I’m sure you know the old cliche. About the three most important factors when choosing real estate.
So, if I was choosing a location, location, location for a new restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, about the last place I’d consider would be the outer limits of Colonia San Antonio. Yet that’s where Zumo, San Miguel’s newest restaurant is and…surprise…it works.
Since Sicilia in Bocca shut their doors, there had been five contenders for the best view in town crown. La Posadita, Casa Chiquita Pizza, Cent’Anni, La Azotea, and Luna at the Rosewood. All of them are located on roofs (didn’t it used to be rooves?). All of them are in Centro.
There’s now a sixth contender for the crown. And it’s also on a roof. But it’s not in Centro. It’s Zumo, that newest San Miguel restaurant, the one located in San Antonio, high on a hill near the end of Orizaba. The view is from the southwest, one that’s seldom seen of San Miguel. And the view from the southwest, taking in Balcones and the hill of homes up Salida a Queretaro and Centro’s church spire skyline, is spectacular, particularly at dusk when it’s bathed in light.
Stewart Haverlack arrived from Puerto Vallarta about six months ago, after 25 years of working in the hospitality biz in the U.S., Europe and Mexico. In PV, he was the owner of Boca Bento, one of the town’s most popular restaurants and, a little further south, on Los Muertos Beach, he was a partner in the El Dorado Restaurant and Beach Club.
I’m not sure how or why he ended up in San Miguel. But I do know that, like most people who end up in San Miguel, there’s little chance he’ll ever leave. Especially when we almost got into an arm wrestling competition the first time we met so I know about his competitiveness and I know he has to prove that he can run a successful restaurant where so many others haven’t.
Stewart Haverlack’s partner in the venture is Vanessa Villegas. Vanessa is an interior designer with fifteen years of restaurant experience. The classy but casual look of Zumo is the work of Vanessa and all of the furniture and fixtures are her design.
For their chef at Zumo, Stewart and Vanessa have carefully chosen Gabriel Ferrant, a guy who, in about ten years, has filled about two more pages on a resume that took me fifty years.
Stewart Haverlack told me, “So much more could be said about his experience, but each position has been a stepping-stone towards becoming a better chef. Today, I’m convinced that his varied experience, his creativeness and his willingness to please will truly tantalize your palate.”
Gabriel Ferrant was born in Paris (he could have probably ended the resume there). He lived in New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Morocco, Madagascar, Colombia and back in France before finally putting some roots in Mexico City.
He then worked at Le Pied de Cochon in Montreal, at Hotel Condesa back in Mexico City and, tired of the city, he moved to Huatulco and spent time at the Camino Real as Gourmet Chef of Azul Profundo, specialized in Spanish cuisine at Don Quijote In the Barceló Premium Hotel, and then served as Executive Chef at the Quinta Real.
Gabriel later moved to the capital of Oaxaca and partnered with Hotel La Casona del Sótano to make the restaurant De Todos Los Santos one of the best in the city.
Knowing that chefs put their travelling shoes on almost as often as they get a new tattoo, I thought that still might be about one page too many on a resume. Until, back in April, I was invited to Zumo for a soft opening of the restaurant.
Now I’m not exactly sure where the words soft opening come from, a term used for businesses that are still in the figuring out what really works stage. Perhaps it’s because you’re expected to be really soft on them if they really screw up. Well let’s just say that, on that first night, that soft opening night, there were no screw-ups, Zumo nailed it.
Don Day’s Wife and I arrived at the same time as Susan York, the creator of Cupcakes and Crablegs, the San Miguel food blog that sets a standard that constantly has me spending more time on a Don Day post than I ever intend.
It was almost dark at the courtyard entrance, but when we got to the roof, there was that kind of light that made the French impressionists move to Aix and Arles and Avignon. And the kind of big round ball in the sky that made Bob Dylan rhyme moon with spoon.
Lime green and white were the theme colors of the night and place cards were imaginatively placed in real limes. Garlic scapes became string to enhance the citrus color theme.
At the Hotel Condesa, Gabriel Ferrant was exposed to the Asian master chef, Keisuke Harada and it showed in the first of the seven courses, a China meets Mexico appetizer of Shumai Relleno. Spinach, pine nuts, goat cheese, ancho chile and nuts were combined in the stuffing.
