I left the fate of my lunch at Quintonil in the hands of my friends Alejandro and Liz, two Mexico City insiders who I was confident would steer me towards the right dishes. While the menu was in English, there were too many unfamiliar Spanish words highlighted in quotations that I just didn’t recognize. Terms like “escamoles”, “cuitlacoche” and “cegueza” were beyond my scope of “tortilla”, “mole” and “tacos”. So rather than try to translate everything, I let the locals do their job while I nursed my lovely avocado mezcal cocktail.
The funny thing is that it was all new to the locals as well. Alejandro later told me that even though he could technically understand the words on the menu, he had never seen them arranged in this way. These were not traditional Mexican dishes that he was familiar with. So really it would be something of a crapshoot to everyone. This style of innovative modern Mexican cooking is what earned Quintonil much acclaim and the enviable ranking of the No. 12 restaurant on the San Pellegrino Top 50 list.
For such a prestigious restaurant, Quintonil has a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere. The back part of the dining room is a wide open space that is filled with natural light, which makes it feel like you are eating in a courtyard. The service is also very, very relaxed. We did not do the tasting menu, but our a la carte lunch still took over 3 hours to complete. If you have places to be, perhaps a meal here is not the best idea.
But your patience will reward you with the most eye-opening meal that you’ll have. It was the type of meal we were expecting from Pujol but didn’t quite get. There were “escamole” ant eggs in our avocado tartare, but rather than making us gag, we couldn’t get enough. Corn smut, which is the rough translation of “cuitlacoche”, also sounds unappetizing, but its earthy, mushroom like quality was surprisingly appealing and worked well as a filling in a fried tortilla. What caught me more off guard was by how potent the chile mix powder was, which made everyone at the table cough after a few bites. I’m still not sure how I feel about that and wondered if that was intentional, but you couldn’t argue that the meal wasn’t interactive.
The creamy green rice with a perfect egg yolk spilling over on top was appropriately named, as it really couldn’t get any better than this. It was the perfect union of two famous comfort food items in any culture. We probably could have done without the braised pork, which was a bit tough, but everything else we ordered was absolutely essential.
It’s interesting to note that Chef Jorge Vallejo was once a protegee of Enrique Olvera, but it seems like the pupil has surpassed the master. Pujol still gets more of the attention, especially overseas, but soon people will start catching on to the newer talent in Mexico City’s kitchens.