El Guacamole

17 08 2011

Mexican food is becoming downright trendy here in the City of Lights.

hours and phone

And I, for one, am thrilled.  Quelling that Mexican craving no longer requires lengthy and expensive ingredient hunts followed by all-day cooking sessions.

Menu

Nope, nowadays all I have to do to get my fix is head to one of a growing number of taquerias.  Parisian Mexican stalwart Anahuacalli, widely regarded as one of the best in the city, has now entered the fray with their own taqueria in the hip Canal St. Martin neighborhood, called El Guacamole.  At three and a half euros per taco, prices are a touch more expensive than Candelaria, but on par with Itacate (whose tortas, it must be said, are something of a disappointment).

Pollo pibil, puerco salsa verde

However, they’re generously filled, traditionally garnished (buenos dias, marinated red onions), and served on good – but not handmade – corn tortillas.  Having stumbled across their website on Monday night, I found myself at El Guacamole for a late lunch on Tuesday.  It was sunny out, for once, and I decided to hop on a Velib’ and head down the canal after work, just to check the place out.  But I could hardly check it out without eating, could I?

I’m pleased to report that the puerco cooked in salsa verde was very good.  The pollo pibil had kind of a funny taste to my palate – maybe too much annatto? – but I loved the onions on top and the tender, long-cooked texture.  The “salsa piquante” brought to the table along with the tacos was not in the least picante, but the gentlemen running the place were very friendly.  I’ll be back, for sure.  I mean, I have to give the other menu items a try before passing judgment.

El Guacamole

They’ve only been open a week, but another thing I’m sure of is that the long, narrow restaurant with the bright green facade will have long lines at mealtimes, especially while the weather is nice enough to take your tacos to go for a canalside picnic.  Two more pieces of good news about El Guacamole: it’s mere steps from Du Pain et Des Idées, and the next time I want a taco before a show at the Alhambra, I don’t have to walk all the way across République to get to Candelaria (which, by the way, still has my heart, but I’m always glad to have options).

On this day on 2010: Le Bambou (more ethnic-eating-in-August adventures)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Candelaria

20 03 2011

Tired of mediocre Mexican fare in Paris? So was Luis. He came to the conclusion that the only way he was going to get a good taco in Paris was to open up his own taqueria. Fortunately for the rest of us, he did just that.

Candelaria, Paris

The storefront at 52 rue Saintonge in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement, conveniently located between the République and Filles du Calvaire Métro stops, is decidedly unassuming.  Rustic, mostly white with brightly colored shelves and fresh flowers livening up the décor, it does have a bit of that taco-shack-on-the-beach feel.

daffodils at candelaria

But that is far from the best part.

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Around Paris: 5th: Boca Mexa

24 10 2010

Friday night I met up with Katia and Kyliemac, Paris’ most famous expat podcasters.  We started off with a few happy hour margaritas at La Perla in the marais, but before long we were hungry for something more substantial than guacamole and chips.  I’ve eaten at La Perla before, and have found their food to be hit-and-miss.  Mexican sounded pretty good, though.

The Great Wall of Hot Sauce

Fortunately, my companions had recently heard tell of a new Mexican place on rue Mouffetard.  Preliminary reviews were of the raving variety, so we decided to go on a little adventure.  Walking down one of the Left Bank’s liveliest streets, we discussed how none of us came over here very much, and whether the area was more touristy or if it was the habitual convergence of foreign students that makes it what it is.  Which is generally, pretty fun, although there may be one too many English pubs catering to study-abroad types.

At any rate, thanks to the internet and smartphones, we quickly found the address we were seeking, and lo and behold, it was indeed a Mexican place.

Boca Mexa, rue Mouffetard

It was getting close to closing time, but the friendly staff patiently waited for us to make up our minds and quickly prepared our burrito, tacos, and quesadilla once we had.  They said we could take our time, so we settled in across from the Hot Sauce Wall (pictured above).

Burrito bite

I got a beef burrito, which featured a weirdly Indian-esque spice blend.  Katia, Kyliemac, and Nick assured me that their chicken-filled items were much better, so I’ll be sure to keep that in mind for next time.

Corn tacos

Tacos are available in either corn (three) or flour (two) tortillas.  The tortilla chips on the side were industrially made and unremarkable, but the salsas were pretty good, especially the hot one (not really all that hot for true spice lovers) and the tomatillo one, which was tangy and fresh-tasting.

The most exciting thing about Boca Mexa, however, may just be the small selection of Mexican products they have for sale near the cash register.  Cans of chipotle chilis in adobo seem a little expensive at 3 euros, but I haven’t seen them for sale anywhere else in Paris in almost three years of living here, and believe me, I’ve looked.  Bags of masa – essential if you want to make your own corn tortillas at home – cost 8 euros, which is half of what Nick paid for the Last Bag of Masa in Paris a little over a year ago.  Now we don’t have to hoard it anymore!  And perhaps best of all, the hot sauces.  Southern Californians will be excited to see the wooden-topped bottles of Cholula, and I think Nick actually got a tear in his eye upon seeing his beloved Valentina’s.

