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).

"Panuchos de cochinita pibil"
Xni-pec sauce, pickled onions
Given our general affinity for Yucatecan food, we had a lot of panuchos while in town, but these turned out to be our favourite rendition. The fried tortillas were remarkably grease-free, and the filling of refried beans retained a great texture. Likewise, the cochinita pibil was perfectly fork-tender, but very moist and absolutely packed with flavour.

Venison salpicon
Avocado, tomatoes, spicy chili, onion
Very traditional preparation (albeit with venison instead of beef) - the meat was marinated in a vinegar that played very well with the dangerously hot salsa served on the side (the slices of avocado did a wonderful job cooling off the heat). We were provided with tortilla chips, upon which we heaped the components before eating. Quite delicious.

"Arroz a la tumbada"
12-year old achiote, epazote, black oregano from the Yucatan
This was amazing - easily my favourite dish. A recipe from Veracruz, the heady seafood broth contained firm grains of "tumbled rice", together with fish, clams, octopus, and "naked" (soft-shell) crab. The perfume of achiote was everywhere, balanced by the anise notes from the epazote (here I wonder about the use of aged achiote. Powdered spices typically weaken with time - not the case for achiote?) This was also our first encounter with oregano negro, with which I'm unfamiliar (it doesn't seem to be the same thing as Mexican oregano).

Venison, Veracruz Huastecan-style almond mole
Mashed sweet potatoes, zucchini
"Nicuatole zapoteco"
Corn flan, zapote negro
From Oaxaca, nicuatole is essentially a pudding made from masa and sugar - the texture is pleasantly grainy (rustic, if you will) with an unmistakeable flavour. Here the pudding was chilled and hewn into rough cubes. Poured over the top was a purée of zapote negro, a fruit related to persimmon. Very refreshing, and an excellent end to the meal.

A superb meal, and one that also provided further insight into the depth of Mexican cuisine. While the restaurant has a menu of year-round staples, we were both excited about the rotating selection of specials timed to coincide with various festivals throughout the year (their website has an extensive list of dishes). One comes away from this meal feeling that the surface has been barely scratched. I crave more, for my brain and for my stomach.

Azul Histórico
Isabel La Católica 30
Centro, D.F., Mexico
Phone: +52 (55) 5510-1316