Saturday, November 14, 2015

ZUMO: Great Food Comes With A Million Dollar View

When Stewart Haverlack makes up his mind to do something, he can’t just do it like everyone else. It’s got to be done first-class. So is his latest project ZUMO, the high-end restaurant in San Miguel de Allende at Orizaba 87.

I’ve went to ZUMO the first time for the soft opening in April and the last time on Tuesday for the premier of Tapas Tuesday. ZUMO still has its visual and gastronomic chops but a lot of things have changed since my first visit…

The rooftop: A once sweeping space, the rooftop has been redesigned by Stewart’s partner Vanessa Villegas to showcase not only a breathtaking view of SMA but also a beautiful dining and separate bar area, luxury seating with a fire pit, a flower and herb garden and an open kitchen so you can watch the Chef Action Experience. You’ll get a birds-eye view of what’s going on in the kitchen when you book the chefs table, now one of the hottest tickets in San Miguel. 

Tapas Tuesday: Tapas and artisan cocktails are served every Tuesday night from 7:00 – 10:00 PM. The menu changes weekly and the fun comes from watching Mixologist Miguel Bastida produce his astonishing liquid potions. You name the ingredients and he’ll create a cocktail worthy of a call for seconds.

Sunday Brunch: A Sunday Brunch will begin in December. I can’t wait to see Chef Ferrant’s modern take on old standards like Eggs Benedict and Huevos Rancheros.

5 course menu: With a 7 course tasting menu offered for $850 pesos, ZUMO has added a 5 course menu for $650 pesos. This would cost three to four times more in New York or Chicago and at least double in Mexico City.

Finely constructed dishes that look too attractive to eat, but smell too good not to, will bring you back to ZUMO whenever you’re craving great food. Here’s what we found on the menu the day we went:

Wild Mushroom Ceviche 

Smoked Marlín garnachas with pico de gallo and avocado sauce with lemon

Mexican mixed Corn Ezquite with epazote mayo, queso chicharron dusted with chili powder

Conde soup with Mexican sausage, baby squid, black beans, crispy jalapeño tortilla strips and fresh Oaxaca cheese aioli

Chicken Barbacoa with chili poblano, parmesan risotto and fried bean quenelles

Carlota margarita mousse cake with pomegranate seeds

Coconut candy with lemon foam

Chef Ferrant pulled out all the stops that day with the Red snapper marinated in achiote “pastor style” with roasted pineapple and a Serrano chili sauce. It’s his contemporary take on Tacos al Pastor, my favorite Mexican dish.

Although I requested a specific Mexican style tasting, Chef Ferrant peppers his menu with international dishes including his personal favorites from both Asia and Italy. He says that he’s been a little homesick lately so you’re also likely to get cuisine from his home country of France as well.

His resume is impressive…

Born in Paris, he has lived and studied cuisine in the cities of New Orleans, Morocco, Buenos Aires, Madagascar, Columbia and Montreal where he worked at Le Pied de Cochon.

He cooked at the Hotel Condesa in Mexico City, moved to Huatulco where he headed up the kitchens in a number of major hotels; Azul Profundo at the Camino Real, Don Quijote at the Barcelo Premium Hotel and was Executive Chef at the Quinta Real. He then headed to Oaxaca to join forces with Hotel La Casona del Sotano and open De Todos Los Santos, consistently ranking as one of the best hotel restaurants in Oaxaca.
Of course, I was not surprised to find out that he also worked as a sous-chef at The Restaurant. Many of San Miguel’s best chefs have been trained by The Restaurant’s owner, Chef Donnie Masterton.

