Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Restaurant: An Almost Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner

As the saying goes "La vida no se mide por las veces que respiras, sino por aquellos momentos que te dejan sin aliento" or life is not measured by the breaths you take but by the moments that leave you breathless.

Yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner left me breathless.

I love good food and I'm grateful to be in a city where people are as passionate about food as I am, like Chef Donnie Masterton, who created one of the best Thanksgiving meals I’ve ever eaten.

The golden rule for Thanksgiving: unapologetically dismiss moderation and help yourself to everything...and so I did.

My favorite part of the meal, as it should be, was the turkey. It was cider and chipotle brined with a tamarind glaze. The bird was so moist; it was pure, melt-in-your-mouth perfection. The flavor combination; the kitchens use of traditional, Thanksgiving ingredients such as pears, cranberries, haricots verts, cider, cornbread and butternut squash, made for a fantastic, Mexican-inspired holiday celebration.

As a starter, we enjoyed a just-like-Paris brandy turkey liver crostini with pears and pickled shallots. This was one of my favorites. It reminded me I need to return to Paris soon... just to eat.

The chef and the wine director, Adrian Huerta, did an amazing job with the parings; one of the best we've had anywhere in SMA:

Mandarin vodka and St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur with apple and cranberry paired with butternut squash and coconut soup with Thai red curry, yogurt and mint;

2014 George Duboeuf Chardonnay paired with the haricots verts salad, tomato confit and crème fraiche;

Estacion Catorce Tempranillo-Grenache Valle de Guadalupe 2014 paired with the turkey, cornbread, roasted mushroom and leek stuffing, butter whipped potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts with smoked bacon, giblet gravy and orange, cranberry sauce;

Casa Madero, Cosecha Tardia. Semillon-Gewurztraminer, Valle de Parras paired with apple cider glazed doughnuts with cardamom-cinnamon holes and chocolate sauce.

Donnie says "the creative process for designing a menu (or dish) for me always starts with what ingredients are in season and what's available. With Thanksgiving it's also about tradition and what I grew up eating: cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and roasted turkey. I also try to elevate those traditional dishes. Butternut squash soup gets a twist with red curry and coconut milk and the turkey stays juicier by brining it and gets a little kick from chipotle. I want my menus you be fun and well rounded. I also consider what our guests would like to have. I want the menu to be interesting and approachable."

As for wine pairings, Adrián said all the wines served were picked according to the type of grape and the food that they were served with. For example, the chardonnay needed something creamy; in this case, the creme fraiche. While similarities attract, opposites do too. Food and wine should complement one another; your attention should be drawn from the wine to the food and back again without losing the soul of either one.

As an expat, you survive the holidays in Mexico by adopting people; people like Donnie and Angela, Sandor and the entire staff at The Restaurant. It helps to make up for the one and only ingredient that this almost perfect, Thanksgiving meal was missing. Family.

Buen Apetito!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Luis Pablo Dominquez: The Joy of Growing Up Chef


Luis Pablo Dominguez is a rising star, a talented whiz kid who knew how to work a crowd by the time he was ten. At age eleven, he was cooking for parties of three hundred in his father’s restaurant, El Jardin de los Milagros, in Guanajuato. He knew what a Michelin star was before he reached the age of twelve. Does he want one? He says he doesn’t cook for one.
Being a chef is in his DNA; his father Bricio Dominguez, one of the best-known chefs in SMA, helped put Guanajuato state on Mexico’s culinary map. Bricio owns five restaurants: El Jardin de los Milagros, La Canica, neXtia, 13 Cielos and Pimienta Negra.
"Working with my children is the best thing that has ever happened to me” Bricio said. “They’ve learned so much more than they would have at any cooking school.”  Los jóvenes el futuro de México #1,” he proclaims. Translation: Young people are the future of Mexico. He should know. He has two sons and a nephew who are also chefs.

Last December, Bricio and Chef Paco Roncero, a two star Michelin chef, opened La Canica, an upscale street food restaurant at Pila Seca #2. The house La Canica is in, was built in the late 1890’s, and is one of the oldest homes in SMA. In an interesting twist, this year, upon returning from his senior year of high school in Ashland, Oregon, Guanajuato’s sister city, it’s now home to Bricio’s youngest son and SMA’s youngest chef, Luis Pablo Dominguez.

                                                                    Photo Source: Unknown
Luis Pablo grew up in his parent’s restaurant, captivated by all of the things that go on in a professional kitchen. “Seeing people work hard and putting love in every recipe they cook really inspired me. I started to recognize what I wanted in my own life,” he said.

