“He’s a treasure. He’s been here forever.”
Those words came out of the mouth of Don Day’s Wife. And the word “treasure” doesn’t come out of her mouth very often unless she fancies an old Bogie flick.
Fellow foodie Andy Reddyhoff had told us he had a couple of young Italian engineers coming into town on Saturday night from neighboring Leon.
“Where do you think I should take them for dinner?”, Andy asked.
Italian, I immediately decided. Any Italian I’ve ever met, particularly a couple of guys a few thousand miles away from a cuisine that they may have never ventured far away from before, would want, well, nothing else but Italian.
I thought of the Italian restaurants in town.
Firenze. The charming little trattoria voted last year as the very best restaurant in San Miguel. A very Italian menu but, no, not the most Italian restaurant in town.
Cent’Anni. Another very good restaurant with, perhaps, the very best pizza in town. And if those two Italian engineers stay up after 11:00, some hot live music and perhaps some hotties from Celaya or Queretaro. But no, Cent’Anni is also not Italian enough for a couple of guys who might be desperately homesick for a meal just like mama makes.
Then I thought back to a time many years ago when my assistant, the child of Italian immigrants, Maria (but you already knew what her name would be) asked for my advice. She told me it was her parents 35th Anniversary and she and her sister wanted to take them to a very special restaurant. I reeled off three or four of my (and many other people’s) favorites and, thinking that they would want a change from everyday food, none of them Italian. She paused for a moment and then said, “Which one do you think is sure to have a pasta with a red sauce?” And I thought again about where the two Italian engineers would want to go.
It had to be Osteria La Mia Italia. The home of the chef that Don Day’s Wife calls a “treasure”. His name is Gaetano Caronia. And if you want classic Italian cuisine in San Miguel de Allende, he really is the end of the rainbow.
Gaetano hasn’t quite been around forever. His restaurant has only been there for nine years. But restaurant years are even shorter than dog years. And nine years makes any restaurant a battle-weary veteran in any town.
Gaetano Caronia hasn’t changed much in those nine years. He’s added a little silver to his hairline. His glasses are a little more trendy. And he’s traded in his t-shirt for a chef’s jacket. But he’s still making almost exactly the same dishes he did on the day he opened the doors. And still doing it with that blinding speed that makes it almost impossible to ever capture him in a photo.
The Osteria has gone through a few changes lately though. It’s still located in what looks like was once a garage. Probably because it really was once a garage. But it does now look a little less like a garage. There’s a wall dedicated to the magical moments of Italian cinema.
The ceiling has been decorated with drapery. Another wall has a tribute to just about every Italian word that I consider important. And there are some three dimensional tributes to everything Italian. I think even the furniture has been elevated from low end brewery giveaways to high end brewery giveaways.
But rest easy, regulars, the menu remains the same. Probably because if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it.
There’s antipasti and salads but that’s not why you go to the Osteria. There`s chicken and shrimp, salmon and tilapia, but they’re not why you go to the Osteria. And, except for maybe one caesar, I can’t remember seeing any of those dishes on anyone’s plate, on any table, any time I’ve ever been there.
Osteria La Mia Italia is a pizza and pasta joint. Period. And pizza and pasta is what you go for. Period. The only decision is which one. And as long as you have at least one friend or family member in this world, it’s not really a decision. Because as long as you don`t walk in alone (which may be what that song from Carousel is really about), you can have both. Because you will definitely want both a pizza and a pasta
The pasta comes in spaghetti or fettucine. And that’s it. Just thin or thick. No tubes, no frills, no bowties or butterflies, no curlies or twisties, or any other of those shapes and sizes that were invented by North American marketers of noodles. Just spaghetti or fettucine and eleven classic sauces to decorate them.
Carbonara. Arrabiata. Amatraciana. Bolognesa. Alfredo. Tre Formaggi, Puttanesca. Mar y Tierra. Salmon Crema. Primavera. Norma. Is there one of the old fashioned classic sauces that’s missing? Not that I know of.
And then there are the pizzas. Ten different. All on what is the best traditional crust in town. With most of those pizzas priced at less than ten bucks for the too much for two grande. Which is less than half what some other pizzerias charge for a large.
Speaking of money, a visit to Osteria La Mia Italia is not for members of Gamblers Anonymous. For before you place your order, you must place your bets. And decide who gets to choose the pasta sauce and the pizza toppings (unless you were fortunate…or may I suggest unfortunate…enough to have a subservient spouse).
Last time out, Don Day’s Wife won first pick, chose the pasta, and chose the carbonara (Chef Gaetano of course knows the importance of that little dusting of nutmeg).
I chose the pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Only to have Don Day’s Wife attempt to use a wily feminine bargaining agent to attempt to sway me to a pizza fantasia. Despite her excellent use of women’s wiles and my appreciation for canned tuna on a pizza, this time I could not be swayed.
We finished our wine wishing that Gaetano would upscale his selections a little as I’d much rather pay 250 pesos for a decent 100 peso wine then 200 pesos for a not quite decent 50 peso wine. Looking at the damages reminded me that I consider Osteria La Mia Italia to be one of the five best restaurant bargains in San Miguel de Allende (Cafe Muro, La Frontera, Las Olivos de Denver, and Sabores y Salsas are the other three).
Looking at the scooter outside the restaurant as we left, reminded me of another recent change at Osteria La Mia Italia. They now deliver.
As we reached the end of Orizaba and turned down the Ancha, heading for Paprika to catch the second set of JK O’Donnell and the Rockets, we passed Domino’s and their nine scooters. Nine to one. Gaetano Caronia and his Osteria may be a treasure but it’s definitely a buried treasure. All I can say is get out your shovels, San Miguel.
Osteria La Mia Italia is located at Calle 20 de Enero #37, at the corner of Orizaba, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open every day except Thursday from 1:00 to 9:30 pm every day but Thursday. For delivery, call 415 152 8483.