“You must go to the Zona Rosa,” my mother advised me the first time I visited Mexico City back in 1978. “It’s the posh part of town,” she assured me.
Well, it turns out she hadn’t been there since the mid-sixties, just about when the ‘Pink Zone’ began its decline. With a few exceptions, what had once been the hangout of choice for the likes of Octavio Paz and Pita Amor, had become a tacky tourist area full of go-go bars and old time restaurants content to rest on their laurels (Fonda el Refugio was an exception to that rule, and is better than ever these days).
While the tide of sleaze has subsided, the area has failed to upgrade as its neighboring colonias have done in recent years. Zona Rosa nightlife is more gay and less tawdry, but an air of un-chic prevails. Several high end eateries have come and gone in recent years –Casa México was a lamented failure – as the Park Avenue set just doesn’t seem willing to ‘think pink’.
That is, until now, with the arrival on the scene of De Mar a Mar, a restaurant specializing in fish and seafood. It’s good–very good–and I’ll tell you the secret: Eduardo García.
Mexico’s best manipulator of sea creatures is the driving force behind De Mar a Mar’s open kitchen. Owner/chef of ‘the place to eat’ in Mexico City, Máximo Bistro, García was understudy to Enrique Olvera of Pujol, and honed his skills at New York’s temple of aquatic wonders, the Michelin starred Le Bernardin. He has created the tempting menu De Mar a Mar.
Simplicity, freshness and lack of pretension are the key concepts here. From the simulated Cape Cod style house to Rodolfo Fuentes’ casually rough interior (lot’s of wood), and the neatly ordered menu, everything collates beautifully.
Laminados are a first cousin to ceviches. Like Peruvian tiraditos, they are sashimi-like slices of fish whose easy richness is amplified by a light acidic dressing. Salmon (wild of course) is gently nudged by a dressing of dill, capers and lime. Tuna gets a three-chili infused oil treatment, augmenting its quiet taste. This shrewd toque mexicano is García’s specialty.
Ceviches, oh-so fashionable these days, can be decisively unsuccessful in the wrong hands. Balance is key, and good fish shouldn’t be overpowered as it sometimes is. The verde version here is an exercise in harmony – the mild bite of cilantro and parsley laced broth doesn’t outshine the star of the show. And the fact that a ceviche ‘Peruano’ is offered reveals the chef’s acknowledgement that they know a thing or two down there about subtle ceviche-making.
Street food is reinterpreted here as tostadas, which can be overstuffed sinkers, are here prepared with a fairy touch: light and equitably balanced. Baja-style tacos de pescado rebozado are like a good piece of tempura with a south-of-the-border kick: crunchy, aromatic and nicely augmented by three ambrosial salsas. They’re the best I’ve had since Ensenada. Or is it Tokyo?
Several “cooked” platos fuertes are also available. As at home base Máximo, pulpo is grilled to fragrant and buttery perfection. And for the carnivorous, another signature dish from Máximo, lechón confitado(roast baby pig) has paper thin, crispy skin, revealing a payload of tender meat; I wanted seconds of the side dish of perfumy pureed celeriac.
The same expert Belgian, Le Monsieur ‘O’, who lends his sugared hands to the Bistro, prepares the desserts here, so you know they’re good.
A light lunch will cost between $250 to $500. But it’s worth shelling out: vale la pena, of which there will be none in the realm of gastronomy.
De Mar a Mar – Cevichería de mercado
Niza 13 (near Reforma), Zona Rosa
Tel. 5207 5730
Open Monday – Saturday 1 -10 p.m., Sunday 1 – 6 p.m.