Bajio Flavors Elevate Palates at Palacio Cantinas
By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
It’s called the Bajío, Mexico’s lowlands, a stretch of territory that extends across the nation’s central plateau through the states of Querétaro, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Aguascalientes and parts of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Michoacán.
Known for its abundant silver mines, rich agricultural heritage and historical significance (it was here that Mexico’s 1810 War of Independence first took shape), the Bajío today boasts one of the country’s strongest economies and has a broad and diverse cultural legacy dating from colonial times.
And it is also the home of some of the most authentic and delicious dishes of traditional Mexican cuisine.
It is with that premise in mind that the Palacio de Hierro’s four Cantina Palacio restaurants in Mexico City — located inside the chain’s Polanco, Santa Fe, Perisur and Coyoacán department stores — are showcasing some of the region’s most popular dishes throughout the months of May and June.
The Bajío gastronomic festival at the Cantina Palacios includes an array of traditional Bajío gastronomic specialties, carefully curated and supervised by master chef Cynthia Martínez, culinary director of La Conspiración de 1809 restaurant in Morelia, Michoacán.
On Tuesday, May 9, the Cantina Palacio restaurant in Polanco offered a press sampling of the new Bajío menu, a five-course feast of some of the festival’s main highlights, starting with a sumptuous plate of pork rinds soaked in orange juice marinade and served with slices of onion, green chili peppers and baby squash on handmade tortillas.
Martínez explained that the dish was originally from the northern Michoacán town of Shaguayo and had become popular in that state during the 1940s and 1950s as a cantina accompaniment to beer and tequila.
During the press luncheon, it was served with an exquisitely smoky Negro Corazón espadín mezcal, produced by a pair of Michoacán brothers in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
The sweet and tangy flavors of the marinated pork rinds helped to accentuate the herbal and coppery undertones of the mezcal, proving that this dish can still hold its own as a drink-and-dine appetizer.
Next up was a spicy tostada of beef tongue drenched in a sharp chili and parsley vinaigrette and topped with a confetti of boiled quail eggs.
This dish, which could also double as cantina munchie fare, was served with a sturdy AvôBeer stout made from avocado seeds (Michoacán produces 82 percent of all Mexican avocados) that was so dark and frothy that it could have made a Guinness brew blush.
The avocado gave the beer a subtle, earthy taste that went well with the tongue tostada.
Before presenting the main dish, Martínez offered up a Michoacán street food favorite, a tostada torta sandwich stuffed with pork cheese, flattened beef steak, tomatoes, onions, perón chilies, white cabbage, black beans and mayonnaise, with a crisp tostada in the middle and baked in a copper oven, just the way it is served on street corners in Morelia.
The tostada torta was accompanied by another AvôBeer brewski, a golden lager made from avocado leaves that burst with honey and herbal tinges.
This particular pairing was all about contrasts, and the combination of the torta and the AvôBeer sparked palatal anticipation for the main dish.
Martínez’s slow-baked pork rib in a thick black chili sauce literally fell off the bone and melted in the mouth, and the chili sauce had all the complexity of a Puebla mole but with a much more savory blend of smoke-infested spices.
The pork rib was served with a highly sophisticated and refined Tesoro Azul tequila that the guests continued sipping on into the final course, a stunningly plated rice pudding gelatin bathed in a Celaya cajeta caramel sauce and topped with grated macadamia nuts that was almost too pretty to eat, but incredibly delicious, making it a perfect finalé to the Bajío feast.