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New restaurant flexes its Mex muscle

Updated: 2013-12-22 13:41
By Mike Peters and Eric Jou ( China Daily)
New restaurant flexes its Mex muscle

Quesadillas are familiar appetizers for Mexican food fans wherever they come from. [Photo by Eric Jou/China Daily]

On another visit we started with the sopa Azteca, a delicious tomato broth enhanced with a smattering of sour cream, shredded chicken and pungent cilantro.

A terrific surprise was the tacos al pastor, spit-roasted meat served in a trio of piping hot corn tortillas with a side of black beans and a perfect chipotle sauce.

Owner Esteban Zottele is a native of Argentina who grew up in Xalapa near the Mexican city of Veracruz. That coastal community is famous for its cuisine - which has been shaped by indigenous, Spanish and Afro-Cuban influences over its history - and vanilla, corn, seafood, rice and a heady mix of spices permeate the traditional foods.

The first Xalapa restaurant was founded in Buenos Aires in 1996, featuring the culture and cuisine of Veracruz and other regions, including the tropical flavors of Yucatan state. Here at the new eatery in Beijing, Zottele hasn't found a satisfactory supply of the seafood that is so loved in Veracruz, so the emphasis is on pork, chicken and beef dishes.

A glass case of shimmering desserts tempted us mightily, and we saved just enough room to sample some. The housemade flan is divinely light, and the tres leches (three-milk) cake will leave you smiling with its nice rum finish. The arroz con leche, a simple-sounding rice pudding, was just sublime - and a good choice if you're feeling too full for a monster slab of rich cake.

While the food is excellent overall, the service doesn't always match. The staff is sweet as pie but sometimes seems overwhelmed - a large party in the house can make it hard for smaller tables to get attention. Call it growing pains - a common challenge in a new restaurant.