After an incredible evening at Pujol, where I tried ants for the first time, I was feeling fearless and was ready for our next edible adventure. Little did I know this would lead me to a spoon full of creamy escamole, aka Mexican caviar, at Mexico City's Quintonil. Mexican caviar is not from the ocean, but rather from the earth. This highly prized ant larva (yes, ant larva) is harvested March through May from the roots of the agave plant, making this pricy ingredient a seasonal delicacy. Lucky for us, we visited Mexico City in April, prime season for Mexican caviar!
So what does Mexican caviar taste like? The texture is creamy and silky, and the flavor is nutty and buttery. When biting down, the white bean shaped larva bursts in your mouth, releasing its silky goodness. Typically this gourmet ingredient is highlighted in a taco or a salsa. At Quintonil the Mexican caviar was served as a tartare and mixed with charred avocado and topped with jalapeño and crispy herb chips. Pairing this dish with avocado really brought out the rich and velvety texture of the Mexican caviar, while the crispy herb chips provided the perfect contrast of textures: creamy and crunchy.
Just as stunning as their charred avocado and Mexican caviar dish, Quintonil has an amazing spread of other equally fantastic menu items. When ordering, we decided to go with Chef Jorge Vallejo's April tasting menu and wine pairing. The tasting menu was truly the best way to experience all of the restaurant's celebrated dishes, perfectly matched with wine that helps highlight every flavor nuance of each dish.
To start the evening we prepped our taste buds for the wine pairing, ordering the signature cocktail. This fruity drink was rimmed with strong spices, making my sips both sweet and spicy! Before the tasting began, a few chips and dips were brought to the table to snack on - the black bean was my favorite.
Our first course was a cactus ceviche, which was accompanied with a beetroot and orange drink. With each bite of cactus ceviche, you are supposed to immediately follow with a sip of beetroot juice, then a sip of your paired wine. Each forkful was like an edible marathon, trying to eat and drink in the right order. But the order sequence truly brought out the flavors of the dish, so I happily abided by the three step process. The cactus ceviche on its own was light and a little subdued but when followed by a sip of the sweet and tart beetroot and paired wine, the flavors of the cactus came alive!
Next course was an aguachile made from tender, juicy shrimp wrapped into a flauta with slices of squash. The dish was then topped with squash blossom and edible flowers, and surrounded in a golden yellow sauce. The following dish was the Mexican caviar tartare I raved about in the beginning of this post. Still one of my favorite dishes!
The following dish was a vuelve a la vida (return to life) seafood dish with ear shell clams, topped with beef tongue (another first for me), tossed in spices. The edible flower garnish was so delicate and beautiful! The next course was a braised duck stuffed red onion, sprinkled with recado rojo spice and drizzled with a sauce made from bitter almonds and habanero.
Our tasting menu ended with three desserts and with only 10 items being on the menu, I was really liking my dessert ratios! The first dessert was a cactus sorbet (not shown), which was the color of mint ice cream. The following dessert was made out of two Ramonetti aged cheeses, one aged for six months, the other for one year. The cheese was both rolled and crumbled into the dish and paired with flavors of mandarin, honey, and pumpkin seeds. Lastly, we enjoyed the frozen mousse of roasted banana, which was topped with basil. The cake was light and fluffy with suspended frozen banana pieces scattered throughout. I have no idea how they kept the banana frozen inside the cake without freezing the cake too! It must be magic.
Looking back at Quintonil's tasting menu, each dish truly was edible art. Every plate, garnish, and presentation was a show and I was lucky enough to get a taste of such beautiful creations. Many of the dishes were sauced and finished at the table right in front of us, which made the experience that much more like a show. A delicious, never-want-it-to-end, keep-the-plates-coming kind of show.
Have you ever tried Mexican caviar? If you squint your eyes and look from afar, you would swear they were beans and no one would be the wiser. But half the fun is experiencing new cuisines, especially a seasonal and regional ingredient like Mexican caviar. So come on, grab a fork and take a stab! You might love it. You will be saying, "More Mexican caviar, please!".