The concept and menu of Papalote Mexican Grill is based on memories of sunny Sunday afternoons spent in Chapultpec, in Mexico City, celebrating somebody's birthday. These gatherings would bring many families together and great pot-luck meals would be organized.
The huge park of Chapultepec is divided in many sections, which include an amusement park, a castle, a lake, and lots and lots of green areas. It was in the primera sección, the first section, that on the day of your birthday (or the closest Sunday to your actual birthday) your mom and dad would set out early in the morning to claim a little area where the rest of your family and friends would meet later in the afternoon.
Ideally you wanted to find a flat spot, so that the food wouldn't roll down the hill, and one that had at least a couple of trees nearby. The trees served a dual purpose. One was so that your parents could decorate the claimed area (set the boundaries) with balloons tied to a string, which were also supposed to make this area more visible to make it easier for your guests to find your spot. The latter was kind of a pointless task, because by one o'clock in the afternoon (después de misa), la primera sección had more balloons tied to strings than the biggest used-car lot you can imagine. Anyway, you also wanted to have at least one good tree so that eventually someone could climb up it to tie the rope to do the piñata thing.
It was neat to see my dad and my uncles laying on the grass, talking, laughing, not wearing a tie, just hanging out. And seeing my mom and the rest of the moms not telling us to do our homework and letting the kids just run around and have fun.
In addition to the balloons all of these little sectioned off areas had something in common: the smoke off the grill as the grown-ups prepared the carne asada (grilled steak). The smell of food filled the air. Eating was a big part of these birthday celebrations, but for some of the grown-ups, eating was not as important as the actual preparation of the food. Carne asada is different than a typical American BBQ in that you would never dare put anything on the meat other than salt and maybe, maybe a little bit of pepper. Plus, carne asada is always thin steak, so it really doesn't take that much skill to cook it. Curiously enough then, even though these gatherings are often referred to as "carne asada," the carne asada has always been the simplest, most basic item on the menu.
When it came time to display their culinary abilities everybody showed off their homemade salads and their salsas, but especially their salsas.
As far as salads go, the best, by far, was always what we called pico de gallo. Pico de gallo was a very simple salad made with jícama, cucumber, orange, lots of lime juice and some sort of chile, usually chile piquín. We just couldn't get enough of it, and we feel that our rendition now at Papalote does justice to some of the best we've had (except, of course, our tía Marina's, which is hard to top).
Now, salsa was a different thing. All of my aunts and uncles always tried to outdo each other, but nobody was ever able to make a better salsa than our dad's salsas. Our dad always manages to delight guests, big and small, at any reunion, big or small, with his creative touch. His salsas have always been the tastiest, richest, most honest to goodness sauces the human palate has ever savored. To eat one of our dad's salsas is to embark on a historical, cultural and spiritual journey in which your senses are awakened and stimulated, and your soul is transported up and down the majestic mountains and mysterious valleys of our beloved homeland. His creations are true masterpieces, each one of them a work of art. Nobody was ever able to make a better salsa than our dad's.
When we set out to make our salsa at Papalote we knew that we had undertaken an especially challenging task, and that our father would be watching. So, when we finally tasted Miguel's creation, inspired by our family's 40-year-old restaurant legacy as well as our dad's unsurpassable commitment to creating THE perfect salsa, we discovered that we had created something so unique that, with all due respect to our dear father, kicks our dad's salsa's ass up and down the majestic mountains and mysterious valleys of our beloved homeland.
The concept of Papalote then, in addition to needlessly talking jive about our dad, is to try to recreate, for your benefit and ours, the feeling we got when we found ourselves in the middle of la primera sección in Chapultepec, on a fine Sunday afternoon. Being there you knew that it simply couldn't get much better than that: not a worry in the world, people laughing, the smell of food coming from all directions, and sometimes, if you looked up, you could even see a papalote or two, flying way way way up there in the sky.
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3409 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110