Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Best Meal in San Miguel?

I booked two more dinners at Michael Coon's house. I was missing good Asian and was tired of making it at home. I also wanted to get some new ideas on cooking with Tequila. Both dinners were at Casa de Cocinas in July.

If you don't know Michael, he's the former Travel Director and co-creator of the Culinary Institute of America's World's of Flavor tours. He now owns and operates The Inside Route. He's also happens to be one of the best chefs in San Miguel. Just ask anyone who has dined at his table.

Michael has a passion for both food and travel. You get a sense of it when you sit down, take your first bite and then wonder what backstreet in the world inspired this recipe.

On the menu tonight: Asian…

I booked this dinner back in 2013 but I decided to go anyway. Last year’s dinner was so fantastic I didn't mind doing it all over again.

I was surprised when I got there that it was an entirely new menu. But that's Michael. He would not prepare the same thing twice. That's one of the things I love about his meals. That and the fact that the meal is always a surprise.

For instance, he might say he's making an alder smoked jalapeño stuffed with cheese but when you get there, it's also stuffed with shallots and crab and is wrapped in bacon and served with a shaved beet, tomato jam and tequila Serrano chile jam. Every dish is complex and layered with flavors.

His dinners are filled with interesting people. You never know who you're going to run into like my friend Melissa who met one of Michael's assistant chefs that night who was also an Alice Waters Chez Panisse alumni.

So what did we eat?

Okonomiyaki (my new favorite dish)
This is a Japanese pancake with cabbage and shallots topped with crispy pork belly, bonito flakes, Japanese mayo, bull dog sauce and toasted nori.

Pok Pok Wings
Marinated in fish sauce and Garlic sweet water...twice cooked then stir fried with sweet chili paste and fried garlic.

These looked complicated but they are more time consuming than anything.

We liked the recipe so much and recently found it online.

8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup Vietnamese fish sauce (Phu Quoc or Three Crabs brand)
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 lbs medium-size chicken wings (about 12), split at the joint
Vegetable oil (for frying)
1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup tempura batter mix (Gogi brand)
1/4 cup water
Optional: 1–2 tspnaam phrik khao soi (roasted chile paste, for “spicy wings”)


Chop garlic finely, sprinkle salt, and chop together for about 15 more seconds.
Scrape into a small bowl, add warm water, and let sit for a few minutes.
Pour through a fine sieve set over a bowl, and use the back of a spoon to stir and smooth garlic against the sieve, reserving leftover garlic.
Add fish sauce and sugar to bowl and stir until dissolved.
Place chicken wings in a separate large bowl, add 1/2 cup of fish sauce mixture (reserve the rest in the refrigerator), and toss well.
Cover and refrigerate wings for at least four hours, or overnight, tossing every hour or so.


Heat 3/4-inch vegetable oil in a small pan over high heat and add reserved garlic.
Reduce heat to medium-low, fry until garlic is lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes, and transfer to paper towels to drain (set aside until final cooking stage).
Transfer wings from refrigerator to a colander in the sink and let drain for 15 minutes.
Stir together rice flour and tempura mix in a large bowl and toss wings until coated well.
Pour enough oil into a wok or Dutch oven to completely submerge the wings, about 2 inches, and bring oil to 325 degrees (measure with a candy thermometer).
Fry wings in two batches, gently knocking them against the bowl before adding to the oil.
Cook each batch until evenly golden brown, about 10–12 minutes, prodding every few minutes.
Transfer wings to paper towels to drain.


Add 1/4 cup water to the reserved fish sauce mixture.
Combine 1/4 cup of the water–fish sauce mixture and half the chile paste (if you are using it), bring to a full boil in a nonstick wok, and reduce for about 45 seconds.
Add half the wings and toss every 15 seconds, until a caramelized glaze coats the wings, about 1 minute.
Add 1 tbsp of the fried garlic, toss well, and cook about 30 seconds longer.
Rinse and wipe out wok, and repeat with the next batch of wings.
Serve wings with pickled vegetables, cucumber spears, and herb sprigs.

Korean Short Rib Tacos
Short rib in lettuce cups, rice noodles, kimchi, cucumber relish, snow peas, and Asian pear.

Pork Dumpling Ramen
with shiitakes smoked corn,carrots and criminis.

Ice Cream
Coconut milk ginger and kaiffir lime ice.

The meal awakened, astounded, captivated and satisfied me through every course. It all worked well together and was the best Asian food I've had since I came to San Miguel.

So how do you top this one? With a little alchemy and a lot of tequila...

Having been a Tequila aficionado for most of my life, I was fascinated with the menu for Michael's dinner "Cooking with Tequila."

I'll admit, in the early years, I was one of those people who thought tequila was only good for doing shots. It wasn't until later, when I worked in the tequila industry with Cesar Mascorro Perez, that I discovered quality tequila. Like Herradura, one of Michael's favorites.

This tequila girl had already worked up an appetite...and a thirst although I did not drink that night because I didn't want anything to interfere with the taste of the food. The menu boasted some pretty superb tequila combinations.
First off the famous alder smoked jalapeño stuffed with cheese, shallots and crab. Wrapped in bacon. Paired with snookered goat cheese-tequila blanco, garlic, olive oil goat cheese, wrapped in crushed toasted almonds and served with shaved beet, tomato jam and tequila Serrano chile jam. The tequila Serrano chile jam was the essence of this dish.

Gazpacho Macho
Tequila infused tomato and roasted red pepper juiced, minced cucumber, yellow pepper, orange and yellow carrots, cherry tomatoes, crushed almonds with cilantro, basil and olive oil. I loved the chunky texture of this dish and the beautiful overtone of Leo's ( the vegetable guy in front of Luna de Queso) miniature tomatoes.

Tequila Lime Chicken
Sound ordinary? Think again because this chicken was smothered with Tequila, lime, garlic, shallots and olive oil with tequila reduction sauce, served with cabbage and red onion tangy Asian slaw and tequila vinaigrette tossed green beans.

And to wrap it up? A delicious Almond Tequila, lemon and orange zest cake with whipped tequila cream.

From the first plate until my final bite of this rich Almond cake, the meal was another one of my favorites. Each component was so well thought out and perfectly executed. It took tequila to a whole new level for me.

But that was no surprise because all 7 of the meals I've had at Casa de Cocinas have been among the best here.

Is dinner at Casa de Cocinas becoming a habit? Ask me next month. I've already booked my reservation.

Buen Apetito!

To get on Michael's mailing list for dinners,classes and tours, email him