So my wife Erika was born in Mexico City, and we have been to NOMA in Denmark before, where she quickly came to know Rene’s right-hand woman Rocio, who now has a taqueria in Copenhagen. So for Erika’s 40th birthday, I could think of anything better than to eat there again with a quick trip to Tulum. I missed out on the dinner only booking, so I had no choice but to go all out and do breakfast, lunch, foraging, and dinner with NOMA through AMEX Platinum concierge’s VIP package called By Invitation Only. I won’t even dare to tell you the cost for the two us of, but I have no regrets, it was the perfect full circle for our passion for food, and the honor of having one of the world’s best chefs venerate Mexican cuisine and showcase the authentic local ingredients to people who may have preconceived notions about Mexican culture and food in general.
I don’t know where to start with this cornucopia in an ornate Cazuela, it just blows your mind. This is so far from the plastic cookie-cutter fruit you will find in any grocery store in the US period. The little avocados can be eaten whole, and their skin tastes like you are eating black olives. The mangos are so damn tender and sweet, the bananas ten times better than the Cavendish Chiquita banana that is soon to go extinct. The yellow passion fruit’s crunchy seeds, OMFG!
The perfectly puffed tortilla that with its semi-masa rawness, with cotija cheese was very well paired with the champagne. Tasty little bite sized sope. Very authentic tapas-style breakfast, just fancied up a bit. This was actually made by Mexican chef Roberto Solis who has his own place in Merida called Nectar, who collaborated with Rene. The machaca was excellent on the sope, I also got a Chile Relleno and piled on the tomatillo sauce onto one of the sopes. The staff has telepathy, as every time I would get sad as the level of champagne would go down in my glass, they would rush to fill my glass.
There’s the man himself, Rene, chatting everyone up. I was surprised he remembered us even though we only had lunch there once four years ago. I guess we were unique in that not so many Mexican-Armenian couples show up in Denmark and discuss taquerias with them. It was only breakfast and I was already shit-faced. I still had to pace myself for the Mezcal tasting coming up. I almost forgot to mention the corn meal masa textured corn bread they had that you dipped in local honey, I want that so bad right now.
Here he was again with his monolog on ‘how an Al pastor taco saved my restaurant’. He first gave this speech to a group of chefs at a conference we attended in Mexico City called Mesamerica in 2012. He said that every chef has their own favorite cuisine that they would choose over the rest, and Mexican was his. I wish I had enough memory to prove it, as my video erased as it was too long. It would have been perfect to get this behind the scenes footage. Oh well, the pictures will have to do.
Thankfully, this video was short enough to spare being chopped. This was our pre- lunch snack of foraged goods, They told the story of how each crop had to be negotiated like six months ago with one direct supplier who could promise high volume of each specific item for the period of time the popup was there.
Beautiful bowls, mid-century Danish furniture in the sand, exotic fruits. This is the only way we can ever do any tropical type of trip if there is serious authentic food involved, no all-inclusive bullshit.
But first, Mezcal. “Para todo mal, Mezcal, Para todo bien tambien.” This is a well known Mexican saying, meaning, “For everything that goes wrong, Mezcal. For everything that goes well, as well.”
Love the little clay cups, adds to the earthiness of the Mezcal. You really get a sense of the ephemeral and transient nature of this commodity when you hear how it is produced. It is very labor intensive, as is a very low yield end product. Once you chop up the maguey palms and cook them, that whole agave patch that has been growing on a remote hill in Oaxaca for the past 30 years is gone forever, and all you have is that one batch of bottles from that distilling. The diversity and uniqueness of each distilled product are mind-boggling. I also learned something new. I would always hear about the different types of Mezcal, such as Tobala, Espadin, Pechuga, etc. I never knew an actual ‘pechuga’ was involved in the production of the Pechuga Mezcal. Supposedly they hang a raw chicken’s breast, or even whole plucked chicken in the distillation kiln over the alcohol during the smoking process. I guess the smoke also cooks the chicken and the Mezcal takes on that gamey taste. Maybe you can pair this Mezcal with fried chicken now that you know the story and can impress your dinner guests with your obscure spirit-pairing. Below is actually the ‘pina’ or heart of the maguey that they cook down to make Mezcal. The fruit itself tastes like brown sugared date, with a meaty consistency, never knew this was edible too.
