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Ant Eggs in Boom Times

Escamoles

Quintonil

Escamoles

Green as grass and white as wax, the disk of ant eggs and avocado stared up at me from its halo of green and black ash, and I stared back at it. So these were escamoles. Everyone will tell you that esca-moles are the caviar of Mexico, a delicacy for centuries in this part of the world, prized by the Aztecs and white hot in Mexico City’s currently very chic restaurant boom.

All of the top restaurants in Mexico City, such as Pujol and Quintonil, have escamoles on the menu—they’re a point of pride, like Périgord truffles in France or beluga caviar in Moscow. But knowing that escamoles are very prized and getting ready for that first forkful of ant eggs to go inside of your mouth are different things.

I took a sip of my smoky chili-ringed cocktail and glanced around the elegant, reserved dining room at Quintonil with the sweet family at a neighboring table passing around a baby decked out in a christening dress with more white ruffles than a sunflower has petals. This was not a scary place. It couldn’t create a scary taste, right? Right.

I found my courage and was rewarded with something amazing: a stairstep symphony of related textures and flavors that differed and interacted with one another all along the same sensual axis. The silky avocado, the resilient but popping bubbles of tiny eggs, the crisp sheets of charred greens—all were simultaneously telling a story about texture and also building a harmony of different earthy flavors. No wonder food hunters from around the globe are making their way to Mexico City—this dish by chef Jorge Vallejo wasn’t just delicious, it was uniquely eye-opening.

A lot about Mexico City is eye-opening today. It’s experiencing an economic boom that’s plowing money into life’s finer elements—not just restaurants but also fine arts (do visit Museo Soumaya, the winking steel corset that’s a modern art star). And not just food and art but design. I stayed at the boutique Las Alcobas hotel, which offers guests seemingly miles of perfectly creamy pale marble, great views and the friendliest staff.

And what would a boom be without great shopping? The Palacio de Hierro Polanco has to be one of our hemisphere’s modern marvels shopping-wise, a nearly 600,000-square-foot temple of good taste that includes a sort of Eataly of Mexico called La Terraza, a Tiffany & Co., a three-level Carolina Herrera with a glass elevator, a Cartier and a beauty department with secret treatment rooms.

What’s it like to be a Mexico City beauty maven getting beauty treatments in a secret room? For one thing, it’s cheaper than it would be north of the border. As I write this, the peso is 20 to the dollar, meaning that if you’re the sort who would like the absolutely newest Fendi bag and Gucci loafers at a seriously steep discount, you’d be silly not to take advantage of the local boom times. I even recommend putting a few of those pesos toward escamoles—that’s how you’ll always remember you were somewhere absolutely unique, connected to the Aztecs and Cartier.

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