|At its best, Mexican food is the cooking of farm, home and pueblo – women’s cooking. Decades ago, while her culinary contemporaries were still making fussy European-style continental cuisine, Patricia Quintana was one of the first trained chefs to elevate her native cuisine to the same level as French "haute cuisine" or Italian "alta cocina," and treat it as seriously. Quintana’s dishes are simple, rustic and elegant all at once, but they are 100 percent Mexican. She influenced a generation of modern Mexican chefs, and her touch is immediately visible in the American restaurants treading the same ground.
Quintana led the charge to rediscover traditional Mexican cooking, and today she works just as tirelessly to record and preserve the regional dishes and agricultural heritage of Mexico against the onslaught of imported foods and the degradation of one of the world’s most unique and distinctive cuisines. She has written numerous books, many of which are available in translation. She is a national treasure and Mexico’s acknowledged culinary grande dame.
Izote is located in the Beverly Hills-ish neighborhood of Polanco, near Chapultepec, where everyone who is anyone lives, shops and plays. For such a grand area, Izote itself is surprisingly simple, with lofty ceilings and tall windows that fill the room with light. Service is swift and warm, with enough Spanglish to paper over the awkward bits. Quintana is used to American and European visitors (while we ate, three members of the band Chicago came in to dine). Izote thoughtfully provides a Spanish/English menu, which is a good thing – though my culinary Spanish is good, Quintana’s menu is so original and unique that I was grateful to set my pride aside and read it in translation. While we managed only five dishes, Izote is a place you could come again and again, and never stop discovering.
"Limonada" of fresh-squeezed lime juice
Three toy "cazuelitas" filled with salsa verde with serrano chile, spicy chile de "arbol" salsa, and a salsa of roasted tomato and serrano "roja"
"Tclayudas": Thin disks of coarse-ground corn, both blue and white, toasted crisp on the "comal," and tasting earthy and a bit chewy. The bread – served in a gourd – came in handy for the sauces.
Amuse: Tiny (no more than 1 inch!) cakes of fresh corn, split and filled with warm goat cheese
"Sopecitos": Six small "sopes" with neat little edges topped with a light puree of black beans and a half shrimp sautéed with chipotle. You can watch these being made at the downstairs "antojitos" station, where two women grind corn and handmake tortillas.
Chile Ancho "Escabeche": Softened chile ancho served cold, stuffed with loads of fine-shredded "quesillo" cheese and more piled up on top, in a light sauce of "piloncillo" sugar and vinegar, with finely minced raw tomatillo and red onion garnish. Served (and eaten!) with small warm corn tortillas, freshly made, in a folded white linen napkin embroidered with Izote in the corner.
"Tamalitos": A lovely little lidded "cazuela" with four teensy tamales, no larger than your thumb. The green-wrapped ones were not really tamales at all, but were cheese with different fillings (mushrooms, squash blossoms, "epazote" leaves) and no corn masa. The brown tamal was made with corn masa and stuffed with shredded chicken.
Trio of sorbets (passion fruit, mango and lime) with a gorgeous, crisp cookie made of amaranth and honey