With a big thank you to photographer Richard Smerdon for capturing the spirit of the SMART Awards dinner.
When I was 12 years old, a routine began that lasted right through my teens. It was called the Top 50 Countdown. And it happened every Saturday morning at 9:00 am…sometimes getting a late start after I discovered women. It was courtesy of 1050 CHUM, Toronto’s top rock ‘n’ roll radio station.
At about 11:15, my dad would say you can turn it up now. For we’d be down to the short strokes, down to the top ten. He’d be rooting for someone like Ivory Joe Hunter or Frankie Laine. My mother for Perry Como or Andy Williams. And me, Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran.
I couldn’t help thinking about those days last night as we counted down, from ten to one, the winners of the SMART Awards, the choices for San Miguel’s favorite restaurants.
The event was a tasting dinner, announcing and celebrating the winners. It was held at La Posadita, the number one restaurant at last year’s 2014 SMART Awards. The six courses featured The Very Best Of Posadita plus there were some good wines and some good old rock ‘n’ roll. And not one song by Andy Williams or Perry Como.
391 votes were cast. With 73 different restaurants receiving at least one vote. In a town that Trip Advisor says has over 200 restaurants, this was obviously the creme de la creme, the top five percent.
Here are some of the things I remember saying that night during the top ten countdown:
In tenth place is an Italian restaurant that takes me back to the days and the restaurants I loved when I spent my mornings listening to top fifty radio. Shannon Casey said, “Great service, ambiance and food and the best linguini with clams you can get, not only in Mexico, but anywhere.” It’s a restaurant that very few people are quite sure exactly what its name is. With my favorite description being “the pizza/pasta place on Zacateros that people think is a flatiron building but really isn’t”. And yes, I still counted that as a vote. Number ten is Trattoria Antigua Romana.
In ninth place is the only new restaurant. With my definition of new as a restaurant that opened sometime after December 2013. I think it’s a remarkable achievement because this is a far from cheap restaurant. Yet when you consider what you get on the tasting menu, from this chef-driven haven for foodies, versus what you’d get for the same quality in virtually any other city that’s considered world-class, this restaurant is very, very cheap. As voter Craig Woods said, “You’re not in San Miguel anymore, Toto”. But we’re still paying San Miguel prices. I’m talking about the restaurant at Dos Casas. Number nine is Aperi.
From ninth to eighth we go from a kitchen that might have cost $1,ooo,ooo pesos to a kitchen that might not have cost $10,000 pesos. It’s the place that Judy Zivko says has “the best eggplant I’ve had anywhere”. It’s the place with a three burner stove, a microwave and a location that has a less than zero chance of getting any walk-in tourist traffic. Yet there it is at number eight, the very much loved Denver’s Olivo Verde.
I decided to only vote if it was necessary to break any ties. But it wasn’t. Or the restaurant that’s in seventh place would have received one more vote. It’s tough to mix two different cuisines. And particularly Italian and Mexican. Not to mention two chefs that used to be partners outside of the kitchen. But this restaurant does it magnificently. Number seven is Mi Vida.
Sixth place was a bit of a surprise to me because it’s a place that no one ever talks about. They just go there and eat. And often. Voter Jim Blakley said, “I never order from the menu as the special is so amazing and includes breads, sauces, chips, salad, main course with sides, a glass of wine or beer, and the best desserts in San Miguel.” In sixth place is the restaurant that has two names, Cafe de La Parroquia before the sun sets. And La Brasserie after dark.
There are a few restaurants that specialize in red meat in this town but only one that’s in the top ten. Barry Merchant summed the place up succintly by simply saying “Best steaks and prime rib in SMA.” A lot of voters also mentioned how they’re already missing Dick Weber who has moved back to Texas. As long as he hasn’t taken his juicy rib eyes with him though, I think we’ll still get by. In fifth place is Hansen’s.
I don’t have to say much about the restaurant that’s in fourth place. I don’t have to talk about the view, the setting, the lighting, atmosphere. All I have to say is look around you. And at the food. Traditional Mexican cuisine from the North, the Yucatan, Oaxaca, Puebla, the South, Guanajuato. And great service even under the very stressful conditions of serving a six course dinner, banquet style. In fourth place, a place that I and obviously you have enjoyed for years now. Number four is La Posadita.
Third place. This is where my Mom and Dad and I used to get really excited when we’d be counting down the top ten songs. In third place is the restaurant of a chef that I think got her first paying Mexican job cooking a dinner in our home, which just happened to be owned by her then boyfriend and now husband. If I told you that the cuisine was Peruvian, it may be obvious who finished in third place. Number three is the place I’d always want my bus to stop at, the wonderful La Parada.
Start a conversation about who’s the best chef in San Miguel and there’s always one that seems to rise to the top. I was going to quote one of the voters about their favorite dish at this restaurant but that would mean not talking about so many other dishes that other people had mentioned. It’s almost undoubtedly the choice for people looking for the most innovative, adventurous food in town, but imaginative, well prepared food, unfortunately, only puts you in number two position. Second place this year goes to Donny Masterton’s magnificent The Restaurant.
They say that any person’s art is a mirror of that person. And there’s one artist in San Miguel who has created a masterpiece. Because he is a master at pleasing people through the power of food and drink. It took a couple of previous attempts before he got it exactly right. Including stepping into the kitchen to man the stoves himself. When he puts down the knives, emerges from the kitchen and steps out into the restaurant, he just oozes charm. That man is Antonio Delgadillo and he owns and operates the number one vote getter in the 2015 SMART Awards. San Miguel’s first choice for favorite restaurant is Firenze.