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September 08, 2009


Shrimp Broth Dominic Armato

This isn't exactly how I wanted to see Mexico.

Don't misunderstand, I couldn't have been more thrilled to head down to Mexico City, especially since it's the first time I've left the country in over two years -- the longest stretch I've gone stateside, I believe, since I was twelve years old. But a mere 29 hours on the ground, most of that eaten by work, doesn't exactly leave much time for exploration and culinary pursuits.

While shuttling from meeting to meeting in a subcompact with the windows rolled down, my head would suddenly be filled with the dizzying aroma of charred meats and hot tortillas griddled on the comals of the makeshift outdoor markets that inhabit even the smallest patches of bare ground, only to lose the scent as we'd turn another dusty corner and ride on. The street food of Mexico City is legendary. I wanted nothing more than to hop out at the first stop light and stuff myself full of as much as I could get my hands on until our hosts -- wondering what kind of insanity had touched their guest's head -- could catch up to me and usher me back to the car. Of course, they took us out to lunch. But it was more of a tease than a taste.

Cebiche de CamarónDominic Armato

Mariscos seemed an odd choice of culinary genre for the landlocked Distrito Federal, but I'm a sucker for fish of any fashion so I would have found it difficult to object even if I'd thought it appropriate. The venue, as it turned out, was a chain called Fisher's with a couple dozen locations as far-flung as Miami, all sleek and modern and looking about as Mexican as a California Pizza Kitchen. Even the obligatory shrimp mascot, with his jaunty cap, looked unusually clean cut. But I've said before that I'm not anti-chain, just anti-junk, and anyplace that sends around carafes of soup before your napkin has even hit your lap is off on the right foot with me. They hand you a small glass and fill it with a heady, spiced shrimp broth and instruct you to squeeze in a little fresh lime from the pile in the center of the table before sipping as you peruse the menu. Take back the menu, leave the carafe and I'll consider myself a winner. Sadly, with a vocabulary limited to menu Spanish and whatever Sesame Street had taught me, I lacked the linguistic skills to pull off such a request with the wit necessary to make it anything less than grossly awkward. The menu would have to do.

Coctel de PulpoDominic Armato

Stuck on shrimp after our soupy amuse, I started with a shrimp ceviche that found fresh, sweet shrimp in a very, very light liquid along with avocado, fried tortilla strips and diced green olives. It was surprisingly light, which is the polite way of saying it lacked oomph. Its freshness made it enjoyable, but my interest waned midway through the plate. My traveling companion fared far better with his cold seafood variant, scoring an octopus cocktail with chunks of cold seafood, onions, cilantro, avocado and the usual ketchupy sauce, but this one I found exceptional. Partly due to the fact that it wasn't a total ketchupy mess and partly due to the smoky dried chile flavor in the background that left a slow, lingering burn after each bite, it was one of the better versions of the genre I've tasted, and probably my favorite item of the day.

Camarones a la DiablaDominic Armato

I scored only a fleeting taste of the Camarones a la Diabla, served hot in an earthenware bowl that reflected the earthiness of the dried chiles inside. It was intense stuff that cried out for acid -- which, come to think of it, was provided right there on the table. But with or without lime, I still thought it could have used a little more depth of flavor. I was completely unable to resist the Huachinango al Mojo de Ajo, even if it wasn't quite what I expected. The problem, I think, was my expectations and not its preparation. Where I anticipated a sauce to top my fried snapper, what I received was a pile of crumbly, fried garlic and a small side of mayonnaise. Not at all unwelcome, and for all I know entirely traditional, but not what I expected. I enjoyed it, even if I felt it was in need of some lubrication other than mayonnaise. It was fresh and crisply fried and whilst sucking the bones and seeking ever last morsel of flesh that I could extract from the beast, I looked up to see that my compatriots' plates had not only been cleaned but cleared as well. I was, indeed, too intent on my fish to notice.

Huachinango al Mojo de AjoDominic Armato

But while the meal presented some enjoyable plates, I couldn't help but feel as though I was getting Mexican Lite -- a sanitized, gringo-friendly version of what I might find elsewhere in the city. I've no doubt Fisher's thrives on local clientele, but everything was a little too clean, a little too clinical, a little too... underpowered. Blindfold me, and it still felt like a chain, with very precise dishes that lacked oomph. And while this is a chain I'd be all too happy to have at home -- especially with its monstrous 100+ item menu covering just about every manner of Mexican seafood I could want -- I couldn't help but feel that this wasn't exactly representative of the nation's mariscos, but rather a sanitized, tourist-safe place that only hinted at what was waiting for me if I'd only hopped out of the car and took off running. Maybe next time.

Horacio No. 232, esq. Taine
Chapultepec Morales
Deleg. Miguel Hidalgo
Mexico, D.F., C.P. 11570
55 31 62 86
55 31 05 67


Do you have plans to go back to Mexico City? I want to visit Mexico, but I'm not sure if I want to hit Mexico City for more than a day or two.

Hey Dom, as a native of Mexico City, I am familiar with Fisher's and their food. I will say that I consider it a good representation of mexican seafood. I understand how you got a slight sanitized, or touristy feel from it, and I'll say that touristy not really (you were in the branch in a more tourist friendly part of the city tho), and sanitized, maybe. More than anything, pricey for most Mexicans' budgets. So maybe what you perceived as tourist safe was merely being in an upper middle class restaurant (gaudy decor notwithstanding), and not in a more folklore rich eatery.

All in all, the food at Fisher's is good and authentic, I myself, a foodie who left Mexico, try to visit every time I go back home. Now, sitting down at a market bench and ordering a Caldo de Camaron, or having some tacos or quesadillas standing up on a sidewalk, that you should definitely aim to do your next time there. Salud!

Hey, Solange...

Thanks so much for the info!

It's good to hear. I didn't necessarily mean to imply inauthenticity, and re-reading, I think it comes across a little more harshly than I intended. It was a good lunch. But you know that feeling when a dish is a little too clean, and a little too crisp, as if you wish it were a little rougher around the edges -- I feel this way about non-Japanese ethnic restaurants in Japan a lot -- that's kind of what I was feeling. It's hard to put into words.

Like I say, I'd be thrilled to have a place like this at home. But like you say, the caldo de camaron on a market bench is what I was really craving and didn't get this trip. Hopefully next time :-)

(Also, even if my dining this trip was purely upscale, I had a couple of spectacular dishes... more on Friday!)

Hi there! Just stumbled across your blog. I live in Mexico City, and if you're looking for good seafood, you should try Contramar. It's in the Roma neighborhood. Some of the food can be inconsistent (a general problem with food here in the DF), but the tuna tostadas -- thin slices of raw tuna, atop a crispy tortilla -- are out of this world. It's very trendy and the waits can be long, though, so I also recommend La Veracruzana, a small, cozy place in Roma, at Medellin and Chiapas. If you're up for lively salsa music and typical Veracruz seafood, La Embajada Jarocha is supposed to be good, too.

Good luck on your travels!

Lesley, you made my mouth water. You are right about those tuna tostadas at Contramar... legendary. And their shrimp tacos. *sigh*
I am homesick now.

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