Monday, January 29, 2024

Salvajes Brasserie: One of SMA's Best Restaurants

I’ve spent half my life wanting to be French and now I know why. I threw out the rule book for eating French food the day Chef Jorge Avendaño made me Coq au vin for the very first time. It’s the only dish in SMA I can eat every day with my eyes closed. The 5 course menu he cooked last week included another round of Coq au Vin, only this time it was even better. Coq au vin is my favorite dish when Chef Jorge Avendaño prepares it; no other dish even comes close. Chef Jorge Avendaño started cooking with French and Spanish chefs and that’s where he made his mark. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Mexico, he worked for over 20 years in restaurants and hotels around the world. In Mexico, he was the Executive and Creative Chef at Parker and Lenox, Puebla 109, Corredor Tonala and Catalina, among others. His career changing moment was when he worked with Chef Rene Redzepi, owner of the three-Michelin star restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. At Noma, he became an expert in many things, including fresh, seasonal produce. The dishes he creates today are unquestionably Michelin class. Aida Alaya Garcia is the front of the house force along with son, Georgie. You’re likely to meet his managing partner in the restaurant, the delightful Alejandra Cortina. At Salvajes, we always sit at the chefs table for 2 with a view of the chefs at work; it’s undeniably the best seat in the house.
Also in the house is one of the best Mixologists in SMA, Mike Espinosa, who has been Jorge’s friend for years and will also be managing the new Bastardo property when it opens. Safe to say with this duo, both restaurants are in expert hands.
The cocktail culture in SMA is at a whole new level these days and nobody ever said that mixology was the easy part of the business. Just ask Mike Espinosa, who created a new menu of cocktails just for Salvajes and Bastardo. Try a Blue Cheese Negroni, an aged cocktail created in several stages. First the Gin fatwash is infused with a London dry with butter and blue cheese for a week and at the same time they craft the fig's vermouth, also infused for one week. After that process, they batch the Negroni with orange liquor, the crafted vermouth and the fat washed gin (removing any fat or oil from the mix) aging it in small barrels until it’s ready for consumption. After an incredible, five course comida, which included Kumamoto oysters’ fresh from Ensenada, the best French onion soup we’ve ever eaten anywhere, a mammoth scallop with celery root that was caught in La Paz yesterday, bone marrow with escargot and Coq au vin complimented by Pink Peppercorn and salt bread, we walked seven doors up to find the new Bastardo restaurant in progress and it’s a total knockout! Opening at the end of February, 2024, at Hidalgo 66, it has an oversized kitchen and a custom BBQ that takes up an entire wall. The multi level restaurant with gigantic trees, some of them soon to be blooming blue Jacarandas, stunning gardens and a custom playground in back will open in late February just before we take off for our culinary trip through Mexico. Like Salvajes, Bastardo was blessed with those beautiful old tile floors that we’re in our own kitchen back in Chicago.
Salvajes Brasserie has been in our top three restaurants in SMA since they opened. We’re convinced that Chef Jorge Avendaño is one of the best chefs in SMA, if not the best. Also, we’re predicting that Bastardo will go down as the best thing that happened to the food scene in SMA in 2024. How’s that for the perfect trifecta? Chef Jorge Avendaño is also the consultant and chef at La Sotomayor Cantina at Anatole France 70 in Polanco; one of Mexico City’s most popular neighborhoods. Salvajes Brasserie Hidalgo 92 Tuesday - Saturday: 1:00 PM - 10:00 PM Sunday: 1:00 PM - 7:00 PM Chef Jorge Avendaño Manager/Mixologist: Mike Espinosa

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Aristocrat: One of the Best New Casual Restaurants in Centro SMA.

