Experience Meal / Food Travel America / Mexico

A tale of a 2 tasting meal day at Criollo & El Destilado

I know that Oaxaca is relatively undiscovered to most of the world and I’ve enjoyed sharing my experiences here for others to get a sense of the calibre and creativity of the Chefs in Oaxaca. I have been lucky to have eaten multi-course extravaganzas all over the world, many from the “World’s Top 50” lists,  but many of my most memorable have been in Oaxaca. And to top it off, they’ve usually come at a fraction of the cost.

But in the past year or so, my eating tastes have changed, and that’s best shown in my tastes in Oaxaca. On this year’s trip, the only “must” tasting meal on my itinerary was Origen. I’d also loosely pencilled returning to El Destilado, since I’d eaten 2 amazing meals there last year, but didn’t know when it was going to work for me.  So when I was invited to join someone who was “dying to have a full blow-out meal” at El Destilado, I knew I was being presented with the opportunity to return.

I had marked my calendar for the Destilado feast as I organized my time in Oaxaca. I had 2 big meals planned, and I wasn’t looking for another. I knew I’d be eating incredible things that didn’t involve sitting at a table for hours of service to get. As I looked at my schedule for my 2 weeks in Oaxaca, it was amazing how it became full with amazingness without even trying.

And then Criollo hit my radar…

I’d seen Enrique Olvera’s photos of Criollo cross my Instagram feed, but hadn’t thought twice until someone mentioned it and asked if I’d been thinking of going. I started asking around about it, I heard so many good things, I convinced myself it was somewhere I needed to try out. I’d heard from good sources that the chef was very creative and trying new things not really seen in Oaxaca, and that it would be interesting for me to visit this year and then again next as their was a feeling there would be the potential for much growth in the chef in the upcoming year. (Not so) interesting enough (considering it’s Oaxaca), when I tried searching online for information on the restaurant (mainly for a menu), I found nothing.

With so little open opportunity on my eating agenda, when I was asked if Criollo was somewhere I’d like to go for lunch, on the same day as I’d be going to El Destilado, I said “sure”! I was hoping we’d be able to order a la carte, or at worst, there would be a menu del dia, of 3-4 courses, which was all I felt I could handle. Well, I was wrong and didn’t even know it until we were a few courses in. Criollo was a 8 course feast for lunch. And while I was stressing a bit during the meal on how I was going to tackle the El Destilado dinner later that day, I could not deny the wonderful food I was being served at Criollo, not to mention relish that I was enjoying it in such a beautiful environment.

Course after inventive course hit the table, with ingredients such as truffle oil, that isn’t so criollo, (or indigenous as I’ve come to understand the definition of the word) that you don’t often see used in Oaxaca. The potato tamale was my favorite bite, but as plate after plate hit the table, I knew I was happy to have eaten at Criollo this year. And will be happy to return next visit to see the progress of the chef.

Criollo Oaxaca yucca truffle

Yucca fries with truffle oil and parmesan were addictive. I knew these were just going to fill me up, but I couldn’t stop picking. 

Criollo Oaxaca avocado lisa fish

Avocado with lisa fish felt almost Asian in it’s taste and texture, something I always appreciate when I’m away from Asian food for a while.

Criollo Oaxaca empanada

Empanadas with chicken and chichilo mole

Criollo Oaxaca bean soup

Bean soup with chorizo

Criollo Oaxaca potato tamal

Potato tamale with swiss chard, mashed potatoes, and crispy potatoes on top. For a potato lover like me, this was heaven.

Criollo Oaxaca Lisa fish

Lisa fish (a type of mullet)topped with a salsa reduction of dried chiles and vinegar with red rice, cherry tomatoes and platano macho

Criollo Oaxaca pear

Poached pear in rompope sauce. Rompope in my family is a bit of an inside joke, dating back over 10 years ago when a bottle was purchased only to discover no one liked it. But surprisingly, there was no laughter at this refreshing dish that reminded me of Christmas.

Criollo Oaxaca guava flan

Truffle oil soaked brioche with cream of guava, goat cheese and grated almonds. The truffle oil was a bit of a shock, but I found the combination curiously worked.

Happy I’d walked more than double my target “steps” for the day, I felt I was ready to take on Chef Julio’s tasting menu for dinner.  As I sat down at the table, my excitement quickly spiked as I knew I was in for another special meal. My meal(s) at El Destilado last year were some of the best I’d had, and from my first few bites I knew I was experiencing something “more” this year.

2 of my favorite dishes from last year, the egg and the XO sauce with pasta,  reappeared but as something more delicious than I remembered. Chef Julio himself mentioned to me that he’d just had his 1 year anniversary in Oaxaca a few weeks before my visit and I remembered how new he was when I’d visited the year before. I appreciated how much his food had matured in the year. This year’s dinner at El Destilado was even more fantastic than last.

El Destilado Oaxaca margarita

The menu lists a different cocktail we were supposed to start with, but my first drink was a mezcal margarita.

El Destilado Oaxaca quesadilla

First bite was a tiny one with an adorable baby quesadilla with thyme, quesillo and pimienta negra.

El Destilado Oaxaca huevo

I remember loving the egg last year and this did not disappoint. Huevo with maple syrup (that I brought from Vancouver as a gift to the Chef),  and granola,

El Destilado Oaxaca ensalada

Orchard salad with tomatoes, carrots, beets and curry

El Destilado Oaxaca tartar lengua

Tartare of robalo (bass) with avocado and beef tongue “yakitori” served over smoking rocks

El Destilado Oaxaca higado

Tiny chicken liver mousse sandwiched between manchego wafers.

El Destilado Oaxaca caldo cebolla

Smoked onion soup with crispy kale

El Destilado Oaxaca XO pulpo

XO linguine with octopus and basil. I remember loving the XO sauce from last year and coupled with the tender but wonderfully charred octopus,this dish made me swoon a bit.

El Destilado Oaxaca robalo

Robalo (bass) with a basil puree, pomelo, brocollini and tare (reduced sauce).

El Destilado Oaxaca limon

Limon (lemon) and maracuya (passion fruit) granita

El Destilado Oaxaca mole pollo

Pollo (chicken) with “house mole”, pureed onion, queso fresco and pink peppercorns.

El Destilado Oaxaca elote

Elote (corn) cake under a strawberry, vanilla, honey foam

El Destilado Oaxaca chocolate

Chocolate with caramelized white chocolate and tres leches.

El Destilado Oaxaca dulces

A final platter of dulces (sweets) included lemon marshmallow and donut-y Coco Dona with cinnamon and dulche de leche.

 

It’s rare in life when experience meals, which is how I like to think multi-course Chef’s tasting menus are supposed to be, meet or exceed expectations. I count myself as lucky that I’ve had so many extraordinary ones in my life. But to have 2 in 1 day of this calibre and deliciousness, I knew it was almost too good to believe. Only in Oaxaca…

Criollo: Francisco I. Madero 129, Centro, Oaxaca

El Destilado: 5 de Mayo 409, Centro, Oaxaca

 

 

 

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