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Dinner in the Garden

BY Andrea Bennett | August 27, 2018 | Feature National

The much-anticipated El Jardín celebrates regional Mexican heritage, matriarchal food traditions and deeply satisfying nostalgia.
El Jardín's colorful patio, perfect for year-round alfresco dining

A shallow ceramic bowl holding what appears to be a pile of multicolored marshmallow snowballs also, in a way, holds the ethos of El Jardín, the new restaurant that celebrates the food heritage of Mexico’s seven regional cuisines—and doesn’t discriminate against snack culture.

Called Sobre el Arcoiris (“over the rainbow” in Spanish), executive chef and partner Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins’ dessert is a play on one of her childhood favorites. “You have the Arcoiris snack cookies that every kid eats where I grew up, with these pink and white marshmallow circles on top of shortbread. We’d eat the marshmallows and throw away the cookie. Every time a Mexican family comes in here, they’re like, ‘The cookies!’ because they directly invoke this shared memory.” You’re not likely to dispose of the brown butter cookie that holds her version, whose coconut and berry marshmallows sit atop a coconut dacquoise base and hide a vanilla Bavarian cream and strawberry panna cotta. It’s a fine dining version, of course, but the memories are there.

She pulls out the same whimsy in No Mameys, a sophisticated dessert that uses the pit of the mamey fruit—pixtli, a staple of several Oaxacan beverages—to make a delicate almondlike ice cream and frangipani cake surrounded by a crumble made from the restaurant’s own heirloom corn. “Pinole, a traditional Aztec beverage, is made from a roasted corn flour sweetened with cinnamon and sugar, and is something we drink all our lives.” That hit of nostalgia and deeply rooted food history can’t be disguised, even by its sophisticated modern plating.

El Jardín’s menu is a map of food memories—drawn from Zepeda-Wilkins’ own experience growing up in San Diego, Tijuana and Guadalajara, and from her travels all over Mexico.

Photography Courtesy Of: