Friday, April 22, 2016

Doce-18: Raising the Bar Again

SMA Social Blogger Brenda Sexton at Doce-18
Things have changed since I first came to SMA back in June, 2013 and started writing about the food. Time flies when you’re busy eating and what seems like a long time ago has done a 180 in the blink of an eye.
I didn’t know at the time that a food revolution was already in progress, leading up to this week’s opening of SMA’s most recent gem; Doce-18, where the best in cuisine fashion and design come together. The bar has been raised, certainly more than a notch, with many of the city’s best chefs in residence: Donnie Masterton, Matteo Salas and Marko Antoine Cruz Sanchez.
When restaurateur Daniel Estebaranz, owner of Milpa, a new farm to table restaurant in Doce-18, took me in for a sneak peek several weeks before the opening, I was speechless. I knew the property would be exquisite but this eighteenth century mansion, in the heart of San Miguel de Allende, was transformed into a major work of art. 

It’s an application of contrasts; where else can you buy an exquisite Tahitian pearl necklace (Turia My Pearl) and then go feast on a $75 peso chicken sandwich (Birdie’s Burgers) that’s so good it redefines fast food?

The wall in “The Kitchen” (the complex is divided into different areas and named accordingly) will serve as a canvas for different artists in the coming years. For the inaugural, Canadian-born, contemporary street artist, Emmanuel Jarus, painted a mural depicting the grand fiesta celebrating Doce-18’s opening.

Follow this expanded recap - the history's worth repeating - of SMA’s major food events starting in March of 2012, the year before I came, when good restaurants were few and far between, and you'll understand that the culinary rise of SMA developed over a very short time period of time.


On March 22, 2012, Chef Donnie Masterton, owner of The Restaurant, El Vergel, Birdie’s Burgers and The Taco Lab put on a trendy, pop up dinner with good friend and Tacolicious owner Joe Hargrave, followed by a food and tequila pairing the next night featuring Casa Dragones tequila. 
Mexico City superstar chef Enrique Olvera started to collaborate at Moxi in Hotel Matilda, establishing a culinary connection to SMA. Today, Chef Olvera consults with Chef Carlos Zamora Larios on what some consider a combination of San Miguel soul and Mexico City experimentalism.

About the same time, former Director of the CIA’s culinary tours, Chef Michael Coon, was offering gourmet tastings at Casa de Cocinas. With his dinners and food tours in demand, high-quality food lovers moved front and center.


In May, 2013, Casa Dragones, a handcrafted, small batch, luxury tequila with its spiritual home in San Miguel, was rated by Wine Enthusiast at 96/100 – the magazine’s highest tequila rating. Casa Dragones recently created a custom label of their joven tequila for Jacinto 1930, Matteo Salas’s new restaurant in Doce-18.

Also that year, the readers of Conde Nast Traveler selected San Miguel de Allende as the number one city in the world. As a result of all the media hype, tourism increased more than significantly, especially among nationals, and the demand for high-quality food surfaced.


In March, the Mesa Abierta festival in SMA held a series of outdoor picnics and dinners. The lineup of chefs included Frank Castronovo, Frank Falcinelli, Mauro Colagreco and Rick Bayless, as well as Mexican chefs Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil, Mexico City) and Edgar Nuñez (Sud 777, Mexico City).

Andy’s, San Miguel’s most popular taco cart and street food, made it to the Wall Street Journal in October, 2014, publishing a recipe that was so labor-intensive I said, on my first effort, that I would never make it again...and then I tasted it. Surprisingly, Andy left nothing to the imagination.  Andy's Recipe

In late 2014, Chef Matteo Salas arrived on the scene from Mexico City to head up the kitchen at Aperi and changed the course of fine dining in SMA.

Television’s popular series, Top Chef, filmed three episodes in San Miguel de Allende. The first was held in the plaza in front of the Parroquia; the second at Instutito Allende. The episodes increased SMA’s emergence as a major food city in Mexico.

A group of wine lovers, along with founder Greg Nye, launched the San Miguel Wine Club, with a goal to discover the best wines in Mexico. 


