You may have passed it a hundred times. But you’ve probably never been inside. In fact, as you passed it, you were probably looking in the opposite direction. Trying to catch a bird’s eye glimpse of the city of San Miguel down below.
I’m talking about that hotel almost at the top of the Salida a Queretaro hill. The one that, like Don Day, looks a little worse for wear. On the outside, though you wouldn’t exactly call it a sign, more like letters written on a wall, you’ll read the words El Mirador. On the inside, you’ll find a hotel that I could call quaint and charming but I could also called tired and dated.
But on the inside, you’ll also find a hotel that is also having a bit of a renaissance. At least in the kitchen. For it’s there that you’ll find a woman (now please don’t tell Don Day’s Wife) that I’ve had a crush on for years.
When I first met Maria Auxilio Trujillo she was commanding (yes, she’s the type of woman who commands) a postage stamp sized kitchen at Sabores y Salsas on Calzado de la Luz. She followed that with an open kitchen (where I could always keep at least one eye on her) at her restaurant on Salida a Celaya. Now she has a post office sized kitchen for Sabores y Salsas at El Mirador.
I took the brothers Hall there this week. It was the brothers first time together in 18 months. It was their first time together ever at Sabores y Salsas.
Maria met us at the front door. She looked as sharp as ever. Her chef’s jacket was immaculately pressed. Her frosted blonde hair, crimson lips and dark hazel eyes were the perfect contrast to her olive skin. Her hands looked like, minutes ago, they might have been at The Nail Lounge at the Liverpool Mall. Maria’s hands are amazingly expressive. Like Gloria Swanson’s in Sunset Boulevard. Maria gave me a big bear hug. I felt a little weak at the knees.
Maria put on her tour guide hat. Told us her son owns the hotel and that’s why she had to be there. Took us up one flight of stairs. Then another. And another. And another. Until we were at what may be the table with the very best view in all of San Miguel. We ordered drinks but then decided we’d rather be downstairs, on the patio, just outside of Maria’s kitchen. I told Maria it was a little chilly up top.
“Wow, isn’t she something”, said brother Doug Hall before we headed down
“She’s wonderful”, said brother Don Hall on the way down.
“So upbeat. So very friendly. So hospitable”, said brother Dave Hall after we’d been seated at our new table.
At every place that Maria Auxilio Trujillo cooks, the menu changes every day. The menu del dia was squiggled on a piece of white card above our heads. It wasn’t art, it was information. Dave and Don chose the arrachera. Doug and I chose the chile en nogada.
Now I’m going to presume you know what chile en nogada is because, if you don’t, it would take me an entire blog post to explain. In 50 words or less, it’s an historically important dish that starts with a slightly spicy poblano pepper, that is then stuffed with something you might have found in a mincemeat pie many Christmases ago, and is then doused in a sauce that resembles liquid nougat.
Sound like something you might not even want for dessert? Never mind a main? Think again. Especially if it’s Maria Auxilio Trujillo’s chile en nogada.
You see, Chef Maria’s chile en nogada is not like everyone’s chile en nogada. Up the street, a few short blocks away is El Arbol, where one of San Miguel’s other classic chefs, Mercedes “Meche” Arteaga, makes a much more meaty chile en nogada. Chef Maria’s chile en nogada is different, it’s all about the fruit. It’s sweeter. And if you like your chiles en nogada sweet, you’ll probably like Maria’s chiles en nogada more than any other you’ve ever tasted.
Maria used to restrict her main courses to two or three choices each day at her previous locations for Sabores y Salsas. She has expanded that at El Mirador. In addition to the chiles and steak, there was red snapper, pasta, chicken enchiladas with a choice of salsa rojo or salsa verde, even the rarely seen cecina de morelos, the dried beef specialty that I promised her I would come back for.
I asked Maria if I could visit her kitchen. I asked her what went inside her chile en nogada.
“Meat, of course; it’s beef”, she told me, “and almonds and walnuts, peanuts and coconut, cinnamon and cloves, pineapple, apple, pear, banana, peach, raisins and…what are they called in English…the things they serve with turkey.”
“Cranberries?”, I replied.
“Si, yes”, said Chef Maria.
Most chefs finely chop and mince the contents of their chile stuffing. Chef Maria gives it a much rougher chop. You can see and taste the apple and pear. You can see and taste the peach and pineapple. It’s like ten different flavors all taking solos but still singing harmony together.
I couldn’t leave Sabores y Salsas without a dessert. And neither could the Hall brothers. We all chose lime pie. And three of us washed it down with cafe de olla, the Mexican style coffee with cinnamon and molasses.
We paid the bill…which always seems to be ridiculously low at Sabores y Salsas…and took one last look from the balcony at the smoky blue grey hills to the west. I think Maria Auxilio Trujillo has finally found her home. I know she’ll be finding me there more often.
Sabores y Salsas is located in El Mirador Hotel, Salida a Queretaro 88A in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch every day but Tuesday from 9:00 am.