Every time I go to Mexico City, it seems that a fun new restaurant has opened in my favorite neighborhood, Colonia Roma. This time, acting on a hot tip, I showed up at Maximo Bistrot a few minutes before opening time at 1pm. “Espera” the nice woman setting the tables told me. “We are not quite ready for you.” I watched through an open door as the chef held counsel with his serving team and another woman, who turned out to be the chef’s wife, raced in from the copy shop with the day’s menus. Seeing us, she smiled. “Welcome” she said, our cue to sit at one of the pretty wooden tables inside.
Market cuisine, with its daily changing menus inspired by the serendipity of local farm fresh bounty, is almost a staple in American cities these days. But I had yet to see it in Mexico outside of little Mom-and-Pop-run fondas which feature a carbohydrate-laden “menu del dia.” The concept is simple—buy fresh ingredients at the local market and turn them into delicious fare—but in reality, this is an incredibly difficult feat to pull off day after day. Alice Waters may make it look easy, but unless you are an accomplished chef with a brilliant imagination, a menu can turn stale pretty quickly. Or worse, the desire to create variety results in dishes that grow weirder and weirder as time progresses.
Fortunately for Mexico City and those of us who like to visit, Eduardo Garcia and his wife, Gabriela, seem to be the perfect team to make their restaurant a success. Between them they have an impressive set of credentials. He worked in the kitchens of two of the world’s most celebrated restaurants: Pujol in Mexico City and Le Bernardin in New York. She has spent four years with the Four Seasons. Fresh from a year working together in Yelapa near Puerto Vallarta at a lovely eco-retreat that specialized in locally sourced vegetables and fish caught in the waters near the hotel, the two have scraped together the resources to realize their dream of going into business for themselves.
Gutting an old medical supply store in this hip, but somewhat crumbling neighborhood, Eduardo and Gabriela kept the shop’s beautiful old tiles and put in an open kitchen, where curious diners can view the magic behind their meal. A gorgeous tree of life designed by San Francisco-based interior designer Charles de Lisle, who the couple met in Yelapa, is sculpted onto one wall and holds candles that help to softly illuminate the room at night. The furniture in the room, like the food served here, is all locally sourced in Mexico.
Mexico is a city full of extraordinary markets and Eduardo Garcia knows where to find the freshest seafood and crispest and ripest Mexican grown produce. Technique may be paramount, but it is the ingredients themselves that take center stage.
On the menu the day we are here there are gorgeous fresh mussels that are served with just the right amount of garlic, lemon, cream and a sprinkle of perfectly minced chives, the telltale sign of a chef’s apprenticeship in an exacting 5-star kitchen. Crusty bread is the perfect sop to recover every drop of broth.
The soup today is made with celery root, baby peas and a hint of truffle oil. It is a vibrant bowl of green, the color of springtime, which delicately balances the earthiness of the celeriac and truffle with the light sweetness of the peas. Tuna tartare is a classic Mexican version with avocado and homemade potato crisps. Light and refreshing, it makes a nice appetizer to share.
The ceviche of chocolate clams with green apple and sea beans is the real showstopper. Named for their dark orange color, these large clams are both sweet and smoky, perfectly paired with the bright tasting apple, briny sea beans, creamy avocado and sharp bite of slivered red onion.
As a main course—or plato fuerte—tuna is perfectly seared on the outside and pink in the middle. It is served atop a red pepperonata next to a huitlacoche purée. Huitlacoche, or corn fungus, is one of those delicacies that you are bound to encounter at least once on any trip to Mexico. Be brave and ignore the name. The taste is mushroomy and delicious.
Seared pork loin is served with sweet potato purée and a fig reduction with a few resplendent fava beans strewn on top. Sweet potatoes are a Mexican staple and on many days you can still hear the whistle of the “camote man” as he bicycles through these very same streets selling hot sweet potatoes from his cart.
I wish we had had room for more than one dessert, but our tarte tatin was brilliant. Lots of apple and caramel on a perfect flaky pastry served with a dollop of cream and pretty red berries.
While this was the perfect meal to enjoy with wine, we sampled different beers instead. Our favorite, a Hidalgo stout, paired nicely with every dish including dessert.
By the time we were ready to leave, the restaurant had filled completely, both inside and at the sidewalk tables outside. A man waited for his date with a chilling bottle of white wine in a bucket. A pretty Gringa chatted in English on her cell phone. A table of six laughed at a colleague’s joke. For me, this is dining at its best: smiling people in a relaxed and unpretentious setting eating generously portioned and delicious food over the course of a few hours. A farewell peek in the kitchen revealed a laughing chef shaking his sauté pan over a flame. He has a lot to be happy about, and so do his customers.
Maximo Bistrot Local
Tonalá 133, corner of Zacatecas, (3 blocks south of
Av. Alvaro Obregón) Colonia Roma
Open Tuesday – Saturday : 1 -11:00 pm,
Sunday, 11:00 am-7:00 pm