Saturday, November 30, 2019

San Miguel de Allende: A Different View

There’s a lot to love about San Miguel de Allende. Whether you’re getting a bird’s eye view from the top of the city’s most celebrated landmarks, taking it all in from a hot air balloon or jumping inside the pages of a book filled with SMA icons, you can learn a lot about a city just by altering your perspective and getting a different view.
San Miguel de Allende is always changing, constantly escaping your efforts to define it. We don’t even try anymore because, no matter how many times San Miguel de Allende reinvents itself, you know it’s the one city that will always love you back.
Local inspiration, we’ve got plenty; take your pick. Here are the places we rediscovered this month that gave us a different look at the beautiful city we call home.
Buen Provecho!

San Miguel de Allende from The Rooftop: Fatima 7
Fatima 7’s food is remarkable; some of the best we’ve had in San Miguel de Allende all year. We enjoyed a dinner of eleven small plates and tallied six for lunch. There wasn’t anything that Chef JJ Castañeda cooked that wasn’t surprising, different and well-defined. You wouldn’t find this top quality food - Mediterranean, International and Middle Eastern - on other menus in SMA except Café Casa Blanca 7, Chef Donnie Masterton’s other restaurant downstairs.

The flavors are totally characteristic of Chef JJ Castañeda’s cooking, incorporating dishes from Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Italy, Southern France, and Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya on the menu. That’s a lot of territory to cover so it gives the chef room for interpretation when it comes to creating recipes for Fatima’s constantly changing menu.
And then there’s the view. Where else can you go and take in 10 historic churches: Templo de Nuestra Senora de la Salud; Templo del Oratorio de San Felipe Neri; San Columbano; Nuestra Señora de Loreto; Iglesia de San Francisco; Tercera Orden; Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel; Church of the Immaculate Conception of Las Monjas; La Santa Escuela de Cristo (San Raphael) and La Ermita. You can almost reach out from one of the on-the-edge tables and touch the churches that line the sky.
Chef JJ Castañeda has received a lot of recent press this year and rightfully so. He’s our pick for SMA’s best new chef this year.
Café Casa Blanca 7 (downstairs) Fatima 7 Rooftop (upstairs)
Juares #8

Fatima 7 Rooftop Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 12:00 PM -10:00 PM. Thursday, Friday and Saturday: 12:00 PM - 11:30 PM.

Closed: Monday
Chefs: Donnie Masterton and J.J. Castaneda

Café Casa Blanca 7 Hours: Breakfast: 8:00 AM – 11:00 AM/Comida: 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Chefs: Donnie Masterton and J.J. Castaneda

San Miguel de Allende From The Sky: Globo San Miguel

You’re at Mother Nature’s mercy for one of the most picturesque ways to see SMA - from the sky. We didn’t have much wind the day we went so we weren’t one of the lucky few to get a bird’s eye view of the Parroquia. What we did get was one of the most spectacular panoramas of SMA’s magnificent countryside and a distant view of Centro; reason enough to book this ride again.
Globo San Miguel owner, Jay Kimball, started his career when he opened Napa Valley Aloft Balloon in 1976. It was recently voted the #1 hot air balloon company in America; now operated by his children. An adventure balloon pilot who pioneered many locations for new balloon companies throughout California, he’s an icon in the world of Hot Air Ballooning. In 1992, he was the first company to be certified by the FAA to fly over Cabo San Lucas.
Globo San Miguel, started with his daughter Gretchen over 25 years ago, is the longest and most experienced balloon company in SMA.
If you want to get a different view of SMA, a flight in one of Globo San Miguel’s hot air balloons is a must.
Globo San Miguel
San Antonio 14, San Antonio, 37750
Daily: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM

