Friday, 4 September 2015

From Coyote to Grasshopper

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New York City 1989. It’s our first time in the big apple. We had an introduction to Adam Tihany and everyone in his entourage wanted to know about Australia. One thing led to another, Irena Chalmers introduced us to frozen vodka and Milton Glasser. George Lang welcomed us in his private library. I recall his final words to us “remember George, if Joe Schmo wants to eat Snail Caviar who are we stop him” Restaurant design was at an all time high.. ebony and mahogany to restore the Gundel in Budapest, Remi brought the taste and style of Venice to NYC  Tihany was on a roll.  Lunch at the Cafe des Artistes. AliceWaters at the Union Square farmers market. At happy hour in the bar of the Grill Room at the Four Seasons  Philip Johnson was still holding court in the space he had designed with Mies van der Rhoe in 1958  while the barman discusses the East Timor crisis with a couple of wide eyed star struck Aussies. It felt like we were at the centre of it all, it couldn’t get any better for a colonial cook hungry for contemporary perspective. Almost famous.  On our final day Adam [we are on a first name basis now] throws us another clue “if you are going through L.A. check out Rebecca’s.”  On our way home we have a couple of days there and after the morning at the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena we find ourselves in Santa Monica at Rebecca’s. It’s a modern Mexican restaurant. Our Strailyin accent gets us past the door bitch. The bar is a sunken pit with fibre glass crocodiles and mythical sea creatures floating from the ceiling that is all angles and rods. The booths are over sized Hollywood style sets. The kitchen is a glass cube with four big wood fired grills. A kitchen full of sweaty Mexican cooks big flames and piles of exotic gnarled fire wood. There are steel earthquake proof girders holding up the origami like structure of the roof. The vibe is the life aquatic. Our waiter is a Don Diego from central casting. Manicured grey sideboards, a pencil mustache good tailoring. It’s our first introduction to jicama, tomatillo, corn smut, and mesquite. The guacamole kit is wheeled to the table by the commis waiter, he looks like an assassin. Everyone is in character, his knives are sharp bare arms. The tatts are faded old school navy with dragons and Chinese characters, a 3 day growth and no smile.. the gwok is made to order with double knife action by our assassin, with green tomato.. Don Diego plates it up on a granite slab. The cooking was considered- balanced flavours, accurate fresh, aromatic, lotsa lime, our first taste of masa and such exquisite corn and chilli flavours... respect for the traditional cooking of Mexico. On our return we searched out the seeds for tomatillos, jicama, slow bolting cilantro and we have been growing them ever since. Rebecca. She left quite a mark..
 Finally last month we get the chance to go to Mexico it’s only for a couple of weeks so we settle on the city only despite the bad rap that it always seems to get. While we are planning the trip, as we are going via LA, I decide to see if Rebecca’s is still there and as it goes, it closed in 1998 and moved to another site. But Dr Google reveals the designer of the original Rebecca’s building, the interior the whole works was no other than a young Frank Gehry and the fittings are now it seems periodically going up for auction at big time rooms as modern antiques.
United Airlines stalls our arrival in Mexico for 24hrs but Enrique our Airbnb host has sent Hector and Hugo to pick us up in what looks like a bulletproof jeep. Celia Cruz is on the tape... we slide in to Coyoacan [ the Coyote] around 10pm and Hugo decides that we need a body guard as we hit the streets looking for something fresh after the crap on the plane. The square is almost deserted, the Aztec dancers around the cathedral are packing up and we are thankfully getting sleepy.
 The next day Jorge from the Traveling Beetle is due at 9am to begin our DF adventure. The Traveling Beetle is a groovy local touring company that specialises in restored convertible beetles with experienced specialist drivers. Nicolas the director has a list of our interests and we have booked six trips one every couple of days. Our driver Jorge is a delightful thirty something soul rebel architect who loves DF. He lives in the Centro and speaks great English. The days are spent walking speeding on the subway and cruising the city in the soft top beetles, we change colours every couple of days, and quieter nights around our digs. Jorge has very quickly picked up on our quirky interests and cruising with him we become at one with the city. The traffic moves slowly and gives Jorge time to explain each neighbourhood as we crawl through them. After three days in Coyoacan we move to Condesa or Roma Norte within walking distance of Bosque Chapultepec, the 1,956 acre grasshopper park and find the ideal local restaurant Lardo. It rocks, shakes and sparkles day and night and we are surprised to find out that it only opened a week before we first find it. She cranks like a well oiled classic. Most nights are spent grazing late around the bar, we become locals for a week. The chefs sneak us snacks and drinks and warn us where not to eat on the street and tell us of the great local lunch spot Contramar. Between these two spots, both staggering distance from our “Villa Condesa” and the street food during the day, we are more than well feasted. On our last day after the incredible Lagunilla flea market we join Jorge and his delightful partner for lunch at Contramar and farewell this stupendous city.
Viva Mexico    

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