Friday, September 25, 2015

Seven Places to Get a Great Cup of Coffee

When I was in Guatemala earlier this year, I came to appreciate good coffee. In fact, it got to the point where I preferred a good cup of coffee to a glass of wine.

I once heard a Mexican coffee described as having lemon, chocolate and soft spice notes. Like wine, coffee is also rated. One thing for sure; you need a coffee education to understand and appreciate all the varieties of coffee in the Mexico.

I had my first cup of coffee at Gran Cafe de la Parroquia in Veracruz where you tap your spoon on the side of the glass to get the waiters attention. He will pour steaming, hot coffee into your cup from precarious heights. This is a treat for the eyes as well as the palate.

My current favorite is a dessert, an Affogato - vanilla ice cream with a shot of hot coffee poured over it.

I know now that if you want a quality cup, you can’t count your pesos or your calories.

Here are seven places in San Miguel where exceptional coffee is a certainty.

You wouldn’t need a map to get to any of these spots. Just follow your nose.

Buen Apetito!

Café Oso Azul
Zacateros 17

Get a jump-start on your morning with a superior cup of brew and your favorite breakfast skillet.
Bo, one of the owners, has a coffee plantation in Veracruz and they roast their own beans right here in the restaurant.
They have put on coffee classes in the past to better understand the complexity found in a great cup of coffee. Check with them about future offerings.

Cafe La Ventana
Sollano 11

Coffee with a view?

Organic Chiapas coffee is as good as it gets at this little coffee window on Sollano. One of my favorites, it rivals the best Guatemala coffees in both high-grown power and complexity.

Get a cup first thing in the morning and make your way to the Jardin to watch San Miguel come alive. The views are as incredible as the coffee. 

Zenteno Specialty Coffee
Hernandez Macias 138

This corner café is always busy and customers love the colorful surroundings and the full-of-flavor coffee from Veracruz. This is the only place where I found real cafe con leche.

It’s tiny and so cozy you’re bound to make friends with your neighbor before you get a chance to grab your second cup.

What’s for breakfast? Claudia’s pies, what else.

El Cafe de La Mancha
Recreo 21A

Owners Paloma and Christian are passionate about superb coffee. Their beans are sourced from all over Mexico and they create their own blends as well. 

There's a whole range of coffee methods to choose from: Espresso, Cappuccino, Latte, French Press, Japanese Vacuum - they have it all including a Chemex (a Yama Cold Brew Drip Tower), a Melitta Dripper (for German coffee), the Ibrik (Turkish Coffee) and the Aeropress, which has developed a cult following.

What we really like? The beans change every week so you’ll never get bored with the taste.

Lavanda Café
Hernandez Macias 87

Do people come here for the coffee or the breakfast?

Lavanda was created by Chef Karla Becerra Martinez and her partner Victor, who is the head barista and will be representing Lavanda in a major coffee competition this coming February.

Lavanda buys two coffees from Oaxaca and surprisingly, one from Guerrero. The state coffee association asked Guerrero farmers to adopt a natural process for their coffees in order to distinguish them from other Mexican coffees. The result is a full bodied coffee with a surprising finish. Those who like it claim it’s some of the best coffee in Mexico.

Outside of getting a magnificent cup of morning joe, you’ll also get the best breakfast in town.

Buen Dia Cafe 
Callejon del Pueblito #3

They call this coffee worth getting out of bed for. Buen Dia Café is well-known for all of their signature brews and has become legendary as the coffee culture in San Miguel continues to grow.

The trip to this restaurant is worth it just to walk down enchanting Callejon del Pueblito. It’s one of the most engaging streets in San Miguel.

You’ll love this little hideaway so much, you’re certain to find your way back the next morning with a large posse of coffee-loving friends.

Calle Canal 3, esquina Hidalgo

This is no ordinary Starbucks. In keeping with the colonial architecture of San Miguel, Starbucks located at the edge of the Jardin and also has an outdoor patio and courtyard.

Starbucks is filled with a diverse group of people, many who come here every morning to work. Outside of jockeying to grab the more comfortable seats by the window, the regulars all know each other and often trade leads and local chit-chat.

