Gabriela Cámara didn’t invent the tuna tostada, but her widely imitated version — raw sliced tuna, chipotle mayo, a sliver of avocado — is nevertheless an iconic Mexico City dish. It’s one of the chef’s signature contributions to Mexican cooking at her celebrated and trendsetting Contramar. This week, it was announced she will return to Mexico City to serve as an adviser to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The news comes only days before the release of Cámara’s first cookbook, My Mexico City Kitchen, and the Tribeca Film Festival debut of A Tale of Two Kitchens, a short documentary about her restaurants. In New York for an Art of Justice benefit dinner, she made sure to get in a pizza nightcap and stop by Frankie’s before heading back to San Francisco, where she’s lived since 2015 and runs Cala and Tacos Cala. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Thursday, April 18
I flew from Mexico City to New York on Wednesday and started my day with breakfast at my hotel, the Marlton. Drank a cappuccino and ate a bowl of steel-cut oats with honey, dried cranberries, and almonds. Then I had another cappuccino.
I love oatmeal for breakfast. Period. I I love steel-cut oats much more than a mushy oatmeal. It’s healthy. It makes you feel good. My theory is that wherever I am, it’s uniform. It gives it a continuity.
I spent the day cooking for the benefit dinner for Agnes Gund’s Art for Justice. I had been asked to do it the last time I was in New York by my friend Kim Hastreiter, who co-founded Paper, when they were planning it. So I asked if they could bring on other people to make it more diverse, and asked them to include Ignacio Mattos, my really good friend, and Laila Gohar. Then we added Mashama Bailey. We were cooking, and Ignacio and I wanted to share a hamburger, so we went to his restaurant Café Altro Paradiso for lunch. We shared the endive salad with anchovies, hazelnuts, and Gorgonzola, and the Wagyu burger with caramelized radicchio and more Gorgonzola. I think it’s one of the best hamburgers in New York. I also drank a macchiato and lots of sparkling water.
We went back to Kim’s for the dinner, which started at 6:30 p.m., and spent the next few hours nibbling on what we had made. Oysters with serrano chile and kohlrabi mignonette; sturgeon caviar; black bass and sea-bean tostadas with manzano-chile aïoli; Low Country shrimp perloo with royal red shrimp from Charleston; Heritage Carolina Gold and Jefferson red rice with spring peas and favas; smoked eggplant with yuzu-kosho; white beans with ramp pesto; malfatti with asparagus and black truffles; fennel salad with olives and provolone; and ginger ice-cream cookies. I also drank a margarita.
Afterward, we went to Mimi’s. Just for a drink. I don’t remember what wine we had, they choose it, but it was a really nice one. I know it was French.
Then, a little before midnight, I had a slice of pepperoni and a slice of cheese from Joe’s. I’ve been before, I love to go whenever I can. I eat pizza sort of casually. I don’t ever have a craving for it, actually. Okay, maybe sometimes. Joe’s is really a place I associate with being out late, having a drink — just exactly how it happened.
I really wish that every time I went to New York I planned my meals out, the way people make trips around food. I’m in food, so why don’t I do that? But one of the things that happens is that I sort of eat wherever — well, not wherever. But certain trips, this trip, I just ate where I could.
Friday, April 19
Started my day with a cappuccino at the Marlton. Had another a couple hours later when I was down at One World Trade Center.
I had an interview in Brooklyn, so my boyfriend and I decided to go to Frankie’s on the way. But we ended up having this nice meal. I hadn’t been in such a long time.
They sent stuff out and we ate much more than we needed. We had the eggplant parmigiana, the cavatelli with sausage, the focaccia with oil and butter, and a green salad. Also, they were testing their new oven and made this thing that looked like a quiche. I forget the Italian name, it wasn’t familiar to me. There was Italian sausage in it and it was really good. I also said I wanted rosé and I didn’t even ask what rosé it was. I had two glasses.
So dinner was room service. A chicken-vegetable wrap, quinoa salad, french fries, and a glass of Pinot. The salad was delicious. I would never go anywhere for it, but that’s the purpose of room service. Having it brought to your room without any effort. You get what you need, you don’t eat more than you want, or if you eat more than you need, it’s because you want that.
Once in a while I love indulging in room service. A club sandwich. I love it.
Saturday, April 20
I randomly ended up having a cappuccino at Baby Skips in Brooklyn. Ignacio and I met there before going to this new space Fernando Aciar was preparing for his ceramics studio and sort of warehouse. We went to give him advice on colors and textures and materials.
Back in Manhattan, at my hotel’s restaurant, I shared steel-cut oatmeal and avocado toast with a poached egg and greens.
For lunch, it was Estela. I had the egg, pancetta, and avocado sandwich. I have a craving for that sandwich every day. I love it. I know they have that porchetta-and-cheese sandwich, but, really, I love this one. The consistency and sweetness of the brioche, the poppy seed, the avocado. It’s a perfect bite for me.
