Don Day is a foodie. And foodies will endure 110 degree heat, plastic tablecloths, obnoxious company, dust storms, stinging insects, rock hard benches, dirt floors and chipped plates for an interesting, exciting or unusual meal.
But once in a while, not too often mind you, Don Day wants another ingredient in his dining experience. He wants romance. And romance comes much more from setting than it does sustenance and service.
Now if you think it’s unusual for a guy of my advanced age to be a romantic, think again. According to the Revera Report on Romance, completed a couple of years ago in Toronto, senior men are even more in love with love than women, with 83 per cent saying it’s important versus 56 per cent of women.
So, a couple of Sundays ago, it was Don Day’s idea, not Don Day’s Wife’s idea that they dine in the most romantic setting in San Miguel de Allende. That setting is La Puertecita.
La Puertecita is nestled on the hill that shelters San Miguel’s eastern edge. La Puertecita arrived in San Miguel around the same time Don Day did, about ten years ago. La Puertecita calls itself a boutique hotel which is a term that Don Day dislikes but it does not call itself a boutique restaurant and Don Day goes there to eat, not to sleep.
I’m not exactly sure what puertecita means but I suspect it means little door. A better name for the restaurant would be big window. Through that window is not your typical romantic view. No misty mountains silhouetting a sunset, no cityscape with patchwork quilts of lights, no crashing waves on limestone cliffs. Usually, in San Miguel, beautiful surroundings means the restored courtyard of an 18th Century home or a rooftop that overlooks San Miguel’s magnificent domes and steeples. When you’re sat on the terrace of the La Puertecita, you’re in a forest, a jungle, a garden. And the best time to experience paradise is with the sun shimmering through the trees.
La Puertecita is a masterpiece of landscaping that is an absolute thrill to the eyes, ears and nose. When you combine that with food that treats the tongue reasonably well, you have something that is the utmost in sensory appeal.
It was Sunday at La Puertecita and our friends Richard and Lorain were joining us for what we thought was going to be brunch. We were the only people there so it was evident why La Puertecita is no longer doing the all you can eat buffet which is just as well for Don Day because, when there’s an all you eat buffet, Don Day thinks he has to eat all that he can possibly eat. Which isn’t good for the restaurant. Or for Don Day.
Instead, the restaurant is using their traditional luncheon menu. It’s a difficult menu to order from. There isn’t really a focus, certainly very little orientation to a specific cuisine. It’s the kind of a menu that is often found in hotels where you have to try and please all of the people all of the time.
There are a lot of Don Day’s favorite dishes on La Puertecita‘s menu but a lot of those dishes are ones that Don Day thinks are meant to be made and eaten at home not in a restaurant. Two exceptions to those dishes we often eat at home were Don Day’s Wife and Richard’s starter order of crab and shrimp cakes and Lorain and Don Day’s starter, the artichoke soup.
Don Day likes surprises. Don Day likes freebies. Don Day, of course, likes food. Combine all three likes and you have something that Don Day really, really likes. It’s what the French call an amuse bouche. And what Don Day calls a little taste to start your meal that never appears on your bill.
It’s unusual to receive an amuse bouche in San Miguel restaurants. Especially the ones that Don Day frequents. So when the crispy little tacos stuffed with pulled pork and a mild chili pepper arrived at our table, I almost thought we had the wrong order. But it’s difficult to get the wrong order when you’re the only people there.
We ordered a Sauvignon Blanc from the limited wine list. Though the carta de vinos is put together by Wine Cru, the well respected retailer in San Luis Potosi, it’s certainly not Don Day’s kind of wine list. The selection is dominated by Argentineans, most of which Don Day has never heard of, and it’s hard to understand why there are so many reds versus only three whites. Though the mark-up on the wines is not exhorbitant, the list is also lacking in range with nothing at the lower end of affordability. At 545 pesos, the cheapest red is, I believe, more expensive than the cheapest red at any other San Miguel restaurant.
