By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
To call Ticuchi a restaurant is a bit of a stretch.
Frankly, it is much more of a tavern than an eatery.
The dark, unadorned interior, the tiny drink tables with clusters of chairs around them, and the all-encompassing bar in middle of the room (not to mention the fact that the place doesn’t open until 5:30 in the afternoon) are pretty much dead giveaways that the main activity that takes place at Ticuchi is drinking – mostly mezcal and the cocktails made from mezcal.
So why did France’s Le Fooding restaurant guide, together with Mastercard, decide to nominate this gloomy little bat-cave saloon (the word “ticuchi” actually means “bat” in Toltec) as one of three contestants (along with two other Mexico City restaurants, Expendio de Maíz and Masala y Maíz) for its Priceless Cities Best New Bistro award (the winners will be announced late next month)?
Well, despite its definite bar ambience (and it’s 50-plus-option bar menu), Ticuchi, which opened its doors in Petrarca 254 in Colonia Polanco just last August, happens to have a surprisingly delicious bill of fare when it comes to food.
And while there are only 15 items on the food menu, each and every one of them is a masterful mix of traditional Mexican cuisine with contemporary Asian and European fusion touches.
The fact that internationally acclaimed Mexican superstar chef Enrique Olvera (creator of Pujol) is the brainchild behind Ticuchi is the reason that this is not your grandfather’s barroom.
Along with his handpicked team of Oaxacan chefs Gonzalo Gout and Luis Arellano, Olvera has created a selection of exquisite bar food items that even if you are not into mezcal are well worth trying out.
The menu – which is divided into four sections and is almost entirely vegetarian in content, except for a fried fish with macho banana mayonnaise – primarily focuses on finger foods, served in small portions and intended to be shared.
As in the bar menu, cucumbers (a favorite of Olvera) play a lead role in terms of ingredients, but other locally sourced fruits and vegetables are also omnipresent.
For starters, there is a tomato, apple and jicama escabeche smothered in a spicy turmeric and lime sauce, as well as a copious tomato and grasshopper paste served with fried tortilla chips.
But the true star of the appetizer menu is a tangy guacamole with fava beans and wasabi, accompanied with fried potato chips for dipping.
This dish packs a wallop but is so addictive that you are bound to order a second – or even a third – portion.
The intermediate dishes include a Yucatan-style chayote and peppery hoja santa (piper auritum, or root beer plant) with tostados, and a not-to-be-missed tomato, goat cheese and basil tamal that is both toothsome and filling.
If you are really hungry, the main course options run the gamut from the aforementioned fried fish (the banana mayonnaise is fantastic), pastor tacos made from grilled pineapple, and barbequed mushrooms with corn kernels and a traditional Mexican green sauce.
There are only three dessert items on Ticuchi’s menu, but the yam churros dripped with cacao and pink mamey seeds is without a doubt the house favorite.
And if you are in the mood for a drink (after all, Ticuchi is first and foremost a bar, so why not?), be sure to try the nanche martini, made from mezcal, vermouth, sherry and sweet nanche cherry liquor.
Ticuchi is open Monday through Thursday, from 5:30 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 1 pm.