By Elsie Mendez @sabormexico
3 years ago, through social networks I had heard about a young chef named Pablo Salas. I found him very interesting, especially the great labor he does in rescuing many of the traditional recipes from Estado de México. A place that those of us who live in México City feel so close to, that we see it as “ours”; but it is in fact another state
Pablo’s story isn’t about inspiration from grandmothers or his mother; his interest came about on his own, it became his dream and then the entire family embraced it. Pablo belongs to the third graduating class of one of México’s culinary schools with a rich tradition: Ambrosia.
After roaming the world, one day his father found out that one of Toluca’s most popular restaurants was for sale, so he decided to establish a spot where Pablo and his brother could make their dreams come true in the food and wine world. Today everyone contributes, including Verónica, their mother.
The concept of bringing to the table what most Mexicans consider standard “street food”, which most of us enjoyed in country picnics during our childhood or by going to La Marquesa Park for the sheer pleasure of tasting a bone marrow soup, or their traditional quesadillas with green or red sausage, their trout ones, and of course rabbit. I think that it is not only an excellent idea, but what makes it more interesting is that now we are able to sample all these dishes in the comfort of a place with a cozy design, accompanied by a great variety of Mexican wines, which make it a perfect union.
Without losing the traditional or basic elements of the recipes, Pablo gives us a Mexiquense cuisine full of quality and with outstanding flavors.
“Amaranta” is the name of the restaurant, in honor of women, and amaranth’s importance in Mexican cuisine.
He opens our appetites with a small pambazo in a green sauce and a blanc cassis cocktail with morita chile and sparkling wine. One of my favorites dishes brought to us by the Spaniards is pig’s feet, with the pleasant surprise of a balance between vinegar and oregano –which has been a labor in my home since time immemorial, and allows me to appreciate Pablo’s work and dedication in these traditional Mexican recipes. He presents this dish to us as a carpaccio accompanied with vegetables, and the rest of the ingredients from the original recipe, which we put on top of our tostadas.
In his pursuit of avant-garde efforts, Pablo took a speed course (as he would say) on molecular cuisine in order to give a special touch to his traditional cooking; and that’s how he presents a unique dish that I had never tasted before: carp eggs in cilantro foam –a Mexiquense version of caviar, with which we made delectable tacos.
The bone marrow soup with chipotle pearls is perfection and it defends itself well against those of La Marquesa, and as matter of fact I could say that it is the best that I have tasted in years, and God knows that I have lived long enough to have tasted quite a few! And this one takes the cake.
The Malinalco style trout -and there are many of you who surely have tasted it a million times in your outings through Estado de México, will find it here cooked sous vide in a bed of green rice with panela cheese from Aculco (a municipality in the Estado de México known of its cheeses), it also comes with the traditional stewed serrano chiles, tomatoes, and onion.
Surprisingly, memories came and I was reminded of the time when I lived in Santiago Tianguistenco (Náhuatl for the edge of the market), an important municipality with one of México’s oldest markets that dates from the pre-Hispanic era, and was second in importance to the one in Tlatelolco. I think I have to return there soon.
Marinated rabbit is another typical dish of the Mexiquense cuisine –it is cooked for eight hours in adobo, finished on the grill, and served with rice and bean taquitos. What added to our enjoyment was the company of Pablo’s parents sharing and exchanging stories at the table with us. Without a doubt, food is the component that made us feel at ease. Jazz as background music, added a special touch to this experience, and helped turn it into a chat among friends.
Maríatinto is today one of my favorite wines, and the one we chose to pair with our last dish: almond pork with cinnamon and other spices and a dominant and delicious smokiness.
When I ask Pablo what he eats his answer is “street tacos in the markets,” and that’s where he finds a lot of his inspiration when he goes shopping. He tells me that the manzano chile, the almond moles, the peanut mole, and the pumpkin seed mole are from Estado de México.
The afternoon turned into night and the truth is that we didn’t want the day to end, but we still had to try dessert: a sweet corn cake with guava foam, orange rind gelatin, and orange liqueur. And if this weren’t enough, a plate with a miniature chocolate sweet: brownie, mousse, amaranth balls, bonbon, and a champurrado with a lemon verbena as a digestif that helps to absorb fat. I should have drunk a huge glass of this! All the desserts were paired with Late Harvest.
The drive back home wasn’t a long one, but we had to get on the road, and it was time to say goodbye, but not before giving each other hugs, because more than a taste testing meal it was get together with friends where we shared a great meal.
I send all my love to the Salas family for their hospitality, and their warmth in this marvelous experience.