I’ve seen barra de leon in a restaurant before. But only in a pot. Never on a plate. Chef Gabriel had placed shavings of the flowering plant on two tostadas and covered them with an aioli of sundried tomatoes and bacon, then topped them with slivers of crispy leeks. Below them were streams of cilantro oil.
Dinner continued with a rich creamed corn and verdolaga soup, a refreshing orange sorbet with cardamom and then a fish course that featured robalo in a quinoa crust.
As all good solids in a good restaurant should be, each of the courses were paired with a good liquid and I was very impressed that Stewart Haverlack had brought in Arael Gomez Tello to be guest sommelier for the evening. I know of no one in San Miguel de Allende as knowledgable and as passionate about wine as Arael.
For the fish course, Arael chose a red, a Pinot Noir. A good move but in these days of reds often replacing whites for seafood, not really a bold move. But I thought the next one was. The next course was a filet of beef. And the tried and trusted match is a Cabernet Sauvignon or, perhaps, a Malbec.
Instead, it was a big spicy red much more in the style of France’s Southern Rhone than from Bordeaux to the West of France. It’s a Spanish wine called Blau and combines Carinena, Syrah and Garnacha grapes to produce ripe plum and black cherry aromas and coffee, chocolate and vanilla nuances from the 18 months it spends in oak barrels. I’ve enjoyed Blau at another San Antonio restaurant, Aguamiel, and I can’t get enough of it.
We went on to two desserts, a creme brulee with assorted fruits and a chocolate and almond truffle.
Accompanying the last course was a white port from Ramos Pinto, a port I’ve wanted to try ever since I fell in love with a French poster with those two words about fifty years ago.
That soft opening of Zumo was over three months ago. The usual hindrances prevented the doors to be opened earlier. “Construction and permitting…surprise!”, Stewart Haverlack told me.
Now, even though I had no idea what it meant until Chef Gabriel told me, I liked the word Zumo. Maybe because I like Z words. I did, after all, name my first-born Zane. And I did have a zebra (his name was Spot) on my floor for most of my life. I found out from Gabriel that Zumo is actually Spanish for another Z word, zest. And I do know that zest is what Don Day’s Wife gets when she pulls out that strange utensil next to the melon baller from the cutlery drawer and scrapes it across orange, lemon or lime peels (and I also know, because she has told me at least twice, you don’t use the zester to grate Parmesan).
Stewart Haverlack, an exuberant, passionate guy who seems to have a real zest for living, told me he’s using the term “Chef Action Experience” to describe dinner at the restaurant. The words “Chef Action Experience” I’m not sure of. It sounds like something Don Day’s Wife might have to wear sensible shoes to. And Don Day’s Wife doesn’t wear sensible shoes to dinner.
Stewart and Vanessa do have reason to use the word “action”. Five of the seats in Zumo will be front and center in Gabriel Ferrant’s demonstration kitchen. I love sitting in a chef’s kitchen watching them spin their magic in pots and on plates but, then again, I love watching anyone other than me work.
In addition to the five front row seats in the kitchen, there are eighteen more with a fine view of what’s happening. And since I visited Zumo in April, they’ve added a bar and lounge area as well.
Now Zumo ain’t cheap. The seven course prix fixe dinner is priced at 850 pesos. Which puts it up in the San Miguel stratosphere with restaurants like 1826, Aperi, Moxi and Andanza. And all of those are attached to hotels. Which means all you have to do is hit G on an elevator and march your expense account down the hall. Not put it in a cab to Colonia San Antonio.
“We contend that a select group of people…will pay this amount in exchange for an outstanding experience comprised of incredible view, cutting edge and innovative cuisine and seamless, world class service”, said Stewart Haverlack. “Hopefully, a five minute cab ride for the experience will be justified.”
Look at it a different way though and Zumo is cheap. When you divide 850 pesos by seven…wait, let me get the calculator…you get eight dot something U.S dollars per course. Which, in just about any other world class city, would be ridiculously cheap for fine dining. In addition, Zumo is also offering vegetarian options and special wine pairings to accompany each night’s dinner and the venue will be available for special functions (ZestFests?).
The hard opening, the ready-for-business opening, will take place at Zumo on July 31. It’s too early to know if the restaurant will be known more for having the town’s best views or the town’s best reviews. I’m betting on both.
Zumo is located at Orizaba 87-9 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Telephone 415.152.0489. Dinner is available by reservation only on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, with one seating at 7:00 pm.