Try something different: the Flat White. Starbucks calls it a bold coffee flavor with a sweeter finish. With an even mix of milk and smooth velvet foam, it feels like you’re drinking an espresso, only it’s yummier.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Week of Indulgences

After a crazy work week, I’m all about indulging in things that make me feel good.

For me, it’s not about a massage, smoking a good cigar or staying in my PJ’s all day.

My pleasures are all about food and drink. Here are some of them.

Buen Apetito!

Monday: Casa Madero
2V Chardonnay Chenin Blanc
Carretera 102 Paila-Parras, Km 18.5, Hacienda San Lorenzo, Parras, Mexico
Available: Cava Sautto, Hernandez Macias No. 59, San Miguel de Allende

It’s no wonder we hate Mondays. Just when we’re starting to enjoy our weekend, it’s time to go back to work. The Monday Blues are so common that they have become a cultural phenomenon. No better reason to start your night than with a liquid indulgence; a glass of Casa Madero 2V Chardonnay Chenin Blanc.

Wine professionals tell me that 2v has a pronounced nose of peach and crushed pineapple with persistent flavors of citrus, white pepper and spice. What I know? I love the taste.

The Parras Valley is a small wine region in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains of central northern Mexico. Although 90% of Mexico’s wines come from Baja, this area has great historical significance because Casa Madero, the oldest winery in Mexico, is located there. Founded in 1597, Casa Madero produces some of the best wines in Mexico.

I first discovered this wine at a little Italian restaurant in Mexico City called La Vineria Restaurante Y Vino Bar, Avenida Fernando Montes de Oca 52, Cuauhtemoc, Condesa. After a lengthy conversation with the owner about Mexican wines, he was so confident that I would enjoy Casa Madero 2V Chardonnay Chenin Blanc, he delivered a bottle to our table. We consumed not one but two bottles that night and I’ve been captivated by the taste ever since.

I love the entire line of Casa Madero wines including some of the reds, which I seldom drank until I had them at the Cava Sautto Wine Festival two years ago.

I’m up for a visit to Casa Madero. Rumor has it that a top SMA chef will lead a group to the Parras Valley and the winery sometime next year. Stay tuned.

Tuesday: Bautista Brothers Carnitas
Breakfast Carnita Torta
Available: Tuesday Market, San Miguel de Allende

I am a carnivore. I love beef, chicken and lamb but pork weighs in first when it comes to eating meat in Mexico.

I’ve eaten so much pork in fact, I’m at the point where I can tell great carnitas from good ones.
What makes Bautista Brothers Carnitas, a stand in the middle tent at Tuesday market, a weekly Tuesday indulgence? The pork is simmered in lard and cooked low and slow until fork-tender. Everything is eaten, so pick your favorite part, from the tip of the nose to the curl of the tail.

Call this one obsession you don’t want to renounce any time soon. 

Wednesday: Casa Dragones
Tequila, Mexico
Small batch, luxury Tequila producer
Available: La Azotea, Umaran 6

My nickname, the Tequila Queen, came during a stint I did as a consultant to develop new tequila markets in the US with my good friend César Mascorro Pérez who still travels the world promoting both Tequila and Mezcal.

The name stuck. It’s no secret, I LOVE tequila…good tequila.

Casa Dragones is a handcrafted, small batch, luxury tequila and was rated by Wine Enthusiast at 96/100 – the magazine's highest tequila rating.

My first experience with Casa Dragones was at the Grand Cru at Chicago Gourmet 2012 sponsored by Bon Appetit. I was surprised to find tequila among the many fine wines at this show so naturally, it was my first taste.

It’s one Wednesday indulgence that is definitely worth its’ price tag.

Thursday: Aperi
Beef shoulder, carrots and onions, burned cabbage, wine reduction and burnt bread infusion and Chocolate in textures
Dos Casas Boutique Hotel and Spa
Quebrada 101

Pick one restaurant in SMA that delivers the most flavorful food and Aperi would be my choice, not just because chef/owner, Matteo Salas, is a really nice guy but because he’s one chef that’s worthy of all the hype.