I love to have a protein-y breakfast later in the day. I think of that more as brunch or a weekend indulgence. Not that I don’t indulge every day in what I eat. I don’t keep track of calories in any way. I just think of having a bigger breakfast when I have more time: It’s tactical.
Afterward, I went to the Guggenheim Museum for the Hilma af Klint exhibit. Oh my goodness, it was extraordinary in so many ways. I loved it because it looks good in the museum and so many don’t, and just because what an amazing story, a fascinating piece of art history. It’s such a revelation. Before heading out, I had a macchiato.
Dinner that night was at Frenchette. It was my first time there. Had several glasses of natural wine, trout beignets, pâté de foie, veal tongue and mackerel tonnato, asperges blanches, tête de veau, and duck frites. For dessert, the Paris-Brest à la pistache and another macchiato. Plus, lots of my favorite sparkling water, Vichy Catalan, all night. You know what I loved the most? They were so lovely, everybody was so kind and welcoming. Jorge’s wine list is so interesting. I love when a restaurant is built around the wines.
It’s old-school in a really well-adapted way for how we want to eat now. And I think so many new restaurants are uncomfortable. I love that this one isn’t. I love that the aesthetics of the place felt so untouched even though it was refurbished. I loved the dishes, I love the idea of them, I love that it’s such a modern French restaurant in a way that doesn’t exist in New York. It’s cool.
Everybody is into eating kidneys and tongue. It’s fun.
Sunday, April 21
Started off at 11:30 a.m. with a cappuccino and hot cross bun at Balthazar to go. I used to go there often when I came to New York. A long time ago. I love the place in so many ways, and it was an inspiration when I opened Contramar. But I went because it was around the corner from the Crosby and I wanted coffee.
I wanted to take somebody to eat really good food, so I went back to Altro Paradiso for lunch. We had the arancini with Calabrian chile, the burrata with mostarda di Cremona and smoked oil, the endive salad again (I love that at each of his restaurants), the malfatti cacio e pepe with shaved black summer truffles, and the strozzapreti alla Bolognese. We also had the hazelnut and mascarpone ice cream, and bombolini. To drink, I had a couple glasses of Italian rosé frizzante.
I feel that every time I am in New York, I end up going to Ignacio’s restaurants like five times, and I really like that, because I have so many other things to do. Sometimes when you cook and you dedicate your life to trying to achieve good food every time, you just want to go to places where you will eat well. Sometimes you don’t want to experiment.
For me, Ignacio’s restaurants are a sure way of knowing I’ll eat good. I’ll feel good, the quality is good. I also like supporting my friends, and thankfully most of them don’t need support at their restaurants. But I really appreciate that there are places that are so consistent in quality. I want to go to restaurants that are consistent more than restaurants that are interesting, fancy, or technically admirable.
Had an afternoon matcha at Cha Cha Matcha in Nolita, then it was off to Newark airport, where I ate a chicken Caesar salad and had a glass of Merlot.
On the flight, I had a chunk of Toblerone. It’s what my boyfriend bought. You know those days, you’re tired. We got on the plane and he was like, “Look at what I bought.” I’m like, “Okay.” I really had not had it in a really long time. I’m not a very big sweets person, but I do love them once in a while. Whenever I taste sweets, I enjoy them. But I don’t think about them until I put it in my mouth, and then I love it.
Got back home in San Francisco and had a navel orange at 3:30 a.m.
Monday, April 22
At home, I drank coffee from a French press and ate steel-cut oatmeal with strawberries, blueberries, granola from Sqirl, and berry kefir.
My kid was off school and we were in Hayes Valley. Tacos Cala was already closed so we ate at Souvla. This started as, “Oh, let’s get an ice cream.” We sat in Arcadia Park (he wanted to try out his new skateboard) and we just had a lamb wrap, Greek salad, and Greek-yogurt ice cream with olive oil and salt. My favorite part is the Greek frozen yogurt, that is so good.
I admire the concept of Souvla greatly. I think they’ve done a very, very smart thing. I remember right when I had come to live in San Francisco, I saw that menu and I thought, Oh, so smart. I love how successful they’ve been, I think Charlie is a really cool guy, I really like him, but I don’t eat there a lot.
Later in the afternoon, I snacked on rainbow carrots and spicy hummus at home. That was a few hours before Rintaro, one of my favorite restaurants here. I had their housemade plum liquor to drink, a simple chicken-and-pork broth, the yosedofu with their own silken tofu, chicken-thigh yakitori, the dashimaki tamago with katsuobushi dashi, and the pork katsu with cabbage and hot mustard.
It’s a very homey, Northern California, Bay Area place. They use amazing ingredients, and the chef-owner, Sylvan Brackett, was Alice Waters’s assistant for a long time. So it really has that Chez Panisse style. I also love Japanese food. I could eat it anytime, any day. Ever since I went to my first Japanese restaurant in New York, back in 1989 or 1991. It was this fancy place in midtown. I love sushi, and simple food that has a good balance of acidity and spiciness. It just feels good.
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