For most of his life, Luis Pablo has been on the fast track, cooking and traveling with his father to many major, international culinary events. Right now, he’s traveling with his father to participate in FIBEG 2016, a culinary fair in Merida, Spain. Despite the high-profile life, Luis Pablo is a regular kid who happens to have an extreme passion for cooking. He’s a confessed, self-taught chef who devours cookbooks and has spent his entire life learning from the famous chefs who have surrounded him.

True to his roots, when I asked him what type of restaurant he would like to open, he said it will always be Mexican. He has an infatuation for all types of ingredients and loves living in SMA; there’s something magical about all of the organic produce here. He doesn’t mind the long hours at the restaurant. “Time flies when you’re doing what you love,” he says.

The most bizarre thing he’s eaten was a cockroach, but claims it wasn’t all that bad. The worst thing he’s eaten: a sea urchin, definitely an acquired taste.

I was surprised when he told me that he doesn’t use the internet much to research recipes. His favorite book, Le Cordon Bleu's Complete Cooking Techniques, is the one he's relied on and learned from the most. His presentations are surprisingly sophisticated, considering the fact that he's just eighteen.

If he could pick any restaurant in the world to eat at, he singles out El Celler de Can Roca, because, he says, “it’s the best restaurant in the world.”

El Celler de Can Roca is a highly respected and influential restaurant in the suburb of Taiala, in the small provincial city of Girona in Catalunya, an hour north-east of Barcelona. Open in 1986, it holds three Michelin stars. It’s owned by three brothers and much like the Dominguez family, the chemistry between the brothers is legendary.

In the Dominguez family, brother Alonso is the terrific chef at neXtia, a contemporary Mexican restaurant in the stylish Nena Hotel. Cousin Pablo presides over the kitchens at 13 Cielos. Bricio also owns Pimienta Negra, which opened in Irapuato earlier this year. Of his brother and cousin, Luis Pablo eagerly says “we are family so when they need help, I help them and they help me, too. We are a great team.”

Consequently, Luis Pablo has cooked in all of Bricio’s restaurants, well-known for doing major weddings and parties. Mayra Elisa Cervantes organizes all of the events at La Canica.

The first time I experienced Luis Pablo’s cooking, I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much. To my surprise, his style has developed through eleven years of experience (can you imagine having eleven years of experience at anything by the time you’re eighteen) as well as his grasp of flavors and ingredients. He embraces tradition yet adds a measure of creativity to the mix. It’s a fusion of Spain, the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Bricio calls it “a modern, more daring cuisine, designed and prepared by young chefs." Luis Pablo develops all of his own recipes.

Last week, I asked him who his pastry chef was because the dessert I had just devoured was wonderful. “I am” he replied. “I don’t eat them but people say I make really good ones.” Really good is an understatement; caramelized bananas with brandy sauce, local fruit, cajeta meringue and Tequila Ice Cream. 

The other 3 courses ...

Tuna Taco: Poblano tortilla, fresh Tuna with five chilies adobo, avocado reduction, sesame, fried leeks and pickled onion.

This taco had exceptional textures and delicious flavors. I especially loved the earthy, homemade, poblano tortilla. Fried leeks on a taco are always a favorite.

Salmon with artichoke and garlic sauce, local vegetables, seasonal flowers and guajillo oil.

The combination of the beets and artichokes was exquisite with a gorgeous presentation. No easy feat, the salmon was cooked perfectly.

Lechon (baby pig) cooked 12 hours and sealed in garlic oil with a yam and pumpkin gel and red fruits Mole.

This was one of the best dishes I've eaten in SMA. A first for me: the red fruit mole, complimented by the yam and pumpkin gel. This is another one of Luis Pablo’s original recipes. This dish could also be made with turkey for a delicious Thanksgiving meal.

Luis Pablo is in to creating infused Mezcals; this one a Guava Mezcal with basil, mint , thyme and rosemary that’s been aged for 3 months.

La Canica also has its own brand of tequila as well.

When some of the best chefs in SMA need a jolt of inspiration, they head to the street. One of Luis Pablo’s favorite places to eat is Andy’s Tacos, a street cart on Hidalgo and Insurgentes, famous for their Tacos Al Pastor. Luis Pablo may prepare all star meals but he’s a street food junkie at heart; his last meal will be Enchiladas Verdes, he says.

He also recalled one of the best meals he’s ever eaten when he was 16 at Santceloni Restaurant in Madrid. His drool-worthy description of the impeccably cooked pork calf made me want to book the next flight to Madrid just to try it. When he’s with his family though, it’s pretty traditional; carne asada is usually the number one choice.

Does he have a girlfriend? No time for that; the bachelor title remains. How about a hobby? He and his family are fishermen; pictured here with a bass at age 15. His mother Ruth took the picture.

