and as fresh and flavorful as you can get.

El Tigre is open 7 days from morning until 7 pm, Sundays until 2. It’s along highway 190, perhaps a 15 minute drive beyond Mitla, on the left hand side about a half mile before you get to the San Lorenzo Albarradas cutoff which takes you to the bubbling springs.

Alvin Starkman has a masters in anthropology and law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. Now a resident of Oaxaca, Alvin writes, takes tours to the sights, and owns Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ), a unique Oaxaca bed and breakfast experience which combines the comfort and service of a large downtown Oaxaca hotel, with the personal touch and quaintness of a country inn. Alvin consistently receives cudos from his touring clients after a visit to El Tigre.

Posted by titosarah 09:12 Archived in Mexico Tagged food Comments (0)

Caldo de Piedra --- Oaxaca restaurant review

The most unique restaurant in Oaxaca

Alvin Starkman M.A., LL.B.

Campesinos working the land or tending flocks in the river valleys and hills of the Sierra Norte would stop, fish for trout, or perhaps gather lobster-like langostinos after the first rains in May, and then cook their bounty in an unusual way. They would place their catch in a half-gourd filled with river water and freshly picked aromatic herbs, heat rocks from the banks to red-hot, then place them in the bowl and watch their meal quickly poach in a boiling broth.

Caldo de Piedra, located a few minutes outside of Oaxaca on the highway leading to Santa María el Tule, ceremoniously replicates the age-old custom before your eyes. The restaurant is a large, simple palapa with an open kitchen. The menu is effectively non-existent since all that is served are generously filled quesadillas and similar appetizers, your choice of three soups (the caldos), and non-alcoholic beverages.

The owners boast that this traditional meal preparation dates to pre-Hispanic times, and was practiced in their home village, San Felipe Usila, in the district of Tuxtepec.

Service is uncharacteristically fast. Waitresses are eager to attend to orders, and more importantly answer all queries about your comida’s preparation, so be sure to ask to go over to the two kitchen areas to bear witness to the procedural pomp. On the one side are women working over metate (grinding stone) and comal (large round clay “stove-top” used for cooking over an open flame), hand-making tortillas for filling with your choice of quesillo (the famed Oaxacan string cheese), mushrooms, squash blossoms and more. On the other side unfolds the curious convention. A substantial helping of your choice of raw, medium sized shrimp, red snapper, or a combination of the two is placed in a jícara (the half gourd) with a selection of chiles, onion and leafy herbs including requisite cilantro. A blender off to the side is used to prepare a tomato-based liquid which is then poured into each vessel. With the aid of a large wooden tong, a couple of baseball sized river stones are plucked from a flaming fire pit, gingerly placed in each gourd, and voilá, your meal starts to boil. Rocks are added a second time, following which each comida-in-a-pot is brought to the table.

Flavors remain distinctly discernable to the extreme, given that fresh ingredients are combined on the spot. The chef/proprietor is in complete control of process so as to assure the proper degree of doneness (with only one cooking method and a choice of only three main dishes, it’s pretty well guaranteed). It’s low-fat protein, herbs, vegetable and tortilla, yielding ideal fare for the diet and health conscious, in a region of the state noted for pretty well the opposite … and they even serve coca light (diet coke). It’s all so simple, making the experience gastronomically rewarding, while at the same time awe inspiring.

NOTES:
Open daily, noon to 7 pm.
Price with beverage and shared appetizers, 125 pesos pp.

Alvin Starkman together with wife Arlene operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast. Alvin received his masters in social anthropology in 1978, and his law degree in 1984. Thereafter he was a litigator in Toronto until taking early retirement. He and his family were frequent visitors to Oaxaca between 1991 and when they became permanent residents in 2004. Alvin reviews restaurants, writes about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, tours couples and families to the craft villages, ruins, towns and their market days and other sights, and is a special consultant to documentary film production companies.

Posted by titosarah 13:47 Archived in Mexico Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

VERACRUZ - EXCELLENT SEAFOOD IN OAXACA

But it does come at a price

Arlene Starkman

We non-native Oaxacans have our rules…don’t drive outside the city after dark, never eat fresh unpeeled produce, be cautious feasting on the street or in markets. For me, after less-than-orgasmic culinary experiences, there was “wait ‘til you’re on the coast to eat fish or seafood.” Thankfully all changed after starting to dine at Veracruz a few years ago. For over a dozen years owners Leo and Rosita have been serving up some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten, anywhere. Perhaps because as native Veracruzanos, mariscos is in their blood. Perhaps because they take pride in their fresh, and exquisitely prepared and seasoned dishes, as is abundantly evident when you see Leo continually seeking assurance from his patrons that all is well.

Located a few kilometers out of Oaxaca proper, Veracruz has a quaint coastal flavor to it, one side simple marine décor and the other a palapa. I prefer the atmosphere of the beachy palm leaf roof with walls of reed construction, so for this comida we dined in the palapa.

Friendly and attentive staff promptly present an array of complimentary starters foreshadowing the rest of the meal….each dish distinctly flavorful, not too spicy, light, cold when it’s supposed to be, and hot when that’s what you would expect!

Crisp tostadas appear almost as quickly as you are seated, with sides of green and red salsas and requisite mayonnaise and saltines. Next a meaty crab leg salad in a light spicy vinaigrette with chopped tomato and green pepper, lime and chile. Your intermezzo is steaming crab leg and pincer tomato based soup ready to give your teeth and fingers a workout.

We decided against the cocktails (octopus, shrimp, crab, etc) which come in 50 and 90 peso sizes, and the larger meal sized broths and bouillabaisses ranging from 85 to 150, opting for cold seafood platters. First came the lightly dressed shrimp salad with sliced red onion, lime and habanero chiles, followed by large triangles of sea scallop combined with white onion, chile and orange slices, each of these plates having been prepared with attention to color and flavor combinations. Finally appeared a tray of still steaming succulent cracked crab pincers over a bed of citrus slices and ice.

