El diez y seis de Septiembre (September 16th) is Mexico’s Fourth of July, a celebration of their independence from Spain and official beginning as a Republic. The traditional dish and centerpiece of this holiday is the Chile en Nogada. A roasted, deseeded, and skinned poblano pepper stuffed with meats, dried fruits, nuts, & other secrets. It is served room temperature in a decadent walnut cream sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds. This is a seasonal dish as the walnuts should be young & fresh and the pomegranate is only ripe at this time of year. The combination of colors (white, green, & red) symbolizes the Mexican flag. I can still remember my first experience with this iconic dish when I was in my 20’s on a visit to Mexico City. It was a true taste explosion - rich, spicy, sweet, smooth and crunchy all at once. It’s one of those dishes that will stay in your memory.
I asked many of my friends from Mexico what they thought made a great Chile en Nogada and to suggest some of their favorites and where to find them. Unanimously they all agreed that only through tasting and comparison could you really define the best. My daughter Avery and I decided to visit Mexico City and embarked on the search for the “best” Chile en Nogada. Over the next three days, we tasted more than a dozen of the alleged “best” chiles in some of Mexico City’s most renowned restaurants from gourmet to “changarros” (dives). Relying on her exceptional palate and analytical mind, Avery kept a detailed score card using a method taught in our restaurants - F.A.T.T. (flavor, appearance, temperature and texture). The range in quality for this revered and traditional dish of Mexico was amazing. Most were good, a few were great, and only one did we think was exceptional. The one we favored did not come from any of the recommended establishments -- instead we discovered the best at one of my all time favorite yet not well known dining spots in Mexico City - Café del Palacio. It’s a jewel in the historic and celebrated Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) on Paseo de la Reforma across from the Alameda Central. I’ve always found that Café del Palacio’s simple menu has amazing and delicious food. We returned home with all of our notes, photos and flavor memories and worked to develop our own “best” Chile en Nogada. We now serve it at La Fonda on Main every year, only in the month of September, with many of our guests eagerly awaiting its arrival.