When I asked if his mother can cook, he laughed and said “My mom has a surprising skill in the kitchen, she can burn water, so no, she doesn’t cook; she is the manager of the restaurants, she’s spectacular at that.”

                                                                               Photo Source: Unknown
Luis Pablo also has a sister, Natalia Dominguez, who was Queen of Guanajuato in 2014.

When interviewing chefs, most of them will talk about their favorite restaurants but not Luis Pablo, whose diplomacy skills are amazingly advanced. When I asked him what his favorite restaurant was, he said

“I can’t tell you the name; I don’t want to have problems with the other chefs.”
In one sense, you look at Luis Pablo and say he’s just eighteen, he’s a kid. In reality, his discipline, character, respect, professionalism, dedication and humility are all part of the person he already is, a chef…a really good chef.
Buen Apetito!
Book a table for the 7-course tasting menu. Call 415 121 9022 for reservations.
You can also ask the chef to prepare a smaller tasting menu.

La Canica
Pila Seca #2, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, GTO
Hours: Wednesday – Monday 1:30 PM – 10:00 PM except Sunday closing 6:00 PM.

The Secret Tunnel…

During the seven month renovation to restore La Canaca to its original grandeur, workers uncovered a secret tunnel that runs from the restaurant to the Parroquia. There are stories floating around about what happened in those tunnels way back when. You can only imagine as they are undocumented, like most of SMA’s history.

I wanted to get in the tunnel but the minute he opened the door, you could see it wasn’t safe for entry. Ask to look at the tunnel when you are there. It’s a slice of SMA’s history.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Best Fireplace Restaurants in San Miguel de Allende

On a cool November night, I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than sitting in front of a roaring fire with a bottle of Casa Madero red, made at the oldest winery in Mexico. It’s my favorite thing to do when the weather turns and you’re looking to diminish the cold.  

Don’t give up your nightlife and stay at home just because there’s a chill in the air. Here’s a list of SMA restaurants with a fireplace when you need more than a layer or two of cashmere to stay warm. 

Buen Apetito!

Andanza at the Sierra Nevada, Calle Hospicio #35 
With the most fireplaces in a single restaurant, you’ll never have to worry about getting the warmest seat in the house. Every room is cozy with stately ambiance and beautiful décor. Chef Antonio Arzola is in the kitchen, ready to serve you a number of delicious dishes off his winter menu. This feast is well worth going out in the cold for.
Aperi Restaurant, Quebrada #101
Catch the corner table in the inside dining room for a toasty warm up and some of the best, Mexican food by SMA’s favorite chef, Matteo Salas. The nippiness of winter gives you an excuse to order more than one dish with his impressive list of offerings; food for the soul worth savoring. Don’t forget a bottle of wine to complement the mix.
Café Monet, Calle Zacateros #83
This long table in the center of the restaurant sits in front of a grand, stately fireplace. Toss in some interesting artwork to admire while you’re hiding out from the cold. Order an Irish coffee; it’s certain to give you a thawed out glow and will recharge your batteries.
Casa 1810, Hidalgo #8
A large fireplace dominates the lobby, next to a tiny bar. A perfect spot to stay warm and experience welcoming drinks with friends. If you’re really into the vino, wander down to the wine cellar for another glass of red. It definitely sets the mood. Warm and cozy may just be an understatement.
Café Muro, 1 Cerrada de San Gabriel  St, El Barrio del Obraje

Come celebrate Café Muro in a new location. Warm up at the fireplace between bites of mouth-watering comida. Savor the views; Gerardo’s built a stunning place with curved glass walls to take them all in. It’s an instant warm up; the casual feel will thaw you out in a matter of seconds.

Café Rama, Calle Nueva #7

People never want to leave Café Rama in the winter. In both the front and back room are much loved, wood burning fireplaces. Warm up in this casual atmosphere with a glass of wine and some cold weather conversation. Since you’re going for the warmth, leave politics and religion at home. No argument here that this is a great place to get the afterglow.

Hanks New Orleans Café and Oyster Bar, Hidalgo #12

No excuse not to stay warm; Hanks has a fireplace in every dining room to park yourself in front of with a large bowl of hot, New Orleans-style gumbo. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll hit it just right for the 2 for 1 happy hour. Now the only warm up that’s missing is the karaoke.

Hecho en Mexico, Ancha de San ntonio #8

Grab one of two tables in the upper level that are right in front of the fireplace. The warmth is provided by a curved hearth that makes any long night of eating and drinking the preferred spot to be.