Entrees, ranging from 125 pesos, arrive appropriately garnished, together with baskets of sliced oven-fresh baguette style bread. My husband’s giant split-shell shrimp were served in a chipotle sauce, almost in defiance of the traditional strong flavor of this chile, alongside a healthy dollop of melted Oaxacan string cheese. Our daughter opted for shrimp in a semi-sweet white wine marinade, with sides of cooked cubed veggies, and undressed mixed salad. My whole sea bass, Veracruzano style, was served in a savory sauce with tomato, olive, caper, carrot and chile. The red snapper of Fernando Gonzalez our culinary cohort for this meal, still enveloped in aluminum and extending well beyond the edges of the plate, was baked with pureed green tomato and spices, the steamy aroma of hierba santa filling the air upon the foil being stripped away.

After a feast of such Bacchanalian proportions, which included several copas of the best house mezcal any of us had previously tasted, coffee and dessert were out of the question, although we yielded to temptation and finished off with the sweet Spanish liqueur, “43”, chased with soda over ice.

NOTES:
Full bar
Credit Cards
From noon, 7 days
Margen Izq. Del Rio Atoyac #250, Col. El Pilar tel: 51-27610

Arlene Starkman together with husband Alvin operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast. Arlene is an English teacher and psychotherapist, and occasional restaurant critic.

Posted by titosarah 14:55 Comments (0)

EL FARO: OAXACA RESTAURANT REVIEW

You wanna see what a real Oaxacan bar and eatery is like?

Alvin Starkman, M.A., LL.B.

Swing open the saloon doors, walk down a few steps, and have a seat at one of the ten or so orange arborite tables. Clint Eastwood might have parked himself on a wooden stool, instead of a matching 1960’s vinyl covered stainless steel padded chair, but you get the idea. And yet somehow, the shiny, brand spanking new digital juke box does not seem particularly incongruous.

El Faro is a small bar in Colonia Reforma, about a ten minute taxi ride from Oaxaca’s zócalo. It serves nothing but liquor and the finest in typical, filling, and usually fried finger foods and other quickly prepared local fare.

The purpose of this visit was to try the reknowned marinated onions…and then have co-owner Marta provide our pre-arranged lesson on how to prepare them. But our hostess was so gracious and accommodating, and more importantly willing to sell the preparation to us in bulk, that the working part of the adventure thankfully fell by the wayside.

Now down to indulging…nothing left to do but munch away and imbibe. But be careful with the latter. Liquor is served clearly without any consideration given to portioning, and a couple of drinks will leave you feeling like four.

Los tragos arrive promptly, alongside shelled peanuts, made on the premises with course salt and spices, a Oaxacan staple. Of course quartered limes, sal de gusano, and other accompaniments arrive depending on choice of beverage.

The parade then begins, starting with a burst of smoky flavor and spice constituting our marinated onion slices. While vinegar is the main ingredient, the unique and appealing flavor of chile pasillo, with a mixture of spices, predominates, creating an appealing uniqueness. Certainly it bears some similarity to piedrasos, often sold on street corners in large glass containers and served with marinated vegetables over giant chunks of toasted bread. So encountering this tart treasure in a sit-down environment was indeed a true find.

A tlayuda is set before us in short order, prepared without any excess baggage. The large crunchy oversized baked tortilla is made with requisite asiento (schmaltz, as my grandmother would say, but this fat isn’t from a chicken) and a thin paste of chile de arbol, topped with queso. Forget the vegetables, refried beans and meat typifying most tlayuda toppings. All in due course.

Marinated serrano chiles with onion slices (rajas), additional salsas, and guacamole follow, rounding out the sides.

A plate of fast-fried potato pieces known as bolas de fuego (fire balls) is placed before us. Seasoned with some type of chile, perhaps paprika, and without a doubt garlic, these crisp-on-the-outside golden goodies do not disappoint, being true to their name.

Frijoles con pata is black beans served in a bowl with boiled pork foot. It’s a traditional dish, and in fact our Oaxacan friends ate the gelatinous vittles with great gusto. But it’s equally a taste, and texture, which many North Americans take time to acquire. Fifteen years later, we’re still working on it. The salsas do help.

The empanadas de seso (beef brain) are the best we’ve had anywhere, anytime. While fried as is the custom, these little filled turnovers are lacking the customary double dose of oil, making them as close to a baked botana as one can find. Guacamole is the preferred dipping sauce, since there’s already a bit of spice in the stuffing.

We rounded out our experience with two meat dishes combined on a single platter: costillas enchiladas (spare ribs coated with a chile mixture) which were well cooked as I had requested, and had plenty of meat on and off the bone; and tasajo (a thin filet of lightly seasoned beef) which arrived tender and juicy, and not at all over-cooked (often an issue in Oaxacan eateries), already cut into (large) bite sized pieces.

El Faro isn’t for every traveler. But there are many who walk by such establishments, take and quick peek in, are clearly intrigued, and then say “no, we’d better not.” At El Faro, you can.

El Faro. Jasminez 222-B, Colonia Reforma. Mon to Sat, 9am to 10pm

Alvin Starkman together with wife Arlene operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ). Alvin received his masters in social anthropology in 1978, and his law degree in 1984. Thereafter he was a litigator in Toronto until taking early retirement. He and his family were frequent visitors to Oaxaca between 1991 and when they became permanent residents in 2004. Alvin reviews restaurants, writes about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, and tours couples and families to the villages.

Posted by titosarah 14:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

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