So we’ll definitely be back to stock up on Mexican ingredients, and while we’re there, we might just have to have a quick, cheap bite.  I’ll be sure to get the chicken.

On this day in 2008: Chicken’s in the Microwave, Beer’s in the Freezer

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Cactus L.A.

2 09 2010

Before I left on vacation, a friend of mine asked what I planned to do after the cupcakes were done.  I had two responses: eat Mexican food until it comes out my ears, and drink my weight in American craft beers.

Pretty much the taco stand of my dreams.

While I may not have accomplished either if these goals in a literal sense, I certainly satisfied both cravings in a big way.  The first was largely thanks to Cactus.  Upon touching down in Los Angeles, my friend Courtney informed me that there was a really good taco stand just around the corner from her house in Koreatown.  Hooray!  Nick and I planned to take full advantage.

Taco from Cactus

First thing the next morning Nick was up early and out the door.  He came back with two tacos – carnitas and al pastor – and a big cup of coffee.  We happily devoured our breakfast, after which we cleaned ourselves up and headed straight back to Cactus for lunch.

Chile relleno platter at Cactus

I ordered a carne asada burrito, which was much bigger than it looked when it was all wrapped up in foil.  I ate as much as I could, but was unable to finish.  Just means I get a snack later on.  Nick went for the chile relleno platter.  He’s on a lifelong quest for the perfect chile relleno (other lifelong quests include best biscuits and gravy and ideal bloody mary) and he reckons that this one rivals his previous top contender:one eaten at a hole-in-the-wall in Juarez, Mexico a decade ago. We washed it down with (what else?) a bottle of Mexican Coke.

Taa-daa!

After lunch we hopped on a train headed inland to see my family.  Somehow, we ended up going out to Mexican for dinner that night, making that three Mexican meals in one day.  Not that I am complaining at all.  Pork tacos for breakfast, beef burrito for lunch, and grilled fish tacos for dinner?  I just wish I could do it again tomorrow.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Raja Green Beans

6 08 2010

Rajas are a Mexican dish, generally consisting of grilled, roasted, or otherwise charred peppers and onions in a creamy sauce made from, well, cream.  Or crema, which is more like crème fraîche.  I saw a lot of them on menus while living in Los Angeles and Dallas, but seem to have forgotten about them entirely until this week.

That charring is intentional.

Which is a shame, because all the ingredients are readily available in Paris, it’s a snap to prepare, and it scratches that Mexican food itch in a major way.  Rajas are a versatile beast, used as both a sauce for meats and as a stand-alone side dish.  Faced with a green bell pepper challenge from the CSA panier, I thought that rajas might be a hitherto unexplored green bell pepper-hiding device.

Green beans & rajas

I mean, it fits my criteria: a) charred beyond recognition, and b) combined with lots of other tasty things (in this case, poblano-like red corne peppers, red onions, and crème fraîche).  Using the raja mixture as a sauce for the green beans languishing in the crisper seemed like the right thing to do – I thought about adding some corn as well, but decided it would be overkill.  Plus, corn just isn’t the right shape.

Green beans in a spicy, creamy sauce with charred peppers and onions

I had planned to serve these over rice, with slices of seared flank steak on the side.  As it happened, a last-minute movie date with Meg and Barbra caused the dinner to morph into a picnic-able rice bowl (Mexican bento?), which I topped with sliced tomatoes.  The green beans didn’t seem at all out of place dressed in the smoky, creamy sauce, and were delicious with the spicy meat and juicy tomatoes.  Having given it a little more thought, I think these would be excellent topped with crumbled goat cheese, at which point they could nearly qualify as a main dish.

Read on for the (simple, and easily adaptable) recipe.

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Torta Salads

12 09 2008

In a previous life, Nick and I used to frequent a place called Tio’s Tortas.  I affectionately refer to it as “Uncle Sandwich,” which is a blatant and deliberate mistranslation (although I’m not sure “Uncle’s Sandwiches” is any less silly).  At any rate, this place made about 14 different kinds of tortas, or Mexican sandwiches, which were piled high with delicacies such as smoked sausage, refried black beans, and chiles rellenos.  Plus they had a great condiment bar filled with house made condiments.  These included chipotle ketchup, jalapeno mustard, roasted garlic, red onion confit, zucchini pickles, and a variety of mayonnaise-based sauces.  For 4 to 6 dollars you could get a substantial and satisfying meal, and beers were less than 2 bucks!

Anyway, one day we noticed that they had added an option to their torta menu: you could choose to have the ingredients of any torta served over rice or as a salad.  The salad idea took off in our house, where we would grill Hatch chili sausages and serve them over lettuce with leftover black beans, caramelized onions, and whatever else we had lying around (or had managed to sneak home from Tio’s).  Mmmm… sausage salad.

