Sunday, October 23, 2016

Day of the Dead Preview: Museo de la Katrina SMA

As the Nobel prize-winning Mexican writer Octavio Paz explained in Labyrinth of Solitude: "The Mexican is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it."

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is my favorite holiday. It's a joyful and blessed celebration of both life and death that can be viewed at the beautiful, new Museo de la Katrina SMA at San Francisco 18.

I turned my photographs of the museum into artwork by the magic of a phone app, a further study from my phone photography class, which seemed more fitting for a tribute to eternal life.

Buen Apetito!, back to food.

The Maestras...coming in November

Architect Patricia Merrill Marquez, whose parents Yaya and Don Ricarod, pioneered Mexican culinary tourism as a “vacation with a purpose” back in the late 60’s, is keeping up with Yaya.
Patricia’s daughter, Mónica Navarrete Merrill, has a Diploma in High Cuisine and is a graduate in gastronomy from the Instituto Gastronómico de Estudios Superiores. She’s also attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York City.
Together,this mother-daughter team run The Mexican Cooking Vacations at their B&B, Arcos de Atascadero.
Patricia is the author of The Buen Provecho Book, a collection of traditional and contemporary Mexican recipes that also contains insights into Mexican life.
Patricia tells her story in November, along with all the other Maestras, who led the way for the female chefs of SMA.
Stay tuned and Buen Apetito!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

In Search of the Perfect Taco

National Taco Day was this past week but who needs a reason to stop by your favorite T-joint for a plateful of delicious tacos? Honesty, I could eat them every day.
Single or doubled, flour or corn, complex or simple, fried or just off the grill, there are never-ending possibilities for a perfect taco but we like this one, the Lamb Shawarma taco, available from The Restaurant at Sabores San Miguel.
The catch of this taco tease is that Sabores is an annual event so you have to wait until 2017 rolls around to get another fix.
A taco can be whatever you want it to be and that’s the beauty of it. The simplicity is that you don’t need silverware; tacos fit conveniently in your hand and can be devoured in a single bite or two or three. Need breakfast, lunch or dinner? There’s a taco solution for that.
The holy trinity: the tortilla, the filling, and the salsa; every element of the taco must be perfect. From sunrise to sunset, here are six spots that deliver the perfect taco with a prevailing taste of the motherland. Bring small change and a big appetite.
We’ve been known to eat more than our fair share so when it comes to tacos we only have one rule: never do the math.

Buen Apetito!
Tacos worth getting out of bed for, The Taco Lab (in Doce 18 Concept House at Calle Relox No.18) has a three crispy taco combination listed under appetizers. I get one pork belly, one fish and one short rib taco for one of the best and tastiest taco deals in town. The crunchy shell provides a perfect contrast to the fillings. My go-to place on Sunday morning, the fastest way to size up a taqueria is the salsas. This place has three worth tasting; my favorite: the amarillo (yellow) made with tamarind and habanero chili peppers. You wouldn’t need a cup of coffee after this morning jolt. Messy, sure, but who cares? Daily from 10 AM.
La Azotea, Umaran 6, has the best artisan taco in town. A texturally adventurous bite, the shell is a thin slice of Jicama that is topped with lightly breaded shrimp, chipotle mayo and a tamarind sauce. The fried leek finish put this taco in a class by itself. From 3:00 PM; closed on Sunday.
It’s not a taco expedition in SMA without Arrachera and Muro (Loreto 10B off Insurgentes) has some of the best. The magic here is the flavorful arrachera, melted cheese and caramelized onions; the best combination of ingredients. These next-level tacos are served in something you don’t see every day: flour tortillas. 5 stars for the food AND the service. As Bon Appetit once wrote "in a perfect world, our favorite restaurants would serve flawless food every time but in the real world? Sometimes all you need is to feel like you’re at home...and Muro feels like home. This SMA classic moves to a beautiful, new location before the end of the year, just in time to inaugurate the fireplace. From 9 AM daily; closed on Wednesday.
Ground zero for the taco culture in SMA , you won’t need a map; just follow your nose. What makes these porky bits so addictive is they are simmered in lard until fork tender. Guadiana #2 is the kitchen where all of Bautista Brothers carnitas are cooked, so drop by on Monday, the local market day, when the line at this converted garage is shorter than usual. Their textbook salsas deliver a fiery punch; add a peppering of jalepaños to enhance the experience. From 7 AM, they run out early so skip the Cherrios and make it a breakfast. It’s a revered eating experience you wouldn’t find anywhere else. This Bautista Brothers location is one of the best kept secrets in SMA.
Don Santos Tacos, Clavel 8 off Refugio Sur, earns its accolades with authentic Mexican food; the real deal is their Taco de Res. A Colonia San Antonio tradition, this taco joint claims a devoted following among Mexicans so you know it’s good. Even Matteo Salas, San Miguel’s top chef, dreams of staging here. Thin strips of beef are cooked in a pile of intestines and chorizo; it’s so well flavored and tender you can’t resist the call for a second helping. Heap on a mound of onions, cilantro and their spicy salsas; the kick adds a whole other layer of flavor to this dish. Don’t forget you’re on Mexican time; Don Santos opens at 6:00 PM but time your entrance for 30 minutes later as they are a bit slow at the start. The communal tables are the place to meet the locals. If you run into more than two gringos in a given night, it’s unusual.
Andy's Tacos, on the corner of Insurgentes and Hidalgo, was written up in the Wall Street Journal and owns the show when it comes to Tacos al Pastor in SMA. With both early birds and night owls, this SMA institution caters to enthusiasts of every age. Unlike the other pastor vendors in town, Andy caramelizes the meat to an almost-crunchy texture, shaves the pork off a vertical spit and fries it, adding a splash of red-hot salsa, and kisses it with thin, wide-slices of pineapple. I’ve never found another place in SMA, or Mexico City for that matter, that does better al Pastor. It’s a hard act to follow and if the juices aren’t dripping down your arm by the time you finish, you’d better order another helping. From 7:30 PM to 7:00 AM, Andy's is a favorite of partygoers searching for an after-hours feast. This is one of the best tacos in SMA; we’ve eaten enough of them to know.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Sweet Endings: The Best Desserts in San Miguel de Allende

