We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Mexico City in 2013 for Thanksgiving, and decided to make another trip this year (refer to my post of 6/23/15). Once again, our friend Vy was planning a Thanksgiving dinner at her apartment, as she has for many years. The dinner, which was originally to take place on Thanksgiving, had to be changed to Saturday due to scheduling conflicts in her family. This was fine with us, and just required a few changes in our itinerary.
We were supposed to arrive on Wednesday, leaving from Newark early morning, but ran into a major snag. As we approached the airport on the train, I suddenly thought to check the date on my passport. With all I had on my mind I had forgotten to do this in advance. To my horror, I saw that it had expired two months ago. I wondered if there was any possibility of getting the passport renewed and changing to a flight on Thursday. Stanley was sure this would be impossible on the day before Thanksgiving, but thankfully I persevered and we were able to do exactly that. Unfortunately it cost me a fortune to change the flight, but at least we were able to get there and spend four lovely days.
How did I get the passport? First I searched the web and found a company called Emergency Expedited Passports & Visas, which I called and spoke with Jason, who at first was doubtful I could get it that day, but called me back a few minutes later to tell me that it was possible and that I did not even need him to do it. I can’t thank him enough for his honesty and kindness, patiently explaining what I needed to do. If you ever have a passport problem I highly recommend giving them a call. Website: http://www.emergencypassportsvisas.com/
The process is really rather simple. I had to reschedule the flight first, then go to the U. S. Department of State Passport Office, at 376 Hudson St. in Manhattan, which would accept applications until 2:00, with the printout of the flight information, my expired passport and a photo which I got at a store at 350 Hudson St. Arriving at 11:00, I only had to tell them I would be traveling the next day to be given an application and sent to the 10th floor, where it would be processed. My number was called quickly, I paid the fee of $170 and was given a receipt and told to return at 3:00 to pick up the new passport. Disaster averted!
We arrived at the Residencia Polanco in plenty of time to get settled and head to lunch at Villa Maria. This time, we didn’t get the deluxe suite we had two years ago, but the one we got was perfectly adequate and very large. Breakfast was included, though it is very basic. At $100 a night it is a very good deal in an excellent location, although it would be nice if they polished the brass in the elevator.
Lower rates can usually be found using Tripadvisor:
Lunch here seems to draw a more local clientele than dinner. We were hungry after getting up at the crack of dawn and only having a miniature pumpkin cheesecake on the flight. To start we had a duo of queso fundido, one with green peppers and the other with chorizo, and red snapper tacos. Both were delicious. Then we had turkey (after all, it was Thanksgiving) in mole sauce, and chicken stuffed with huitlacoche and cheese in zucchini sauce. Very delicious. The margaritas, one with ginger and one with tamarind, were enormous and tasty but with no detectable alcohol. Overall a great meal and the bill was about $75 including tip.
After lunch, we went back to the hotel for a nap, and then dinner at Pujol at 10:00. This is considered perhaps the top restaurant in Mexico, and was only a short stroll from our hotel.
The room is dark and somber, with black walls and subdued lighting. The dishes are innovative versions of Mexican ingredients and recipes. Some dishes do not work perfectly but the overall experience is not to be missed. If you go to Mexico City, you must try it. I had seen some comments on the web that the portions are small, but we felt very well fed. Guided by a very attentive sommelier, we found an excellent bottle of Mexican wine from Baja California. The total with tip was $260. Not bad for such fine dining with perfect service.
This was our day to tour the Centro, the old city. We decided to brave the subway, to the amazement of everyone we talked to at Saturday’s Thanksgiving dinner. We found it to be perfectly pleasant, very fast, and safe and very much like what we experienced in Madrid. I would advise avoiding rush hours and summer, when it must be unbearably hot (no air conditioning).
The first stop was the Cathedral, which was fairly typical of ancient cathedrals, at least those of the sadly Baroque style.
Next we checked out the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional. Very impressive.
After this, we headed to the nearby Museo de Templo Mayor and excavations, which were fascinating, except for the special exhibition on Iroquois artifacts from Quebec. Ho hum. Everything is well-described with signs in English.
The Gran Hotel Mexico City, formerly a department store, is indeed grand, with an enormous lobby topped with a stained glass skylight. So many people ask to see it that the doorman has to vet people and attend them as they go in to see it.
