Monday, June 05, 2017

Mexico City Digest - A round up of favorite places and things from my May 2017 trip to Mexico City.

I'm trying something new - using the blog here to supplement my Instagram posts with "Digests" of my trips and some of my favorite places to regularly visit. The Digests will round up my personal favorites from each trip and/or place along with a few thoughts and tips. Coming soon, look for digests from recent and upcoming trips to Florence, the Amalfi Coast, London, LA, New York, Copenhagen and London. And if you don't already, follow me on Instagram! It's pretty fun, I swear! I may even do a roundup of my favorite accounts to help you get hooked. :) Hope you enjoy! xx
Breakfast at Lalo - CDMX
Breakfast at Lalo  - Roma Centro - This was our first, and I think best, breaktfast in CDMX - chilaquiles (verde) and huevos rancheros served with a bowl of soupy black beans.  The eggs were the tell-tale deep orange of pastured eggs, always a good sign.  Lalo is a casual daytime place by the people behind Maximo, a great upscale French bistro across the street which we also enjoyed a couple of days later.  We had good coffee here too - the only downer was the stale croissant - hopefully a one off - but I didn't get the impression that baked goods are their strong suit. (There's a better place for those - Panaderia Rosetta - see below.)  Bonus points for great design and service.
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Coffee at Cafe Avellaneda - Coyoacan  - I'm pretty  much ready to move to Coyoacan just to be closer to this place.  It's that good. We found it looking for a spot for coffee before the Frida Kahlo museum, which is a short walk away.  We loved it so much that we went back on our last day. Its a tiny jewel-box of a spot tucked away on a side street.  They have a small bar and a bench along the wall. If you sit there, they bring your coffee on a tray, with a glass of water and a little cookie on a little pottery plate.  It's just perfect.  They also feature delicious coffee cocktails - above is the Juanito, espresso, tonic water and tamarind extract with a twist of orange rind - and a small but perfect selection of baked goods under a glass dome on the counter (I recommend the almond cake) They also sell their coffee beans by the pound.  If you go, will you bring me some??  Please??
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The Frida Kahlo House (Casa Azul) - Coyoacan - This was at the absolute top of my list and it lived up to all of my expectations.  There is some, but not a lot of her artwork here - it is really about the house and her life.  The larger and better collections of paintings are at the Diego Rivera and Dolores Olmedo museums, which we did not get to on this trip.  We did not do the audio tour, but I would (will) probably go ahead and spring for it next time - I had already checked my bag at the door so I wasn't able to pay the fee for a photo permit - it's only 30 pesos. I was able to sneak a couple but it would be nice to have more.  Definitely buy tickets in advance online. We went on a late weekday morning and were able to skip the very long line because we had already purchased our tickets. My favorite part was the exhibit of her dresses and clothing - including some of her casts and prosthetics - it was housed in a separate area so I'm not sure if it's a permanent exhibit but it is well worth seeing.  While you're at the Casa Azul be sure to head over to the town square of Coyacan just a few blocks away, and visit the Coyoacan handicrafts markets  - there are two, and they both have a great selection of clothes, baskets huaraches, textiles, etc. at good prices. On Sundays (and probably other days as well) they also have great street vendors, and you can get fantastic churros at Churreria General de Republica.  There is also a great little Antojitos market near Cafe Avellaneda, where we had some fab tostadas after our second visit.
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Lunch at Contramar - Condesa - Contramar is a bustling spot and was absolutely packed when we arrived with no reservation at 3 PM on Thursday afternoon - prime comida time.  They told us it would be an hour wait, we said we'd stick it out, and it turned out to be more like 15 minutes.  I'm not sure if we were just lucky, but this "show up and agree to wait an hour" strategy worked for us on two other occasions too - every time we got in within about 15-20 minutes. I really liked our meal at Contramar, but I didn't love it as much as I had hoped. Their ahi tostadas (center bottom above) are their most popular dish - and while they were very good, they weren't better than the tostadas in Ensenada at La Guerrerense or other good ceviche spots elsewhere.  We liked the ceviche a lot, and the "carnitas de pescada" were fun for a change, but the scallop dish (top right) was a little bland in spite of its startling color and the mayonnaise laden camaron tostadas were cloyingly sweet.  A lot of people seem to order the whole fish here, so maybe that's the way to go. I'm including Contramar in this roundup because even though I didn't love our meal, I think it's at least partly because we ordered poorly. It's definitely a happening scene at comida time and people reeallly seem to love it. BTW - they have a "gringo" menu that doesn't have a slot for their daily changing specials - so be sure to ask for those. (They gave us the Spanish one at first, then the gringo one when we asked to see a menu during the meal.)