The first time I had this meal, I wrote: “When did I ever like a main course more than the dessert? Yesterday, at Aperi, Chef Matteo Salas stunned me by a simple ingredient, a carrot, that completely altered my view of vegetables and how chefs cook them. It’s a day later and I can still taste the flavor.”

I went back for round II and topped off this appetizing dish with the Chocolate in textures dessert.

If you’re going to do a single indulgence this week, this is the feast.

Friday: The Restaurant
Braised Rabbit Tostadas
Solano #16, San Miguel de Allende

There are many indulgences on The Restaurant’s menu and the Rabbit Tostadas are it for me. Why? Because rabbit is one thing I never prepare at home.

The rabbits are natural, free range rabbits raised locally in San Miguel.

Topping the braised rabbit is cumin scented black beans, cilantro, radish and lime crème fraiche. Honestly, I was surprised when sampling this dish because it really delivers on the taste.

Love double indulgences? Finish with the burnt caramel ice cream sundae with marshmallow sauce and salted peanuts.

Saturday: Simbiosis
Mushroom Vendor
Available: Saturday Organic Market, San Miguel de Allende

As a mycophagist, you could grow them at home but once you see the selection of mushrooms from this vendor at the Saturday Organic Market, you’ll want to buy a basket and head home to cook.

From Oyster’s to Morels, mushrooms are the Saturday indulgence that will add a well-defined flavor to your cooking.

So, what time is dinner Saturday night?

Sunday: The Perfect Steak
My House!

I always thought that the BBQ grill was the one essential tool for cooking a great steak. Ask me after cooking one of the BEST STEAKS EVER and I will tell you that I can be convinced to give up my Weber for a cast iron pan…at least when it comes to steaks and chops.

The recipe is from Prime Steakhouse in Las Vegas and was featured on the cover of Saveur’s April 2012 issue.

This method is so simple and a Le Creuset grill pan was the charm in the mix once again.

Don't have a glass of wine until you've finished the cooking. The high heat demands your undivided attention.
1 2” thick porterhouse steak
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp. Canola oil
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
6 sprigs thyme
1 lemon

Season steak with salt and pepper and let sit 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 500 degrees.
Heat a cast iron skillet on high. Add canola oil and when the pan almost smokes, add the steak and cook 5 minutes.
Flip the steak and place in the oven for 7-10 minutes longer.
Pour off the pan drippings and return to the stovetop. Melt butter. Add thyme and lemon and brown for about 4 minutes.
Serve butter and lemon over the steak.

Note: Watch your cooking time carefully. I determined the perfect cooking time for my oven is 5 minutes on the stovetop and 7 minutes in the oven. Get the timing down to a science.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

5 Delightful Places to Eat in Mexico City

Café Budapest
Common People
Emilio Castelar 149, Mexico City

I love this tiny café on the 2nd floor of Common People, a concept store in Mexico City. Café Budapest has hidden views of beautiful Lincoln Park from the tables on its balcony. A wonderful collection of imported teas selected by tea sommelier, Leticia Saénz, the first tea sommelier in Mexico. Magnificent pastries and old world décor. Once you’ve been here, you’ll be hooked. This tiny café will transport you back to another time and place. 

Magnolia Bakery
Virgilio 40, Miguel Hidalgo, Polanco, Mexico City

So much high-quality bakery you’ll have a hard time choosing just one. Not to worry; I ate two and brought two home. Tastes exactly like Magnolia Bakery in Chicago. Known for their Banana Pudding, my forever addiction, Lemon cupcakes and Key Lime pie are also terrific… or for that matter, so is everything else.

Porchetta Pork House
Campos Elíseos 247, Miguel Hidalgo, Polanco, Mexico City
Pork Sandwiches

My new favorite sandwich spot in DF, I stumbled across this tiny spot in Polanco that serves the best porchetta sandwiches.

Porchetta, a specialty of central Italy, is Mexican pork loin of the highest quality wrapped in bacon and seasoned with fennel, sage and rosemary. Go when they open because there is always a long line.