Strolling along Francisco Madero Street and through the Alameda Gardens, we arrived at the Museo Franz Mayer, a museum of Mexican furniture and decorative arts from the 16th to the 19th century, all housed in what was formerly a monastery and hospital.
For lunch, we found El Cardenal, which Vy’s daughter Laurie recommended, a few blocks away next to the Museo Nacional de Arte, which we would visit after lunch. The restaurant is housed in a grand old building with a modern interior. This is not to be confused with El Cardenal on Palma, though they have the same menu. Oddly, I can’t even find mention of this location on El Cardenal’s website. Go figure.
We had a wonderful meal, starting with tongue tacos (4) which we shared. Main courses were stewed octopus with epazote and arbol chiles, properly spicy, and pork in mole sauce. With a beer each, it came to just over $40 with tip.
The museum had a special exhibit on Modernism, which was very good, giving a good perspective on the evolution of Diego Rivera’s career, among many others. The building itself is worth seeing for its architecture.
After the museum, we got on the subway and headed over to Vy’s for a quick visit with her, her son Danny and his wife Patricia. Then back to the hotel for a nap and later meeting Danny for dinner at Astrid y Gaston, a Peruvian restaurant in Polanco.
This is a beautiful restaurant with excellent food, and unfortunately very slow service. They are obviously understaffed. However, we were in no hurry and did not really mind the delay. We had a bunch of appetizers to share, including a mixed seafood ceviche, marinated hamachi, fried calamari, and causa with shrimp. For the main course, we had suckling lamb with three kinds of potatoes. A very enjoyable meal.
We started with a visit to the Museo de Arte Moderno, in Chapultepec Park, situated along the Mahatma Gandhi Highway. They had a very interesting exhibit of surrealist photography by Lee Miller, a young lady from Poughkeepsie who made good as a fashion model and then as a fashion photographer for Vogue, who went on to bed Man Ray and a host of other willing admirers, until settling down in East Sussex. Her son has curated her collection, which is superb. There was also an exhibit of pottery by Francisco Toledo, generally not suitable for home use.
In the afternoon, we went to Vy’s Thanksgiving dinner, which started at 2:00 and ran to 7 or so. This time there were about 65 guests, down from 110 two years ago, when people came from far and wide for Vy’s 90th birthday. It was still a lively and interesting group. An English Midland’s accent was successfully detected amongst one of the Spanish speakers, and much discussion about Mayor DeBlasio colored the conversation, moderated by the observation that most people fault him for not being Michael Bloomberg, which is obviously the case, since he his far too tall.
One guest had a drone and took a video from the terrace. Here is a link:
Sunday was the day for our long-anticipated trip to Teotihuacan, the site of the famous pyramids. Laurie treated us to this, sending her car with a driver to take us there and back. We had hoped to find an English-speaking guide there, but none was available, so we bought a guidebook with map and proceeded on our own. At each point of interest, there is a sign with a description in English, so it worked out just fine.
We spent about three hours at Teotihuacan, and then headed back to the city to meet Vy, Laurie, Laurie’s daughter Mariana and Mariana’s daughters, for lunch at a wonderful restaurant, Zapote, that happens to be on the ground floor of the building where Mariana lives in Roma Norte. Roma is a rapidly gentrifying and thriving area very popular with young people.
Chef Axel Vazquez with Mariana and Vy
Zapote is Mediterranean, using flavors from those countries, primarily Italy but really more international in scope. I started with mussels with foie gras, potatoes and parmesan, which was fabulous, and then had shrimp with peppers and Asian spices. For dessert we shared a cheesecake filled with chopped pistachios and a carrot cake. I also got to taste the grouper and a salmon risotto. The food is superb, service excellent and prices are incredibly low.
Back to the hotel for a few hours, then we were off to dinner at El Bajio. This was something I had been waiting for since our unsuccessful attempt two years ago. They are famous for carnitas, the Mexican pulled pork dish that I love and make myself at home (refer to my post of 3/20/15 for the recipe). Unfortunately the food was not as good as we had expected, tasty enough but not comparable to the other restaurants we tried. The carnitas were somewhat bland, lacking the intense flavors of garlic, onions, lime and hot pepper that I put into it.
Off to the airport, a quick lunch and an uneventful flight home. It was a great trip, we were able to do everything we had planned, and look forward to seeing Mexico City again.