La movida culinaria, once firmly based in Polanco, had, in recent years, moved across town to the more bohemian Colonia Roma, and then up to the for-decades-dormant Colonia Juarez. A cloud of ennui had settled over this well heeled neighborhood’s tony kitchens.
But I’m happy to report that life has sprung anew on the north side of the park at several spots inaugurated in recent months. About the spectacular Raiz and the eclectic Garum I will elaborate down the line. Here I focus on an unassuming locale whose kitchen crew bursts with youthful audacity.
Nexo Wine Bistrot is not posh. The simple space is done in a sort of post-Swedish modern style, faux-bois floors, white wood paneling and off-white Saarinen-esque chairs all accented by exposed brick. There are several round tables for 6, moveable banquettes against the wall, and a couple of bars that make solo lunch an inviting possibility.
The trappings are unobtrusive – what it’s all about is great food that is complex yet eminently enjoyable.
Modern concepts and techniques mingle with traditional Mexican, Spanish and French in a happy nexus. Many higher falutin’, award-lauded chefs reach for this brass ring, but Nexo’s pair have grabbed it.
Chefs César Vázquez and Diego Niño, who helm this tight ship, previously worked together in various catering ventures, but had never run a fixed restaurant. Their compact kitchen, full of eager young artisans, is open to the dining room. It is managed with an efficiency normally found only in Japan – an air of abandon prevails but there’s method to the madness. The food that sails out is precisely balanced and perfectly cooked. Timing is nailed down at Nexo – not one vegetable, piece of fish or filet is over or undercooked. Imprecision is endemic to our Modern Mexican kitchens, producing many a dry fish or grey magret. Not here – I’m grateful for that.
The small, constantly morphing menu is easy to deal with – 7 entradas frias, 5 entradas calientes and 5 platos principals. And to facilitate ordering, two fixed menus are offered, one of 3 dishes, the other includes 5.
On a recent visit, there were many standout dishes. The first cold appetizer featuring slices of fatty, tuna-like smoked jurel, promised to bring down the house from the get-go – it was as if we’d started with an Ethel Merman show-stopper but it was only the first act. How could it get any better? The lightly smoky fish, done a la española (the Spanish know how to smoke fish better than anybody, even the NY Jews) lazed in a puddle of emulsified cilantro dressing and was adorned with toasted cucumber rings, dabs of white miso for extra umami, and beautiful nasturtium leaves for a little spike. It all coalesced and self-complimented with élan.
A bijou-like ensalada de pulpo tasted even better than it looked and that’s saying something. The octopus lost none of its butteriness in the roasting – no easy feat – and was caressed by a green olive ‘juice’, given a bit of acidity by dainty cherry tomatoes and orange.
I’m a fan of that eastern Spanish classic arroz negro but am seldom satisfied by its Mexican manifestations. This version, from the hot appetizer menu, pays homage to both the old country and new – it’s really a creamy arroz meloso, as they do it in Murcia, but instead of the standard squid ink and fumet, it’s made with Bomba rice (which is correct), crab bisque and chilmole (the blackened chile sauce of the Yucatan), then crowned with a ring of calamar stuffed with chicharrón prensado, an ingenious use of the pedestrian taco-stand pig skin. Requisite dabs of aioli and a shard of pickled black radish enlivened the proceedings, as if that were necessary.
Ravioli, house-made and stuffed with seasonal wild mushrooms, was blanketed by a velvety saffron cream that would make a Mantovese weep. The filling was woodsy- gamey but not too strong, and the pasta perfectly al dente.
Platos fuertes included a Franco-Asian juicy slab of magret bathed in a demi-glace reduction of its juices with honey and soy. Previously this dish had been done in Calvados and apples – I thought it couldn’t get any better, but I was proved wrong. The apples remained to remind me of temps perdu.
Buttery-smooth black cod had been seared in a flash then baked for a few seconds. Its center was tender and just barely cooked – a rarity in this city whose chefs, with only a few exceptions, tend to cook the bejesus out of anything oceanic. It was drizzled with chile-infused oil and nestled in a little pile of sweetish chestnut-like black frijoles de olla.
Nexo’s compact wine list was astutely assembled by Deby Beard, one of our best oenologists.
Desserts are prepared by the affable young repostera Mena Rebolledo. A knockout was a plated dessert inspired by aged Zacapá rum (a brand that has been tirelessly promoting itself – I mention it here because it is, in fact, good) with which it was served. Little cubes of white biscocho, ‘caviar’ of café de olla, granizado of caramelized sugar, pearls of egg yolk gel and a divine smoked vanilla ice cream sat on a base of mascarpone and white chocolate. The chef promised that the nuances of the rum would be echoed by the elements on the plate and they were.
Nexo’s team plays together as if the show was already in a long run. After the first showstoppers set the audience on the edge of their seats, it just keeps getting better. Keep an eye on this place – it’s on its way to the top.
Nexo Wine Bistrot
Campos Eliseos 199
Tel. 5281 5903, 5280 4825
See Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/fph6DMUv2TS2
Food (1-10): 9
Service: friendly and efficient
Ambience: casual, relaxed but marred by jarring disco-esque pop played a tad too loud.
Price: Prices vs. quality, for Polanco, is very reasonable. A 3 course tasting is $530, 5 courses $710
Open: Monday – Saturday 1:30 – 11 p.m.