La Jersey Deli
Mercado San Juan, Mexico City
Deli Sandwich

When was the last time you had a fantastic lunch for under $5 USD?

A complimentary glass of wine, the Amigos over-stuffed sandwich with Serrano ham, Salami, Cocido, Lomo Canadiense, Manchego National, Cabra and Parmesano topped with Salsa Artisanal Botanera and a free Postre made with Mascarpone, strawberries, honey and chocolate was just 75 pesos.

El Califa
Altata 22, Col. Condesa, Mexico City

Any taco connoisseur realizes that the difference between a good and a great taco is in the salsa and El Califa  makes some of the best.

As far as I’m concerned, Andy’s Tacos in SMA still reigns as the king of Tacos al Pastor but I fell in love with the Chicharon de Queso and the enormous taste of the thin sliced Rib Eye Taco. 

Buen Apetito!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Heaven on Earth: The B’ui Experience

After years of eating at some of the world’s best restaurants, you cultivate certain expectations for the level of food and service you expect. Recently, I was blessed with “The B’ui Experience” and it raised the bar on what my expectations will be in the future.

I call it “The B’ui Experience” because I was captivated, not just by the setting - in stunningly beautiful Otomi, just outside of San Miguel de Allende - but by everything… from the outstanding food and wine, to the extraordinary service and the state of its’ simple, country elegance.

You can credit Daniel Estebaranz, who is definitely not your typical restaurant owner.

Daniel is an architect by training, has exceptionally high standards and a remarkable passion for what he does. I’ve met a lot of restaurant owners but few have achieved his level of dedication to excellence. But these high standards don't just pertain to the food at B'ui - cocina de campo. He applies them to every aspect of his restaurants, B'ui - cocina de campo in San Miguel de Allende and La Estacion in Mexico City, which Daniel started along with Chef-legend Enrique Olvera.

Daniel has a talented crew at each restaurant and he and Executive Chef Marko Cruz travel between Mexico City and San Miguel each week to maintain B’ui - cocina de campo’s current schedule; 1:30 PM – 9:00 PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They are planning to open on Thursday in a few weeks.

Daniel Estebaranz is a man who appreciates beautiful things and B'ui spoke to his roots the first time he saw it. In the native tongue of Mexico, B’ui is an Otomi word which means “to live”. After easily persuading the owners of Otomi (they came to La Estacion and fell in love with the food) that he should take over their restaurant, Daniel breathed life into what is, in my estimation, one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at anywhere, including Paris and Mexico City.

I know, that’s a pretty bold statement but to tell you the truth, I never expected to find a place like this in the middle of central Mexico. Mexico City yes, but certainly not in San Miguel de Allende.

The first time I laid eyes on B'ui - cocina de campo, it took my breath away. You could sense the perfection even before you experienced it.

One thing I know as a food writer. If a restaurant is going to succeed, it must be consistently great. This is true whether the executive chef is in the house, out on the floor chatting with customers or on a well deserved vacation. B'ui - cocina de campo’s food is consistently great.

On a visit in July, sous-chef Pablo Nicasio did the cooking and we didn't notice because the meal was so remarkable. Daniel told me after I ate, that’s how confident he was that the food was going to be just another B’ui’s standard serve.

Sous-chef Pablo Nicasio arrived at La Estacion five years ago and started out as a dishwasher. After six months of hard work, he respectfully asked Daniel if he could help out in the kitchen. They trained him until he had his own stage and ultimately made him sous-chef, the second command in the kitchen. Pablo had no prior background in restaurants but Daniel and Marko were taken in by his sense of responsibility, his passion for cooking and his growing talent. I’ve eaten at many of the top restaurants in Mexico and his meal was as good if not better than many of them. Executive Chef Marko Antoine Cruz trained him well.

Executive Chef Cruz not only worked at Au Pied du Cochon, a highly rated restaurant in the Polanco district that is noted for its French food, but he managed Hotel Condesa DF, and was part of Enrique Olvera’s team. After a short stint with Chef Enrique Olvera at Pujol, he joined Daniel to open La Estacion. In the beginning, Olvera created the menu and Marko applied his recipes and techniques. Two and a half years ago, Marko took control of the kitchen and is the now Executive Chef at both B'ui - cocina de campo and La Estacion.

