Tuesday, August 28, 2012

-- to the sublime

After spending a day playing nature boy, I decided to put away the bucolic in favor of the urbane.

And that meant spending the evening in one of San Miguel de Allende's fabled restaurants.

One of the joys of coming to the highlands -- and to San Miguel, in particular -- is the availability of various cuisines.  You name it, San Miguel either has it -- or it just closed a month ago.

But availability does not always equal quality.  Just because there is world food does not mean that it is world class food.

Monday night was dinner at Hank's.  Some of  you may know it by its former name -- Harry's.  I often wondered how the restaurant got away with placing the genitive "Harry's" so close to the noun "bar."  But it is now just Hank's.

I am always a bit nervous when a restaurant in a foreign country announces itself in English.  In this case, as "New Orleans Cafe & Oyster Bar."  But I had a hankerin' for all things Cajun.  So, in I went.

The decor of the dining room hits the right notes.  As posh and understated as a New Orleans drawing room.  With French doors opening to the street to allow the breeze to clear the air.

I could have done without the music that drifted in from the bar.  Mainly golden oldies like "Pretty Woman."  The type of tunes you would hear at the airport hotel bar in Spokane.


But I did not come here to chew the scenery.  (I reserve that for my theatrical appearances.)  I came for the food.

The restaurant offers a wide range of dishes.  But the daily special menu caught my eye.  I ordered what I thought would be a simple starter (tomato and bell pepper soup) and an intriguingly titled "grilled pork tenderloin with lime and kalamata reduction sauce."

Before the soup arrived, a basket of bread was ceremoniously presented to me.  I am not a fan of most Mexican breads.  As a rule, they taste like hamburger buns.

But I had hope.  This looked like a thickly-sliced baguette.  It was not.  And either it had been toasted or it had been sitting out for some time because it had the texture of zweiback.  What saved the course was a creamy garlic butter that helped restore some moisture to the bread.

And I was wrong about the soup.  It was anything but simple.  And that is a compliment to the chef.

The tomatoes and bell pepper were pureed into a perfect velvety soup.  But, with the first sip, I knew there was a more complex layer.  There was a delightful peppery taste that could not have been squeezed out of a bell pepper.  The chef had mixed in just a bit of smoked chipotle to make the soup a hit as the opening act.

Serving a home run starter can be dangerous.  Everything that follows may suffer.

That was not the case with the pork.  Its presentation was just right.  This is Cajun food.  A rustic approach hit the right chord.

The pork was cut in three large portions, served over couscous and surrounded by wild mushrooms.  It had the feel of a hunter's meal.

With the exception of the reduction.  There was only a hint of lime.  But every bite that included a kalamata olive exploded in my mouth.

I attended officer training school with a Cajun from Lake Charles.  We were tklking about subtle tastes in haute cuisine one day, and he said: "My daddy once told me if you don't want to taste something in your food, don't put it in.  If you put it in, you better taste it big."

And that was exactly what this pork dish was all about.  Tender meat wooed to give up its pork-ness.  Ad then infused with a melange of tastes that complimented every bite.

What was even better, I took half of it home for my lunch.

I could have -- and should have -- stopped there.  

I am not a desert fan.  I generally do not appreciate sweets.  And I do not care for the taste of cream cheese or chocolate.  That just about puts most desert menus on the do not disturb list.

But I was interested in the bread pudding.  It turned out to be an okay choice.

It was moist with raisins and a dash of nutmeg to make it interesting.  And the chef was wise enough to add his hard sauce in a pool around the pudding, instead of drowning it.

It would have been a better evening had I left the meal on the high note of the pork.

For all of that (and two cans of Coke Zero), the bill was $410 (Mx) -- or about $31 (US).  On par with what I would pay in Salem, but far less than a similar restaurant in New Orleans.

World class food?  No.  But it could hold its own in almost any city in the world.  With the exception of southern Louisiana.


John Calypso said...

Anything else on the menu that would get you back there - anything vegetarian?  Quite spendy for our blood - but a person has to splurge now and then.

Steve Cotton said...

I didn't look too closely at the main menu.  The pork caught my fancy before I wandered into the details.

Dana Jennings said...

i looked around the 'net for the reasons for the name change, but found no information.  Intellectual property rights and trademarks don't appear to get any protection in Mexico....what with all the Disney trademark use by one and any vendors.  Someone "leaned" on them?

scene: Steve Cotton as your house guest in SMA: where even an offer of guacamole & chips is rife with literary reference ...(.or ripe).

Babsofsanmiguel said...

GREAT cobb salad and others plus, of course, red beans and rice ala NOLA (that's New Orleans, Louisiana to you guys.....ha.

Felipe Zapata said...

I am not a fan of most Mexican breads.  As a rule, they taste like hamburger buns.

As a rule, they are hamburger buns. But happily for you, you are not in Mexico. You are in San Miguel.

You do not like chocolate?! What in the world is to be done with you? Why do you continue living? I just do not get it. What's the point?

Steve Cotton said...

Because there is always pork loin to be had.

Steve Cotton said...

Red beans and rice is one of my favorites.  But I can cook that at home.  Going out means eating what I cannot put together on my own.

Steve Cotton said...

I found out the story today.  Neither Harry's Bar of Paris or Venice was involved in the dispute.  But it turns out an American restaurant chain has the name registered as a trademark -- even though it is not currently in use.  Because Americans were involved, there was the predictable law suit.  And thus a name change.

We simply live in a literary world.

DonCuevas said...

Nicely done, Steve.
"But availability does not always equal quality.  Just because there is world food does not mean that it is world class food."That sums up our fairly brief SMA dining experiences.
Saludos, Don Cuevas

DonCuevas said...

De acuerdo, amigo.

Saludos, Don Cuevas

Steve Cotton said...

Of course, compared to the Mexican towns where we live, San Miguel is cuisine heaven.

DonCuevas said...

Even the wonderful Restaurante Parrilla y Canilla, in Morelia, serves Bleah! bread.

The best bread I can recall in a restaurant in Mexico was the basket of in house baked breads at Rosetta, in Colonia Roma Norte, México, D.F. But the restaurant is northern Italian, not Mexican. (The rest of the meal was somewhat of a disappointment, considering the lofty prices.)

The Steve chocolate thing I just don't get.
How about some dark chocolate covered pork loin?

Saludos, Don Cuevas

Steve Cotton said...

 Neither my brother or I like chocolate.  Unlike our parents.  It mustb e a recessive gene.