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!