Solace and the Moonlight Lounge - Encinitas, CA

Dinner - Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Matt Gordon is known for serving high-quality comfort food (rich and hearty are apt descriptors) at his two popular establishments - Urban Solace in North Park, and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas (as of this writing, a third place, tentatively named "Sea and Smoke", is in the works for the Del Mar area). His concepts are very attuned to the wants of the local dining scene, and both restaurants have been tremendously successful. Although we've never been disappointed by any meal at Urban Solace, it is not generally a type of cuisine we crave, preferring lighter (one could say greener) fare. On this night, however, he demonstrated a depth we hadn't seen before, executing eight dishes that were a significant departure from his regular offerings. It was impressive.

Azul Histórico - Mexico City, Mexico

Lunch - Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ricardo Muñoz Zurita is a chef, but more importantly, a culinary historian. He has built his reputation on resurrecting traditional recipes from around the country, sourcing the best ingredients from their respective regions (indeed, one could envision him as a parallel movement to Sean Brock's revival of Southern cuisine, but on a national scale). From Azul y Oro on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, he has expanded to two other locations - one in the Condesa, and the newest (Azul Histórico) in the historic center of Mexico City (the menu at all three locations is identical).

This newest space is gorgeous - an open courtyard in the middle of a colonial-style building, shaded by a ceiling of pruned leaves from century-old laurel trees. Wooden tables and chairs, and the colours of nature, lend to an organic feel - an oasis from the chaos of the city outside. On the day we visited, the restaurant happened to be celebrating the Alma Jarocha festival, featuring the cuisine of Veracruz (Muñoz's home state).

Quintonil - Mexico City, Mexico

Lunch - Friday, December 28, 2012

Quintonil opened in the spring of 2012, helmed by the young chef Jorge Vallejo (formerly of Pujol). Of the meals we ate on our recent trip to Mexico City, this one stuck with us above all else. The food struck me as an effortless use of indigenous ingredients, fused with progressive technique - a seamless elevation of Mexican cuisine.

The restaurant, situated in the ritzy Polanco neighbourhood, is charming - plenty of natural light falls upon a combination of indoor and outdoor seating. For this lunch, we found ourselves at Quintonil's kitchen table, a secluded outdoor section separated from the shoebox kitchen by a pane of glass.

NB: Credit goes to this Eater interview of Jorge Vallejo (by Gabe Ulla) for first drawing my attention to Quintonil.