Wednesday, May 13, 2009


"Don't blame it on me, blame it on your hog farms".   

This is my first week back in Mexico since I left on the 28th of April.  We decided to not take any chances, close the company and work remotely for a week, so I headed to San Francisco to spend a few days with friends and then had a work-related trip to Atlanta scheduled for last week.  I finally made it back to the D.F. on Sunday and have spent the last few days getting caught up at work and moving my blog from a previous location to this one, so please bear with me while I figure out the new format/software and get comfortable with it. 

So, do I think the whole swine thing was overblown?  Yeah, I do.  Way overblown in fact.  But I have to say I think the government did a great job of shutting down the city and responding to the threat.  It was amazing to see the city totally shuttered, no traffic and almost nobody on the streets.  It is something I won't forget for a long time.

In San Francisco, I re-visited a place on Potrero Hill (Aperto) I had been to before on several occasions and found it to be better than ever and left amazed at the price tag of $US135 for 4, including a bottle of wine.  There is no way you could find the same innovation and thinking here for the same price.  There have been several articles in major magazines and newspapers over the past few years about Mexico City becoming a world food capital/destination, including this WSJ article , but I think it pales in comparison to places like San Francisco, Bangkok, Paris, New York and my all time favorite, San Sebastian, where I am headed next month, especially when it comes to walking into just about anywhere and getting great food.  It is EASY to get a bad meal here. Peas were in season in SF, and Aperto took full advantage of the fact.  In two of our entrees (Osso Bucco and Braised Lamb Shank), both the peas and their shoots played prominent roles, infusing the dishes with an unexpected first-taste-of-summer freshness.  While the seasonality of fruits and vegetables here is quite different and less pronounced than in the U.S., chefs don't really seem to pay much attention to it on their menus.  For example, Manila mangos are in season right now and they are never featured in any of the places I frequent.  And they are good. As good as Thailand's mangos.  Which is really saying something.

Also in San Francisco, I went with a 12 year old vegetarian to a simple Chinese place on Church Street in Noe Valley (Hunan), where I had some fiery smoked ham that literally and figuratively took my breath away.  The vegetarian dishes were outstanding as well, and again, the price was so reasonable for the quality...even with the peso devaluation against the dollar I still found it reasonable.  And San Francisco kids seem so sophisticated when it comes to food in comparison to kids here...or just about anywhere else I guess.  When I asked my friend's daughter where we should eat, she came up with a range of interesting places, and when I left the decision up to her, she chose Hunan because of their hot and sour soup, warning me in advance it was very spicy. 

My friends' kitchen is being remodeled and we were cooking out of a makeshift one in the basement.  Asparagus is also in season in the U.S., so inspired by the lunch at Hunan, one evening I made an asparagus stir-fry (recipe below) that I make frequently here.  We steamed carry-out dumplings from King of Dumplings on Noriega (the best carry-out dumplings in the U.S. IMHO...and you can watch the Chinese ladies in the back room of the store making them...always a treat) and poured some hot oil on a piece of sea bass, lightly steamed and topped with chopped scallions and ginger.  Not bad for a basement cooked meal.

I had never been outside of the Atlanta airport before this trip, and only had one meal outside of the hotel, which was in an adequate Middle Eastern place.  Lots of sweetened iced tea and sandwiches.  As I was in a hotel in a suburb, I saw very little of the town, but what I did see left me with no burning desire to go back.  But everyone was so damn friendly, it made up for the lackluster food.

"Hunan" Stir-Fried Asparagus
-1 tablespoon neutral oil
-1 bunch asparagus (about 1.5 lbs.), tough stems chopped off and then chopped in 2" lengths
-3 large cloves garlic, sliced thinly lengthwise
-4 dried red chile peppers, broken into 1/4" lengths
-1/2 cup Shaoxing wine (or sake, or chicken broth, or white wine)
-3 tblsp. oyster sauce
-2 tsp. sesame oil

-Stir oyster sauce into wine, set aside
-Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat until smoking, and add oil.  Swirl to coat.  Add garlic and stir fry for about 30 seconds, then add chile and stir fry for another 30 seconds.
-Add asparagus and stir fry for about 2 minutes, or until just beginning to lose its crispness
-Add wine/oyster sauce mixture, lower heat slightly, and let it bubble away, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a light glaze, about 8-10 minutes
-Stir in sesame oil just before serving.

Serves 4 as part of a larger meal


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