Then comes the fun part, all the insects, from their own imported Danish ants that I had in my palm, that they brought with them. The stories about the labeling of everything getting through customs. They basically had to just label it ‘chocolate sauce’ and hope they did not open to avoid having customs toss all their product. Of course, you have the worms that feed on the maguey, as well as the giant ants that lay their eggs in the pina of the maguey. What you see in that spoon is a nice scoop of Mexican caviar, the larva of the giant ants, mmmmm…I love this shit, it’s called escamoles. We first had it at Pujol, then at El Jardin de Milagros in Guanajuato. There were also dried chapulines, basically grasshopper.
Then, some raw cacao. This was the first time I have ever eaten a raw cacao nut. The outer layer is sweet, almost like lychee, but the nut itself is very bitter, and you are not supposed to eat that, but through cooking it becomes chocolate, I forget the process they explained.
Then a quick detour to the Mayan ruins and the beach before lunch.
Lunch was also expectedly amazing, my dopamine receptors were starting to reach toxic occupancy levels, I was worried my taste buds were just going to give out by the time dinner came around in the non-stop hedonistic 24-hour food orgy.
To start off our lunch, their trademark sour limey Scandinavian ants with jicama, cucumber, avocado, jalapeno, diced tomato, edible flowers and radish in olive oil.
Then a grilled octopus tostada with avocado, heavenly.
Rocio and crew then assembled some desiccated fish skin tacos, like the Mexican version of a salmon skin roll. So amazingly good.
OMG, with hand made tortillas.
Then amazingly soft mango on ice that you just suck out through a hole on top. A smoothie from mother nature.
May I remind you that this was a non-stop all you can eat bonanza of the previous items. You just sit in your chair, getting sour German beers or champagne and they keep bringing tostadas and tacos of the above-mentioned items. You can see the Cazuela rotation in action.
Holy fuck, the red velvet paleta (ice cream stick) was so salty/sweet and savory. I don’t even know what was in it, but it was like eating a frozen tres leches cake.
Now for the dinner we have all been waiting for, for months…We were very happy that we were seated with people that we really clicked with that we had met earlier in the day. I think they paired the By Invitation Only folks together for dinner, as there were some unfamiliar faces at the dinner seating. We heard horror stories of one table that had an obnoxious couple that fucked it up for everyone at the table. It was communal seating for the most part due to necessity, so we lucked out with our table mates. I would have been beyond pissed if I had to sit next to douche bag for a dinner like this.
Flor de Mayo and Tamarind was the first amuse bouche. Visually stunning and nicely aromatic, it fills your mouth with sweet perfume and lubricates you for the heavier dishes to come. It had xoconostle jam dotted in the middle for a tangy sweet taste.
Flor de Mayo flowers are considered sacred and are used by some native people as a flavor for cacao, by others as a flavoring for alcoholic drinks. Flor de Mayo is considered as a potentially impactful aphrodisiac, due in large part to an alluring fragrance. From the internet research I did, it is something the pre-Columbian peoples would have been aware of. The flower’s name comes from the fact that the flower comes out during May.
Melon calm from the Sea of Cortez. Like a Japanese giant clam in texture, Mirugai, but with a ceviche take, with the local ‘lima’ and foraged ‘beach herbs’. I guess these are little green shoots that grow on the beach. How the hell you would know what is a herb in miles of sand beats me, but it had a very rosemary feel and texture to it. There was a special tiny mandarin orange on the side that you suck on once you slurp the clam juice. I was very pleased. Local ingredients (check), foraged random beach herbs trademark NOMA-style (check), special mandarins that come from one tree in all of Mexico (check). At the foraging session earlier, there was some story about how hard it is to come by this mandarin orange, and how everyone they met that had some eventually all led back to one woman who had one tree that had all the fruit. It tasted like Kala Mansi, which is a citrus variety we had in the Phillipeans.
Next up Salbute, which is a puffed tortilla that is fried, similar to the one from lunch, but with sun-dried tomato, chapulines (grasshopper), and various beans, toasted nuts. The crunch of the chapulines, nuts, and tortilla with the jammy dried tomato as the glue that holds Humpty Dumpty together was visually pleasing, texturally pleasing, and a unique spin on a more traditional dish, with more of a vegetarian plus eco-friendly approach, as insects are the protein source of the future. This is a perfect example of how to get your protein on in a carbon-footprint less way. This should be replacing animal protein in shakes, etc, any day now as more dishes like this are introduced to people.
Then the cold masa broth with the local lime and all the flowers of the moment. One word, refreshing, the herbaceous nose with the crunch of the ice, and oils released from grinding the flowers, together just works. It had a velvety mouth feel, not like you are just eating plants. I guess the fresh-picked nature added such an essence to it. I know this is a dish that is easy to talk shit about, ‘how someone can pay $600 to eat a bowl of flowers with ice’, so I had to break it down for all you haters out there.
