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.
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.
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