Estebaranz credits Chef Enrique Olvera with turning his focus to restaurants…

Daniel Estebaranz loves to cook. He is the product of a few cooking classes at Pujol himself. It all started about 15 years ago at his architectural practice, when he would close his doors at 2:00 PM on Friday, go to the market and head home to cook. “It was relaxingly for me, almost therapy” he said. He invited family and friends to join him and these food therapy sessions got him thinking about the value of sharing food, wine and high-quality time with the people he loves.

As an Architect, he designed a few restaurants but what tipped the balance for him was dining at Pujol and meeting Chef Olvera.

Daniel describes the experience and observing what Olvera did, from the food to the service, as the turning point in his decision to move forward.

And so “The B’ui Experience” was born.

High Quality Customer Service…

One of the most important factors in a restaurants’ success is the service. No matter how great the food is, if you get bad service, you usually don’t go back.

The B'ui - cocina de campo team is well versed in the fine art of customer service. Angel and Gabriel, the nephews of Daniel’s wife Lizette, are so committed to giving the best service that you’ll barely notice which one of them refilled your wine glass. Of course, they are identical twins, so you may have a problem telling them apart.

Angel and Gabriel are also beer connoisseurs. Mention any beer and they will not only recognize the brand but can probably tell you the technical data as well.

Daniel says he’s lucky to have people that are young, energetic, educated and love what they do. Training was the easy part. His advice to other restaurant owners is to pick people carefully and instill passion. The rest will follow.

Daniel treats his staff like one, big extended family. Daniel takes that responsibility seriously. In Mexico, family is the highest priority.

So let’s talk about price…

A lot of incredible food can be found in the high-rent districts but they usually come at a very high price. Not so with B'ui - cocina de campo.

When I asked Daniel about the $400 peso price tag on his seven course tasting menu, he responded that “B’ui is making an effort to reach as many people as they can in this stage of the restaurants’ growth. I will always strive to stay down to earth in every sense, one of them being pricing.”

The Tasting Menu…

On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in both July and August, we opted for the tasting menu, which gives you the widest variety of culinary experiences.

July Tasting Menu


The term Amuse-bouche is French, literally translated as "mouth amuser.” You get all 3 to start out:

Tuna seared, pineapple pure, habanero syrup, recado negro
Mole squash, cauliflower, baby corn, yellow tomato
Squash blossom tempura, black bean pure, epazote, chihuacle powder

We chose these selections to round out the meal:

Black Bean, star anise, chochoyota, truffle oil, bean pure, watercress

Ceviche (black) octopus, shrimp, tuna, scallop, Aguachile, chile ashes

Picana bacon, morel mushroom, bean pure, black bean salsa with pork broth

Honey pollen cigarette, avocado, honey and ricotta cream, black Zapote sorbet

We also ordered this selection off the regular menu:

Pork ribs (sous vide10 hours) glazed house BBQ + chile sauce finished at the mesquite grill

Lucky for me, the group at the table next to us insisted I photograph their food as well. Almost too beautiful to eat, don’t you think?

August Tasting Menu


La milpa; mole xiquilpac (chamomile) squash pumpkin , squash blossom , cherry tomatoes 
Plantain risotto with avocado 
Cold soup; lemon grass, spinach and panela cheese 

This is the complete menu and will give you a sense of some of the choices:

1st Course
Corn soup, saffron, shrimp , potato pure
Carnitas broth, avocado , Serrano chile , radish 

2nd Course
Portobellini , ragout , parmegiano
Infladita (inflated corn dough) stuffed with black bean pure , tatemada sauce , egg poche
Salad; mix beans , colored tomatoes , baby carrots , olive oil , homemade vinagrette 

3rd Course
Mole de olla; Short Rib (sousvide) carrot pure, baby corn; 
Dorado (white fish); squash blossom, olive oil emulsion, squash blossom sauce
Picaña; Morel mushrooms , thyme , brandy reduction 

Yogurt Panna Cotta with fruits of the forest 
Raspberry sorbet, grapefruit syrup, raspberry meringue

We also ordered the tuna tartare off the regular menu; the tuna coming all the way from Japan and was some of the best we’ve had anywhere.

