One of my guilty pleasures is fine-dining when I’m travelling on my own. Fine dining or not, I’ve always said that if you’re dining by yourself, the best option is sitting at a bar, and if you’re wanting a higher-end solo dining experience where you don’t feel uncomfortable, it’s best achieved sitting at the bar for a sushi omakase.
I’ve eaten at several nicer restaurants in Mexico City by myself, but I’ve always felt a bit out of place on my own. I guess Mexico is not Japan, and the solitary experience is not as much the norm. I’d learned last year that Pujol had a Taco Omakase, aka a “Barra de Tacos”, an 8-course taco tasting served at their bar and I immediately put it on my “must” list. This sounded like the perfect dining experience for one of my solos days in Mexico City.
After delighting in wonderful food for 2 weeks in Oaxaca, I flew into Mexico City in the morning and was lucky to be able to check into my hotel early to rest before the big event. As is my preference for any bigger meal, I chose lunch, as I can enjoy the meal with the opportunity afterwards to reflect rather than just passing out in bed with a too full belly.
Some people asked, considering I’d just spent time in Oaxaca eating amazingly, if I would be nervous going into a meal like this thinking it wouldn’t measure up. But I never approach a meal with a compare and contrast mentality. I want to experience the best in every meal and was confident that I’d be served just that.
I arrived at Pujol for my 1:30 reservation and was promptly seated in the middle of the 10-seat bar. My server went through the obligatory niceties and when he asked if it was my first time at the restaurant, I found myself shocked when I answered that it was, in fact, my 3rd visit to Pujol. My first 2 visits had been for dinner and both highlight experiences, and I was excited because I knew I was in for another incredible meal.
There are 3 choices of drink pairings to go with the meal (not optional): white wine/sake, Mexican beer or mezcal. After being in Oaxaca for 2 weeks I decided, with some regret, against the mezcal, but then felt less regret after seeing that many of the bottles that sat on the shelf behind the bar were ones I’ve not only tried but actually sit on my shelf at home. The beer pairing would have weighed heavy on me, so I went with the wine/sake option.
The server explained that the meal was a celebration of corn from Oaxaca and the blue and yellow corn served throughout the courses were sourced from Valle de Zagache in Oaxaca. Just as good sushi is all about the quality of the rice, this taco omakase was supposed to focus on the corn and the quality of the tortilla. While I have a developed palate for Japanese rice, both plain and shari (sushi rice), my experience with indigenous Mexican corn is just at the developing stage. This concept was very intriguing to me and I was eager to start the meal.
One of the best things about dining solo is that it allows time through the meal to reflect quietly on what’s being presented. It was a meal where course after course, I declared each to be my favourite, only to have that thought pushed aside as the next was served and then I declared that more delicious. I loved being served food that I ate with my hands that I could delight in for a few bites and then move on to the next plate. As much as I enjoy gorgeous tastings menus, I find that usually the portions are too large and I struggle to make it through the meal. This lunch was the perfect experience in not only size and pacing, but also in extraordinary flavour and textural combinations.
With only dessert left in the meal, the guests at the bar were led outside to enjoy dessert on the patio.
I thought that on this 3rd visit to Pujol, I’d be at the point where I wouldn’t keep it on my list to return to again. But this experience was so extraordinary that I may have to return and this time bring someone to share it with.