May 15th, 2009

Rarely do I come upon a place that stops me in my tracks with its simple beauty, however, the courtyard of the Camino Real Hotel in Puebla does just that. If it weren’t for the man speaking on his cell phone next to me, I could easily play time traveler. This spectacular 16th century structure, originally a prominent colonial convent, encompasses a whole city block. In the first centuries of the Spanish empire, it housed the daughters of Puebla’s élite, noblewoman who chose the church and an education over marriage.

As I enter the building from the bustling, traffic jammed street, the patio’s vast, space and serenity surround me. It seems impossible that something so tranquil could be just steps away from chaos, but that may well be the secret of Mexico–contrast. Crossing the threshold of the ancient, 15-foot high wooden doors, I’m transported back in time. A few steps past the lobby beckons the largest colonial patio I’ve ever seen. In the center stands an immense fountain, the base covered with centuries-old talavera. It bubbles cool water as the intense mountain sun beats down upon it. The patio is surrounded with arches, supported by massive stone pillars. Yellow paint brightens the walls, bringing warmth to the cold, grey stones that cover the floor.

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Closing the doors at Jesús 23

March 31st, 2009

El Buen Café, Jesús 23

After 17 years and 3 months I’m closing the doors at Jesús 23, the original and only location of El Buen Café, my restaurant in San Miguel. It’s not a sad occasion, as I thought it would be, but a wonderful opportunity to clean house. I’ll be reopening in a few months, just down the street, or at least I hope so. There have been some last-minute problems obtaining my new space, but I’m so sure that it’s my destiny that I’m headed out-of-town to track down the owner and secure the deal (story to follow in the memoir).

When I moved into Jesús 23 in 1991 I never would have imagined that I would spend such a large part of my life there. The small room on the corner with its lovely, wide arch separating the dining room had been my landlady’s father’s dry goods store in the 40s and 50s. He sold sacks of corn, flour, rice, and beans to his neighbors, as well as useful household items, such as soap, brooms and bottle openers. Supposedly, during the decades between his store and my restaurant, not a single business was able to keep its doors opened very long. A week after I sat up shop an unknown woman came in to tell me about the house and street, both inundated with spirits. San Miguel is well-known for its ghost stories and I always loved hearing about their escapades. She said I would have to make friends with them if I wanted to stay and that they especially loved fresh flowers. Easy enough, I thought, I would follow her instructions. Obviously, it worked and 17 years later I urged my family of spirits not to worry, I was only going down the street and we would still see each other often.

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The Perfect Meal

November 21st, 2008

A perfect meal has just as much to do with the company as it does with the food.

Recently I had guests from Slovenia, a quintet of classical musicians, to be exact. All well-traveled gourmands, this sophisticated group of charming men were well acquainted with fine food. They came to San Miguel with an open mind and empty stomachs (and also fear of Montezuma’s revenge…it seems it’s in all the guidebooks).

After playing a small, intimate concert at the Casa de Sierra Nevada, we—the five musicians, four girlfriends, and myself, sat down to an incredible gastronomic experience. On a cold fall night we were ushered into a cozy private terra-cotta hued dining room with a large, wooden round table in the center backed against a blazing fire. The group allowed me to order for them, so I did something I’ve always dreamt of—ordering one of everything on the menu. I surprised the waiter, and even myself, with my request. There was a new chef at the Sierra Nevada that evening, a young man by the name of Gonzolo Martinez, who had just come back to his native town by way of Dallas and New Orleans. I was anxious to see what he could do. We were not disappointed. The multi-course meal kept coming: Grilled Vegetable Terraine, Huitlacoche Risotto, Grilled Mezcal marinated Oaxacan Quail, Chicken with Shrimp Mousse and Caramelized Apple Pudding, all accompanied by endless bottles of wine.

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