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
PicaƱa; 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.