San Miguel de Allende In A Bottle: El Liquor Store
We got an education from Vethzo, the Manager at a new liquor store in SMA, El Liquor Store that sells unusual brands; its labels emphasizing Mexican products including spirits, beers and wines. You’ll want to try some of these: a delicious Amazonian Gin from Peru; Don Papa Rum from the Philippines; Runneght Gin - a non-alcoholic distillate made with rainwater passed through filtration, evaporation and condensation processes that purify it, then it’s mineralized and ionized to enhance the properties with 21 elements that are distilled one by one; Gintol: a Sotol with Gin Botanics; Bruja de Agua: a small batch Gin using creole corn alcohol, juniper berries and the spirit of regional plants; Perempitz Tuxca: a preminum agave distillate using a rustic Phillippine method then it’s fermented within a volcanic rock pit made with a single agave and it’s partner, Insecto, created from two agaves - both manufactured in southern Jalisco; Bacur Italian Gin in an eye-catching, metallic copper bottle, offering something deliciously different for gin drinkers; Nami Mexican Sake (the lower the number the better the quality) and a Aguafuerte  Mezcal, who recently ran out of agave and will not be producing for another 9-12 years.
There are plenty of good bar guides on the shelves, like The Curious Bartender by Tristan Stephenson, who authored four books that will teach you the science behind the art of Mixology. The store offers cocktail paraphernalia: bar tools, fashion bitters, different types of tonic, salts, spices and fruits with which you can experiment with at home or let Vethzo teach you how to make the perfect drink; El Liquor Store is a totally hands-on store.

There’s a tasting room downstairs for classes and special events as new brands are introduced. We also met María Mercurio who is the National Brand Ambassador for Boodles Gin. Like Maria, more and more female Mixologists will surface as the popularity of artisanal cocktails continues to grow.
El Liquor Store is headquartered in the Roma district of Mexico City. It sets the bar higher for what to expect from a liquor store. A principal resource for local Mixologists, you’ll find plenty of new cocktails on the bar menus in town when El Liquor Store opens in two weeks.
El Liquor Store
Zacateros 81a, Zona Centro, 37700
Daily 11:00 AM - 9:00 PM

San Miguel de Allende Inside the Glass Restaurant: Oli Tapas
One of SMA’s latest restaurants is Oli Tapas.
We have always loved the Oli Tapas space, with many good memories of sharing food there. The centerpiece of Doce 18, in 2016, Chef Matteo Salas introduced SMA to authentic Mexican food. It’s also where former Chef Israel Loyola cooked with Casa Oaxaca owner, Alejandro Ruiz. It’s only fitting that it should now be occupied by a Michelin star chef.
This eye-catching, glass restaurant will soon get plenty of natural light when a retractable ceiling sets off SMA’s bluer-than-blue sky.
We tried 10 different Tapas, all of them good – our favorites: Tortas with Duck, the Croquettes of chicken with Thai Sauce, the Taquito de Lechon and the Pastel de Chocolate for dessert. The taste of the chocolate was perfect; not too bitter, not too sweet. It was thick, creamy and the perfect texture for savoring.

We enjoyed 2 wines, both made by Mexican boutique vineyard, Origo, from Valle de Guadalupe; a red blend and a rose. The vineyard is also owned by the family who owns Oli Tapas. The wines are small production; the places they are being sold are specific and exclusive. The red was IGNIS, with Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals. The Rose was delicious; a light bodied wine perfect for sipping with tapas.
The chef, Vincente Torres, was named Top Millesime Chef of 2011, where Chef Marco Cruz of Nómada Cocina de Interpretación cooked last year and Chef Marcela Bolaño of Marsala cocina con acentos cooked this November. Chef Torres was a guest chef in SMA back in 2017, when he was part of the Weekends event at L'Otel.
                                              Photo: Food and Travel Mexico

Chef Vincente Torres was awarded with a Michelin star at La Sucursal, in the Valencian Institute of Modern Art and studied under famous chefs Frédéric Anton, Martín Berasategui and Alain Senderens. Chef Torres also owns one of Mexico City's best restaurants, Garum, at Avenida Presidente Masaryk #513 in Polanco.
We were surprised by the menu with many interesting dishes priced at less than $200 pesos which makes it a great choice for lunch. Paella is on the menu every weekend when the chef is in the house.

Oli Tapas
Relox 18, Zona Centro, Colonia Centro, 37700
Monday – Thursday: 1:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Friday – Saturday: 1:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Sunday: 1:00 PM – 7:00 PM

San Miguel de Allende Inside THE Book: 101 Caras de SMA

We know you recognize faces but how about hands - a chef’s most creative tool? Here, cooking "hands on" are three of the chefs in the book: Chef Donnie Masterton (#60) plating his famous burgers at the Outstanding in the Field dinner in 2019, Chef Armando Prats (#74) creating sandwiches from the whole pig he cooked at Oktoberfest 2019 and Chef Marcela Bolaño (#19) arranging her homemade scones at Sunday brunch in Marsala cocina con acentos. 