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La Merced Market Tour with Eat Mexico Tours:  Aside from the Casa Azul, the other advance plan we made before leaving on the trip was a tour of La Merced, the largest and oldest food market in Mexico City.  We chose Eat Mexico for this tour and we were really happy with the experience.  Our guide, Carla, was incredibly charming, and took the three of us on the tour all over the fruit and vegetable and prepared food sides of the market.  Interestingly, she said she would not take us in the meat building because we were an all female group, and she didn't want to subject us to harassment by the butchers. I had heard that street harassment is more of an issue in Mexico than it is in the US, but either we were too old or this didn't prove true, because we certainly didn't notice any.  We never felt unsafe anywhere we went, and we walked around quite a bit.  As we went through the tour, Carla took us to her favorite stalls and all of our food and beverages were included - we stopped for tacos, aguas frescas, candy, and even a stall selling insects and other delicacies of Mexico. We had some really good nieves (ice cream) on the street, and finished with mezcal served in a poblano pepper and guacamole with chapulines (yes, grasshoppers!) at a nice restaurant nearby. The tour takes about five hours, and I had been a smidge concerned about spending such a large chunk of time at the market, but it was really worthwhile. La Merced is also something you definitely would not want to do without a guide, at least the first time. The place is huge and a total maze and you would have no idea how to find the good stuff once you got inside.
Palacio Nacional - CDMX
After the tour, since we were close to the city center, we walked over to the Zocalo to see the Cathedral, the Templo Mayor ancient Aztec ruins right next door, and the Diego Rivera Mural at the Palacio Nacional - the History of Mexico.  If you go to CDMX - do not miss this mural - it is worth a special trip, and the Palacio Nacional is a lovely oasis of calm within the city.  We had a little trouble finding the entrance to the building (a sign maybe would have helped?)  but eventually figured it out. The Zocalo itself was a construction site so there wasn't much to look at there, but the balcony bar at the Gran Hotel has a fabulous vantage point and a killer Tiffany stained glass dome in the lobby - like the Palace Hotel in San Francisco - and is worth a stop for a drink.
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Lunch at Maximo Bistrot - Roma - This was by far my favorite meal of the trip.  In fact, it's  the best meal I've eaten in recent memory.  We arrived at 3 PM on Saturday afternoon and they squeezed us in after a lovely cocktail in the upstairs bar.  The restaurant wasn't exactly what I expected - it's  described in blog posts and articles as a "French bistro" but it's much more interesting that that.  I'd say Mediterranean fine dining maybe.  We opted to share two starters, two mains and a bottle of wine  Our server very enthusiastically recommended the "Caracol" - which is sea snails, with butter and garlic, plated over a swirl of avocado puree.  I've never loved sea snails but these may have changed my mind.  They were tender and rich, sparkling with butter, citrus and garlic.  The next dish was lightly fried artichoke hearts - served in more garlic and butter but just different enough from the first dish. They brought around hunks of fresh baked sourdough bread and it was all just heavenly with the bottle of dry white wine we ordered.  For mains, anytime I see rabbit on the menu I order it, and it was fantastic here - braised and served in a flavorful demi glace. My friend Kris chose fish and was equally pleased.
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Panaderia Rosetta - Colonia Juarez.  There are a few other smaller branches of this bakery cafe sprinkled around including one in Condesa and Roma.  We popped in for a bite on the afternoon of our last day in CDMX - I opted for the lemon meringue cake pictured above, which was better than I dared expect - and Kris had a savory snack of appetizers and salads.  Everything was just "so" and if I were to return to Mexico City (and I am fairly certain I will) I would seriously consider staying in the Air BNB that is literally right upstairs just for easy access to their coffee and pastries in the morning.  The Juarez area was lovely, with tree-lined streets and an upscale residential feel to it  I'm sure they're very busy in the morning but in the afternoon it was nice and peaceful.

