Epicurean Dining in Oaxaca

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No doubt about it, dining at one of the cafés and restaurants which girdle the Zocolo has its charms. The endless procession of street vendors, musicians and exotic assortment of strollers lends an air of theatre and excitement to the dining experience. But when you sense you have had enough noise and commotion and the oversized portions of food are beginning to take their toll on your waistline, you’ll be pleased to learn of a refuge, a quiet, restorative restaurant nearby.

Only a few blocks East of the Zocalo, at 319 Guerrero (on the north side of the street), is the new Italian café – bistro, Epicuro. It may require a sharp eye to find, though, because its entrance, like the café itself, is purposely understated. Only a modest sign slightly larger than two feet square identifies the door. The entrance hall, a long white high-ceilinged space, conceals more than it reveals of the dramatic bar and dining room beyond it.

The dining room, a great square space with strong structural elements is painted green and has a soaring ceiling surmounted by a large skylight. On floors of polished black concrete square mahogany finished tables and chairs are scattered, with enough space between them to allow conversation without being overheard. This sense of privacy is enhanced by nostalgic music at low volume, mostly show tunes of the thirties and forties. The size and height of the room itself could be off-putting were it not for the softening effect of padded pillowed banquets lining the walls, on which a combination of prints and contemporary artwork are displayed. The overall effect is not perfect, more a work in progress which seems headed in the right direction.

Epicuro’s menu bills itself accurately as “Comida Mediterranean Sana y Sabrosa” (mediterranean food, wholesome and delicious). While perusing the menu’s food offerings my wife and I each ordered a glass of Valpolicella Classico DOC, a blended red wine from Italy’s Veneto District. Neither of us are wine experts but we found it full bodied and delicious. Epicuro offers a number of other Italian reds, a Sangiovese, a Bardolino, a Sicilian Nero D’Avola and a couple of Lambrusco’s as well as three whites, an Abruzzo, a Pinot Grigio and an Asti Spumante. Unfortunately none of these others are available by the glass. Expanding the offerings by the glass would be a welcome improvement. Now on to the food.

On the regular menu chef, Christhian offers a modest selection of appetizers, salads, pastas and sopas, meats (including steaks and roast beef) and seafood.

In the regular printed menu is an insert on which is typed each “Platillo del dia” (dish of the day). From this list we split an order of “Enslada mista organica con queso." One order is ample for two. My wife ordered “Espagueti a la matriciana” (spaghetti with a sauce of tomato, pork cheek, olve oil and pecorino cheese). I, longing for a piece of red meat, ordered the “Filete de res al grill con verdura salteada” ( a grilled beef filet with sautéed vegetables) .Before they arrived we were presented with a complementary “amuse bouche,” tiny bruschettas. Both main course dishes were perfectly prepared, delicately seasoned and the portions were manageable. We sampled both of the deserts offered on the ‘dish of the day’ menu, the “Brunet de chocolate” (a classic chocolate flan) and the “Semifrio al sabaione” (a structure made of sticks of semi frozen ice cream and zabaglione). Both were tasty. Prices are not low but are reasonable given the quality of the cuisine.

Epicuro is the three month old brainchild of Valter Epifaia a friendly Genoa native who moved to Oaxaca late last year. Like a baby bird, Epicuro is still a bit awkward, just testing its wings. Drop in some evening soon to offer it the encouragement is justly deserves.

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