Then came the young coconut and caviar. Again, a classic pairing of cream and caviar, as you saw in my previous Crenn posting. But here, you dig into the coconut meat as you spoon the two together. I think the cream was also coconut. I liked this for the local fusion experimentation and the combination of local product with a high-end product, but the coconut meat over-powered the caviar flavor for me. We still liked it nevertheless.
This was like a super refreshing summer fruit gazpacho. It was called Chile de Arbol with tropical fruit. We loved this dish for the traditional plus molecular components of the carefully crafted essence of the chile de arbol, which is a hardcore authentic ingredient in most of the food my mother-in-law makes. I love starfruit, and the xoconostle was bomb! Xoconostle is the cactus pear, it’s the fruit with the little black seeds in the photo. At Pujol, they make a cocktail with this and mezcal that looks fluorescent fuschia. It is probably my favorite fruit in the world right now. I really appreciated how Rene is highlighting these little known Mexican products, and how special and crave-worthy they can be. See below for aforementioned cocktail.
Then came the dish that blew me away, Banana Ceviche. The flavor of this was something I will always remember. I swirled that first bite in my mouth and I just blurted out, “Ridiculous, this is my favorite dish!” Most of the table agreed. Though the previous items were pretty, creative, interesting flavors, etc, this dish just killed it with flavor, like a 10 plus. I can’t even explain why my reaction was so strong, it just stopped me in my tracks. Maybe it was the umami from the grainy raw cacao mole paste made with fermented seaweed oil? It was insane. It was a tie between this, the chocolate sorbet stuffed chile and octopus that were my hands down favorites of this trip. Did I mention that these were the same bananas from breakfast, totally different from the Chiquita bullshit we get a Starbucks when we are rushing to work and have no time for breakfast.
Next up was the Chaya taco with fresh Bajia Falsa oyster, so much better than the Baja oysters we have tried in LA, I don’t know if these are just the super nice high-end variety that doesn’t get hauled off to the all you can eat shit oyster places in LA. It was served like a taco in a nasturtium leaf-like plant called the chaya leaf. It is the perfect bitter compliment to the salinity of the oyster.
Chaya, also called tree spinach, is consumed as a diuretic and a stimulant for circulation and lactation, and it is believed to harden fingernails, improve vision, help lower cholesterol, prevent coughs, improve memory and combat diabetes, according to the Mexican National Institute for Nutrition. No wonder I had such strong circulation down below after dinner and my nipples were so sensitive. You always want to have good vision and hard fingernails when you have an erection and your nipples are lactating. They should serve this stuff on porn sets. Reminded me of Noni juice, when I was researching all the grandiose health benefits this plant has.
But then came the oddest thing I’ve ever seen at a restaurant, I used to play with these bulbaceous seaweed strands as a child on the beach. It was a mussel michelada. It had pureed mussel inside the kelp bulb. I felt like I was in this cartoon wonderland, the novel whimsicalness of this item blew my mind. It’s like the seaweed you see on the sand that people just walk on, no one serves this in restaurants, not to mention impregnated with mussel.
Moving from the lily pond lala land in my mind, we go to the terroir of Mexico.
Whole grilled pumpkin with rolled squash cooked with kelp oil. Sea and land were melded so nicely in all the dishes, and the diversity of pumpkin variety in Mexico is mind-boggling. The black pumpkin with yellow pumpkin meat was such a nice contrast. Flavor was muted, subtle, but again, we appreciated the elevation of the common food that is seen as peasant food but taken to the next level.
Then a dish I discovered 4 years ago in Guanajuato at a restaurant called El Jardin De Los Milagros, Escamoles, which is also known as the Mexican Caviar. This is the larva of the giant Mexican ants. It is only appropriate for Rene who is known for his edible ants to do a Mexican spin on this ingredient. It is so good, nutty in flavor, with a mushy caviar like consistency. It was on a tostada with these dissected lima beans from the giant bean pod in the foraging table picture early in the post.
Then my second mind-blowing experience was about to hit me. Those of us that know us well probably remember the Mexican birria dinner feast we threw in LA where we brought a live goat to cook in the traditional style in an underground earthen oven. I think the octopus was cooked in the same method. When cooking the birria, you typically break the clay/cement cover with a hammer and dig the meat out of a cocoon wrapping of agave wrapping. Here, the octopus was wrapped inside a banana a leaf that was cooked inside clay with aforementioned Mexican cooking tradition.
This is called Dizikilpak, which is like a mole, but it’s an ancient Mayan concoction full of omega-3’s, consisting of various peppers, tomato, chive, onion. Similar to an ikra or mouhamara in the middle eastern tradition. This is the bed of umami the octopus tentacle is going to fornicate on in my mouth.
