For unknown reason since time immemorial, these eyes of mine have always been the adept scout for spotting hidden restaurants. Well, to tell you the truth, Taco Cantina is not that hidden but its micro size might put it that way. Even so, its colorful presentation will surely help anyone to spot it in the end, which is cute by the way.
As I entered, everything was washed in orange and the tiles that they use felt like they were bought from a famous tilemaker in Solo. Colorful and in pattern, but perhaps too simple. The furnishing is simple and retains the feel of a food truck or cantina to be exact with the name. High dining tables with classic tools for around 30 Latin music lovers at best can be accommodated here at Taco Cantina.
The food comprises of casual stuff you will mostly found in Mexican food trucks, found on other parts as well in Jakarta. I have always been under impression that Mexican food is a bit more expensive. Is it always like that or not, well you guys surely can help me here.
I actually enjoyed the food a lot as I had a small taco with great complements from the cheese, the pico de gallo, and the guacamole. My wife also enjoyed her small fajitas but it was all very small sih for almost 90,000 rupiahs alongside two drinks. But anyway and honestly, I enjoyed it a lot. The taste feels quite original, the meat quite fulfilling and all was well-made.
So if you happen to pass the western part of Tebet where restaurants are sprawling here, you’ll find in-between them a small cantina and that’s where you might want to stop and enjoy your petite Mexican treat once in a while.
TACO CANTINA Halal-friendly Suitable for vegetarians
Address: Jalan Tebet Barat Dalam no. 29, Jakarta – Indonesia
Perhaps some of you remember how sensational the last year’s Mexican treat by Chef Lamberto Valdez, back in Bengawan – Keraton at The Plaza. It was a delightful 10 course lunch where the chef personally oversaw and shared us his two cents about Mexican food. From start to finish, we were made astonished for the full five hours and thanks also to the great company, it was probably one of the memorable lunches that I ever had.
To settle in first with how Mexican it was, you can check my last year’s posts here and here.
As time went by, apparently, Chef Lamberto Valdez was promoted as the Culinary Director of the Starwoods hotels in Indonesia – CMIIW. I was actually met him personally and accidentally, during a breakfast last month in Sheraton Bandung and I was utterly impressed that for a local hotel, Sheraton Bandung has added interesting elements in the menu that you may not find anywhere else. Of course, leaving his marks, Chef Lamberto shared his Mexican flairs as well there.
However, what made me feel even gleeful is the fact that Bengawan of Keraton at The Plaza has finally fully incorporated these Mexicano flairs as well in the menu. From the daily serving of Mexican treats in one corner for buffet lunch and dinner, the restaurant also provides a full range menu and dedicated selections for the brisk, business lunch for IDR 150K.
During one of those bloggers meetings, I had a really good lunch reenactment moments with Chef Lamberto’s meals and I started of course with his famed sopa de tortilla, creamy and crunchy but at the same time but one might want to steer away from the Mexican chili if you’re not ready, otherwise it would be a really ‘good’ surprise!
The highlight of the meals came from the finest guacamole in Jakarta, thanks to the beautiful concoction and of course, because of the use of Hass avocadoes – ‘the wagyu of avocadoes’ as I often tell everyone about how majestic these creatures are. I simply asked for more and more of guacamole to appease my cravings alongside the sour cream and the tomato salsa.
For the main course, I finally got to meet delicious selections for quesadilla that involved chicken and beef steak with it or the fajitas with hanger steak. But perhaps, what I was actually curious about are the tacos. For Indonesians, perhaps it would be best to have the usual flour tortilla because of the familiar taste but if you want to try the real Mexican – then the corn tortilla is the answer.
Despite the authenticity, you might experience a bit dryness and bitterness with the taste, which I cannot offer you the peer-to-peer comparison to you as of this moment. On a lighter note, the meat selections were actually excellent and rich in flavor as well. You can choose from carne asada, the chicken, the lamb birria, or the vegetarian course for this one.
To seal the deal, the choco-flan never fail to satisfy me, but I’d definitely recommend you to try Chef Lamberto’s take of churros complemented with three great sauces of goat’s milk caramel, white chocolate sauce, and the mango compote. It’s a modern touch of Mexican I must say but when you see the track record of the chef, you’d really want to give it a good try and of course, we need more Mexican food as well in town. Thanks to Bengawan, we all have something new to try and to talk about!
