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NYTimes has a guide to the city...     Travel section  

And I want to thank you for getting back with us and letting us know how it went.   All too often, folks give advice and recommendations and suggestions...   And then never hear nuttin'.   Fr

I'm not surprised. I think the whole Rancho Gordo thing is a scam. Mexico has pinto beans, black beans, and green beans. All these other things Rancho is selling are synthetic. Just wait.

Pitiona is Oaxaca's entry in the SP sweepsteaks. They apply modern techniques and concepts to traditional ingredients! The chef worked at El Bulli! And Arzak! They call his cooking "cucina de autor" (a term that inspires the same reaction in me that the word "culture" was missaid to have inspired in Goering)! At least he's a local boy, and not some Dane installed by Claus Meyer (or some Swiss guy who decided to move to a major culture center and explain the local culture to everyone).

 

His name, for the record, is Jose Manuel Banos Rodriguez. Since I'm mature, I'm not going to make the obvious bathroom joke.

 

Anyway, his restaurant is excellent.

 

Yeah, in one sense this is food you could see anywhere -- except, though, for the unique local ingredients. Which, especially in this case, is a very big exception. So although a lot of the food looks like things you might have seen before (one dish, called "The Cow That Thought It Was A Goat", looked just like something Arzak would make), it sure didn't taste like it. The only time I wanted to yell "bastante!" was when they brought out the fish in a cloud of smoke under a cloche. Really, it was all delicious.

 

I believe they used to offer only tasting menus. Now there's a carte. But since I'm a tourist, I decided to eat like one. There's a six-course tasting menu and a nine-course. I opted for the nine-course. With Mezcal, beer, and wine pairings. I'll restate my usual complaint that I don't enjoy the succession of small dishes that you finish just when you're getting to know them. But there was nothing, nothing, I didn't like. A lot.

 

Service was pretty good. But the service at Casa Oaxaca was so spectacularly good that it kind of spoiled me.

 

The nine-course dinner, with pairings, was ridiculously expensive for Oaxaca: about US$100 (before tip). But no one from New York -- or any of the other places SP-style eaters come from -- is going to complain. This isn't my absolute favorite style of restaurant, but I can't help but recommend it highly.

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I'm sure chilcostles are key but what do you use them for? I've just managed to avoid them so far.

 

I would say that they are probably my single favorite chile, considered in isolation. Complex, fruity, a wide range from bass to treble. I really like them.

 

They aren't in so many recipes--maybe they are expensive, rare, hard to cultivate? I don't know. But chilcostles and chilhuacles negros are what I most miss when I don't have them.

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They call his cooking "cucina de autor"

 

In Mexican this simply means a couple can expect to pay over MXN 1500 with wine.

 

Thank you for the thread, it's really hard to find this type of info about Oaxaca.

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La Biznaga was a favorite from my last visit.

But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, both in terms of my own eating and, possibly, their product. It was fine this time, but it didn't seem as good.

It remains a fun place. Seating is in a big open courtyard, with the bar and kitchen facilities on the perimeters around it. Decorations are in funky contemporary style, and the clientele seems to draw heavily on the lively local art scene.

I remembered the cocktails as being very good. Either they've curtailed their cocktail program, or nearly 10 years of drinking excellent cocktails in New York and elsewhere has raised my standards, I don't know. But there was NOTHING special, or even particularly good, about them now.

OTOH, there's a lot good about pulque, which they sometimes have and had last night. Pulque is fermented maguey sap, a light and lightly alcoholic beverage that competes with beer. It's very faintly sweet -- or, I guess more accurately, sweet and sour. And for whatever reason, it's hard for gringos to come by. I was happy to be able to drink some.

This is the kind of place where you get to the food only after discussing the drinks and the atmosphere. The place is associated with the Slow Food Movement, and takes pride in their ingredients and preparations, contemporary interpretations of Oaxacan regional cuisine. Nevertheless, time is passing them by. Compared to places like Casa Oaxaca (newly opened last time I was here) and Pitiona (not yet open the last time I was here), La Biznaga is just OK. Much cheaper, sure -- but there, I think, is the rub.

It's easy to do traditional excellently at lower prices. That's most of the point of traditional. But when you start to get "creative", money begins to tell. While not bad -- still, in fact, pretty good (we're not talking Los Danzantes here) -- this was a sort of "neither here nor there" place, not as good as the cheaper regional places, but nowhere near as great as the (good -- forget Los Danzantes) more ambitious and (much) more expensive places.

It seems stupid to use this terminology for a place that none of us will go to without traveling thousands of miles, but Casa Oaxaca and Pitiona are destinations, whereas La Biznaga is a good neighborhood place.

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Itanoni is already celebrated here on MF (and in the world at large).

 

If this place were in Brooklyn, people like Lex would be laughing their asses off at it. A Mexican restaurant that focuses on corn: isn't that kind of like an aquarium that focuses on fish? They use a specific native heritage type of corn for each specific type of tortilla or tamal -- really? (It's no surprise that this place is a favorite of Alice Waters's.) I'm a lot more indulgent of earnestness than Lex, though -- and while I didn't see the proprietor, the women womanning their distinctive traditional oven were the kind of people you see at all the tacquerias, not the Mexican equivalent of recent Wesleyan grads dressing as milkmaids. In the end, even Lex (obvs I'm just using him as an example, not singling him out) would be smitten with this place.

 

In any event, the food justifies the concept.

 

It sort of sneaks up on you. You notice the clarity of the corn flavors -- and the differences between them -- more and more as you eat more tortillas and other cornmeal preparations. You can see that, very subtly, they are materially better than any others you've had. Then (I did this by luck but I'm now recommending it to everyone) you finish up with a tamal, and, BOOM! I have never ever eaten a tamal that was bursting with corn flavor the way this was. It was, in its way, spectacular.

 

So I'll join in the chorus of praise for Itanoni and urge all Oaxaca visitors to eat here.

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Speaking of the lively local contemporary art scene here, imagine my surprise when one of the two really excellent exhibitions at the Oaxaca Museum of Contemporary Art was devoted to James hd Brown, whom those of us of a certain age remember from the East Village in the '80s. Unbeknownst to me, he now splits his time between Paris and the Valley of Oaxaca.

 

His current stuff is great.

 

(The other exhibition was devoted to Vicente Rojo -- previously unknown to me, and excellent.)

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Pitiona is Oaxaca's entry in the SP sweepsteaks. They apply modern techniques and concepts to traditional ingredients! The chef worked at El Bulli! And Arzak! They call his cooking "cucina de autor" (a term that inspires the same reaction in me that the word "culture" was missaid to have inspired in Goering)! At least he's a local boy, and not some Dane installed by Claus Meyer (or some Swiss guy who decided to move to a major culture center and explain the local culture to everyone).

Oh, I forgot this joke:

 

David Chang eats at Pitiona, and then he goes, "At last the Oaxaquenos have a cuisine of their own."

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