Aperi, Matteo Salas’s fine-dining restaurant, opens in January, 2015. 

Photo: Roberto Lopez
Fernando Olivera Rocha, the Secretary of Tourism for Guanajuato (notably taking office at the beginning of this history in 2012), continues to promote the gastronomy of Guanajuato state, including San Miguel de Allende, with over 140 different gastronomic themed events in 2015. 

During the International Tourism Fair in Madrid (FITUR), the state of Guanajuato is awarded the title of the 2015 Gastronomic Culture Capital of Ibero America.

In the summer of 2015, two major culinary shows celebrate SMA’s gastronomy: Sabores San Miguel and SMA Food Festival.

Although it was the third year of the Sabores festival, Chef Donnie Masterton and event coordinator, Angela Lewis Serrano, changed up the program and brought in high-profile, guest chefs from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Toronto and London. Sabores San Miguel repeats this year on June 16-19, 2016.

Two weeks later, a trio of local entrepreneurs, Ricardo Pare Trejo, Daniel Estebaranz and Jorge Alarcon L., launched a Bon-Appetit style food show at the historical Instituto Allende. SMA best chefs paired up, offering tasting dinners that were sold out before most of SMA even knew about them. This year, the SMA Food Festival will be held on July 15-17, 2016. The venue will be announced shortly.

Was there room for two major food shows just two weeks apart? Apparently so as the impressive attendance records catapulted SMA on to Mexico’s culinary map. 

Four major events followed…

On December 5, 2015, Chef Bricio Dominquez (whose dynasty of sons and nephews are also talented chefs) partnered with Michelin 2-star chef Paco Roncero to open La Canica. Paco Roncero is the executive chef and director of the NH Collection Casino de Madrid and its restaurant La Terraza del Casino; of gastro-bars Estado Puro in Madrid, Ibiza and Shanghai; of restaurant Barbarossa by Paco Roncero, also in Shanghai; of Versión Original by Paco Roncero in Bogota; of the gastronomic multi-space Sinergias in Platea Madrid and of Sublimotion, the world’s most ground-breaking (and most expensive) restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel in Ibiza.


In early February, 2016, Mercado Centro opened in the old Espinos market; the brainchild of William Mervin Villareal and his partner Paco Rosendo. Much like Mercado Roma in Mexico City, this market joined 27 premium vendors under one roof. The anchor restaurant of Mercado Centro is Marko Antoine Cruz Sanchez and Sofia Antillon’s Nómada cocina de interpretación, recently praised by legendary Chicago restaurateur Gordon Sinclair. There are currently 49 vendors on a waiting list to get in.

Photo: Top Chef Mexico
Top Chef México premiered February 18th on NBC Universo. Hometown favorite, Chef Matteo Salas of Aperi, is in competition for the 2016 Top Chef Mexico title.

This week, on April 17, 2016, Doce-18, located in the stately Casa Cohen mansion at Relox 18, opened its doors.
This fashionable concept house is home to major restaurants, shopping, galleries, a book store, wine, milkshake and champagne bars and the luxury L'ôtel, which will open in a few weeks. Roy and Sally Azar, who hosted the opening party on April 16th, describe L'ôtel as a “temple of design, service, and experience.”
Introducing the vendors of Doce-18...

Ablu Botanica – a family business founded in SMA, this artisanal bath, body and beauty boutique uses ingredients grown in Mexico.

Armour Jewelry – Founded in SMA, statement jewelry is hand-made using semi-precious stones, raw crystals and sterling silver.

Birdie’s Burgers – Burgers and sandwiches, gourmet fries and shakes: straight up and boozy and soft serve by Chef Donnie Masterton of The Restaurant. A rise up breakfast is also served from 10 AM – Noon. The best ingredients redefine fast food. Why are these such good burgers? No matter how many ingredients they pile on top, you can still taste the meat. 

Bodega Rivero Gonzalez – Merlot, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz wine varieties and gourmet gifts from Valle de Parras.

dolcenero – Chocolate art and design inspired by the obsessions of two artists, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Try the one that’s laced with Mezcal.

