Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cantina La Mascota,Mexico City: I love You,Man

The cantina has always been a place for men to drown their sorrows, thankfully in our modern age, it's also a place for women to indulge in the same melancholia.

The floors of Cantina La Mascota in Mexico City's historic center of have been soaking up tears and wasted beers for more than a half century. It's walls still ring with laughter and song even in the emptiness of mid-day. At this hour, only the truest heart lingers.

Cantinas serve Mexican tapas, on the house with a three-drink minimum, that as long as I live, shall always be strictly enforced. Oh, I need no reminders--another round,please!

While checking out the menu of the day, on my way to meet Mexico City blogger and tour guide, Lesley Tellez, I was stopped by a man I presumed worked at La Mascota. "Are you coming in?", he said."Uh,later,I'm off to meet someone", I replied,"but thanks." "This is the best cantina, you have to have a drink--on me",he insisted.

Gabriel is a regular at La Mascota, not an employee. "What'll you have!", he said. "Bucanas con Topo Chico."(Buchanan's blended Scotch with mineral water)"Oh, Bucanas, wow, you're a high roller!"he said jokingly."No, whatever,I don't...." "Bucanas for my friend,boss!!"

Gabriel went on to tell me about his childhood, that he grew up nearby the bar, and told me of his marital woes--he spoke in a soft voice, the stared out the door while resting one hand on my shoulder at all times. I felt like Gabriel knew me all his life.

"Please,this place has the best food, you have to eat!" "Yeah, but I'm....." "Boss, a shrimp soup for my friend," he yelled. "Uh, thanks, it's very kind"

We talked about a number of things,bonding closer and closer by the minute. I looked at my phone, and was losing all possibility of arriving on time to meet Lesley.

How could I leave my friend in his time of need?Wait--I don't even know this guy."Gabriel, you'll have to excuse me, I'm late for an appointment." His face sunk, and he just stared at me for a moment."I understand," he shrugged, trying to regain his composure.He then said goodbye to me in an inextricable embrace, squeezing more and more, like a python strangles its victim in between futile breaths.

As I gently broke free and turned away, he waved, like the sadness of a brief reunion only to say goodbye for the last time. "I'll see you here again, OK." He nodded with gaurded pessimism, slowly turning back into the bar. I ran after a taxi, but still can't forget ole Gabriel. I hope things turn around for him.

Damn, that soup was good, I'll be back for sure!

Cantina La Mascota is an unforgettable place, a superb cuisine from Hidalgan and local cooks,spirited singalongs, and the alcohol soaked clientele live,laugh,cry, love, and play with abandon.

Later, the place was full, even a local cantina singer stopped in to schmooze and booze,but I save his story for another occasion.

The waiters are great here, and even when I came back months later with Josh Lurie on our first DF run, he remembered me, and even recalled where I was sitting.

A cantina for me isn't a place you go for fashionable cocktails, it's a place to have a belt. A shot of tequila with a housemade sangrita, a sweet and spicy chaser. A 30-30 works just fine.

A Buchanan's with mineral water, we say Bucanas! This maybe even more Mexican than tequila or mezcal in terms of popularity. Buchanan's is huge in Mexico, 12yrs. for the masses, and dieciocho(18yr) if you're gangster.

There are cocktails, all blended, which would spin the cocktail kids around on their stools in LA, but there are some good drinks. The Lagartija is vodka blended with two kinds of mint.

La Mascota serves a daily changing menu of regional Mexican cuisine, the chefs here hail from the great culinary state of Hidalgo. The cantina features 6-7 tapas each day, the menus are papered all over the neighborhood.

Fava bean soup is a Mexico City classic, with a bit of pork for comfort. The soup is tremendous here, this is a good sign you're in the right bar.

The tostada de pata,beef hoof,another local dish is beautiful with a bit of white cheese sprinkled atop. It's amazing, the ability of these kitchens to produce such excellence on a dime. Yes, this is free!

Don't pass up the taquitos, they may seem a throwaway, but if you look around at the other tables, it's taquitos you shall find.Simple, delicious, and just enough white cheese and crema mexicana to give it a special touch.

And, a whole pork shank of carnitas just for the price of a mild buzz? The shank is to Mexico City what Rice-a-Roni is to San Francisco;it's the Chilango treat. Great saltiness and texture, a fine home-style carnitas to devour with tortillas while you scream the lyrics to Mana's Mariposa Traicionera.

Petit gris,specially fed snails of the garden variety, are a common delicacy in the cantinas; here at La Mascota they're served in a nice mole negro.

Pulpo en su tinta, octopus cooked in its ink, cooked tender in a light sauce flavored by green peppers.

A small cut of veal in an excellent adobo sauce. The flavors here are big, memorable, and dare you to drink more, because more food will come.

The scene is always changing, an abandoned love in the afternoon, the late night dipsomaniacs, and the happy hour faithful.

This duo, played with as much heart and soul as the Rolling Stones at Wembley in '03.Everything from Mana, to Juan Gabriel, to.....Kiss. Mexico City is a Rock 'n Roll town. At the time, sitting with Josh, Lesley and her husband, I felt like this could be the greatest band ever, not for cause of drink, nor musical technique,but because the band themselves believe it--so do you. I almost got up, moved to join in on the Mana tune then got distracted by our table conversation, but the guy at the table next to me had no such inhibition when Rock 'n Roll All Night came blasting out of cheap amplification and wreckless strumming. I will never be so reserved again.

After the Blood, Sweat, and Tears have flowed, the guys relax for a well-deserved bite, yes, they chose the taquitos.

All night long a woman sang each song and lyric directly at me, always raising her glass in harmless flirtation. In the end she waved, smiled, and left. It's another night at La Mascota, and Josh,Lesley, and I passed the hours lit by cantina fire. This is the cantina.

Hey Gabriel, I love you too,man. Next time the drinks are on me.

Cantina La Mascota
Mesones, 20 at Bolivar
Centro Historico
Mexico City, Mexico
7 days a week
noon to drunk


Food GPS said...

Cantina La Mascota may have been my favorite Mexico City experience. Not the best food, but an amazing place. Too bad Gabriel couldn't join us on your return trip.

Anonymous said...

wow, wow, wow! That food looks amazing! I love Mexico City, it is one of my all-time favorite places, hands down. The food, the people, the culture...incomparable.

I am a Mexican-American that grew up hanging out alot in Tijuana and Baja California. I am also married to a Brazilian/Uruguayan. Your blog is a perfect read for me! I love street food and enjoy reading about your food adventures.

Congrats on a great blog!