For more photos, click here.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Glastonbury Festival 2015

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Oh Glastonbury, you got me again.  I thought this second visit would be so much easier than the first - we were staying inside the festival in a tipi, some of my favorite bands were playing (even headlining!)  and having been there before we were old pros. We even knew where the secret piano bar was.  But guess what?  It still went by in a flash, and we still didn't get around to everything we wanted to do.  I  now realize that is completely impossible and one of the maddening yet enchanting thing about the festival.  You are going to miss 95% of it no matter what you do.  It's all about choices, and it definitely keeps you coming back for more.
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The tipi thing worked out really well.  There were clean compost toilets, showers, a fire pit and a cafe, and we had a lovely huge tipi to enjoy.  It was pretty noisy, with music coming at us from about six different locations during waking hours Friday-Sunday (including a never ending drum circle in the Tipi Field next door.)  The hour-long lines for showers were also inconvenient, but at least there were showers.  I just don't think I could do the whole five days without them. Between the mud, all the walking and the fact that there's no better way to revive when you're hungover or tired, that is a necessity for me. We missed some things about our posh campsite last year - namely the lovely people running it, parking close to the tent and the real double bed we slept on, but the prime location of the tipis made up for a lot of that.
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The benefits of being inside the festival were only slightly offset by the misery of having to carry our belongings all the way across the site from Gate D to the tipi field without a backpack or a cart.  That was kind of our own fault though.  Would you go on a three mile uphill hike with two overweight, sagging duffel bags?  Don't answer that.  We ate all our meals in the festival this year, but there was a lot of turnover in the food vendors - and sadly many of the ones I enjoyed last year were missing.  I was also chagrined to notice the prices went up by about a pound across the board, so most meals/sandwiches, etc. were around 8-12 pounds, or about 13-18 bucks a meal.  Seeing as I ate only one real meal every day it wasn't terrible, but when your one meal isn't very good it's a bit of drag.
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We did try that Tabun pizza, and it was the best thing we had.  Tied for second were the lobster dripping in herb butter, and the raclette - both down by the Pyramid Stage. The lobster stall was a little overwhelmed, but when I finally got my lobster it was almost worth the crazy long wait.  On the plus side of the wait, met and chatted with the guys who do the visuals for Flying Lotus - one of them even chivalrously gave me his lobster when mine came out looking scrawny and I sent it back. (Picky? Who, me?)  The raclette boys had the whole set up - broiling the wheel of cheese under a heater and then scraping it off onto little paper boats filled with new potatoes, bacon and pickles. (Pro tip: get it with the fries instead of new potatoes.)  I would have pictures and even a video of that for you, but I managed to lock myself out of my phone and lost all of my pictures from Wednesday and Thursday when I had to restart it as a new phone on Friday (which was not easy in a remote location like that, let me tell you!)
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My music highlight this year was definitely Florence and the Machine.  She stepped up to the headline slot at the last minute when planned Friday headliners Foo Fighters had to cancel because of Dave Grohl's broken leg.  She absolutely killed it - I almost didn't go because I was by myself, but I am so glad I did. Her cover of Times Like These by the Foo Fighters was the perfect homage. I got as close as I possibly could and I've never been at a show with more energy and enthusiasm.  I loved it so much I bought tickets for her show here in October as soon as I got home.
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I was committed to changing it up and getting around to as many new experiences as possible this year, and going in the "back" of the Rabbit Hole was close to the top of this list.  We went on Thursday since we figured the lines were only going to get longer throughout the weekend.  When you finally get to the front, they usher you through a thigh high door into a room decorated Alice in Wonderland style, where they ask you riddles, spin you around and generally just try to disorient you as much as possible before sending you through a lighted tunnel to a tented dance club area - there is a little outdoor space and a second smaller tented area too with a live band. Adjacent to this is an even more exclusive "VIP" area with a central outdoor fireplace and live music -  it was rumored there was a hot tub back there this year too.
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The Rabbit Hole seemed a lot more crowded this year - Since it's tucked up at the top of the Park I think in years past a lot of people didn't make it all the way there, but that seemed to have changed.  We were there for the "Secret Massive Finale" (below) - which was Mark Ronson doing a DJ set.  I also made it to see Fatboy Slim in Silver Hayes this year - a lot of people complained about the venue being dangerously overcrowded, but we were kind of off to the side and didn't notice any problems.  Arcadia was also pretty spectacular this year with their newly added baby spiders, and one of my festival highlights was seeing The Age of Glass at the Bimble Inn at 1 AM on Monday. (Can you tell I spent quite a bit of time enjoying the nightlife this year?)