After a seven year stint with Princess Cruise Lines, the former Beverage Operations Manager for Cumpanio and Director of Beverages for Levain and Company, Adrian Garcia Evans, was ultimately named the General Manager of Casa Dragones in 2019; a life-sized job that he excelled in and was the best Ambassador for the brand. This past December, Adrian became a restaurateur, opening Aristocrat at Jesus #27. It was his lifelong dream.
The Aristocrat staff is young. The chef, Jesus Ramirez, originally worked at Cumpanio from 2017 – 2023 and worked as the Executive Chef at Hotel Coyote before coming on board at Aristocrat. At just 24 years of age, he also teaches at the Universidad Patria, a private university in San Miguel de Allende.
Bartender, Filipe Hernandez, is 23 years old and is a native of SMA. He spent time in Puerto Vallarta before returning to SMA where he worked at Amatee before joining the Aristocrat team. We’ll tell you right off that he makes one of the best Margarita’s in town and a great Michelada made with Modelo Negra. In our book, they’re currently the drinks to beat.
His partners in Aristocrat are Warren Young, who is behind Berlin Bar and Bistro, Bananas Restaurant and El Ring Nightclub and Paul Ralph, a native of Wales like Adrian.
All of Aristocrat’s menus are both surprising and affordable. For instance, the nine dishes on the Sunday Brunch menu are under $180 pesos. We tried the Chilaquiles Moritas, made with a pile of pulled pork instead of chicken, the Labneh Eggs on Brioche and the Steak and Eggs: a slab of Arrachera with spicy Chimichurri and French Fries. All of the dishes claim very distinctive flavors. There’s also a build your own Bloody Mary bar; the only one of its kind in SMA at $150 pesos a drink.
Revisiting the past, the Bloody Mary is Adrian’s signature drink that he made at the MAG festival a few years back. It was so memorable they are still raved about by the many people who have followed his career over the years. Also, his Mole Martini at Jacinto 1930 was pretty darn perfect too and the first drink he ever made for us. Mexico in a glass, it still remains as absolute world class.
The Papas Trufadas with white truffles and parmesan cheese and the divine Papas Provenzales- crisp French fries with Salsa Provencial - are under $200 pesos and the dishes I refuse to split no matter how much you beg.
The Baco Style Tacos are loaded down with white fish and dressed with a pina and cabbage salad; a deal at $190 pesos. Scotch Eggs are boiled eggs wrapped in a beef sausage mix then deep fried and come with relish, mustard and herbs for $200 pesos. And just when you think it’s going to be another SMA menu, all the hidden flavors surprise you like the Xoconostle used in their Pico de Gallo or the mint and pea puree on their house specialty, the fish and chips. Traditional British pub foods are sprinkled throughout the menu.
The Baguette with sausage is the star of the show and comes with pickled cabbage for $260 pesos. The sandwich is huge and on a special baguette made by Chef Jafet Flores at Panaderia MAEH in the El Recinto Luxury Hotel. You can select from the following sausages: Irish Steak and Guinness, English, Lincolnshire, American Apple, Pork and Jim Beam, Texas Hot Links, Mexican Chori-Queso and German Bratwurst, all made by Simply Sausages in Mexico City. Adrian favorite is the Lincolnshire.
We also loved the sliders, each made with different ingredients and buns and the Tropical Coconut Shrimp with Pineapple Rosemary Chutney and Pico de Gallo for $210 pesos. With Dart night on Monday at 7:00 PM, Happy Hour daily from 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM and Aristocrat Live on Wednesday nights featuring some of the best music in town, you’ll want to go often. Reference their Facebook and Instagram pages, aristocrat.sma, to get all the updates. And to one of our favorite food lovers who made the comment that restaurants never succeed in this space, were here to tell you that Aristocrat has delivered so much contagious enthusiasm to 27 Jesus that it’s chased out all the ghosts and totally broken the curse.
Each time we visit Aristocrat, we like the restaurant even more. With an interesting menu, affordable prices, remarkable service and a just-like- home atmosphere to hang out in, It all combines to make up one of the best new casual restaurants in Centro SMA. Aristocrat Jesus #27 Centro, San Miguel de Allende Chef: Jesus Ramirez Hours: 2:00 PM – 11:00 PM – Kitchen closes 9:30PM. Brunch: Sunday starting at 12:00 Noon.

Monday, January 15, 2024

La Azotea: Home of the Jicama Taco

On the top of the list of classic SMA flavors is the Jicama Taco from La Azotea, the signature taco of SMA. La Azotea has sold over 56,000 Jicama Tacos since they first opened in February, 2005 and started making them several years later. A texturally adventurous bite, the shell is made with a Jicama slice then topped with shrimp (there are other options too but the shrimp is the best), fried leeks, mayo with chipotle and a tamarind sauce.
Check out the Happy Hour that runs Monday through Thursday but who says your own personal happy hour has to start at 5:00 PM? There are no rules here so if you want a shot of tequila at noon when they open, go for it – you’ll notice plenty of people that already have.
Each time they’ve changed managers - first there was Eduardo, then Ram then Teru – we were convinced that they just couldn’t get any better. Well, meet Juan José Miguel Busto, who’s got first-class service in his DNA and happens to be Eduardo’s cousin.
It’s the first place we went to when we landed over a decade ago and it’s the last place we went to on New Year’s Day. It remains at the head of the class when it comes to those three basic essentials -food, service and ambiance.
From infamous Scorpio parties to photographing actresses posing in opulent necklaces to my son, who came to SMA for the first time in 2017 and wanted to eat at La Azotea every night after tasting his first Jicama Taco, La Azotea is one of the much loved ingredients in SMA’s culinary narrative. A complete list of SMA’s most iconic foods will be published next month. La Azotea Umaran #6 Phone: 415-152-8265 Centro - San Miguel de Allende Hours: 12:00 Noon – 1:00 AM except Friday and Saturday until 2:00 AM Manager: Juan José Miguel Busto