One last big dining adventure in Mexico and it was my hope that I had saved the best for last. I mentioned in my last post, that my layover in Mexico City was based on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list’s naming of 2 restaurants in Mexico City, but I admit, I have been curious about Pujol and Chef Enrique Olvera for a few years now. It’s felt like Chef Olvera has buzzed “my feed” for a while. From appearances at both the Mad Symposium and Cook it Raw, to organizing Mesamerica, which has become Mexico’s premier food event and draws “the best chefs” from around the world, I can’t go a few days without seeing Chef Olvera’s name being mentioned. Well probably doesn’t help that I follow him on Instagram as well. After my evening at Biko the night before, I had questions about the whole World’s 50 Best ranking and what each placing meant. Even more interesting, was that Pujol this year sits at #17, right in the middle of Alinea (#15) and Le Bernardin (#19) which have given me 2 of the best meals in my life. Unlike my preconceived knowledge leading up to dining at both of those restaurants above and very unlike me, I did almost no advance work before my meal at Pujol. What I did do in advance, was a dry run on the route that I’d use to walk to Pujol later that evening. In my effort to convince everyone I was being a safe traveller, I thought it would be smart to make sure the route kept me along the safe streets within the neighbourhood I was staying in. Luck would have it, it also gave me the opportunity to eat lunch at Chef Olvera’s cafe, Eno located 2 doors away from Pujol.
With my pre-trip complete and a simple pre-meal in my belly, I was wandering back to my hotel for a pre-meal nap. Funny enough, in a city of close to 9 million people, I just happened to run into a friend from Oaxaca who was in Mexico City for the day for business.
Nap complete, it was time to start anticipating my meal at Pujol. I had a very early flight home the next morning, so I made a reservation for 7:00pm. I don’t think I’ve ever personally chosen to eat a meal so early before. I was a bit worried that if my experience at Biko the night before was any indicator, I’d be sitting alone at Pujol the entire meal. Nothing to worry about, as I entered Pujol and was graciously sat, (at the bench again), I found myself looking out at a packed dining room. I gave myself but a moment to compare (because I hate comparing), and quickly noticed that Pujol was at a totally different level than Biko. Pujol was buzzing, with mostly with non-Mexican diners (probably only non-Mexicans will eat that early), and because of this, and what I came to find as an early indicator of the difference between being #17 in the world as opposed to #31, most of the service staff spoke perfect english. The tasting menu at Pujol comes with many choices. I was handed the menu and walked through entire meal course by course. Where there were multiple choices in specific course, all were explained. It was a bit of an overload and I became confused with what was being offered. I also wished that I wasn’t dining solo, so that I could experience more of the menu. In the end, I made my choices almost blindly because it was my hope that whatever I chose would be amazing. I was eating at the #17 best restaurant in the world after all. In terms of drinks, I worked with the sommelier throughout the meal as I was seated next to the wine cooler so I had ample opportunity to interact with him. I indulged in 3 wonderful wines from Mexico that complemented the courses I was working through.
At the end of my meal, I asked if the Chef was in the kitchen. I was told no, but if I wanted to still have a peek in, I was welcome to. Ummm, of course I’d take them up on that! As I went in, I gave up my phone and some of the cooks in the back started taking goofy photos of themselves and taking candids of me.
I didn’t want to disturb the crew, but they seemed to want to take a group shot of us, so of course I was in! My meal was done, and as I walked back to my hotel, I took a moment to think about where #17 sits in relation to #15 and 19. I had to admit, my initial feeling was that Pujol shouldn’t sit between these 2, nor should it be anywhere near them. My meals at Alinea and Le Bernardin were both extraordinary, and while I felt that Pujol was amazing, it wasn’t near the same level. I’m told it’s human nature to compare, but I think if you allow it to happen you’ll become more disappointed in the moment. I feel like the act of comparison only takes away from the current experience and seeing as each restaurant is so different, you’re not comparing on a level playing field. Both of these things can only take away from good feelings you may have in the present. So while it may be puzzling, in my mind, as to why Pujol is ranked #17 in the world, I cannot deny that my meal was wonderful. I believe that of the 3 restaurants I would be “comparing”, Chef Olvera has the most connection to the ingredients he’s using and to his home. His use of avant-garde techniques within the parameters of Mexican cuisine are fantastic. Chef Olvera has strong ties to his Mexico roots and I was taken on a wonderful journey where the ingredients were familiar but presented in a new Technicolor version. Regardless of comparisons or rankings, I was leaving Pujol happy. I think that’s all a Chef can hope for. Eno: Francisco Petrarca 258, Polanco, Ciudad de Mexico, Distrito Federal, Mexico Pujol: Francisco Petrarca 254, Polanco, Ciudad de Mexico, Distrito Federal, Mexico
One Reply to “Finding happiness at Pujol”
Having eaten an extraordinary meal at Alinea, and merely enjoying a meal at Pujol,…but not experiencing the same rapture, I’d have to agree. But it’s so subjective – any chef can have an off night. The “best in the world” rankings seem a little demeaning, actually. I personally would rank Casa Oaxaca among the very best. But, that’s me.