Chef Ferrant has been experimenting lately with molecular cooking so the next time you go, you are likely to get a liquid croquette on your plate. He loves how they explode and the pure essence of the ingredients invade your palate. How about disappearing transparent Raviolis? Yes, at ZUMO, expect the unexpected.
One thing about ZUMO that stands out is the world-class service. You just don’t find this attention to detail everywhere in SMA like you do at ZUMO.
The team, starting with owner Stewart Haverlack, includes Architect, Interior Designer and partner Vanessa Villegas; Chef de Cuisine and partner Gabriel Ferrant; General Manager Cindy Buhle, who was educated and trained in Switzerland, Taiwan, and Miami; line chefs Jose Manuel Yepez and Raymundo Gutierrerz; master Mixologist Miguel Bastida; server Jonathan Fabian Pareja and the woman-of-all-trades, Ana Maria Aguilar. Together they are the force that attends to every whim and comfort you may want while you are there. It’s truly all in the details with this team and my first thought was hooray for luxury. May it never, ever die.
Stewart Haverlack is the reigning maestro of approachability, which explains a lot as to why he heads the ZUMO team.
He was the Senior Vice President of Paula Leduc Fine Catering in San Francisco, heading up a staff of 600 employees including 60 chefs. They catered to A-List clients in entertainment and business and executed over 400 events annually including 75 high-end weddings.
He moved to scenic Puerto Vallerta in 2004, and opened Boca Bento, a 180 seat, fine dining restaurant which specialized in Asian Latin flavors and was rated as one of PV’s top restaurants. In 2010, he moved to a 240 seat restaurant on the beach called El Dorado and successfully continued the restaurants’ 50 year history, winning awards and customers from all over the globe. He also started a catering business, Plush Catering and Events, which he ultimately sold to his Chef, who continues to run it today.
After ten years in Puerto Vallerta, fighting the hot and humid summers, he was ready for a move and San Miguel de Allende was a welcomed change.
In a very short time, ZUMO has established itself as a fine dining superstar in SMA. The best hotels in town send their guests to ZUMO. ZUMO currently has a mix of 40 % international travelers and Mexico City visitors and 60% locals.

In addition to a very active Social Media campaign run by General Manager Cindy Buhler, ZUMO uses local influencers like Klaudia Oliver to create the buzz needed to promote a restaurant of this quality. But what has been essential in ZUMO’s drive to #1 on Trip Advisor is word-of-mouth advertising. Just ask Brenda Sexton and Gregory Nye, who recently did a SMA Wine Club event at ZUMO with over 75 participants. Customers fall in love with the total ZUMO experience.

Stewart credits the restaurants design to partner Vanessa Villegas, who received her Master’s degree in Interior Design in Milan, Italy, at which time she was also the architect for a winery in Tuscany. Vanessa likes a clean style, doing a blend of classic with a twist of modern. She has always loved grey because it’s a great contrast for any accent color and also gives a nice elegant and relaxing feel throughout the restaurant.

Vanessa has a amazing eye and what has served as a centerpiece for this well-designed eatery is the mixed collection of art.

ZUMO initially talked with Wendy Moyer about the idea of inviting local artists to display at ZUMO. Many well-known artists show their work at ZUMO, including Anado McLauchlin. Interested clients are put in touch with the artist when they are ready to buy. ZUMO does not charge a commission on any of the pieces; it’s their way of giving back to the artistic community in SMA.

Stewart and Vanessa make all the decisions together for the restaurant, blending her design experience with his restaurant expertise. The results have been impressive. ZUMO is well-dressed down to the Reidel glassware, the Villroy and Boch china and the gorgeous Italian flatware.

Scores of people will tell you that you haven’t really seen San Miguel until you’ve looked at it from the rooftop at ZUMO. I call it the restaurant with the million dollar view.

When I was at ZUMO in the afternoon, both the clouds and downtown SMA were the reflection in my wine glass. I imagined what they would taste like and savored every last drop in the analysis. When I was there at 7:00 PM for Tapas Tuesday and looked out on all the lights of San Miguel, it took my breath away.

Another one of the elements we love about ZUMO is Mixologist Miguel Bastida. Starting as a bar helper in Cuernavaca when he was just 14, he has risen through the ranks; did a stint at Rosewood, Patio 3 and Hotel El Palomar before landing at ZUMO.