Next to arrive at the table is a good bread and a great dip. What’s in the dip we’re not sure. Olive oil, yes. Walnuts, yes. Orange zest, yes. Cilantro, yes. Plus some other herbs and spices. It’s a dip we’ve had before at La Puertecita and something I’d been cherishing all morning. It’s a little treat that’s always been on Don Day’s 60 scrumptious things to eat in San Miguel list and is very, very welcome after one or two too many balsamic and parmesan dips. Nobody loves butter more than Lorain and, even though there was also butter on the table, Lorain chose the oil and declared it “magnificent”.
Don Day’s artichoke soup tasted like the artichokes had been roasted first which gave much more depth to the flavor. They could have used a shaving of pecorino or nutmeg or perhaps a splash of sour cream to not only help the taste but the look.
Richard thought the shrimp and crab cakes were “amazing” but both he and Don Day’s Wife felt that the mustard sauce was overpowering.
“Next time I’d order the sauce on the side”, said Don Day’s Wife, “and there’s no excuse for an unripe tomato on the salad. The solution is simple, you just leave it off.”
I’ve read that San Miguel de Allende was once covered by a lush blanket of trees. There’s little of it left now but what used to be is still evident at La Puertecita. A landscape architect has altered it, enhanced it, improved it but the roots are still there.
The sun dances through the lilac sprays of a jacaranda above us. The bank is covered in a blanket of vinca and violets. Behind me a viburnum, a rare sight in San Miguel, is covered in a snowstorm of blossoms.
What amazes me about the beauty of La Puertecita is that it not just excites the eyes, it excites the ears. Rushing water, musical fountains, rustling leaves, twittering birds. Halfway through lunch, Don Day had to just take a time out and take a walk along the patio to take it all in. The greenery, the water, the flowers, the statuary, the drapes, it really is the best non bricks and mortar site (or sight) in San Miguel.
I mentioned that La Puertecita‘s menu is lacking in the unusual and that was reflected in everyone’s choice for main course. We all chose pastas and they were all what Don Day would call everyday pastas, the kind you’d make at home on a boring Tuesday night. Richard and Don Day’s Wife had the fettucine with prosciutto and mushrooms. Lorain and Don Day had the linguine with meatballs and sundried tomatoes.
The pastas were pleasant if not particularly exciting. Lorain thought the meatballs were “nicely spiced”. Don Day was happy that the sundried tomatoes weren’t overpowering. Don Day’s Wife was impressed that the mushrooms were creminis rather than whites.
One of Don Day’s favorite reasons for dining with Lorain is that we are therefore guaranteed there will be a dessert. We chose one dessert with four spoons (because we have to pretend the other two want some) and a dessert that Don Day must first say in Spanish because he loves the sound of the words. We ordered pay de cacahuates. It just doesn’t sound so good when you call it peanut pie. It was good. Not too sweet. But it needed something to cut the overpowering finger in the jar of peanut butter taste.
“Maybe some bananas”, said Rich.
Don Day has a friend who doesn’t “get” San Miguel. They much prefer to spend their winters in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. La Puertecita is a lot like Manual Antonio except there’s no 98% humidity. No atrociously bad service. And, most importantly, no unimaginative food. La Puertecita is more of the tropical paradise that Don Day “gets” especially when it’s part of and only five minutes away from the center of one of the most vibrant towns in the world.
Eating on the patio at La Puertecita is like being in a tropical jungle, like sitting in a botanical garden (and Don Day has paid to walk in gardens that weren’t half as nice). They say you’re never too old for romance. And La Puertecita is, to Don Day, definitely the most romantic restaurant in San Miguel de Allende.
Richard and Lorain had been to La Puertecita for drinks but had never been for a meal. Don Day will let them have a few words.
“This is really a stunning place, it really is,” said Lorain. “It is not just pretty, it is the prettiest place I’ve ever eaten at in this town.”
Richard is a little more academic with his words. He said, “La Puertecita is an idyllic culinary experience.”
But seeing that Don Day just spent a couple of hours writing this blog, he gets the last few words: In La Puertecita‘s promotional literature, they refer to the hotel as a “little corner of paradise”. If the hotel is a corner of paradise, the restaurant is Main Street. A lot more people in San Miguel should be walking that street. The food may not be the town’s best but it’s absolutely, definitely, the prettiest place to eat anywhere in San Miguel de Allende.
La Puertecita is located at Santa Domingo #75 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.