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I did still manage to get around to a few daytime sets including Alt J, where we discovered the joy of  a lazy afternoon up on the hill surrounding the Pyramid.  The sound is really surprisingly good up there.  We were right in front of people's tents - must be an interesting experience to have that view all weekend.  We missed Lionel Ritchie in the Sunday "Legends" slot - he drew the largest crowd of the weekend just like Dolly Parton last year. We opted for a catered Sunday lunch at the Deluxe Diner in Shangri La instead, but I caught some of Lionel on the taped coverage. It looked like he put on a good show and was tickled by the fantastic reception from the crowd.  I also heard but did not see the Dalai Lama's Sunday morning speech. Another side benefit of being in a tipi, we were close enough to the Green Fields to wake up to it coming through over the loudspeaker.
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We found the piano bar - which wasn't very difficult at all.  All day Wednesday and Thursday you could see and hear them building it, just off to the side of the Kings Meadow (Stone Circle) - people wandered through during the day and played the piano occasionally - I tried to go Saturday morning but we were deterred by the huge line - it only holds about 30 people.  Also new this year, a couple had set up two tubs nearby  - one "indoor" in a tent and one outdoor with a view - offering hot seaweed baths heated by a woodfired stove. It looked interesting, but I don't know if they had very many takers.
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We closed out the weekend with the Chemical Brothers at the Other Stage on Sunday night (before going on to Arcadia, Bimble Inn and the Rabbit Hole...again...)  Though I probably missed more of the music than I should have one great thing about Glastonbury is most of the lineup is televised on the BBC - the whole thing is on TV in England and a lot of it was also uploaded to YouTube.  Since you can only be in one place at one time and you have to sleep at some point, the televised coverage is fantastic for seeing what you missed.  Of course it's not the same as being there, but in some ways it's actually better.  You can  actually see the performance and you're not standing in the rain/being trampled by the crowd/broiling in the sun, etc.  It's helped me discover a lot of bands that I might never have found otherwise like Years and Years, Future Islands, Jamie T, Jamie XX, etc. Unfortunately the BBC has marked all of their You Tube videos private now (I think they only share them for thirty days.) but many of them have been uploaded by other viewers - poke around here if you want to have a look.
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All in all, it was another amazing, exhausting, overwhelming, fantastic year.  I met some fun people (one of whom has actually turned into a real life friend - hi Helen!)  hung out with some friends from last year, and made other "friends" I'll probably never see again, but that's how the Glastonbury spirit works.  Every time you go, you have a little more experience to go on, some new areas to see, a list of bands you will probably never make it to, and (hopefully) you let yourself get carried off to something new and unexpected.  I also discovered the joys of showing the festival to people experiencing it for the first time, which might be the most fun of all.

(If you're interested, I also wrote about 2014 here, here and here.)


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Verde y Crema, Tijuana with Club Tengo Hambre

Club Tengo Hambre Group 8.9.14
I have another post about London in the works, but judging by the number of questions I've been getting about this trip, I'm thinking you'd probably rather hear about this first.  I'd been wanting to do one of the Club Tengo Hambre tours for a while, and this time the stars finally aligned.  Their tours to the Guadalupe Valley look like a lot of fun, as do the tacos and beer tours of Tijuana - but this one was an introduction to three of Tijuana's newest prominent dining destinations  - Verde y Crema, La Querencia and Mision 19.  We met on this side of the border and crossed over on foot - then hopped in a mini bus for the short trip to Verde y Crema.  On the way they treated us to shots of tequila - a great start to any adventure.
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Verde y Crema is Jair Tellez' new spot just off Agua Caliente Blvd in a converted bus depot.  The art and light filled space was by far my favorite stop on the tour and the menu appealed to me the most of the three for a return visit.
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The dining room is covered but flooded with natural light through clear plexiglass.  There is a bar along the long shaded area on the right and club like space upstairs.  They serve beer and wine, no cocktails (for now anyway) but these spaces look like a great spot to while a way a couple of hours in the evening.