Picture this: profiteroles, coquettes with mascarpone, pavlova, tiramisu, choux à la crème, bananas Foster, praline bread pudding, fresh- picked peach cobbler, bourbon pecan pie, shortbread cookies with lemon-cream cheese frosting, white chocolate chip cookies, crème brûlée, beignets, and chocolate cake with homemade vanilla ice cream.

Do I have your appetite in over-drive right now? I know; me too. Just the mention of these desserts and I’m having a piece of chocolate cake for breakfast.

If you happen to feed your food addiction here, you’ll quickly come to the realization that I love desserts. Not just any desserts; the ones that are dripping, drizzled or dusted with sugared obsessions, most notably chocolate.

I experienced a wonderful Amador chocolate at Maido in Lima, Peru just last week, but many of the best chocolates I’ve eaten lately have been from Oaxaca; a translation recently served at Nomada cocina de interpretacion here in San Miguel.

When it comes to favorites, I have mine. And like most people I know who LOVE food, I never save the best for last.

Buen Apetito!

These restaurants, known for their celebrated food and not their pastries, make many of my favorite sweetened pleasures:

The Restaurant
Sollano 16

Sundae de Caramelo Quemado con Salsa de Malvavisco y Cacahuates Espanoles… in any language, Chef Donnie Masterton balances this Ambrosia custom-made, burnt caramel ice cream topped with salted caramel, marshmallow and a sprinkling of cacahuates; a confectionery work of art that is way too beautiful to eat but we dive in anyway. Conclusion: Simple ingredients often make for some of the most elevated flavors.

After three years, it’s still my favorite dessert in San Miguel and to commemorate the occasion, we thought you’d like to see a new picture.

PS: Don’t take this off the menu Donnie; I threw out my calorie book and we’ve just declared it a classic.

Buenos Aires Bistro
Mesones #62

Chef Mariano Alvarez of Buenos Aires Bistro, the king of Argentine beef in SMA, produced an Argentinean version of bananas foster, my favorite New Orleans dessert: Banana Frita Flambeado con Brandy y Helado de Mate or Brandy Flambéed Fried Banana with Mate Ice cream.

Rich and creamy, homemade ice cream is the central ingredient of this dessert, made from pure cream and Yerba Mate, the naturally caffeinated leaves of the South American rainforest holly tree. That’s what makes it healthy so eat up.

Quince Rooftop
Cuna de Allende 15

Chef Gonzalo Martinez has a limited menu of postres but we love everything on the menu including the Sweet Corn Cake, the Crepe Cake and my favorite, the soft Bunuelo fritters.

