Stroll into the magical patio that is Azul Histórico. As you come through the welcoming entrance, the bar and its seating area are on your left, just behind the big blue letters that spell out the restaurant's name.
A little less than a year ago, Mexico City's culinary aficionados began to throng to chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's Azul/Condesa, which opened near the end of January 2011. His other two restaurants (both called Azul y Oro) at the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), were and continue to be a gastronomic Mecca in the far southern reaches of the Distrito Federal. Difficult to access by either public or private transportation, those of us who dined there felt that we had conquered both time and space to arrive. The opening of Azul/Condesa gave defeños (residents of the Distrito Federal) and tourists alike an easy option for enjoying the same exquisite dishes served at Azul y Oro--with Azul/Condesa's welcome addition of the opportunity for cocktails or a bottle of wine with a meal.
The former Palacio de los Condes de Miravalle, at Isabel la Católica #30 in Mexico City's Centro Histórico (historic downtown), has been a great gray presence on this street since 1697. Just left of the center of the photograph you see the tall wooden doors that open into Azul Histórico. Photo courtesy Skyscraper City.
Mexico Cooks! was really torn about whether to eat at Azul Histórico right after its January 25 opening or wait until any opening kinks were worked out. Culinary curiosity (not to mention appetite) won out, and we made a reservation for mid-afternoon comida (main meal of the day) on January 28.
Restaurante Azul Histórico, which quite comfortably seats 100, fills the central patio of the 17th century palace of the counts of Miravalle. Surrounded by first-floor balconies, the open-air restaurant is crowned by towering 100-year-old laurel trees. I asked manager Gonzalo Serrano Orozco how patrons would be protected during the Mexico City summer rainy season. He gestured at the sky. "We have an enormous cover to spread over the entire patio."
Table setting at Azul Histórico. The tables, specially made for the restaurant, are hand-branded with the names of streets in the Centro Histórico. The small blue enamelware pots of greenery give a touch of living nature to your table. The jícaras (dried and carved half-gourds) are for drinking mezcal.
Azul HIstórico opens early in the morning (eight o'clock) for business breakfasts, hungry tourists who have lodgings downtown, and anyone else who wants something marvelous to eat to start the day. Classic huevos motuleños (two fried eggs on tortillas, with black beans, ham, and peas, all bathed in a salsa picosa--spicy red sauce), anyone? Or perhaps you'd rather try chilaquiles rojos con arrachera--fried tortilla pieces cooked until just tender with delicious and grilled-just-right steak slices.
The menu at Azul Histórico is identical to the menu at Azul/Condesa. The two restaurants also offer full bar service, including house-special flavored margaritas and an excellent variety of regional mezcales and tequilas. But liquor is one thing, and the fabulous food offerings are another. Mexico Cooks! and wife started with a jícara of mezcal (me) and a shot of tequila (her), but we quickly graduated to the order of the day: what to eat.
On the table before the food: a tiny enamelware pot of live greenery, a basket of hot breads, a pot of salsa for the bread, my jícara of mezcal on its woven base, and a plate of traditional orange slices dusted with sal de gusano to accompany the drink.
Judy started her meal with a beautiful deep-green cream of cilantro soup, topped with a little hill of sliced almonds and a big swirl of crema de mesa--Mexican table cream. She needed a pinch of additional salt for the soup, but pronounced it delicious, with the just-right taste of cilantro. Her tequila and house-made sangrita chaser are visible at top left.
I ordered the ensalada de pera con queso Roquefort: the large salad includes crisp, fresh mixed greens, sliced Bosc and red Bartlett pears, large crumbles of delicious Roquefort cheese, and a scattering of roasted cashews. The dressing is oil and balsamic vinegar, with a touch of sweetness--just right for the salad. The dressing, over and above the decorative drizzle on the plate, is served in that little blue jug at the right of the photo. It's my favorite salad on the restaurant menu.
Judy ordered the filete de res con chichilo (filet mignon with a dark Oaxaca mole made with the ashes of chile seeds and ground, dried avocado leaves). In this presentation, it's served over sliced, steamed chayote and accompanied by pickled red onions and chochoyones (little Oaxacan dumplings made of corn dough). The beef needed better searing so it would cook to the required done-ness. After our meal, we talked with chef María José Serrano about the difficulties of teaching her sous chefs the technique of searing and oven-finishing beef; neither of those techniques is widely practiced in central Mexico, but she knows and is eager to give the correct instructions.
I ordered pechuga de pollo con mole negro (boneless chicken breast with Oaxacan black mole). The chicken breast was perfectly cooked: tender and juicy. It's unusual to be served a chicken breast cooked exactly right and this one was extraordinarily wonderful. Mole negro is my always my first choice among moles: it's not too sweet, with deeply complex flavors, and with the precise amount of spiciness to please my palate. Ricardo Muñoz's recipe is out of this world. The dish of chicken and mole comes topped with a single slice of fried sweet plátano macho (super-ripe plantain) and a sprig of cilantro. Perfect.
Service at the new restaurant was almost entirely glitch-free, even on only its third day serving customers. We needed to request napkins (they were deliberately kept off the table due to latent construction dust in the building) and salt, but every other wait staff detail was topnotch.
And the initial evaluation for Azul Histórico from Mexico Cooks!? Here's my checklist on a scale of one to ten, ten being best:
- Style and decor: 10
- Creative and appropriate use of historical space: 10
- Innovation in creative details: 10
- Prompt and appropriate attention from wait staff and other personnel: 10
- Food: 9 with a bullet
- Ease of access: 10 for public transportation access, 10 for tourist access, 10 for handicapped access
So should you wait a while to dine at Azul Histórico or should you get on over there now? My advice: make a reservation, go now AND later, and take me with you! You are going to love it.
Isabel la Católica #30
Between Calles Francisco Madero and 16 de septiembre
Across the street from the Casino Español
Two blocks from the Zócalo
Metro Isabel la Católica or Metro Allende
Hours: 8AM (for breakfast) until 11PM
Tels. 5510.1316 or 5521.3295
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