By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
When a company that owns more than 100 bars and nightclubs across Mexico decides to open its first restaurant, you couldn’t really blame it if the menu started off a little hit-or-miss.
But at La Bikini, which (as might well be expected from a corporation that specializes in bars and drinking) bills itself as the “Cathedral of Mezcals,” there are no misses when it comes to its haute cuisine mexicaine bill of fare.
In fact, the extremely ample menu is so chock-full of delicious dishes that it is hard to even begin to enumerate them.
Don’t get me wrong: If drinking is your thing, then La Bikina (which opened on Mexico City’s posh Presidente Masaryk Avenue in Colonia Polanco in November) has plenty of booze to whet your whistle, and over 200 different types of mezcal from across the country’s eight official mezcal regions to ensure it merits its nickname.
(I tasted two cocktails: the house special, the Corazón de Mezcal (Heart of Mezcal), with 400 Conejos mezcal – made from espadin agave cactus in Oaxaca – mixed with sweet hibiscus flower water, a twig of rosemary and several cubes of dry ice to bring out the smoky flavor of the mezcal; and a fruity pineapple and mezcal concoction served in a round, clay cup. Both were extraordinary.)
But getting back to the food, the menu is all-encompassing, with over 50 items to choose from (and that’s not counting the equally extensive drink menu).
I’ve been to La Bikina twice (so far, but it is definitely on my list of places to return to), and both times I filled up so much with the generous portions of appetizers that I could barely manage a main course or dessert (I said “barely,” so, yes, I did get to them, and enjoyed them immensely).
But the starters (which make for great community snacking dishes with those tangy mezcal and tequila drinks) are definitely the forte of La Bikina.
The menu, which was created and curated by the father and son team of Ramón and Adán Moreno, has dishes from vrtually every region of Mexico, but is probably most influenced by northern cuisine.
As I already mentioned, the generous portions of appetizers and the sheer variety of options means that you can make a full meal just out of starters.
And every single dish — from the beet and goat cheese salad (with an unexpected zest of cactus flower mayonnaise and coriander dressing) to the cream of squash chowder (with chocolate clams and pasillo chilies) to the short rib marrow (served with freshly made chalupas and avacado, black bean and sweet potato creams) to the beer-drenched red snapper ceviche marinated in manzano chilies and red onions — has a unique La Bikina twist that transforms it into gourmet cookery.
Not to be missed are the braised artichoke crowned with cotija cheese and chili piquín olive oil and the mesquite-smoked duck buñuelos bathed in pink pine nut mole (a true La Bikina masterpiece).
Those with more daring palates will want to try the huaraches of escamoles (yeah, that’s ant larvae) and pumpkin flowers on blue corn tortillas, topped with pico de gallo, grilled cactus filets and fried ezpazote (wormseed or Jesuit’s tea).
But even if you stick to the old tried-and-true, gringo-friendly Mexican favorites, like a scallop aguachile cocktail (which at La Bikina is marinated in a passionfruit and radish, avacado, red onion and chile de árbol infusion) or ribeye tacos (doused with grasshopper chillies and braised pineapple), you will be pleasantly surprised by the restaurant’s creative reinterpretations.
And then, of course, there is the main dish menu, offering every type of prime red meat from flambéed filet mignon with quail eggs served on a slab of Himalayan salt to a finish-me-if-you-dare, 1,000-gram tomahawk, accompanied by brandy-buttered mushrooms and rustic vegetable purée.
The seafood carte offers tantalizing options like vanilla-infused octopus baked in fresh banana leaves and salt-crusted seabass with mixed veggies.
And should you still be hankering for dessert after all this, the honey-sweetened corn cake with huitlacoche (corn mushrooms) jelly and red tomato compote is unbeatable.
Although it is the culinary new kid on the block of upscale Polanco restaurants, La Bikina is already a raving success, the “in” place for “fifi,” upper-crust Mexican bon vivants, and it attracts a very large crowd of millennials.
But despite its sleek, modern art décor (there is a massive portrait of Frida Kahlo on one wall, and a huge, red heart on another) and its appeal to the younger set, the folks who run La Bikina have had the good sense to avoid letting it be turned into a disco.
The background music is not soft by any stretch, but it is not pulsating or loud enough to scare away the over-40 crowd and you can enjoy (and actually hear) a conversation over your lunch or dinner.
If you are lucky, you may even be there when the staff performs one of its twice-daily La Bikina rituals, in which the restaurant’s namesake song (written by Mexican composer Rubén Fuentes in 1964 and made famous again by Luis Miguel in 2008) is played full volume over the house loudspeakers as the waiters parade through the premises with lit sparklers, a very uplifting show.
La Bikina is located at Hegel 406, on the corner of Presidente Mazaryk, in Mexico City’s Colonia Polanco (tel: 55-8596-7622).
It is open Monday through Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Valet parking is available, and all major credit cards are accepted.
Reservations are highly advised.