Friday, June 7, 2013

Bienvenido A San Miguel

I am in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on a food project. Although considered a small town by Chicago standards, San Miguel has over 250 restaurants… most of which I intend to visit at one time or another in the next six months.

San Miguel is located in central Mexico with an artistic reputation that has brought people here to live and study since the late 40’s. Many major publications have named it one of the top 10 places to retire.

Martha Stewart wrote a blog about San Miguel back in 2011 to kickoff an artisanal tequila. In fact, artisanal tequila’s are popping up every day. As of April, 2013, there are 154 registered tequila distilleries producing 1,324 certified brands of tequila.

I intend to sample my fair share and my friend and tequila expert, Cesar Mascorro Perez, will be here later this year to join in the fun. Remember, we are still looking for that morning after cure. Many surprises in the way of tequila so stay tuned.

We're also sampling wines from the Valle de Guadalupe (they currently have over 50 wineries) and opened our first bottle: L.A. Cetto, a 2011 Chardonnay. I bought it at La Europa, a great wine store at Canal 13. 

My perfect introduction to San Miguel was the classic bar Gato Negro, where the landmark cantina dates back to 1921.

Musicians love San Miguel and the Gato’s rooftop is no stranger to them. A group came up while we were there to put on a spontaneous jam session. Paramount views of the city are also available from this rooftop.

I had the best Arrachera and Margarita (to me this is the classic Mexican meal) at Ten Ten Pie yesterday and the waitress told me the trick to making a perfect Margarita is Tequila, Controy (Orange Liqueur)and lemon not lime…equal parts of each.

I have to admit that I liked it better than my own Margarita recipe. I made one at home tonight and it was really good. In fact, another one is in order as I cook for the first time.

I haven’t cooked for about 2 weeks. That’s a record for me. I just stocked my cupboards so look for some recipes from my Mexican kitchen next week. The salsa’s and mole’s are so flavorful I’m excited to explore all the techniques.

Cooking here is learning the art all over again. Ingredients that you have always taken for granted are not available so you have to learn to substitute.

A former Minnesotan I met this past week taught me how to make a perfect Cosmo. I am hooked and this is my new, favorite cocktail…at least for this week.

2 parts Vodka
1 part Controy
1 part lime juice
1 part cranberry juice

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
San Miguel is the city of picturesque churches and weddings. One of the locals told me there are at least six weddings here every weekend. They are not only important to the local economy but also the gastronomy. What's a typical Mexican wedding without two meals and the Mariachis at 4 AM? You have to pull a lot of tricks out of your hat just to be a caterer here. 

San Miguel reminds me so much of New Orleans. Speaking of New Orleans, San Miguel has a New Orleans restaurant called Hanks New Orleans CafĂ© and Oyster Bar (Hidalgo 12). 

I’ve already had three wonderful meals there - a Soft-Shell Crab Po’ Boy Sandwich, a delightful bowl of gumbo (they use the same ingredients I do but it was much spicier) and a Veal Shank. My friend had a salmon BLT.

Who would have thought that I would get such great New Orleans style food in San Miguel? And Indian food? A long way from Devon Avenue, I had a great Indian meal at Bhaji today.

3 restaurants down and 247 to go!

Food is the predominant focus of almost everything in Mexico including San Miguel. Following mass on Sunday, at the Organic market on Saturday and the Tuesday Market, it was all about eating.

I’ll also be following the European standard of eating while I’m here. BFD or translated: Buy Fresh Daily. Love this way of eating since I never know what I’m in the mood for until the very last minute.

I was never a foodie when I lived in Mexico before. In fact, my sole reason for being here was for the simple sense of adventure… and I always found it. It will be a fascinating study now as I chase a whole different vision of Mexico.

To know Mexican food, you must eat here…and you will. Over the course of the next six months, we’ll find out what it is about Mexican cuisine that is so complex…and magical.

Buen Apetito!