The first time I had Bunuelos was from a street stand in Guatemala last year and I’ve been craving them ever since. Chef Gonzalo filled the gap with his version of Bunuelos with bitter sweet Oaxaca chocolate. Don’t mind me when I lick the bowl.

How sweet it is; 15% of all dessert proceeds go to Feed the Hungry SMA so order an assortment for your table.

Jacinto 1930
Relox #18

Jacinto 1930 pays the respect to dessert that it deserves by creating uncomplicated flavors that work. 

We love Chef Matteo Salas and Pastry Chef Marene Flores Silva for many reasons, one of them being that they’ve created a flan that we actually love.

The soft cream cheese flan with avocado milk melts into a sour cream ice cream. In one word: perfection. In two words: seconds, please!

Canal #3

Want a chocolate overload? This gooey, chocolaty goodness tastes as incredible as it looks.

It’s amazing that you can find one of the best desserts in SMA right under your nose. Thanks to a mention from one of SMA favorite chefs, Michael Coon, this chocolate cake is like eating just-made fudge, only better. It’s cold, moist, dark, rich, decadent and so full of chocolate, I’m certain I’ll be ordering it every morning with a supersized glass of café con leche.

Oh, and just so you know, I’m not sharing!

These SMA Chefs have one thing in common; they are responsible for elevating traditional desserts into something magical. All of them, alchemists in the kitchen, turn the freshest ingredients into the most exquisite desserts you’ve ever eaten.

Trattoria da Laura a Los Mezquites
Rancho Los Mezquites
Marroquin de Anejo 37888

In a city of first-class chefs, this passionate Italian stands out; some of my favorite desserts in SMA are made by Chef Laura Buccheri.

The first time I dined at her restaurant, she served five different desserts; I ate all of them.

Known for her wonderful, Sicilian creations, she stays true to the Italian classics but elevates them using good ingredients and textbook execution.

Of the many Italian desserts I’ve eaten, I’ve loved every one of them including this Genovese al Lemon Curd Cake and her legendary lemon meringue pie.

Things couldn’t be sweeter right now for this Italian; Laura opens Spaghetteria La Cocina di Afrodita this week on the upper floor at the new Mercado Sano (ex Ferreteria Don Pedro), Calle Ancha de San Antonio #123. I’m addicted to her Carbonara as well as her desserts.

Calle Hernandez Macias #97

When Chef Ana Cecilia Alvarez, the Sous-chef at MiVida Restaurant graduated from La Universidad Tecnologíca in San Miguel de Allende, she did her internship at Restaurant Il Grecale in Novello, Italy. It shows.

A source of Instagram envy, we’ve eaten dozens of desserts at MiVida and every one of them has hit the high mark on presentation, flavor and taste. What I like most are the homemade fruit sorbets; a refreshing finish to MiVida’s pastas and meats.

 Blessed with unbridled creativity, she’s one of the young chefs in SMA to watch.

Nomada cocina de interpretacion
Codo #36

I once said that Chef Sofia Antillon, the Pastry Chef at Nomada cocina de interpretacion, has superpowers. I’m convinced after eating at least 50 of her desserts that she’s blessed with something more.
Here is her Fiesta; I call it “Party on a Plate”: blueberry, mango meringue, raspberry meringue, toronjil, cherry with roseberry, mango with thyme, pomegranate seeds, garambullo, lemon ice cream with caramelized lemon peel and guava jelly.
I had the first dessert Sofia made in SMA at B’ui – cocina de campo: Chocolate Chai Ganache with mascarpone cheese, a caramelized banana, plantain puree and litchi sorbet. It’s a study for the Art of Plating.

From the Peppermint panna cotta with strawberry coulis, rhubarb, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry sorbet to her most famous dessert, one she made for the Chef’s Table at the SMA Food Festival this year, the pavlova with vanilla cream passion fruit caramel, kumquats, peppermint, eureka lemon peel and blueberries, her desserts are inspiring.

She’s likely to move to the national scene so get her artistic creations while you can. With no dessert menu, you’re surprised every time you order. She breaks all the rules, creating complex desserts that blend interesting and contrasting flavors.

I’ve never been disappointed.

The girls love their sweets…

My friend, Daniela Doig, the creator of the online e-magazine at , recently did an article on the top desserts in SMA. She's turned me on to a number of new places and I'm on a mission to try them all. Read her article for some additional, delicious listings.