Congratulations to all of the chefs who are featured in the book, which can be purchased at many outlets in SMA including Hotel Nena, Hotel Matilda,
Bovine, Dôce-18, Casa R, Café La Ventana, Luna de Queso, Algarabia Fábrica La Aurora, Veinte Once Fábrica La Aurora and Petit Four.

                                        Photo: 101 Caras de San Miguel de Allende
Thank you Daniela Doig and Erik Zavala Kugler for what is a magnificent documentation of the history of San Miguel de Allende. As many of you can see when you read through the pages of this historical publication, these are people who have worked endlessly, every day, to nurture and cultivate the city that always loved them back.
There is a sense of purpose that comes with landing between the pages of this book that will never leave me, especially as a foreigner who did not grow up here but came to love San Miguel de Allende as my own. I am honored to be listed with all of you.
San Miguel de Allende From A Tiny Kichen: Lima 502

What’s it like to need a little sleep? Just ask the girl who never gets any, Maria Pia Rivasplata, the General Manager at Lima 502, her Peruvian restaurant in Mercado del Carmen. Also out of studio 316, she’s the manager for Thesanmiguelbook, smap and Casa Mia Magazine. And she’s a mom.

Pia was born in Lima, Peru and lived there for 13 years until her parents moved to Guatemala City. She has great memories of her childhood in Peru; living near the sea and enjoying delicious food prepared by her father and his brothers, which always turned into an animated competition. Although the family left Peru when she was very young, they always returned at least once a year. “It's amazing how you learn to value your country – it’s culture, people and food - when you're away from it”, Pia said. When Pia and her sisters started traveling to different countries, the first thing they did was to see if there were any Peruvian restaurants near- by. There were occasions when they drove long distances just to eat the food they grew up with. Her twin sister, Maria Gracia, opened two Lima restaurants in Guatemala City and in October 2018, Maria Gracia and Pia decided to open a third spot in San Miguel de Allende.

The team at Lima 502 is made up of Sebastian Soldevila, a dedicated chef who is passionate about Peruvian food, Karen Edrei and Chef Abi Andrade. We know Abi from Nomada cocina de interpretacion, where she trained with Chef Marco Cruz. She recently did an internship with Chef Eduardo Garcia at Maximo Bistrot in Mexico City.

One of our favorite dishes is the Linguini dipped in huancaina sauce prepared with Peruvian yellow pepper, cheeses, milk and egg and served with picana sirloin and shrimp. It scores over the top on flavors, as did all of the dishes we had including Leche de Tigre, Causa de Camaron  and the most incredible fresh sheets of tuna in soy, orange and sesame sauce with avocado, cucumber and mango - a Tiradito de Atun Nikkei.

This was one of our favorite meals this year.

Lima 502
Pila Seca 19
Tuesday – Thursday: 1:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Friday – Saturday: 1:00 PM – 10:30 PM
Sunday: 1:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Monday: Closed

San Miguel de Allende from the Parroquia Seats: Atrio
Eat Well Travel Often is our motto, with an amazing lunch at Atrio with top SMA Chef, Arturo Sandoval. We love table #2; request it and you’ll get an in-your-face view of the Parroquia, the iconic symbol of SMA.

We ordered a pan of the seafood paella, which was remarkable; as good as the Rib rice paella that we’ve been raving about for three years now.

It seems everyone is hooked on the caramelized red snapper, one of our favorite dishes, which we tried even before Chef Sandoval put it on the menu. It’s one of our 2019 favorites.

The delicious mandarin cheesecake, a dessert that’s been on Atrio’s menu since they opened, is one of our favorite desserts.  With a textbook texture, it is accented with a flavorful mandarin wrap.

San Miguel de Allende From The Corral: Rancho EL 17 Steak Botique
Rancho EL 17 opened up a steak boutique on Salida a Celaya and now you can cook restaurant- quality steaks at home.
Since the beginning of its operations in 1991 in Hermosillo, Sonora, Rancho 17® has produced unique quality beef, gaining recognition for its quality in Mexico and other countries around the world. Rancho 17 provides meats to some of the best restaurants in Mexico with three different qualities: Premium, Select and Choice.
I always thought a BBQ grill was one of the essential tools for cooking a steak but I can be convinced to give up my Weber for a cast iron pan; at least when it comes to steaks and chops. I was so impressed with this cooking method that I cooked both a steak and a pork chop just to be sure; you just have to adjust the cooking time. The results are always perfect.

