Oxa Cocina Única: Not Just for Sábados

Photo: Oxa


If you have ever spent a Saturday morning meandering your way through the upscale shops and stands inside Mexico City’s Bazar Sábado (Saturday Bazaar), nestled in the heart of the cobble-stoned streets of the capital’s historic Colonia San Ángel, you are no doubt aware of the Oxa Cocina Única restaurant that occupies the indoor market’s courtyard.

Photo: Oxa

Chances are you have even stopped by for a tasty order of artisan tacos and a frosty cold margarita after searching for handicraft treasures at the more than 30 tiny boutiques straddling the peripheries of the Bazar Sábado’s two floors.

But while the nouveau mexique cuisine of Oxa most certainly would have impressed you at the time, the restaurant’s tranquil garden setting, with lush greenery at every station and a giant 50-meter jacaranda tree growing out of its far corner and towering over the entire apricot-hued colonial complex that houses Bazar Sábado, is sometimes lost in the busy hustle and bustle of the giant handicrafts market. The best way to appreciate the true charm of Oxa — which in August of last year replaced a rather bland eatery that had occupied the space for years and that had catered to no-chilies-please tourist palates — is to go on any day other than Saturday.

Not only will the staff be better able to attend to you, uninterrupted by the noise and flurry of hundreds of bargain-hunting foreign tourists making whirlwind treks to this requisite stop on their see-Mexico must-do list, but you yourself will be able to savor the serene beauty and grace of the stunning provincial structure, which dates back more than 200 years.

Photo: Oxa

The staff at Oxa is always friendly and accommodating (even on Saturdays, when the grating sounds of organ grinders and bartering vendors, along with the often-overwhelming crowds of visitors, can make the whole shopping and dining experience seem somewhat hectic).

But on weekdays and Sundays, the entire mood of Oxa changes, offering a refreshing respite from the seemingly endless tumult that is Mexico City.

And it is in that setting that you will better be able to relish the unique culinary creations of Oxa’s executive chef Ana Martorell.

The food at Oxa is a combination of intensely savory dishes from across Mexico — including Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Puebla and the Yucatan — with no-holds-barred flavors that are not for culinary amateurs. The chilies are not watered down to accommodate foreign palates, and the citrics are sharp and lip-puckering.

But for those who want a true taste of authentic, unadulterated Mexican fare, this is definitely the place to come.

Photo: Oxa

Unless you are a teetotaler, I recommend you start with a cocktail. Chef Martorell knows her liquors, and she doesn’t cut corners when it comes to her mixology, using only the best spirits to prepare her aperitifs.

The Cántaro cocktail is a sure winner to refresh and pique your appetite for what is to come. Made from sweet orange and grapefruit juice with a generous jigger of Tequila Patrón Silver (like I said, only the best booze goes into the drinks at Oxa), with a sprig of hibiscus flower and a candied grapefruit slice to adorn it, the Cántaro is the epitome of thirst-quenching exhilaration.

Another great choice is the house margarita, also blended from Tequila Patrón Silver and made exceptional by an unexpected dash of beet juice mixed into the Cointreau.

Photo: Oxa

For appetizers, the truffled oysters with gruyere cheese and smoked tortilla dust cannot be beat, and the tacos de canasta (basket tacos), filled with mashed beans and bananas and covered with fresh cortija cheese, are a classic favorite. If you have a very hardy appetize, and are not averse to getting down with your carnivorous side, try the ultra-hardy beef bone marrows, served right out of the bovine ossein with a side of freshly made tortillas, each with a single square of hoja santa anise leaf embedded in its unleavened disk.

The quelites (Mexican wild greens) salad, drenched in a very potent salsa verde that doesn’t skimp on capsicum, is massive and can satisfy the urge for blazing picante of an entire table.

Photo: Oxa

The soups at Oxa are also very sharp in flavor, from the utterly tart cream of salsa verde that is not only piquant, but also extremely acerbic, with plenty of fresh lime added to the broth, to a robust Acapulco-style chilpachole seafood stew, loaded with fresh crab and Oxa’s requisite helping of tongue-defying spices.

The main-course dishes at Oxa are Martorell’s pièces de résistance, mainly because of the wonderfully delicious moles she uses to adorn each item on this section of the menu. Martorell’s mole portfolio includes four different hand-ground sauces. The most delicate of the quartette is the white mole, a sumptuous cream of ground almonds and white cacao that she adopted from a traditional Puebla recipe. This sweet and savory blend of spices is ideal for complementing the mini chicken sopes on the starters menu and gives an exquisite boost of flavor to Oxa’s incomparable baked asparagus when topped with gruyere cheese.

The second mole is a hearty pink sauce adapted from a Guerrero recipe and made from a blend of ground tomatoes, beets, chilies, fresh coriander, traditional spices and rose buds that give it an aromatic bouquet that is irresistible.

Photo: Oxa

This mole elevates Martorell’s already-delectable pistachio-crusted salmon filet to haute cuisine status.

The third mole in Martorell’s repertoire is a dynamic black powerhouse from Oaxaca that is more about habanero punch than subtle, and which stands its own against the compelling flavors of Oxa’s short rib, simmered for eight hours to literally fall off the bone and served with coriander mashed potatoes and creamed avocado.

But the crème de la crème of Martorell’s fantastic mole foursome is her traditional black mole, which is a faithful rendition of the classic Oaxaca treasure made from unsweetened cacao and a secret trove of other spices.

Martorell’s only variation to this original Oaxacan mole template is to add a perfectly measured bolt of burnt tortilla to give it a captivating smoky aftertaste.

It’s not on the menu, but ask for the broiled chicken breast in this absolutely magnificent mole.

You can also sample both this black mole and Martorell’s pink mole in Oxa’s enchiladas divorciadas (divorced enchiladas), filled with a a mixup of macho bananas and fried beans.

For dessert, try the maceta de chocolate, a terracotta planter filled with oozy-goozy delicious melted chocolate fondant and served with a single white rose.

Oxa Cocina Única is located inside the Bazar Sábado complex at Plaza San Jacinto 11 in Colonia San Ángel (tel: 56-4157-6048), and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Reservations are advised, and valet parking is available at the entrance of Bazar Sábado.

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