Sourcing Locally…

About 90% of B'ui - cocina de campo’s food is locally sourced. The produce is purchased from Jalpa, Toyan, and Trinidad and when they can’t find something they need in San Miguel, they bring it back from Mexico City´s San Juan Market, the culinary gem I was exploring in DF just last week.

Exceptional Wine Choices…

Daniel views the restaurant as an extension of his home. He appreciates good wine, especially from Mexico, and takes frequent trips to the vineyards in order to bring back new labels for his guests to enjoy. “When stocking wines, there are some must haves,” he said, “like Casa Madero 2v.”

B'ui - cocina de campo doesn’t have a wine list because the wines change depending on what they happen to find during the week.

B'ui - cocina de campo also sells wine by the glass, along with Tequilas, Mezcals and other fine spirits and liqueurs.

Chef Marko Cruz likes to get in the mix every now and then and makes his now famous Nopal Sorbet Margaritas. 

Here are the wines we enjoyed:

Espacio en Blanco, Chardonnay, Mexico, Valle de Guadalupe

Daniel discovered Espacio en Blanco on a shelf in a wine shop he wandered into and out of curiosity, he took a few bottles home to taste and see if it would pair well with their menu. He said of Espacio en Blanco “It was beautiful to drink and so easy to pair.”

What more can I say? I’m a Chardonnay drinker and this is the best Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted.
Casa Madero 2v, 50% Chardonnay, 50% Chenin Blanc, Mexico, Parras Coahuila.

Founded in 1597, Casa Madero is the oldest winery in Mexico. We love the entire line of Casa Madero wines including some of the reds, which I rarely ever consumed until I tasted them at a local wine festival two years ago.

Terras Gauda, 70% Albarino, 18% Loureriro, 12% Caino Blanco, Espana Rias Baixas, Valle de O Rosal

Terras Gauda is a fine Spanish wine from the extreme southwest of the province of Pontevedra, in the O Rosal Valley,bordering Portugal and was coincidently already on our itinerary when we visit Northern Spain next summer. Now that I’ve tasted Terras Gauda, I am even more eager to visit the winery.

What’s Ahead…

When I asked Daniel about future projects, he said YES! The enthusiasm was evident. So here is the news:

Around November, he will be opening a farm to table concept inside of Casa Doce #18, formerly Casa Cohen.

This confirmed the rumors I’ve been hearing about a work in progress at the old Casa Cohen that I walk by almost daily. Personally, I’m excited to have another first-class restaurant in San Miguel’s Centro. Stay tuned.

At B’ui:

Starting the weekend of August 22nd, B'ui - cocina de campo will serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Want to see Bradley Cooper in Burnt? So do I!
On Thursday night at B'ui - cocina de campo, you’ll get drinks, botanas, and a foodie movie.

B'ui - cocina de campo is also starting a wine club. Buy a paired dinner and taste three outstanding Mexican wines. A few weeks later, the wines will be delivered to your front door.

Earlier this year, Daniel partnered with Ricardo Pare Trejo and Jorge Alarcon L to run the highly successful SMA Food Festival which will repeat again in 2016. Watch for a date and mark your calendar. You don’t want to miss this event.

So, Daniel Estebaranz pretty much defines the art of giving pleasure through food but will B'ui - cocina de campo be your heaven on earth food experience?

Just ask for Angel and Gabriel when you get there…oh, and a glass of Espacio en Blanco. I’m betting you’ll be back before the menu changes in September.

Buen Apetito!

B’ui Cocina de Campo is located on the equestrian grounds at Otomi’s residential area outside of San Miguel de Allende. Km 2 Camino a San Miguel el Viejo, C.P. 37 700, San Miguel de Allende, Gto. Phone: 415 688 0021 The restaurant is open to the public.