The continuation of Chef Lamberto Valdez’ wonderful interpretations of Mexican cuisine keeps getting better and better. On the last post – Viva Mexico! – A Mexican Cuisine Extravaganza by Chef Lamberto Valdez (Part 1) – I wrote about the chef and his colorful openers consisted of guacamole, ceviche, and the Aztecs traditional soup. So without further due, let’s get on with the main course!
Well, entering the main course, I have to admit that I had no clue at all about it. For me (and many people, I bet), Mexican food is all about guacamole, tacos, quesadillas, or even Tex-Mex stuffs have always been thought as pure representation of Mexico. Now, after this encounter, I realize that Mexican cuisine is more than that and Chef Valdez taught us all about it eloquently.
We started with crepes filled with lobster meat. While that may not be Mexican, but Chef Valdez actually wanted us to know about their proud tradition in making mole sauce as the accompaniment of the crepes. The making of this signature sauce is often made into competition back in Mexico and it’s a complex process by using a lot of ingredients while also took a long time. Well, it kind of reminds me of Minangnese does it with its dishes but of course, this one’s different.
Mole may use up to 25 – 30 ingredients and that involves cacao and dried chilies. The result after 5 hours of painstaking process, it’s not only silky and savory but has that sweet, thick elements came from cacao. It’s just fascinating, especially when you know that it may be originated since thousands of years ago back in the times of Aztecs or Mayans and it uses chocolate, a native ingredient unknown to many parts of the world back then. You really have to imagine it combined with the crepes filled with Canadian lobsters, arugula, and feta cheese. Mamma mia!
Next we have the Carne Asada, or the hanger steak grilled to medium degree a la Mexico! First, the meat has to be marinated first using sauce made from garlic, onions, and other traditional herbs, making it a tad more acidic. After grilled, the steak then served with a green sauce or what they call as ‘poblano’ – a mixture of green bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro. The accompaniment was a well-presented mashed sweet cassava, garnished with cherry tomatoes and Guajillo chilies. Needless to say, it was the ultimate part of the whole deal!
Let’s head next for the grilled shrimps with chipotle sauce over fried rice. While that may sound simple, the process of making the fried rice was actually a bit complex. Chef Valdez told us that he had to do several procedures to make the fried rice right. First he had to make the rice green (I feel like Mexicans really love green color after all as seen from their national flag) by mixing them with cilantro,parsley, poblano sauce, jalapeno, and chicken stock. Then to reach the desired size, which is relatively bigger than our normal rice, he had to gone through frying and steaming first before served. Well well, it’s interesting as well as delicious. So you got the whole Mexican style by just having this dish – the poblano, jalapeno, and chipotle. Rich!
The last bastion of the main course came from the red snapper done in Veracruz style, the coastal old town where the Spanish first colonized Central America. That’s also the very reason why this dish has a Spanish influence as seen from the red rice. The huachinango or red snapper was seared lightly and drown in style with Hass avocado puree which was really delicious, topped with black olives, green olives, and capers. These gave the snapper a complex flavor of buttery thickness came from avocado puree, unique flavors from olives and capers, and the juicy salmon as the main star. The Spanish part came with the red rice, fried with tomato sauce for the color. Majestic!
As for the closure, this talented chef who’s also excelled in English and French, presented us with both Chocoflan and the eclectic chewy Churros with caramel sauce and jackfruit compote. What a way to finish the lovely lunch and although I really wanted to stay a bit longer, it was already almost 5 pm and gotta rush back home to beat the traffic!
Well, Chef Valdez presented us with what I call as a brilliant way to promote his country’s tourism. Back then I had a jealousy over a friend who had her time enjoying Yucatan beach or at how people adore Acapulco and so on, but now I have more confidence to really travel there one day and discover more than just Tex-Mex.
Thank you Chef Valdez, until I see you someday soon at Westin Ubud!
It’s quite common here that sometimes we know better about European or Japanese food rather than our own cuisine. No matter how cliché that may be, there are also two regional cuisines that we don’t really know much here in Indonesia. They came from Central America – mostly represented by Mexican cuisine, and the rest came from South America. I had small affairs with Colombian and Ecuadorian previously, but Mexican? Well, people would easily point either Chili’s or Amigos here in Jakarta or the current trending Taco Local, locally handcrafted by my tutor Mr Sebastian Subakti for Mexican.