The imagination behind the infamous “Flaming Zumo”, a combination of Mezcal, apple liquor, fresh pear and orange and chili ancho, the drink is an upscale version of the perfect margarita. Miguel also made a Yin Yang, a combination of two drinks: Watermelon and Vodka and Lime, Mint and Tequila. I was mesmerized.

What’s on Miguel’s cocktail menu changes daily and he adapts his drinks to the taste of the amuse bouche; the time at which the cocktails are first served to the guests as an introduction to the dinner.

Miguel likes NANXO Mezcal (which is also the choice of Chef Ferrant) and Tequila Herradura Reposado when creating agave specialties. The wiz kid of ingredients, he likes to macerate his own bitters and make infusions using fresh herbs and fruits in season. He also uses chilies and their oils to give the drinks a distinctive taste. We think his cocktails are unmatched.

Stewart Haverlack is a trained sommelier and with the help of expert wine purveyor Arael Gómez Tello of Arggot Del Vino, who has access to over 600 diverse wines, they have positioned 40 labels on ZUMO’s wine list including wines from Mexico, Argentina and Chile and old world wines from France and Spain. Wines generally range in price from $500 - $5,225 pesos a bottle and handcrafted cocktails from 160 – 200 pesos but you can get a drink or wine-by-the-glass that is competitively priced with other fine dining establishments in San Miguel. I was offered a beautiful Carmen Chardonnay from Chile, which was exquisite.
Ensenada is the main source for ZUMO’s produce but they also buy locally from purveyors like Leo, who is in front of Luna de Queso during the week. On the day I was there, a sizable delivery of baby vegetables, lettuces and herbs arrived. No one was more excited to see them than Chef Ferrant, who was already visualizing what he was going to create from the small, multi-colored baby carrots that were in the mix. He ultimately decided on a short rib with demi-glace and sautéed carrots in piloncillo. I, for one, was sorry I missed that meal.
ZUMO’s rooftop comfortably seats 22 people for dinner but they have additional space on the floors below to seat up to 60. They also have an intimate, private room for 10 and can accommodate 150 people on the terrace for cocktails. I have my eye on the celebrated chef’s table which seats 5.

 ZUMO is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, with seating’s at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM. 
ZUMO has a catering menu and do on and off premise weddings, openings, rehearsals and other celebrations. Who better to cater your party than the guy who pulled off 400 A-List events?
A year from now, ZUMO hopes to add a wine cellar and a complete herb garden. They also expect to open a three room Bed and Breakfast shortly with a gourmet breakfast and dinner as part of the entire luxury experience.
There are only a handful of restaurants in SMA that have it all: great food, creative drinks, world-class service and a million dollar view to match.

ZUMO is at the top of that list.

Buen Apetito!

ZUMO is located at Orizaba #87 in San Miguel de Allende, Gto, Mexico. Phone 415 152 0489
Open for dinner Tuesday – Saturday, with seating at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Circle of Life: Dia de los Muertos 2015

I grew up observing All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. Some years later, after several trips to Mexico, I decided to celebrate Dia de los Muertos instead. The holiday was more reflective and celebratory.

For 32 years, I’ve put up an altar. It has always made me happy and peaceful but this year was different. No longer an outsider, I was pulled in the high spirited celebration and it was exhilarating. At times, I felt like I was in the animated fantasy-adventure The Book of Life, which I saw and loved at the Guanajuato Film Festival this past fall.

The Dia de los Muertos celebration in San Miguel de Allende was never recognized to be among the best in Mexico. Experts say you have to go to Patzcuaro or Oaxaca in order to get the real high points of the celebration. I can’t imagine a holiday more meaningful than the one I just experienced last week.

Perhaps it was because I immersed myself in all the traditions preparing for it. Throughout this process, every day brought great joy and new discoveries. I was moved by the simplicity of it all. It was though I woke up and finally got it. 

In September, it was one fiesta and parade after another so I was spiritually prepared for a new round of celebration.

Prior to the holiday, I made several trips to the cemetery of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Camino Antiguo al Panteon and the San Juan de Dios Cemetery at San Antonio Abad and Muertos. 