Well, we recently decided to revisit the Tio’s salad, when we were fortunate enough to be in possession of some delicious leftover beef chili verde and refried black beans.  We almost always have a head of lettuce in the crisper and a couple of tomatoes in the fruit basket, but I thought the salads needed something more.  Corn popped into my head and I headed to the store.  Malheureusement, the fresh corn here totally sucks.  It’s starchy and waxy and sticks to your teeth like paste.  So I bought a can.  Sue me.  I also picked up some gorgeous piquillo-looking peppers and some long green ones that I hoped would pack a punch.

I got home and set about putting together a corn salsa for the salads.  I drained the corn and dumped it into a bowl, followed by some diced onion.  I thought one of each pepper would look pretty as well as giving just the right amount of heat.  When I cut into the red pepper, I got a big surprise – no ribs or seeds!

Are they breeding seedless peppers now?

Nonetheless, the corn salsa looked great and tasted just as good.  It would actually stand on its own as a salad, but I had bigger ideas.

Corn Salsa/Salad

Indeed, it was even better sprinkled over a salad loaded with slow-cooked beef, black beans, tomatoes, crème fraîche, and chipotle vinaigrette.

What happens when you turn a torta into a salad?  Good things.

Apologies for doing two salad posts in one week, but I think this is miles away from Tuesday’s refined Mediterranean salad.  Don’t you?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Chicken Chili Verde, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Lard

11 06 2008

We are getting pretty good at making Mexican food with French ingredients, if I do say so myself.  Having recently come into a glut of cheap chicken leg quarters, Nick decided to try his hand at some chicken chili verde.  Yet another braise.  It’s amazing how many different cuisines use this technique – but then who doesn’t love something you can put on the stove and forget about for a couple of hours?

Mise en place for chili verde
Nick found some gorgeous green chilis at the market, and chopped them up along with some onion and garlic.  After the chicken had been browned, into the Dutch oven they went.

You can almost SEE how good this smells!

You should know the drill by now.  Liquid, skinned chicken, simmer, yada yada.  What Nick did that was special, was that once the chicken was good and tender, he shredded it off the bones, returned it to the pot, and continued to cook it until the pot was almost dry.  This really concentrates the flavors and gives the meat a texture that is absolutely out of this world.  Unctuous, even.  Here it is about halfway done:

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Is there anything better than carnitas?

9 04 2008

How about fresh, handmade tortillas to put it (them?) on, and from-scratch refried beans?

Finding pinto beans in Paris is not easy, but some Asian markets have them, and sometimes you can get them at the supermarket for more money.  As such, I had part of a bag of dried pintos in the kitchen when Nick came home with a kilo and a half of pork which he intended to turn into carnitas.  Unfortunately, I had too many other things to do that day to make beans, but there were a lot of leftover little meats.  So last night (well, yesterday morning) I decided to cook up some refried beans to accompany the rest of the carnitas.  I started soaking them in the morning, and noticed how cool they look before they have been cooked and smashed.

Pinto beans, before

Here they have alrerady been soaking for a short spell, and are already beginning to wrinkle and expand.  But look how pretty they are!

Anyway, you can’t have carnitas without tortillas, and the Old El Paso ones they sell here just aren’t cutting it.  (The masa quest has, to date, been fruitless, but I’m not giving up – we saw a Peruvian store the other night and I plan on returning to check out what they have to offer.)  Flour tortillas, however, are easy to make, as demonstrated by Robert Rodriguez, and vastly superior to store-bought, especially in France.  So I made some dough using vague metric approximations of U.S. measurments, and it actually worked!

Pre-Tortillas

Here are the dough balls, resting while I get hungrier and hungrier.  Lazy bums.  No, you have to let them rest or they’ll never roll out into nice thin circles, like this:

Nearly Tortilla

Then all you have to do is cook them in a lightly oiled pan (nonstick will make your life easier), and you end up with beautiful, soft, warm, fresh tortillas!

Flour Tortilla

Meanwhile, I had been simmering the beans (after soaking them for 8 or 9 hours) with onion, garlic, cumin, scotch bonnet pepper, bay leaf, cilantro, cinnamon, and salt.  When the beans were tender and the liquid was getting reduced, I picked out the pepper, bay leaf, and any large pieces of onion.  Then I mashed them with a potato masher and added a little more salt, cumin, and black pepper.  While not exactly “refried,” it’s close enough for me.

Pinto beans, after

I served them alongside the tortillas, garnished thusly:

Carnitas taco

with Nick’s carnitas and homemade salsa, crème fraîche (who needs sour cream?), and avocado.  Avocados are so cheap here – 5 for 2 euro is pretty standard – I can’t get over it.  We eat them often.

Now we have a bunch of leftover refried beans.  What cool about that is you put them in a bowl, top them with cheese, crème fraîche, sliced avocado, chopped tomato, onion, and cilantro, and you got yourself a stew!  I mean seven-layer dip.  Yeah.








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