Thursday, March 1, 2018

Fed up with faux haute cuisine

And now a rant, of as the French might say, a cri de cœur, about all the pissiness that is swamping San Miguel, what with a boutique hôtel or some restaurant with haute cuisine delusions popping up practically on every corner.

Last week Stew, a friend and I went to a restaurant that had all the trappings of a haute cuisine restaurantmost notably the prices—but lacked the most important ingredient: memorable food.

Servers wore black uniforms, suggestive of a joint operated by the Viet Cong, and the small portions of "global cuisine" came decorated with dashes of unknown sauces that were served on plates the size of hubcaps. As Stew drolly observed, "The dishwashing bill must be killing them."

Bon appetit. 
The ingredients were suitably exotic, such as "furikake-crusted goat cheese," the soup was a potage, and the tablespoon-size dollop of caramelized flan posing as dessert came disguised as a crème brûlée with "smoke essence."

Out of respect for, or fear of, Mexico's notoriously promiscuous "defamation" laws I cannot reveal the name of the restaurant except it begins with one of the last letters of the alphabet and is located in a decidedly downscale arrondissement of San Miguel. Naturellement it was part of a boutique hôtel.

By San Miguel standards, the dinner tab for three was almost Parisian alright—four thousand pesos that included one glass of white house wine, two coffees, mineral water, and four non-alcoholic drinks. Plus an obligatory fifteen percent tip, an annoying add-on for service that was neither particularly attentive nor informative about the items on the dégustation menu. We didn't go for the wine pairings which would have added another eight hundred and fifty pesos per person to the bill.

Or as Mexicans would say: ¡Híjole!

I don't mind elegant settings or even pricey food as long as it is worth it. Three weeks ago Stew and I had dined at "Tentaciones," an outdoor restaurant overlooking Zihuatanejo Bay from behind a narrow infinity pool.

Food with a view at Tentaciones. 
At sunset, it was as a view to remember, and so was the tasting menu that began with small lobster turnovers and finished with a thermonuclear dessert, a "dulce de leche and chocolate tart with espresso foam and berries compote."

The price was fourteen hundred pesos per person, not including tips or drinks. It was pricey but worth every peso.

There are plenty of very good restaurants in San Miguel, but to bump a few of them up from B-plus into the A category, I would dispense with the hifalutin choreography and international culinary pretensions. 

To start with, stick with Mexican cookery, which with all its regional variations is every bit as complex and tasty as any of its "global" or "international" counterparts.

In San Miguel we have eaten several times at Nómada, a new restaurant run by a young Mexican couple that offers a tasting menu with mostly Mexican ingredients and tastes that go far beyond the old enchilada with the green stuff, the usual huevos rancheros with the red stuff, or the arrachera, medium, por favor.

Cafe Muro's owners also know far more about Mexican cuisine than they put on the menu, perhaps for fear tourists wouldn't be willing to try it.

On a weeklong trip to Mérida, with its broiler-like climate, Stew and I ate at four or five restaurants serving Yucatecan cuisine, each more terrific than the one the day before. One small, inexpensive eatery—El Manjar Blanco—was singled out by famed Chicago chef Rick Bayless as one of the best Mexican restaurants he'd ever visited.

And of course, Oaxaca, where despite constant teacher strikes and earth tremors, you can find  different moles for each day of the week, and all sorts of other extraordinary concoctions. "You can't have a bad meal in Oaxaca," Stew once said, and I agree.

In Morelia and Pátzcuaro too, we have had some very good and very Mexican meals.

So I'd say, forget the all-black getups for the waiters, the oversize china, and all the other pissiness, or as the French might say, prétensions, and stick with extraordinary Mexican food that might merit extraordinary prices.   

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