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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Anahuacalli - Take That Marguerita And Shove It

Anahuacalli has long been registered in the locals' minds as the go-to place in Paris for decent Mexican grub.  Bear in mind, that's not saying much, since Mexican restaurants in Paris mostly suck, and that's putting it gently, especially when they are labelled 'Tex Mex."  Avoid at all costs, trust me.  Getting back to Anahuacalli, don't get too excited - it sucks, too.

Which doesn't mean you can't have an enjoyable evening with good friends and significant other, which is exactly what Co. and I experienced about a month ago on a Friday night in February.  Hell, I've long learned that when you drink enough tequilla, you can have an enjoyable night anywhere, regardless of poor service and mediocre food, which basically describes what's in store at Anahuacalli.

This wasn't a first visit to said locale for yours truly.  I checked out the venue shortly after their opening, something like a good 20 years ago.  What I remember is somewhat above average Mexican cuisine and a futile effort on the part of our server to overcharge us on the wine.  So admittedly, I didn't have a very good attitude going into this, and that wasn't lessened when I called to reserve and basically had to rely on a series of grunts and coughs to make myself understood to someone who's French was even worse than mine, if that is possible.

At any rate, we received a warm welcome, and were placed at a choice corner table, perhaps in part due to the fact that our friends were periodic patrons.  On their part, you can't beat a decent margarita, and they sometimes got some decent ones at Anahuacalli - as in, hit or miss.  On this evening in question, it was a large swing and miss.  Not being a margarita drinker myself - unless pressed, lightly - I probably wouldn't be the best judge of quality, but when I saw my friends ordering side shots of tequilla to spice up their cocktails, the writing was on the wall.

On to the food.  On the table upon arrival was the obligatory bowl of nacho chips and, for once in a Parisian Mexican, they weren't overly salty and stale.  Our entree consisted of a shared combination platter for four, the "surtido de entradas."  This was a pretty good way to start off, consisting as it did of guacamole, taquitos. ceviche, nopalitos, and tostada de boeuf.  Decent, but unspectacular guacamole and an above-average ceviche.  Here's what it looked like:

Surtido de Entradas entree

It was all downhill from there.  It took so long for our main plates to arrive, I swear, at some point I just completely forgot I was sitting in a restaurant having a meal and just figured I was hanging out with friends over a few drinks.  Eventually, when one of my dinner companions politely inquired of our waitress whether the kitchen had closed and no one had bothered to inform us, she explained that it was the fish that I had ordered that took long to prepare. Of course I had to order this dish, on the basic premise that any food that is flambeed with tequilla must be truly excellent.  Unfortunately, 
when the fish dish arrived, I wondered how exactly all that time had been utilized, because there was absolutely nothing special about it - it was downright nothing to write home about - or wait for an eternity for, whichever comes first.

Pescada a la Veracruzana - wait forever to be disappointed

Meanwhile, Co. had a chance to dig into her assortment of pollo en salsa verde, cochinita pibil, barbacoa, and frijoles negra, which sounds pretty fancy until you hear Co. blurt out, 'Isnt' this the same thing I just ate for the entree?'

Tacos de la Merced - deja vu?

Our friends weren't much more satisfied with their dishes, enchiladas verdes and something else.  The bill, including a bottle of wine, a couple tequillas, and several margaritas, a couple of which were graciously comped in response to a negative review, somehow barely cracked the century mark (102 euros), which is some small solace. 

So the verdict is in - Anahuacalli offers a very nice ambiance to spend a long evening catching up with good friends, at a reasonable price, and assuming you don't pay much attention to the food and service. 

I remember a very good, genuine Mexican - or was it Guatemalan - on the corner of rues Rambuteau and Quincampoix that is now long gone.  Will somebody please open up another restaurant like that in Paris? And if it already exists, please tell me about it.

30 rue des Bernardins
75005 Paris
tel: 01 43 26 26 53
website: http://www.r-m-g.fr/uk/restaurant-gastronomique-mexicain-paris-site-officiel.php#restaurant-gastronomique-mexicain-anahuacalli-notre-dame-paris-5.php

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Postcards From Venice - Part 2, the Good Part

Okay, time to finish up my 2-part installment on my recent short-lived visit to Venice, Italy.  I know you'd probably rather I get back to the Paris scene, which is probably what brought you to this site, but I don't want to neglect 'and beyond.'  Don't worry, a lot of Paris stuff coming up, including Anahuacalli and Le Caillebotte. So stay tuned.