Carla Fernandez - Sophisticated indigenous clothing with contemporary designs from renowned Mexican fashion designer Carla Fernandez.  

Casa Dragones - handcrafted, small batch, luxury tequila with its spiritual home in San Miguel de Allende. Casa Dragones is recognized as one of the best agave spirits in Mexico.

Champagne Lounge – A taste-by-the-glass experience of the world’s best bubbly.

Ceramica Estanzuela – Elegant tableware hand-painted by the artisans of Michoacan. 

Cocktail Room – A cozy, paint-the-town red cocktail lounge for a row of your favorite intimates. By reservation only. Opening soon.

Euro Te – A sensory experience; serving over 160 varieties of the world’s best teas. Opening soon.

Hilando Mexico – Created by Sally Azar, Mexican designs are applied to the latest trends in style and elegance.

Jacinto 1930 – Chef Matteo Salas creates traditional Mexican with a contemporary twist at this stunning restaurant that comes into view when you first enter Doce-18. 

Las Rosas de Aurelia – Spectacular floral art, design and events.

Laura Kirar – famous Interior designer produces innovative interiors for the home that value traditional art, history and innovation.

Le Macaron Boutique – A salute to Macarons, cakes, cookies and fine French pastries.

Light Room Gallery – A spectacular, light filled gallery with the work of celebrated Mexican photographer Pepe Soho.

Mac and Soup – A new concept with different selections of Mac and Cheese and soups, inspired by French and Italian cuisine. Desserts offer eight different rice puddings that were the hit of the opening night party.

Milpa – Daniel Estebaranz (B’ui – cocina de campo) presents a casual farm to table concept featuring soup, salads and sandwiches. Culinary offerings change with the seasons and are under the signature of one of SMA best chefs, Marko Antoine Cruz Sanchez. 

At Milpa, look for three historical furnishings from the original Casa Cohen.

Olio Fino Tasting Bar – An unparalleled tasting and selection of olive oils and fine balsamics.

Panio – From Cumpanio, the best European-style bakery in Mexico, are pastries and coffees. They will be opening a milkshake bar shortly. I’ve already claimed the first spot.

PKDO Fusion – A candy store with sweets made in collaboration with various Mexican chefs. Great, inexpensive treats for your favorite good lover.

Recreo San Miguel – an attractive selection of silk, cashmere and wool ponchos, serapes, scarves, shawls, capes, wraps, and jackets.

Regina Donde – Clothing and accessories by this famed Mexican designer are inspired by her world travels.

San Mike Pizza Gourmet – By Cent’Anni, this trattoria, pizzeria and Italian grill serves unusual and delicious gourmet pizzas and Italian food.

Sangre de mi Sangre – Mariana Villarreal’s luxurious jewelry designs.

Seleccion de la Casa –This inviting wine bar by Santisima Trinidad, houses SMA's most beautiful tasting table.

Spice House – A medley of Mexican spices, herbs and special condiments for your home cooking.

Taco Lab – A collaboration between Joe Hargrave of Tacolicious and renowned SMA chef Donnie Masterton of The Restaurant, this test lab – yes, we get to try them first - features made-to-order tacos, snacks and salads along with churros and flan, Margaritas and shots. Fast food redefined and at its best.

The Hat Shop – Attractive sombreros and hats for every event and season.

The Library – a coffee table book store inviting readers to visit intriguing people and destinations around the world.

Turia My Pearl – Tahitian pearl jewelry and accessories with newly hired sales representative, Ram Ramirez, formerly of La Azotea.

In SMA today, you find interesting menus from all over the world; offerings tailored to a deep appreciation of Mexico’s food heritage.

Is SMA one of the best food cities in Mexico? Yes, thanks to the past four years and the opening of properties like Doce-18.

The story of SMA’s culinary evolution doesn’t end here. Although it will be awhile before SMA has anything like Doce-18 again, wait until you see what’s coming this summer.
It’s another game changer.

Buen Apetito!