My recent absence has been due to spending most of July dealing with a pesky GI infection. It’s not that I’ve been too sick to write. Far from it. Working from home while recovering gave me more free time because I didn’t have a commute. I had no motivation to catch up on sharing Mexico City meals with you because looking at the photos was too difficult. Pre- and post-diagnosis involved wading heavily into the BRAT diet, and I just couldn’t bear to think about all the food I was unable to enjoy. Fingers crossed for no relapse so that I can relive all the glories of these meals.
I was tentative about Contramar. It’s talked about as a CDMX Must, and you can’t escape pictures of the tuna tostadas once you start your dining research. I can be turned off by popularity, so I wavered a long time (this trip was in the works for approximately seven months). What tipped me to yes was reading this article in Lucky Peach about chef-owner Gabriela Camara staffing her new San Francisco restaurant with ex-convicts. Her social justice values motivated me to take the well-travelled path to Contramar.
It was not what I expected when I arrived. The bustle of sidewalk diners and waiting drivers indicated a busy place, but it did not declare itself ostentatiously. When you enter, all that you notice is the crush of diners and tables. The room is unremarkable. All I can picture in my mind are white tablecloths and beige everything else. Maybe some blue to indicate the sea? You’re soon swept up in the energy of the quick servers, loud conversations, and street noise, so being stimulated by décor or layout is irrelevant.
There was lots of wine being poured, but for my first meal on my first trip to Mexico (rare for an Albertan in her late 30s), only mezcal would do. My broken Spanish combined with my server’s almost complete lack of English resulted in an enjoyable glass that I assumed was on the young and smooth side.
Before you have time to order, you’re presented with an array of carbs, pickles, a loose avocado sauce, and fiery onions. English menus are nice, but only the Spanish one contained the day’s specials. As a restaurant that specializes in fish, there were many to consider. On that point, despite CDMX being landlocked, I learned that as the capital and commercial center, the best of everything comes straight to CDMX, including daily catches.
Rare and appreciated as a solo diner was the ability to order half portions and not get penalized with a surcharge. Half portion, half the price. How refreshing.
The popularity factor had me questioning again whether I should order the famous tostadas, but they are on every table for a reason: They’re perfect. Forget for a moment about the fresh, rich tuna, because while any funk would deem these a fail, the fish’s excellence is merely a strong foundation. The tostada itself breaks with your bite to remove any fear of a cascade of crumbs. The avocado echoes the buttery taste and texture of the tuna, but the mildness doesn’t cause any competition. The fried leeks added texture, but their ability to be both sweet and bitter added the complexity that makes this a signature dish. Oh wait. Then there’s the slightly spicy mayo that holds the tuna in place. Another clutch move. I regret not just ordering a full portion.
When trying to ask my server for recommendations, I inquired about the tacos de charal, as I’m a fan of crispy little fish. His facial expression screamed “meh,” so I passed. He ended up bringing me one taco gratis, however, and I couldn’t disagree with him. It was pleasant enough, but the little guys weren’t very flavourful. It was mostly a few bites of spine-cracking texture.
Chocolate clams (I think named for a brown shell) appeared a number of times on the specials list. I went with the ceviche on my server’s recommendation. I preferred eating it as is instead of on chips, as I found the salty chip easily overpowered the delicacy of the clams. Bright, a little spicy, a little chewy. As I looked around the room at the business men, pretty people, and tourists with a forkful in my mouth, I had my “I’m on vacation, finally,” moment.
Regular al pastor tacos were on deck for dinner, but my server pushed hard for me to get this special. I had no reason to protest, and he proved himself trustworthy once again when I tucked into these. The cobia was meaty enough to handle the spice and its place as a pork substitute. The (preserved? pickled?) pineapple was more intense than fresh slices and strongly countered the fish even with the few chunks. I will not comment on Mexican tortillas because I never ran across a dud, but I will say that the aroma of a fresh masa product adds a layer of depth so often missed with that which is packaged/premade. Apologies for stating the obvious.
Ordering dessert is done in the wayback fashion of bringing every dessert to your table on a giant platter so that it is impossible to say no to the visual evidence of eventual sweet delight. The dessert on everyone’s table is the fresh fig tart, which I ordered, but then discovered was on a nut crust. The strawberry meringue cake makes for good Instagram, but I thought I would go for the Mexican classic of flan. I thought I heard “flan de casero,” when it was described and only learned when I saw the bill that it was a cheese flan. I couldn’t tell you what cheese would have been used because I didn’t taste any that would make itself readily known. Perhaps a fresh cheese, like ricotta? Rich and creamy cooked custard is the draw for me with flan, and it didn’t disappoint. I don’t usually order it, though, because I can’t stand a pool of sickly sweet caramel. As you can see, no pool. So there was just enough burnt sugar sweetness seeping down to liven up the custard.
Mas, por favor.