La Canica, Pila Seca #2

Winter’s perfume; the smell of wood smoke hits you when you first walk in the front door. This beautiful, old mansion, built in the late 1800’s was one of the first homes in SMA. It has the original, wood burning fireplace in the front dining room. Sip a glass of wine while tasting small plates created by SMA’s youngest chef, Luis Pablo Dominguez and his father Bricio. Be fussy; take the seat closest to the fire and enjoy the glimmer.

La Parada, Recreo #94

Chef Alexandra Gutt’s food is warmth enough; mouth-watering Peruvian flavors that make you forget it’s actually, really cold outside. A small fireplace in the front of the restaurant will keep you warm while you wait for a table. Heaters on the patio make for pleasurable winter dining.

Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar, Calle Nemesio Diez #11

Go for one of the tables with the fire pit in the middle. It’s bound to be a balmy night if you order up one of their premium tequilas to match the best panorama in town. A don’t miss spot no matter how cold it is.

MARSALA, cocina con acentos, Hernandez Macias #48 

A beautiful, old wood burning fireplace is the focal point of this new restaurant that’s opening soon. If you come too late to get a table inside, blankets will defrost you while enjoying the food from one of SMA’s favorite female chefs, Marcela Bolano.

MiVida, Hernandez Macias #97

Bundle up in your warm Italian wool and snug up in the front dining room with a fireplace, particularly on Sunday when the homemade pizza with sausage makes for a fabulous dinner along with a glass of top quality, Italian wine. Chefs Greta Ortega Casanas, Davide Giribaldi and Ana Cecila Alvarez provide both the teamwork and heat in this kitchen. You’ll crave every one of their inspired, Italian dishes no matter what the weather does outside.

Moxi and Mui Bar, Hotel Matilda, Aldama #53

A dramatic warm up in the main dining room of Moxi, along with the lobby, where you can sit and sip a glass of brandy. In upstairs Mui bar, you can’t miss the homemade pizzas made from scratch or the fireplace. It’s a welcoming night with no invitation necessary to keep you comfy. Chef Carlos Zamora Larios creates dishes to keep you warm.

Nena Hotel, Patio at Nextia and Rooftop Bar, Nemesio Diez #10

The Nena is the ideal place to warm up when a cold, SMA winter blows in. In addition to the fire bowls on the downstairs patio outside of Nextia, where Chef Alonso Dominguez presides, you’ll also find a fireplace in the indoor lobby where you can sit and enjoy a glass or two of your favorite Valle de Guadalupe wine. There are plenty of heaters on the upstairs, rooftop bar, where wedding fireworks are colorful and in-your-face spectacular. It’s a thaw out you wouldn’t forget any time soon.

Quince Rooftop, Cuna de Allende #15

In the downstairs dining room, the flames will keep you warm all night along with the outstanding food created by Chef Gonzalo Martinez. You’ll forget the blustery weather with a spiked, hot coffee. Leave room for dessert; make sure that anything with chocolate has your name on it.

Rosewood 1826 Bar and Patio, Calle Nemesio Diez #11, Zona

One of my favorite bars in the winter, sushi is served on weekends by expert chefs who trained in Japan. People love the indoor, double-sided fireplace that also opens to the outdoor patio. Those wanting extra heat can look to a long list of cocktails to supplement the flames.

Tacos Don Felix, Fray Juan de San Miguel 15, St. San Rafael

The indoor dining room has a fireplace that’s filled with folk art in the off- season. The food is so consistent, you’ll never think about the chilly conditions outside. The Maestra, Chef Gloria Espinoso Brijeno, has been cooking since she was 8 years old. Her food will keep you as warm as her smile.

The Restaurant, Calle Solano 16

Cozy up and get through the cold winter months in The Restaurant’s dining room with your favorite winter cocktail and a blazing fire. Chef Donnie Masterton prepares an assortment of menu items that are certain to keep you in good spirits even on the nippiest of nights. Before dinner, order a glass of hot brandy or rum to take off the chill. You’ll want to come right back and do it all over again the following night. Go for it; it’s only November.

Villa Santa Monica, Calle Fray José Guadalupe Mojica # 22

The roaring blaze of this oversized fireplace will thaw you out in a hurry. Split a bottle of vino with friends who were brave enough to wander out on a night even we ex-Chicagoans call frosty.

Zumo Restaurant, Orizaba #87-9, San Antonio

A few steps up from the bar is a custom fire pit made for conversation. Bring a large group of friends and enjoy a toasty seat inside the second floor dining room where a sizeable fireplace is one of the main attractions. Chef Stewart Haverlack dishes up Asian fusion; guaranteed to create some additional heat from all the hot and spicy ingredients. Count stars while sipping a cocktail on this rooftop restaurant; it will keep your mind off the fact that it’s cold…and it’s only November.