The recipe is from Prime Steakhouse in Las Vegas and was featured on the cover of Saveur Magazine. It’s one of our top ten recipes of all times.

1 2” thick porterhouse steak
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons Canola oil
4 tablespoons 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 your stovetop on high. Add canola oil and when the pan almost smokes, add the steak and cook 5 minutes.
Flip the steak and place it in the oven for 7-10 minutes.
Pour off the pan drippings and return to the stovetop. Melt butter. Add thyme and lemon and brown for about 4 minutes. Serve the butter and lemon over the steak.
Rancho EL 17 Steak Botique
Salida a Celaya #25
Daily: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM

San Miguel de Allende Up Close and Personal: Querencia + Pura Vida Kitchen + deliQ

Chefs Esmeralda Brinn Bolaños and Alicia Wilson Rivero are on a mission to enrich the Guadalupe neighborhood with their food and they are UNSTOPPABLE! 

With a larger place for Chef Esmeralda Brinn’s restaurant, Querencia, a take-out deli and Chef Alicia Wilson Rivero’s cooking school, that boasts 10 chefs - Gabriel Gabriel Ordoñez, Andres Jordan, Vanessa Romero, Jorge Catalan (nutrition), Esmeralda Brinn Bolaños, Marina Mellino - the Spice Chica (pasta), Eliana Ortega Calderon (plant based), Eduardo Villers, Fernando Echeverria (bread making) and Alicia Wilson Rivero – they have jumped into their commitment to the community of Guadalupe and SMA head on. 

We had Sunday brunch at Querencia this past weekend and the restaurant was packed. The Chilaquiles with Cochinita Pibil and salsa verde with habanero were exceptional. Remember, Chef Esmeralda Brinn owned a stand in a street bazaar in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City where she sold Cochinita Pibil Tortas. It shows - this is some of the best we’ve eaten all year. 

Look for updates as deliQ and Pura Vida Kitchen start their regular hours shortly. A class schedule for the cooking school will be posted soon.

One of Chef Alicia Wilson Rivero’s cooking instructors, Chef Gabriel Gabriel Ordoñez, was occasionally making hamburgers from Short Rib, Chuck and Top Sirloin at Mercado Sano on Saturday. The burger was served on a fresh potato roll, baked by Mesa Grande, and was piled high with caramelized onions then smothered in Gabriel’s own secret sauce. The meat was purchased from KOE across from Los Frailes. Rumor has it that Gabriel is going to teach a Burger class. I’ll be first in line to sign up because I’ve never forgotten the taste of that hamburger.

New at Querencia is the Canada de la Virgen sausage served with Kimchi and homemade sauerkraut. It’s also on the menu with a poached egg. Turkish coffee was our surprise delight; no sugar needed.

Querencia + Pura Vida Kitchen + deliQ
Margarito Ledezma # 6A
Colonia Guadalupe, San Miguel de Allende

Querencia hours:
Monday – Friday: 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM
Sunday: 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM

San Miguel de Allende from the Docks: Trazo 1810
Trazo 1810 is committed to serving great seafood to its customers; 70% of which are locals. Joining the Buena Pesca program was proof of that commitment; setting the guidelines to promote responsible consumption of marine species in Mexico. As part of the package, Trazo 1810 now been assigned their own fisherman, Juan Sanchez. The certification guarantees Trazo 1810 a better quality of products even though they’re more expensive; ordering species that reproduce fast, are not endangered, are not caught by destructive methods and are not targeting special species of groupers, tuna, and wild shrimps. This week’s delivery included gorgeous red snapper and shrimp. Trazo 1810 picks up their fresh seafood from the Queretaro airport every Thursday morning.
We had lunch there Friday with Trazo's chef, Paco Gonzalez, one of the most underrated chefs in SMA. A 7-Grain homemade bread was served with a soft butter laced cumin, cilantro, almonds and salt, a medley of three delicious salads came to the table: Burrata with peaches, Beet and Watermelon and an Aguachile and a perfectly cooked red snapper that had just been caught in waters off Veracruz the morning before and was wrapped then cooked in a Hoja Santa leaf and served with a slightly sweet and delicious burnt banana mole.
This was one of our favorite comidas of the year; also one of the healthiest.
Trazo 1810
Hidalgo 8, Centro, 37700 in Casa 1810
Phone: 415 121 3501
Hours: 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM Daily

All photographs ©Susan Knight York unless noted.