Taquitos dorados de pato — crispy taquitos filled with duck carnitas, set on tomatillo-avocado salsa and topped with watercress salad — at Monica's Nueva Cocina in 2012. 

Taquitos dorados de pato — crispy taquitos filled with duck carnitas, set on tomatillo-avocado salsa and topped with watercress salad — at Monica's Nueva Cocina in 2012. 

/File Photo

Following the publication last week of  "Let's move beyond Tex-Mex: Dallas should be the U.S. capital of modern Mexican cuisine,"  a restaurateur and a chef I had contacted for the story responded.  Monica Greene and Anastacia Quinones, both known for their groundbreaking contributions to modern Mexican cuisine in Dallas, offered some very interesting thoughts about why there has been such a struggle to get the movement off the ground here. 

Let's move beyond Tex-Mex: Dallas should be the U.S. capital of modern Mexican cuisine

Quinones, who is now executive chef at Oddfellows, made a splash with her modern Mexican cooking at Alma on Henderson Avenue in 2011. She addressed the financial challenge for a restaurant of modern Mexican cooking: "Everyone in Texas thinks they're an expert on Mexican food because they're from Texas, and they think they can get it cheaper somewhere else." 

Serious Mexican cooking, she added, which involves grinding corn to make nixtamal, is extremely labor-intensive. "Add really great protein, not just skirt steak but ribeye, and chicken from a local vendor," and it can get quite expensive. Alma was one of the first restaurants in Dallas to make its own nixtamal for tortillas and such.

Chef Anastacia Quinones in the kitchen at Oddfellows  (Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer)

Chef Anastacia Quinones in the kitchen at Oddfellows  (Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer)

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Greene, who was a modern Mexican pioneer when she and chef Joanne Bondy opened Ciudad in 2000,  puts some of the blame on her fellow restaurateurs. "You can go to 10 different Mexican restaurants in Dallas," she told me in a phone interview from her home in Aspen, Colo., "and they have basically the same menu. Frog legs are not considered Mexican, but we eat a lot of frog legs in Mexico. Rabbit is another recipe that no one utilizes, but is a staple for us. In Mexico, we don't eat a lot of beef. We eat more fish, we eat a lot of chicken and a lot more pork — and also a lot of vegetables. 

"I don't want to suggest that we should not embrace mole, for example," she added. "But new ingredients, new presentations can be included. You go to Mexico City or you go to Oaxaca and they add pulque or pine nuts that brighten it up and make it lighter." (Pulque is a milky-looking alcoholic beverage made from fermented maguey sap.) "It could be with quail; it could be duck."

Though better known for her long-running Deep Ellum restaurant Monica's Aca y Alla, Greene opened a second modern Mexican place — Monica's Nueva Cocina — on Oak Lawn in 2012.  Like Alma, it closed in less than a year.  But here's some possible good news: Greene plans to visit Dallas in August to explore options for opening a new modern Mexican spot, with no more than 20 tables. "Dallas does not need another Tex-Mex restaurant, it does such a good job with that," she said. "I go to Mesero when I'm there, I go to all those Tex-Mex restaurants. But it's not my food."  

Members of the Dallas dining community — chefs, restaurateurs, diners and food writers — have been sharing their own well-informed views on my Facebook page. 

The Dallas Observer's food blog, City of Ate, and Eater Dallas weighed in as well, opening up the conversation beyond modern Mexican to include all kinds of Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking, which we're always thrilled to discuss.  As I thought back to what I believe was the very first blog post I ever wrote for dallasnews in 2009 — a paean to Oak Cliff's Taqueria El Si Hay — I got a giggle reading the Observer's thoughtful tip that I should cross the Trinity River!

So ...  want to talk tacos?  Or chapulines, or queso (!), or modern Mexican cooking as it's playing out in Dallas, Mexico City or Oaxaca? I've visited Mexico City three times in the last 18 months, and spent five days in Oaxaca as well, and I'd be happy to share my thoughts on restaurants, both modern and traditional. (Or on mezcal!) I invite you to join the conversation on my Facebook page, or give me a shout on Twitter @lesbren

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