the new mexican gastronomy

IMG_2820When chef Enrique Olvera opened Pujol in Mexico City’s upscale Polanco neighborhood almost 14 years ago, the budget was so small that his wife had to paint the walls. Things have changed at what is now widely considered Mexico’s best restaurant, with its platoon of 27 cooks. The subtly lit interior is like a fine suit: understated and elegant. Service is hushed and artful – if just a bit quirky – so you can focus the food. One of the leading exponents of new Mexican gastronomy, Olvera is deeply immersed in his cultural legacy. Dried insects feature heavily, like in the elotitos tatemados, a take on Mexican street food: smoked baby corn glazed with coffee mayonnaise and dusted in salty ant powder. Brilliantly served in a hollowed out gourd, it’s an addictive umami snack. In a minimalist version of the salad course, acidity and herbal freshness are explored in foraged wild greens, pinon, and native seasonings. Olvera continuously re-invents traditional dishes and their presentation: you might not recognize something as a flauta, a taco, or a tamale, but with an artist’s flair for combining regional ingredients and modern techniques Olvera lays a foundation and builds on it to create something new. If Pujol is any indication of how sophisticated (yet wholly unpretentious) fine-dining in Mexico can be, I’m in for a whole lot of sensory overload.

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the rhythm of the mist

Named for the soft morning mist that gently floats over the cottonwood trees and the Rio Grande, Tamaya Mist at the Hyatt Regency is a spa connected to the land. The Tamayame came to this part of the Southwest centuries ago, setting up villages throughout the region but always moving on – traveling from the north to the west, then south and then east. They were prosperous and peaceful wherever they settled and never forgot the instructions given to them: move on. They stopped only to regain strength by nourishment and as soon as their energy was renewed, the traveling continued. My own nourishing journey of well-being this afternoon is a truly original offering: Ancient Drumming; a treatment which begins with an application of mud from the neighboring Jemez Mountains, infused with detoxifying local red chiles. As the heat penetrates into the skin my therapist gently thrums away the stresses of a delayed cross-country flight with flax seed-filled muslin bags that have been dipped in an oil scented with pinon, the nut of the native pine tree. The repetitive percussive technique seems rather anodyne at first – not the deep tissue my body seems to crave –  yet the gentle rhythm and steady pressure slowly but surely lulls me into a relaxing trance. Afterwards I am drenched in warm oil and lightly exfoliated using an aromatic scrub of pinon resin. I feel clean and smooth but more to the point, I am hydrated against the desiccation which comes from the inhospitable environment of both planes and deserts. I’m ready – almost – to being an adventure in New Mexico.


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