I spent a month living in a crusty room in a rustic apartment behind an elementary school in Coyoacan, just a 15 minute walk from Frida Kahlo’s famous blue house, when I first moved here. My only safe haven for wifi and a tasty treat was my weekly stop at Alverre, a quaint but elegant Italian café that specialized in signature crepes, (yeah I know that’s not really Italian) and the most exquisite empanadas (again not Italian, but stay with me). Like everything in Mexico and perhaps the globalized free world, flavors tend to mix, and we hope, always well.
My old editor at Remezcla would drool over my email responses to her requests as I’d describe each time I ate at this tucked away hideout, just blocks north west of Coyoacan’s bustling plaza. However, after countless visits and always enjoyable experiences, a main entree seemed to always evade my taste buds. After a long stay away from the south end of the city, due to an abrupt relocation to the north end of town, I ceased coming to my favorite little work and snack spot. Months later, after some Internet troubles, a trip to Guatemala, the Yucatan and the brash realization that I needed to start writing about food, I ventured back to Coyoacan in search of a hardy meal.
The waiter didn’t hesitate to recommend the “mango pasta,” when I asked what on the menu was a must try, something I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else… and boy was he right. After he took my order with selected fettucini (you can pick your noodle here), I decided to stay with the fruity theme of the evening, with a light beverage of equal intrigue, “te de moras salvajes,” a wild berry tea.
The tea arrived first. A delightful aroma overtook my senses. As I stirred the loose dried berries and fruits into the hot, still clear water. The red started to delude from the bottom of the clear cup, providing a beautiful watercolor display of the brewing process. Soon the cup was entirely red, appearing like a jamaica flower drink or Koolade, but without the loads of sugar or added racial guilt post Dave Chepelles red-drink, purple-drink critique.
For the first sip, as a bit of dried fruit slipped into my mouth, I was shocked by the natural sweetness of the tea. This wasn’t one of those teas that tastes like water with trace flavor vapors. This was a real fruit tea.
And then the main coarse came. At first sight, the plate didn’t seem that ornate or lavish. But what this order lacked in presentation, it made up for in flavor. While the thick yellow mango sauce seemed to blend into the natural pale, yellowish color of the fettucini noodles, the only thing adding a little life to the plate was the red “chile de arbol” garnish in the middle of the heap and the subtlest hints of oregano crushed along the brim of the bowl. Good things come to those that wait. In a matter of seconds I was also served a nice little basket of bread with a little cup of parmesian cheese in the middle.
Here’s where it got interesting. I started out the dish at its most sincere, a nice twirled fork-full of noodles straight to the head. The flavor was overwhelming, the sweetness of the mango and its rich texture simulated the traditional subtleties of a heavy tomato sauce, while layering a sweetness that was only tapered by the trace of red chile ever so discretely nuanced into the sauce. Almost undetectable the chile, hinted at by the garnish made every bite almost as surprising as the first.
It might be important to note here, that considering the fact that tomatoes as well as most chiles are native to the Americas, and any qualms you might have had about another fruit sauce including the tomato, would in fact have been savored by the indigenous of the western world, thus this mango pasta might actually be more traditional to Italian cuisine than a “traditional” tomato sauce, considering mangos also existed in parts of India, which the Italian were surely aware of if not trading with before they ever even set foot on the new world, but I could be wrong…
Back to the food at hand.
The real art came in measuring my love for parmesian as I started my way through the plate. I couldn’t help but pile on mounds of delicious dried cheese onto each bite, and as those straggling, untamed fettucini noodles dangled from my mouth as I slowly slurped them up, the excess parmesian would gather at the tip of my lips, waiting for my tongue to slick past, wiping up every bit of freshly crumbled cheese.
As the plate slowly made its way into my hibernation-ready belly, I found myself rationing the last bits and conserving the sauce for those final slices of Italian bread that served to scoop up every last morsel of mango sauce. I think I almost wanted to cry, as the waitress took my empty plate away, but I contained my simultaneous nostalgia for Chicago Italian restaurant pastas and my newly discovered joy. Instead, juiced every ounce of my moras salvajes tea, even as the waitress came back, asking if she could take my cup, I politely fended her off, making sure I sipped up the last drop.
Gómez Farías 42, corner with Cuahtémoc, col. Del Carmen, Coyoacán.
5658-9027 for large orders of empanadas, pasta platers, etc.
Monday to Friday, 8 am to 10:30 pm – Saturdays and Sundays, 9 am to 10:30pm