You could totally taste the flavors imparted by the corn clay husk and banana leaf into the octopus, and it was so tender. They must have beat this meat for hours, or it was just so tender due to the natural pressure cooking method. The sauce had again a 10 plus flavor profile that just made me blurt out obscenities. Strong flavor, savory umami bomb. I could not resist the next graphic that says it all.
Since we are already on the theme of anime, let’s keep going. Rocio’s umami bomb dish, which reminded me of this food geek cartoon:
So this is an Hoja de Santo leaf, which is a very common ingredient in homemade cooking. It contained a mole of dried scallops, with the grilled leaf, so sweet and salty. I was making faces like the anime judges in the cartoon above at minute 3:18.
Here is the mole above.
Here is Rocio explaining her dish, like Megumi in the anime, with her slight frame and quiet determination to hit us with her secret scallop umami. The metaphor for Rene vs Rocio could not be more perfect than in the cartoon above.
Here is the pig from which came our Lechon. This was early in the courses and later came this. All I remember was hearing coconut fat was deposited under the skin while it cooked. I was drooling when I heard that, and the flavor of the coconut came across so nicely. They have a dish like this in the Phillipeans called Lechon de Leche, which is baby pig cooked in milk.
So the dish is called Cerdo Pelon, which means Bald/Hairless Pig with freshly milled corn from Yaxunah. It again reminded me of the banana ceviche, with the cocoa paste over it, holy shit, it was like round 2. I can still taste the milky coconut pork that contrasted so well with the sweet/spicy chocolate on the side pictured above. The cornmeal was prepared with two different pastes, I forgot what the green one was, but they both were delicious.
The food was paired with various beers, awesome wine from Chile that was like an Isategi Basque cider. I was not able to take pictures of the beer and wine along the way, but I included all the names on the menu which I will post at the end. If you have not had this style of spirit, you must. Here is a link to introduce you to the funk.
I was however taken by this wine from the Tecate region north of the Valle De Guadalupe. I was shocked as this area is known for their beer, but the bottle itself was very cute. I need to find this wine.
Sadly, as dessert number one came, it signaled the end of this lovely meal. To cleanse the fat off our palate, how about another fat from the avocado, but made into an ice cream with the concentrated oil of the mamey seed. The Mamey is another beautiful prized jewel of Mexico. The molecular witchery of getting the essence of Mamey and putting it onto the avocado made you feel like the avocado was transformed, so aromatically fragrant and texturally smooth and luscious. To top if off, inside a charred avocado, almost bruleed, with the black olive tasting edible skin like the ones we had a breakfast. So damn savory, but the Mamey oil gave it a freshness and lightness, it totally messed with your senses.
Then came the final strike in the flavor arena. This chocolate sorbet from chocolate made from the native Jaguar cacao sources from Chiapas that was stuffed into the grilled Mixe Chile was one of the most amazing desserts I have ever had in my life. So totally unique and complex. It took the concept of the Choco-taco to the moon. I love Chile Relleno for the sweetness that comes out of the skin just underneath the charred top layer, and to add chocolate inside the chile, was like taking the concept of mole and turning it on its head. Normally in a mole, you crush chiles and chocolate together to make a sauce. This dish was the inverse where the chocolate impregnates the chile. There was a lot of impregnating going on in this dinner, maybe my wife will be next after dinner.
The dried chiles on the bottom were just to display the chile on top that had chocolate sorbet inside of it. It had a date-like consistency and honey like sweetness, with the savory/smoky chile meat. Good heavens!
There were 4 ladies wearing Oaxacan dresses, who were here all night making handmade tortillas on the comal. My wife went over to tip them each $20 as they probably get paid much less. Actually, this was kind of an inside joke with my wife, so we had to tip them cash under the table. The story goes that when I told my wife the price of the meal upon first booking this with AMEX, her exact words were, “We can go to Chalco and have my Tia Pelona cook for us on the comal and it would cost $20 to feed the entire family.”
Brick and mortar, grills with medieval torture chamber pulleys.
Tacos al carbon Michelin style, bust out the shovel.
Besides the food, the unbelievably friendly service and attentiveness of the staff were so refreshing. Every person in that kitchen has some special little quirk/personality trait that really added to the experience, and it was such an egalitarian kitchen, that looked like the United Nations.
What an unbelievably amazing experience. Here is the wine list and menu below, along with our little parting gift from the restaurant. That burlap NOMA Mexico bag will be going with us to every grocery store visit for sure. Totally satisfied customers.