Agua y Sal Cebicheria
Campos Elíseos 199-A
Polanco C.P. 11560
Mexico, D.F., Mexico
Agua y Sal (“Water and Salt”) is widely acclaimed as one of the best seafood restaurants, if not one of the best restaurants in general, in Mexico City. We wasted little time in placing it on our list of “must-trys” in Mexico City. While (as will be demonstrated in forthcoming posts), we really came to the D.F. for street food and markets, the lure of some of the best ceviche in a great ceviche country was too much to pass up. And Agua y Sal delivered: from flawless Mexican service, to adventurous and innovative ceviches, to the fresh seafood necessary to pull them off, this was a treat well worth the high (by Mexican standards), but not unreasonable, price.
We walked to Agua y Sal following a day of wandering through Chapultepec Park (and taking it all the sites at the very impressive National Anthropology Museum). Located just north of the park, in Mexico City’s swanky Polanco district, Agua y Sal presents an initially surprising first impression: a marriage of upscale ambiance and casual dining. A green 1950s refrigerator and hipster-style mason jar serving glasses would be much more at home in Wicker Park than Mexico City’s version of the Chicago Loop; but somehow it all works. Less surprising is that the service at Agua y Sal is flawless: attentive without being overbearing, quick but not rushed, and, like any good non-US restaurant, they let you linger without the check long after you’ve finished eating. Our waiter, whose name we sadly didn’t write down, was the best we’ve had in some time. On his and our recommendation, we decided to start and finish with the Cebiches Tasting Menu, a selection of four of the restaurant’s [supposedly] finest ceviches, priced at 185 pesos (about US $15). Check out the photos and descriptions of each below.
Agua y Sal places an emphasis on fresh and unique flavor combinations, while paying homage to the classics. Take a look at the menu, and you can see the restaurant emphasizes its particularly impressive array of sea salts to be paired with each of its ceviches. As we learned during our time in Portugal, sea salt can make or break the dish, bringing out certain flavors while diminishing others. They certainly did on our first course, the Atun. An interesting ceviche of tuna in a tamarind sauce, the tamarind is well balanced with accompanying cucumber, red onion (always), avocado, and cuaresmeño chiles (a variety similar in spice to a jalapeño, but with milder flesh like a poblano). Using this chile instead of the jalapeño is a smart choice against the powerful tamarind, and all the flavors were brought together by their other smart choice of a little black Hawaiian sea salt. While this was not our favorite ceviche of the evening, it could have gone terribly awry in less competent hands.
Our second ceviche was the restaurant’s namesake, Agua y sal. One of our constant problems with Mexican ceviches in the past has been their overall lack of leche de tigre, but at Agua y Sal in general, we were pleased to see them using classic Mexican and tropical flavor profiles without sacrificing the precious liquid that makes ceviches of all kind such a treat. The Agua y sal showcases fresh shrimp and chopped mango in a sauce of pineapple and cuaresmeño chiles. Add red onion, peanuts, sesame seed oil, and a bit of Maldon sea salt flakes, and this is a great dish to showcase Mexican ceviches alongside a readily drinkable leche de tigre.
At this point it is difficult to make a classic Peruano ceviche that really impresses Matt, so Agua y Sal can be forgiven for not blowing us away with its rendition of the coastal Peruvian classic. But they did a very good job. Halibut always seems to be a better choice than tilapia, and their choice was soft and spot-on. Red onion, cuaresmeño chiles, and cilantro accompanied the ubiquitous cancha (Peruvian corn nuts), corn kernels, sweet potato, and Peruvian Andean sea salt. Rarely do the corn kernels and nuts make their way into the ceviche proper, but we were interested by this technique of adding a little liquid to the typically dry corn nuts. A very solid rendition.
But the big winner and unexpected star of the night was the Veracruzano. Arguably the simplest ceviche of the bunch, this one packed bold and sophisticated flavors that married perfectly together. Grouper – an odd and excellent choice of the main fish – balanced against a sauce of cilantro, jalapeño chiles (for extra flavor), cucumber, red onion, and sea salt from Guerrero Negro in Baja California. The sweetness and refreshment of the cucumber was a great complement to the peppers and sea salt. This was a big winner, and we would order it for our main appetizer next time!
Overall, we would highly recommend Agua y Sal to anyone in for some ceviche in the notoriously landlocked and smoggy Mexico City. Refreshing, light, and airy, you can linger here for a while; and when you are done, spend some time in Chapultepec or the gorgeous branch of the Pendulo bookstore in Polanco. We’ll be back on our next trip to the D.F.