By: Carlos Dragonné y Elsie Mendez
In this search for mexican flavors in the city –which is, in itself, a risk– there are some days in which, after several failed attempts, the adventure can surprise you and take you to places where the experience is totally satisfactory although you never thought you’ll be exploring it in the first place. That’s what happened to me in Merotoro, a restaurant run by chef Jair Téllez who invites us to discover the vision of contemporary Mexican cuisine that defines him, even if, when asked, he can’t find the proper word to define it himself.
Before the casting experience that the Chef had prepared for us, we had to talk with Jair to fully understand it. Born in Sonora but raised in Tijuana –a city in which he lived since de age of 2–, Jair prior to being a cook, is an anthropologist. This is why the dishes in Merotoro had so much insight on traditions and ingredients, due to the historical knowledge about them and the Mexican culture and influences. A little shy, relaxed and without the arrogance that, so many times, you found in cooks around the city, Jair talks about how he discovered a need for a true Mexican cuisine restaurant in Tijuana, creating Laja, his first venue and the inspiration for bringing this flavors into Mexico City.
Before the food was presented, we were lucky to had a Martini tasting, being the Lychee Flavored Martini my favorite and, without doubt, the newest addition in my favorite drinks list. Prepared with crushed lychees, cucumber and a few drops of lemon, the bartender’s skills makes possible to respect this delicate fruit flavor and balance it properly so the alcohol doesn’t overwhelm your palate.
It is worth mentioning that I’ve never been fan of the plating that transforms Mexican food into Novelle Cuisine or Fusion Cuisine, because a basic element that defines this country’s gastronomy is in its exuberant way of serving a dish. And this is where I had the first –of many– moment where my impression would be changed, for the plating design of these dishes caught my eye instantly.
The first step in this tour was Scallops with Cucumber, Apple, Lemon, Pistachio and Crispy Chamoy. The marinade for the Scallops delivers an astonishing and balanced flavor. From this moment on, it would seem that the chef had propose himself a personal challenge to take me through dishes that, normally, I wouldn’t think about ordering.
Of all the chances I had to taste a Gazpacho, truth is that I’d never been convinced that this dish is for me. This time, at the moment the dish hit the table, something got my immediate attention and, almost without noticing, I decided to grab the spoon and take a dive into what was in front of me. Needless to say, it was a good choice. While the Spanish recipe is the baseline, this Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimp and Avocado redefines my conception of this Iberian classic, now reinterpreted and mexicanized in the kitchen of Merotoro. For the first time ever, I was thinking of ordering it again because I found myself thinking that it wasn’t enough for such a great dish.
With a menu based in Baja California’s Gulf ingredients, the next thing that arrived was a Roasted Octopus with Pickle Vegetables, Salicornia and Chili Slices in which, the lead character of this dish is the octopus consistency, because, for its difficulty and precision, so few cooks know the exact doneness of this mollusk
Then, it was time for the biggest surprise yet the chef has stored for my palate. At the table was a Grilled Extraviado Fish Loin with Tomatoes, Peppers and Tender Garlic. It was a surprise for many reasons. First of all, my body has always rejected the pepper almost like a reflex and, this time, I knew about the pepper because I asked about the sauce accompanying this perfect cooked fish. Then, I need to make a confession. Although I’m criticized every time I do it, it’s almost a rule for me not to taste the fish skin. It’s one of those things that never cause a craving or a need to taste it but, after my companion insisted so eagerly, I gave in and, of course, I was thankful for it. The flavor intensity and its crispy texture –trademark of the product’s cooking and quality– made my friend regret his suggestion because, actually, I’m not ashamed to say that I cleaned the dish of the remaining pieces with skin.
A spectacular food accompanied with a Semi-Dry White Wine from Casa de Piedra, was destined to end with the dessert that’s going to be the delight of everyone that enters Merotoro. Presented in a beautiful way, in front of us was an Almond Cupcake with Chocolate Sauce and Crème Brûlée Ice Cream. Crème Brûlée is my all-time favorite dessert, and seeing it turned into a garnish ice cream was the perfect closure for an afternoon full with discoveries.
Jair Téllez has accomplished an amazing concept in Mexican cuisine, based on sea food from the Mexican Pacific that honors, first, to the importance of the product, but also to the cosmopolitan spirit of a Mexico City eager for unique and authentic flavors. No doubt, this metropolis will have to be reciprocal with him and his kitchen and, by all means, honor him back.
Amsterdam #204, Col: Hipódromo-Condesa.