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Our tour group sat together at one long table. It was brutally hot and it being indoor/outdoor there was no air conditioning in the restaurant, but they set up some fans to give us a little air circulation.  We ordered bottled water and cold beer and felt better immediately.
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At each stop on the one beverage option was included.  Here it was a lightly smoky young Mezcal - pictured below. At La Querencia it was beer and at Mision 19 it was wine - all local of course.  We ordered more than what was provided at every stop - beer, bottled water, cocktails, etc. so we wound up at each stop with a bit of a bill, which was fine, but just not something I thought about. It would definitely be a good idea to bring some cash along - but you're not likely to cross the border without some cash anyway, right?
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The first of our two food courses at this stop were the "verdure" (vegetable) tacos - fresh, soft blue corn tortilla pockets toasted with melted cheese and filled with roasted beets, fresh salsa, watermelon radish, cilantro and scallion.  The soft slightly crisp tortilla and warm melted cheese contrasted well with the fresh toppings and made these  radical but welcome change from our usual San Diego style Mexican food.  James said they were his favorite dish of the tour.
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Our second course was my favorite, a light citrusy ceviche with fresh uni.  To my surprise, several people in the group did not eat this at all.  At first I didn't want to be too greedy, but eventually I found myself scraping more and more onto my plate.  I couldn't bear to see it go to waste, but of course I didn't want to overdo it with two more stops and six more courses to come.
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At Verde y Crema they cook primarily with wood - behind the chefs below is a complex wood burning grill, and in the corner is a wood burning oven.  This window to the kitchen is at the back of the restaurant, we swung by and took these pictures on the way upstairs.
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The upstairs bar was peaceful and quiet in the afternoon.  The bar was closed, but it looked like a nice place for a drink with friends in the evening or after dinner.
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In the parking lot just adjacent to the restaurant sits a food truck, Troca Lonche.  They do some cooking and preparation for the restaurant, and apparently serve breakfast.  I read that they plan to hit the streets soon with more offerings, so keep an eye out for that.
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Before boarding the bus, we posed for a group photo in front of the mural in their parking lot which made a fun backdrop for a group photo up top.)  Jair Tellez is best known for Laja - the "French Laundry of the Guadalupe Valley."  About a million years ago we went to Laja and I wrote a blog post about it.  We enjoyed the meal but to be honest it wasn't amazing.  I think it may have been a bit of an outlier though, and I've been wanting to go back and try it again.  The Guadalupe Valley has changed quite a bit since 2006 and I can't wait to experience all of the new places that have opened in the past few years.  We're hoping to make a trip down there this fall - now that we have SENTRI passes that whole ordeal just became a whole lot easier.
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If you are not already aware, SENTRI (or Global Entry) is a must for visiting Mexico - if you can afford it.  Frankly, it disgusts me a bit that the Feds are asking people to pay to skip the line rather than simply doing their job more efficiently - but they haven't solicited my feedback recently, so I'm guessing it doesn't really matter what I think.  We forked over our $125. earlier this year after a three hour wait coming back from a camping trip in Baja in December. You pay a $25. deposit and fill out a form online, then wait for them to contact you for an interview.  At the interview, they collect another $125 from you, fingerprint you, take your picture, and ask you a few questions.  It's a lot like a trip to the DMV.  Shortly thereafter - assuming you are accepted - they will give you a Trusted Traveler Number and issue your card.  The whole process took about six months for us, and may be longer now depending on where you are trying to book your appointment. Your Trusted Traveler Number also gives you access to Global Entry and TSA Pre benefits - as long as the name associated with your Trusted Traveler Number matches your reservation.
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If you don't live near the Mexican border and don't plan to drive across, you don't need SENTRI - you can get Global Entry for the trusted traveler benefits for air travel including TSA Pre.  (NEXUS is the equivalent to SENTRI for crossing the Canadian border.)  If you decide you want to add SENTRI later, you can just add it to your account by requesting it after the fact.  The guy who interviewed me told me to tell everyone to get Global Entry and add SENTRI because they'll add it for free if you already have Global Entry.  If you apply for Sentri from the start, it costs $25. more.  Not a big deal for one person, but for a family it could add up, and everyone in your car has to have SENTRI in order to use the dedicated lane coming back.