If you read Part 1, you might have gotten the impression that I was pretty fed up with eating out in Venice after having such a difficult time finding restaurants on my list that were actually open for business, that I just stuck to drinking, and ended up falling in the extremely poorly secured drop-off points along the canals.  Well, the good news is that I didn't forget the bottle and I didn't fall in.  What more can one ask for?  How about a decent lunch?

Impronta Cafe -
Dorsoduro 3815
+39 041 275 0386

Following my aforementioned failures to grab some cibo at Al Vecio Pozzo or Ristorante Ribot, I trekked on over to the apparently highly-regarded Impronta Cafe - on my 'go to' list and recommendation #2 for my hotel concierge.  I had plans to have dinner there, but desperately seeking a venue for lunch, the hour getting late, I figured I'd worry about dinner when I came to that bridge, and bridges are certainly not hard to find in Venice.  Rather modern looking by Venice standards, I had the impression this was more of a non-touristical trendy spot than one is apt to find on the way to the Ponte Rialto.  Having learned my lesson the night before regarding primo and secundo platos - too much, cheri - I opted for one pasta dish and dessert.  Both were mighty fine, starting with the tagliolini neri, black pasta with almonds laying in a sauce that I have now forgotten (15€) and followed up by a homemade tiramisu with fruit from the woods (6€), which was delicious, but for my taste, too fruity.  Topped off with a glass of house red (3.50€) and an espresso (2€), the bill came to a not-so-cheap 31.92€.

Tagliolini neri

Tiramisu with fruit and some kind of stupid, inedible flowery thing on top

Impronta has a kind of deli-style counter running along one of the walls where take-out of sandwiches, breads, and desserts is possible.  I hate to say that this nearly ruined my lunch.  A mother and her young son spent a good half hour between my table and the counter doing the sorts of obnoxious mother/child stuff that might be appropriate at the playground, but not beside one's table when you're trying to chill out from wandering aimlessly in a foreign city trying to figure out where one is.  After a while, they really got on my nerves, the kid doing all those things that civil French hate about kids, especially kids in restaurants/cafes - acting cute, acting out, goo gooing with the mother, spilling food on himself, and, well, just plain being a kid in a restaurant.   Eventually, my ornery-side got the better of me and I turned to the mother and in my chillingly hostile voice informed her that I was trying to eat.  She seemed to have gotten the message, but just as quickly was back to acting all obnoxiousy mothery again.  When she finally left, she turned at the door and bid me adieu, which nearly brought a smile to my face. 

Muro  -Campo Bella Vienna
San Polo 222     +39 041 24 12 339
One more to tell you about, dinner at Ristorante Muro.  Even further along the yellow brick road on the way to Ponte Rialto, after lunch at Impronta, I stopped in at Muro, another one on my list, and reserved for later that evening.  This was a Friday night, and by the time I was into my meal, the place was pretty packed with a mutti diverse clientele.  I must admit, I had a pretty good feeling about Muro when I stopped by at lunch time - it was quiet, yet busy, subdued lights, decent staff.  When I got there for dinner, oddly, it seemed brighter and less formal than my first impression.  I was seated at a small table near the back and, although my server kept forgetting to inform me of the night's specials, he turned out to be pretty helpful.  And I certainly enjoyed the meal, the best I've had in this young year.  I started off with a bowl of mussels and clams, Pepata di Cozze (12€).  Man, this was good.  The sauce was spiffed up with garlic and lopped up with the toasted bread.

Pepata di Cozze

When I commended the dish to the server, he opined, 'the best is yet to come,' and he was correct.  I ordered the special - spaghetti and lobster Primo del Giorno (20€).  I had been tempted by the whole grilled fish, but the price by the kilo looked risky.  I shied away from the grilled seafood platter after my disappointing plate the night before at Osteria ae Cravate.  The Primo, though, was superb, with a half lobster to go along with spaghetti with shrimp and tomato that was spiced up by something akin to the great Old Bay seasoning, but less salty and a bit spicier.  Encore.

Mamma mia - Primo del Giorno

Nothing much appealed to me on the dessert menu, so I opted for the tiramisu(5€) again - also homemade, simpler and better than the pretty decent one I had earlier in the day at Impronta.

Muro's tiramisu, sans fruit from the woods

View from my table at Muro, early Friday evening
 Muro doubles as a pizzeria, and pizza was a big calling card at several of the tables during my visit.  Just sayin'.  The tab, including a half carafe of red came to paltry 49€ - can't argue with that.  Muro may not be on the lists in all the guides, but I heartily recommend it, so there.

