Don Day’s Wife and I had a food plan for Friday. We’d have lunch somewhere. Then we’d walk over to Mega. We’d pick up a few hundred grams of the biggest shrimp they have, two or three buds of garlic, a bunch of Italian parsley, a 250 gram pack of Lurpak and a bottle of Jacqueline Brut. Then we’d head home and get into our jammies and watch a double header of Lizabeth Scott film noirs on YouTube (I get to choose what we watch on nights with an “I” in them) The garlic shrimp would be our guest of honor at intermission.
We ended up eating steak frites for dinner. Now usually when something like this happens, as Jimmy Buffet said, “There’s a woman to blame”. But in this case it was a man. It was all Denver Reyes fault.
Denver is the ever-affable chef/owner of Los Olivos. He’s a guy who smiles more than Presidential candidates. And Denver’s restaurant was where we’d decided to have lunch before walking it off on the hike to Mega. My plan was to order the chef’s almost legendary eggplant parmesan and a new addition to his menu, pasta with Italian sausage. But the best laid plans of hungry men…
It was our first time at Los Olivos de Denver. Denver’s previous place, Olivo Verde, was what you might call quaint. Or you might call tiny. Denver’s previous place was what you might call out-of-the-way. Or you might call inconvenient. Denver’s previous menu was what you might call highly specialized. Or you could call very limited.
Los Olivos new location in Colonia San Antonio is still a hefty hike from the middle of town but it’s close to the Ancha and Salida de Celaya where, on many days, I can be found shopping and, on many nights, I can be found drinking. Due to one way streets and some practical joker of a civil planner who decided to not have street numbers run consecutively in San Miguel de Allende, the place would be hard to find except for a couple of almost olive trees and a blackboard that have been placed outside.
Inside the converted home, there are three good sized rooms for dining, all furnished with those black mesh chairs and tables that are most appreciated when dining with women with good legs. Add some thick cushions and you’ve got a very comfortable place for lunch.
The kitchen is open which is the way all doors and all kitchens should be. And Denver’s command post is front and center at the three burner stove.
Denver Reyes is a constantly bubbling cauldron of enthusiasm. Especially when it comes to anything to do with food. He had recently added polenta to the list of traditional Italian dishes.
“You have to have some”, he told me as he was already putting some canola oil and butter in the pan.
When a good chef tells me I’m having something, I obey. Denver’s polenta is the firm style, baked and then cut into squares that are flash fried in the oil. He served them to us two different ways. One with mozzarella, basil and tomato. The other with big chunks of portabella mushrooms.
The golden polenta was as polenta should be. Crisp and crunchy on the outside. Moist and creamy on the inside.
Now, as I mentioned, I had a hankering (there were a couple of movies where I was dying for Meg Ryan to use that word) for some of Denver’s Italian sausage but, just when I was about to fill out Los Olivos’ create your own pasta sheet, Denver walked over to our table and said, “Did I tell you I now have shrimp.”.
“Are they a good size?”, I asked.
“About like this”, said Denver, holding his thumb and middle finger about seven centimeters apart.
“And could you do them in an ocean of garlic butter?” I asked.
“I could and I will”, said Denver, showing me a giant tub with enough pureed pleasure to scare the bejeezus out of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Frank Langella.
And so those best laid plans of garlic shrimp for dinner became garlic shrimp for lunch. Because the person who came up with the line that some things are worth waiting for wasn’t being offered them on a bed of spaghetti. The shrimp were fabulously firm (nothing much worse than a limp shrimp) and with a few chile flakes and a sprinkle of parmesan (yes, I break the no cheese on seafood rule), the only problem was preventing Don Day’s Wife from stealing too much of it.
Don Day’s Wife, meanwhile, was not led astray and ordered the planned sausage over fusilli in a marinara sauce with three of her favorite additions from the create your own pasta list: mushrooms, capers and olives. The create your own list borders on the ingenious, by the way, making ordering pasta as much a sport as ordering pizza. Except you’re playing singles, and there’s no need to bow down to your partner’s penchant for pineapple.
The sausage was…surprise…not homemade but Johnsonville Italian. I was a little shocked but, then again, Johnsonville does make very good sausage and it’s a rare sighting in San Miguel de Allende.
“Do you like it?”, said Denver.
“Yes it’s good”, Don Day’s Wife replied.
“Well I guess that’s why I use it”, said Denver. “Even though I have to go all the way to Superama in Celaya to find them.”
I told Denver we didn’t have room for anything else but he insisted I look at every page of the menu before we headed off to Mega (where, as usual, there wasn’t any Johnsonville sausage).
You’ve heard of Bananas Foster, Peach Melba, Eggs Benedict and Oysters Rockefeller. Well there on the list of dishes is something called Eggplant Don Day. I was flabbergasted by the flattery. I’d always hoped that some day I’d do something…legal of course…that would make me infamous. But this instead almost makes me famous. Well at least in my own mind. And all I did was tell a chef that his eggplant parmesan was, perhaps, the best I’d ever eaten.
So my suggestion? Check out the new and improved Los Olivos. Check out the polenta. Check out the shrimp. Check out the other new dishes on the menu. And if you think any of them are the best you’ve ever eaten (which they might just be), tell Denver Reyes. You never know what you might see on the menu on your next visit.
Los Olivos de Denver is located at 20 De Enero Sur #44 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.