San Juan de Dios Cemetery had not been decked out like this for years. It was beautiful. What hit me was that everything about the preparation was carried out with such immense joy and anticipation.

There was a sense of festivity throughout the weekend and when it was over, there was not the usual let-down. I packed away my altar with the same love as when I put it up. The serenity that took hold of me the week before Dia de los Muertos was there that day. In fact, I’m still feeling it a week later.

I spent so much time at the sugar shacks on the top of Avenida Insurgentes in awe of the alfeñique figures that all of the women there knew me by name.

I stayed out well past midnight and got up early the next day with the same enthusiasm I had the day before. There was no sleep for the living that weekend … or the dead.

I ate Andy’s Tacos at 11:30 PM instead of 7:00 PM. and got a different take on street food as its approaching midnight.

Watching the children interact with their parents, you were continuously traveling back and forth on the fine line of roaring with laughter and crying.

I loved the music, where mariachis and local singers like Yoremem Jocobi performed songs that were favorites of those who came back for a visit… just for the night.

Families danced on graves. I closed my eyes long enough to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and then I danced with them.

Much to the family’s delight, I helped carry water and wired pots of fresh flowers too big to stand up on their own. I hugged hard and long at the end of the day and never let go until the cemetery closed. No pun intended but for me, it was almost an out-of-body experience.

As a photographer, it was magical. 

I photographed the catrina parade and created images that have real meaning for me personally. Long after it is over, the holiday will still be with me.

As with just about everything in Mexico, food is a major part of Dia de los Muertos.

When you leave food at the altar, your dearly departed come back to enjoy the aromas. The holiday heightened my sense of smell and I was aware of every scent around me from the oversized bouquets of marigolds to the open bottles of tequila and mezcal. I never paid attention to that one little detail before; that the Dia de los Muertos world smelled this good.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the food that I would want on my altar besides Michael Coon's Okonomiyaki pancake and SMA tacos. I even wrote a letter to my son about it.

Dear Tommy:

When my soul returns for the night of Dia de los Muertos, you better have something really good on my altar.

Large quantities of bacon would be nice. Key Lime Pie, chocolate and chardonnay, fried chicken, ice cream, tacos al pastor, ribs, a 3’ steak, gumbo and cornbread, bread pudding. You know… the usual.

Remember, I can eat anything now, not that I didn’t before, so feel free to pass on a few of your own pleasures. I taught you to appreciate good food and besides, Mama always loves a surprise.

Tequila and Mezcal would be good…they’re probably what killed me in the first place.

If you’re going to do it right and make this culinary love in go on all night, here are a few more I found lately that you can add to my stash:

Homemade Ice Cream with Yerba Mate from Chef Mariano Alvarez at Buenos Aires Bistro

The Chilaquiles tower from Chef Gaby Green at Aguamiel

Artisan Cocktails from Mixologist Miguel Bastida at ZUMO

Mole de Olla; Short Rib from Executive Chef Marko Antoine Cruz at B'UI - cocina de campo

Chocoflan from La Casa del Diezmo

BBQ Pork Panini from Dana at the Market

Huevos Mexicanas WITH Salchicha Siciliano from Café Oso Azul

Deep Fried Strawberries from Chef Laura Buccehri at La Cucina di Afrodita

Pina Ice Cream from Gelatería Dulce Fusión 

Bags of sugared Churros from outside Mercado Ignacio Ramirez

French Fries and Cosmos from Hanks New Orleans Cafe and Oyster Bar (yes, you read it right…my favorite happy hour combo)

As a tradition of my own, during the month of November, I cook meals that my dearly departed loved to eat.

I happily overdose on Chinese because it was my mother’s favorite. 

I grill a steak or two or three because my dad was an expert on the BBQ. 

My brother loved tequila so that gives me an excuse to overindulge for 30 days. It’s also my birthday month; a reason to continue the celebration until Christmas.

During Dia de los Muertos, I spent a lot of time in restaurants eating and drinking with friends. Feasting together brought an additional significance to every day of the celebration.

La Vida es Buena!

Buen Apetito!