Friday, April 1, 2016

Lunch with Chef Matteo Salas

It’s always a treat to dine with Chef Matteo Salas who created magic in the kitchens of 2 and 3 star Michelin restaurants all over Europe. The chef-owner of Aperi Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende is currently a contestant on Top Chef Mexico.

The feather headdress wasn’t just handed to him. He earned it and he’s proof that nice guys finish first.

I was with Chef Salas at Aperi this week to taste his new luncheon menu which debuts on Monday, April 4th. The big surprise? A four-course lunch for $400 pesos including a glass of wine. You can also purchase a tasting with two ($300 pesos) or three ($350 pesos) courses as well.

In the coming weeks, Aperi will open at 1:00 PM for lunch. More good news… their menu changes weekly like my taste buds.

Chef Matteo Salas is a master of flavor; it's surprising what he does with vegetables because I always enjoy them as much as the main course.

Aperi now buys produce from a large farm in Mexico that has historically sold only to clients in the U.S. Three varieties of asparagus are coming out of their fields in July and Matteo is already making plans to integrate them into his menu. I am still coming down from what he did with the Brussels sprouts today. Vegetables are not suppose to taste this good.

On Aperi’s regular menu, you can order duck foie gras and other dishes like his infamous leg of suckling pig, cooked at a low temperature - soft meat with crispy skin - served with potato puree and a demi-glace with leeks and a lemon vinaigrette side. The guy at the next table amused me by slowly savoring every bite while smiling the entire time he was eating. That takes practice but was the first clue he loved the food as much as I did. I couldn’t get that suckling pig out of my head all night so I went back Thursday to try it. There’s a reason this dish is legendary.

There was also a new appetizer today: cantaloupe sous-vided with gin and lemon then frozen and sprinkled with sea salt before serving. It was refreshing and a perfect addition to his new, spring menu.

My four-course tasting menu was:

Appetizer: A corn puff with smoked black bean pure, avocado yogurt and queso Cotija from Michoacan.

This puff was light but crispy, enhanced by the tiny yellow flowers on its crown.

The cheese was much like Parmigiano-Reggiano only better and was so good I was tempted to ask for another round of grating.

When this cheese is made, it is white but with aging, it becomes hard like Parmigiano-Reggiano. Chefs call it the Parmesan of Mexico. The aged variety is called "anejo", just like a fine Tequila or Mezcal. I passed on both of them today, sticking with water so I could take hold of all of the flavors.

That will not be the case when we go to his new restaurant in Doce 18 called Jacinto 1930, a contemporary Mexican restaurant, as Casa Dragones, SMA’s much-loved, hometown tequila maker, created a private-label tequila just for them.

Photo from Jacinto 1930’s Facebook page.

First course: Pickled and grill artichoke, duck ham, radish, pickled lemon zest, flours, Serrano served with fennel, cucumber and jicama gazpacho.

The combination of textures and flavors were incredible. I loved the gazpacho which was green instead of the conventional red I usually eat. I never anticipated that pickled artichoke and gazpacho would marry so well.

Second course: Braised Oxtail ravioli, meat juice reduction with Oporto (port from Portugal) and Parmesan crisp.

Why is oxtail suddenly my favorite dish? This oxtail is from Rancho 17 in Hermosillo, Sonora which produces some of the best meat in Mexico. As with all ingredients, quality matters and at Aperi you can taste the difference.

It was difficult to tell whether I should consume the ravioli or just look at it because they were so beautiful. With the contrast of the meat juice reduction against the brilliant, blue-green pottery bowl, the dish quickly became the subject of my admiration… and photography. Unfortunately, I was so preoccupied photographing it, the dish got cold. Even cold, it was my favorite course of the meal and I usually go for the meat course or the dessert, not the pasta.

Third course: Grouper cooked in chintextle (garlic and chile paste from Oaxaca) butter, served with potato, thyme and fresh cheese foam, Hollandaise sauce without butter and charred Brussels sprouts.

OK. It’s official. I’ll never eat Hollandaise sauce with butter again. This sauce was light and delicate, pairing well with the fish, which was impeccably grilled and the perfect sized portion.

The first time I had Matteo’s food 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. It’s a day later and I can still taste the flavor.”  Now, as I take immense pleasure in the Brussels sprouts, I imagine what it would be like to be a vegetarian and eat at Aperi every day. I came back to reality when the dessert arrived.

4th course: Dessert: A meringue with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, guanabana sorbet, passion fruit and Jamaica gel, lemon curd with ginger and raspberry paper.

This deconstructed dessert had textures of the gel, foam, meringue, cream and raspberry paper that worked well together. I also loved the addition of the lemon curd, which is one of my favorite tastes.

If you haven't eaten lunch at Aperi, you no longer need a special-occasion excuse to go there.

I know, a $400 peso meal from 5-star Chef Matteo Salas will undoubtedly be the hottest ticket in town, especially when he wins Top Chef Mexico.

He's a shoo-in. I'm certain of it.

Quebrada 101, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende
Phone: 415 154 4073 Ask for Eric to make reservations or email
Hours: 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM Lunch and 6:30 PM – 10:00 PM Dinner
Closed Tuesday

Note: Click on the photos to see the enlargements.