Just to add, I was among the guests at another dinner at the Casino of Venice.  It was a pretty good meal, featuring some decent artichokes, which is about all I can remember, so the wine must have been pretty good, too.  I did have a chance to wander to the casino part of the Casino with a couple acquaintances, fully armed with my free 10€ chip and admission paper (following the vetting of my passport).  Hello, David Lynch.  No Sharon Stones throwing chips in the air - this place was somber.  There were several adjoining rooms housing roulette and baccarat tables and populated by cigar-smoking Italian ghouls and their gals.  I placed my chip on a roulette table and left without it about 10 seconds later.  Back out into the night, free shuttle boat back to the Palazzo Roma, and I got back to my hotel without falling into the canal.  Goodnight.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Postcards From Venice - Mamma Mia

From a culinary standpoint, during previous trips to Venice, Italy, I contented myself with taking the easy road - that is, leave my hotel and start walking until I am lost - that would take on average about 10 seconds.  Then find a restaurant that looks bereft of tourists, the sort of place that only true Venetians would know about.  Enter, order a simple plate of pasta and a bottle of wine, and find oneself in Venetian heaven.  So much for the easy road - now that I am penning - can one pen anything online? - a restaurant blog, my standards have risen and during my late January trip, I arrived at Marco Polo airport fully armed with a list of go-to venues.

A short walk from my hotel near the Piazalle Roma on the diminutive Gaffaro canal was number one on my list - Ristorante Ribot.  When I asked for advice at my hotel, Ribot was the first spot they mentioned - all the confirmation I needed.  I was psyched.  Despite no answer when I called to reserve, I was certain this was just some sort of Italian thing - they were too busy preparing in the kitchen to bother answering the phone, of course.  After a tasty glass of vodka in my hotel room, I traveled solo to Ribot - no relation to the fine guitarist Marc Ribot, by the way - and what I found was a shuttered, closed restaurant. So much for that idea.   When I inquired at the desk of the business next door, I was informed that the owners were on vacation all week, but were open for lunch.  Okay, maybe that's another Italian thing - you only go on vacation at night, but you're home during the day.  So I returned for lunch the next day, and this is what I found:

Ristorante Ribot when it's not opened

Yep, closed again.  Closed, and no cigar.  So no, apparently that is not an Italian thing that I mentioned before, and when Italians go on vacation during a week, you can count on their being away day and night.  At least that makes more sense.  But I was still out a couple meals.

So here's what I did.  For dinner, I walked half a block down and on the other side of the street was one of those little trattorias that I used to stumble into blindly and hope I could get an authentic Italian meal.  This turned out to be a pretty good choice, and the next day I read quite a lot good about Osteria Ae Cravate.

Osteria Ae Cravate
Address: Salizada san pantalon - santa croce, 36, 30135 Venezia, Italy
Phone:+39 041 528 7912

Some of the actual cravates hanging from the Osteria's ceiling

Only a few tables were taken when I entered around 8 pm, with a few more filling up during the course of the evening.  The next day, however, they seemed to be doing a pretty brisk lunch business.  The padrone in chief did a pretty good job of lending a warm, traditional atmosphere to the place, and we bantered a little in his broken English and my non-Italian.  After a mise en bouche offering of white fish on toast  I started off with an excellent primo platto of risotto in black ink with sepia, one of my favorites.

White fish on toast to get things started
Risotto in black ink, with sepia

I must admit, with a couple glasses of wine, the bread, and the risotto, I was good to go - that is, sated.  But I had ordered a secondo, a grilled fish platter.  This was a real miss - the seafood was excellent - succulent and sweet - but the fish was dry and all tasted the same.  I couldn't finish it.

Grilled fish/seafood platter - should have been better

My guess is that Osteria does pasta and rice plates right - stick with those, go for lunch, and you should be pretty satisfied.  Sorry, I have no idea what is the origin of the tie/cravate motif - I can only guess.

Speaking of lunch, my second strike at Ribot was no big deal - I expected them to be closed for lunch, being the astute professor of vacations myself, I figured if you're on vacation the night before, there's a good chance you'll be on vacation the afternoon after.  As mentioned, this assumption proved correct.  So I was armed with some alternatives.

The first was recommended by my hotel, Al Vecio Pozzo.  The directions seemed simple - a 5 - 10 minute walk from the hotel.  Well, maybe it's me, but it is bloody near impossible to find anything in Venice, directions, GPS, free-roaming satellite, or not.  By the time I found Al Vecio it may have been lunch time the next day for all I know.  I would not be deterred, I found it, and it was closed (and it was still lunch time, by the way).

Al Vecio Pozzo when it's not open

 Don't ask me, I tell you what I know, and what I know is that it seems that a lot of Italian restaurateurs take their vacations around the end of January.  And by the looks of Al Vecio, that vacation had started a few decades earlier.  Fortunately, my next choices panned out.

To be continued...

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