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.

House-baked raisin bread
Salsa, frijoles negros, huitlacoche butter
I never mention bread service unless it is outstanding - and was this ever. A whole loaf of hot, crusty bread with an airy crumb, studded with raisins. It was presented with two types of butter (unflavoured, and with huitlacoche), pureed black beans, and an earthy roasted tomato salsa. Amazing - we each polished off a loaf by ourselves.

Amuse - Zucchini, goat cheese, oregano, chili, tortilla chip
Excellent first bite, contrasting the crispness of the tortilla chip and zucchini with the creamy cheese. The spices provided a nice kick to whet our appetites.

Coconut, avocado, powdered sea lettuce
According to the chef who presented the course (each course was presented by one of the kitchen staff), sailfish is typically used in this dish, but tuna was substituted this afternoon. The fish had the lightest trace of smoke on its flesh - complemented perfectly by the dried coconut and coconut foam. Importantly, the coconut was not overly sweet, allowing it to integrate with the natural salinity of the tuna. An oil of avocado leaf ash and coriander was green and spicy, and the avocado puree was expectedly creamy. An exquisitely balanced dish.

Quintonil, parsley, cilantro
Cotija cheese, grilled tomatoes
A simple salad of local herbs, dressed with a sauce of pureed herb stems. The restaurant's namesake (quintonil is the Spanish word for amaranth greens) was presented in fresh and toasted form - allowing for an enlightening comparison of the effects of fire. A bright course, grounded by the umami of the cheese and grilled tomatoes. Very, very good.

Huazontles, Chiapas cheese, red tomatoes
The huazontle is a Mexican plant that grows tiny, edible green flowers (seen above) - the taste is unique, but somewhat reminiscent of watercress to me. Here, the stems and flowers were served fresh, and also fried in an egg batter (the latter being a very traditional preparation). These were offset by some crumbled cheese from Chiapas, and set atop a rich tomato "salsa". This dish (together with the mole course below), were perfect examples of the new generation of Mexican chefs looking back at their culinary heritage, and bringing these forward.

Red snapper
Purslane, nopales, green tomato sauce
"Lechon con manzana y manzano"
Sous-vide suckling pig, apple butter, manzano pepper salsa
The pork, cooked sous-vide for 18 hours, was delicious (although the skin, crisped before serving, was still a little rubbery). The plate was served with a side of tortillas (not pictured), making for some great tacos - no small part due to the refreshing manzano salsa.

Chilacayotes, chayote, zucchini
House-made mole, charred tortillas, basil sprouts
A study in complexity. The green squashes and the peppery basil sprouts played off against the dark, rich (almost oaky) mole and burnt notes from the tortilla chips. The underlying bitterness in the dish was an interesting sensation, keeping the tastebuds alive.

Intermezzo - Cactus-lime sorbet, salt, corn husk ash
Papantla vanilla panna cotta with cardamom
Tangerine consomme, calabaza de castilla en tacha, flowers
Just the most breathtaking colours in a bowl - it blew us away when it arrived. The panna cotta (hidden at the base of the bowl) was made with jocoque, imparting it with a thicker, more decadent consistency.  Atop this, a refreshing juice of tangerine and the sweetened pumpkin (again, a modernized version of a traditional Mexican recipe). No particularly surprising flavours, but a fitting dessert to end the meal.

Mignardises - Dulce de leche, cocada, chocolate jelly, achiote-chili tamarind
Like bread, a point I rarely bring up in my posts is cost - it is hard to put a price tag on quality, but this meal was a true bargain. The tasting menu was MX$695 each (~55 USD, and remember VAT is inclusive), an amazing deal.

For us, this lunch was made all the more exciting because Jorge Vallejo is only 30 years old. Where will he take his cuisine in the next few years, especially as the focus of the gastronomic world turns towards Mexico. We will all be closely watching the paths trod by him and his peers. Go now, taste his food - be part of his evolution. Run, don't walk.

Newton 55
Polanco, D.F., Mexico
Phone: +52 (55) 5280-2680