Patricia Quintana first entered my consciousness last year, when she visited Los Angeles to cook with longtime friend John Rivera Sedlar at Rivera. Unfortunately, it was a private event, and not one that was possible for me to attend. However, my friend Bill Esparza was there, already knew of her and provided some context about her importance, including founding Mexico City’s first culinary school, writing over 10 cookbooks and opening a restaurant to silence her critics. An ensuing trip to Mexico City provided me with the opportunity to taste food at her landmark restaurant, Izote, which has been open for 10 years in Polanco, considered to be Mexico City’s equivalent to Beverly Hills.
Quintana named her restaurant for an indigenous white yucca flower. Izote is a short walk from stores like Tiffany, Cartier and Louis Vuitton, but the space is surprisingly low-key, featuring tables with white cloths, a full bar with no seats and aqua and brown Aztec tiles that line the walls in pyramid and spiral shapes. It quickly became clear that the concept is less about sparkle and more intent on showcasing Mexico’s diverse regions and distinct cooking styles.
The restaurant provided freshly baked bread appropriately called crujiente (crusty), along with coarse yellow tortillas crafted from both white and blue corn that kitchen staffers fired in the wood oven. Both options appeared with a vibrant salsa trio, my favorite involving spicy serrano and onion, and another featuring jalapeno and tomato.
Ceviche a la Naranja Agria (145 pesos ~ $11.50) appeared on the “Specialties” menu and consisted of snapper strips marinated in tart Seville orange and lime juice. The “cocktail” came with a dish of burnt habanero salsa, which was jet black, mixed with olive oil and, when dispersed into the acidic but addictive marinade, lending a smoky quality.
Camarones al Mole de Jamaica (389 pesos) complemented sweet jumbo shrimp with streaks of tart hibiscus mole sauce, dried hibiscus flowers that had concentrated intensity, tamarind paste and tamarind powder, which all contributed to a wave of sweet-tart tamarind flavor. The main plate also hosted a corn torte – pillowy kernel-studded cornbread – tucked into a corn husk and piped with mole negro Oaxaca that was a sneaky, earthy surprise.
Quintana doesn’t make ordering easy, especially for solo diners like me. Her regular menu featured almost 50 options, including coffee drinks, side dishes and desserts. They offered four different Corn Based Dishes alone. My visit also coincided with Mexico’s 200th anniversary. In honor of the occasion, Quintana created a Bicentennial Style Menu with tempting options like Chile en nogada estilo Puebla, Fideo Seco con Chicharron Incrustado – Mexican style vermicelli with pork rinds crusted with ancho chile; and Chamorro del Bicentenario – bicentennial steamed pork shank.
The bicentennial menu also yielded my dessert – Guayaba en Su Jugo al Piloncillo (132) – gutted guava cups served in its own juice with brown sugar syrup. The plate also hosted tangy gobs of goat cheese, a streak of sweet cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. At this stage of my day, which already involved three stops for pastor, it was a welcome dessert, light, but with a range of flavors and textures.
After an approximately $63 meal, including tax and tip, I had the option to take a towncar back to the Zocalo, but inspired by the instantly memorable meal and my impending adventures with Esparza, who planned to arrive in Mexico City the next day, I walked through Polanco to the Auditorio Metro station and took the train, feeling good about my prospects in D.F.