As for the rest? Nobody really know or even care much about it compared with those mainstream cuisines. But after I met Chef Lamberto Valdez, I really had to let myself bedazzled with his culinary genius! How could I not? A wonderful ten course of Mexican cuisine tailored by the Chef personally with the added bonus of immense knowledge about the background of each one of these beauties. Hats off, Chef!
With his immense background in cooking for over 25 years, Mr Valdez appears young and dedicated. I can see through his conviction even before the lunch back in Bengawan – Keraton at The Plaza, Jakarta a month ago. He explained to me about his dishes he were about to present for us – totaling 10 majestic course, and he gave me some clues about it, during which I had to greet some friends I met there and he had to pause his explanations each time for a while, but that didn’t stop him from telling me more about his creations. I like that attitude!
Grew up in Acapulco, a place where people dream to be although Mr Valdez said there’s nothing special about it, the chef then went for a long-term culinary adventure back in the US after he had finished his apprenticeship. He’s climbing up to the top with Le Meridien, J.W. Marriott, and Sheraton. He was even cooking for prestigious personalities during his tenure back in The Ritz Carlton Florida. From there, his long affair with Starwood group started and lasts until now. Started from W Hotel in Doha, he worked alongside Jean-Georges and chosen by Alain Ducasse to oversee an important project. Now, he’s stationed in Westin Ubud – Bali and loaned to Keraton at The Plaza to showcase his talents temporarily.
Viva Mexico! last month was designed to introduce people with the richness of Mexican cuisine and a seasoned chef was assigned as the vanguard for this long standing heritage back since the Aztecs ruled the country. Let us fast forward to the first dish and also the beginning of a very long, engaging, and yet joyous lunch I’ve ever had in my whole life. Well, it lasted for almost 5 hours!
First was the Classic Tortilla Soup, thick and fresh, done in Aztec style and that means traditional. Corn, tortilla, chicken, tomato, cilantro, zucchini, and avocado all blended nicely. I happened to foolishly bite the whole Serrano chili (if I’m not mistaken with the species) and I had that burning sensation where my face became a bit sweaty and my glasses became foggy. So embarrassing but nobody saw it!
Secondly, Chef Valdez graciously presented us with the legendary guacamole done in two ways – first traditionally and the other one infused with chipotle (dried jalapeño). What made it so good, especially when you dip it with tortilla, was because of the high quality Hass avocado. Grown mostly in The States, Hass avocado was a variant of avocado found by a modest postman back in the beginning of 20th century and was originally ignored by people. Not until years later people then realized the mistake and it became one of the best avocado variants in the whole world plus it’s also one of the most expensive. Its buttery texture was just rich and Chef Valdez made it so right that I cannot let both of these green beauties gone wasted. By the way, Chef Valdez loves to add goat cheese in his dishes and this guacamole was one of them. He said it was a classic add-on for Mexican cuisine.
Next we got a really pretty dish. It’s a Ortega bell pepper, roasted with skins peeled and seeds removed, then filled with roasted fresh corns, Alaskan king crab, and goat cheese. The bell pepper itself was covered with egg whites and then pan-fried lightly. Salsa sauce was used as the dressing and there you go, a very heartwarming dish but light and appetizing. The bell pepper was not spicy at all and I just love the juicy texture combined with crab and corns.
For the fourth course, Chef Valdez prepared a dish not really originated from Mexico. It’s the Peruvian pride of Trio de Ceviche done in three ways – salmon with coconut, ginger, and lime juice; shrimps with lemon juice, red onions, cilantro, and lime juice; then tuna with yuzu, ginger, and lemongrass. Well, this trio came in colorful and inviting but I’d still go with the original version – which was the one with shrimps. The Japanese cuisine inspired tuna and the salmon with coconut were nevertheless, intriguing.
In the next post, I will tell you more about the surprising creations of Chef Lamberto Valdez in three main courses plus two desserts. Oh my, that was so indulging and I gotta let you know that I drool (literally) while writing about this piece. Stay tune!