dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Oaxaca Postscript - Fine Dining and the Battle of the "Moles"

On Monday, our last night in Oaxaca, Jane and I had one of our best dining experiences of the trip... and we brought to a close our battle of the "moles".

The restaurant was "Catedral".  I had never eaten there before, partly because it is one those upscale, gourmet restaurants that are highly touted. 

I'm headed off on a tangent here, but I tend to avoid restaurants that are billed as "trendy', or "innovative" or are praised to the high heavens as one of the places one "must" eat.  I do not mind an expensive restaurant if the dining experience is excellent, but I have been disappointed numerous times by the so-called "in" places.  And that has happened to me twice in Oaxaca.

Some years ago, a friend and I went to Casa Oaxaca which is supposed to be one of the best (and priciest) restaurants in the city.  Our bill came to over $100 US for the two of us.  (And there was not much of a bar tab... we perhaps had one sangría each.)  Our food was good, but nothing exceptional... nothing that we couldn't have had somewhere else for a more moderate price.  The only thing "exceptional" about the place was that the rooftop terrace was so dark that we had to use a flashlight to eat our supper!  (I will admit that on this latest trip, when we passed Casa Oaxaca, it looked as if they had installed lights on the terrace.)

On this trip, Jane and I went to a new place called "Zicanda".  One of the other students at the cooking class we attended went into raptures about how wonderful this place is, so we thought we would give it a try.  My first clue should have been the description "contemporary Oaxacan cuisine"... in other words, "We're going to tinker with traditional recipes, although it might not turn out as good as the original."  The menu was very limited, and there wasn't a lot that appealed to me.  I had black bean soup as a starter... I've had tastier soup at Sanborns!  Our main courses were not bad, but this is one of those places where the main courses look more like "tapas".  Jane's stuffed chicken breast consisted of three small slices of meat, tightly rolled up, filled with stuffing, set upright on the plate, and surrounded by five green beans and a few roasted potatoes the size of marbles. (Oh, and one of the ingredients in the stuffing was "chapulines"... grasshoppers.  Jane said she couldn't even taste the grasshoppers.  So why put them in the stuffing in the first place?  Oh, that's right, grasshoppers have become trendy.)  I went to TripAdvisor and saw the reviews of Zicanda... most of them are rave reviews.  What am I missing?  Or is it that most people don't want to see the Emperor's New Clothes for what they really are?

Oh well, let's get back to the topic at hand... our final meal in Oaxaca at Restaurante Catedral.  This is what fine dining should be all about.  The ambience in the courtyard of a colonial building was beautiful.  A guitarist / vocalist performed nicely subdued music. 


The service was excellent, correct but not pretentious.  I could joke with the waiters and elicit a smile.

For starters Jane had Oaxacan soup, and I had "tamal de elote" (corn tamale) served with cream.  Both were delicious.

(photo taken by Jane)

The menu included all seven of Oaxaca's famous "mole" sauces.  Darn!  We could have checked off the entire list by coming here repeatedly.  We both ordered "manchamanteles" (literally, "tablecloth stainer"), a wonderful sauce served over pork.  The only negative thing that I can say about the entire meal was that the pork was a bit tough... and I probably would not have noticed that it they had set out steak knives.  Everything was delicious!

So this brings us to the final score of the Battle of the "Moles".  Jane, during our two weeks in Oaxaca, tried six of the seven moles. (But remember, at one restaurant she had a "mole" sampler that included four different sauces.)  I only had a paltry four "moles".  Jane is the victor!

(photo by Jane)

For dessert we had "espuma de tejate" (a corn beverage called "tejate" whipped into a foam) and served over "mamey" sorbet ("mamey" is a unique tropical fruit).  Wonderful.  This was an innovative creation that really worked.


To finish it off, we had "café de olla"... Mexican coffee flavored with cinnamon and brown sugar.  It was the smoothest "café de olla" I have ever had.

Our bill was the highest of our entire trip... 880 pesos.  But at today's very favorable exchange rate, that came to a whopping $30 per person.  You could never have a dining experience like that in the United States for a price like that!

Restaurante Catedral has our recommendation as one of the best places to eat in Oaxaca!

I know that Jane, who is back in Ohio now, will be reading this...
Hi, Jane!  I really enjoyed our trip to Oaxaca!  We will have to go back someday!


  1. Thank you for sharing your Oaxacan adventure with me. You are a wonderful tour guide and traveling companion. And Oaxaca was a good choice. Enjoy your stay in Mexico City with Alejandro!! BTW, I just shoveled the walk. See what you are missing in Ohio?


    1. It was my pleasure to show you Oaxaca. I'm glad that you had a good time!