I had lunch with Bonnie Boden last week. Bonnie is my female friend of longest standing. So she’s obviously a woman with an enormously high tolerance level.
Except when it comes to food. There she can be a little picky. And I will never forget the first time I cooked bacon for her.
“Would you do me a favor”, Bonnie asked, “would you burn it for me.”
I’ve led Bonnie Boden astray a long way since that day. Convinced her to add a few new foods to her diet. Convinced her that not everything in the world has to be well done. I even believe I saw a hint of pink in the slice of prime rib on her plate on Christmas Day. But my choosing a restaurant called Pork Belly for our lunch wasn’t exactly the most considerate move. But I just couldn’t help it. A restaurant that chooses the most succulent part of a pig for its name and signature dish has to be visited ASAP.
Pork Belly opened a month or two ago in San Miguel’s Colonia Allende. It marked a return to Mexico and the fulfillment of a long dream for Erick Medina Guisa and his wife Carmen Torres.
Erick Medina had spent the previous 20 years, half of his life, in Europe working in restaurants in Spain, Germany and then Britain.
“In London, I spent 13 years cooking in several restaurants as chef of Green and Red, Hawksmoore and Machete,” Erick said, “Now I have my own.”
And why the choice of name for the restaurant I asked him.
“I love pork. It is such a delicious meat. It is cheap. And you can do so many things with it,” Erick told me, “And pork belly. It is my favorite part of the pig.”
My favorite too. And fortunately, thank to chefs like Erick Medina, it’s now treated like royalty in chef-driven restaurants. But it wasn’t always that way. Until recently, almost all pork belly became bacon.
It was a throwback to the time when homes weren’t equipped with refrigerators so people had to brine and smoke their meat if they were going to eat it any more than a few days after Porky had left this world. Belly was always the first choice because it had so much fat that, when it was heated, it would turn tough meat into the most delicious of delights.
I ordered Pork Belly’s pork belly and Bonnie, having only moved as far as burnt to crisp when it comes to fat, ordered the restaurant’s leg of pork. But first there were starters.
Bonnie Boden hates Thanksgiving. Because that’s about the only time she gets pumpkin pie. It’s a dish that’s about as popular with me as burnt bacon but, to Bonnie, it’s the dish she calls “the absolute best dessert in the entire universe”. So when she saw pumpkin soup on Pork Belly’s menu it was a must.
The soup came with a chunk of Pork Belly’s in-house baked bread and was topped with sauteed mushrooms.
“This has a nice biscuity taste, perfectly spiced,” said Bonnie. “The best I’ve ever had. I’d like to take a jug of it home with me.”
I chose the sauteed octopus which had a pleasant salty, vinegary taste and was well charred. I could tell you what I thought about it but, better yet, I’ll tell you what Bonnie Boden, a self-proclaimed “non octopus eater” said about it when I convinced her to try a tentacle.
“I would eat octopus if it was like this octopus,” Bonnie said. “This is a little bit chewy but not as chewy as the octopus I’ve had before. And served on chunky french fries. How can you beat that?”
Bonnie’s pork leg was sliced about a quarter of an inch thick and piled on a bed of mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots in a sea of orange and oregano sauce.
“Love the way the crispy carrots and creamy potatoes work together and the tender pork hasn’t a bit of fat,” said Bonnie as I frowned over her fat comment.
My pork belly made up for it. Most bellies have about a 85/15 fat to lean ratio. This one was probably over 90/10 which made it even more melt-in-your-mouth. It came with the same potatoes and carrots as the leg but in a beet and salvia sauce. My only complaint was I would have liked the outside crisped and, if it had, I might have even convinced Bonnie Boden to eat a little fat.
We skipped dessert. Not just because we were full. But because Bonnie had already had her favorite dessert in the form of a soup and I’d already had one of my favorite desserts, the pork belly.
Pork Belly the restaurant is a funky looking place with great graphics on the wall and a nice balance between upscale and downscale. Erick Medina is a funky looking guy with a chin that would give ZZ Top beard envy. Erick is changing the menu on a daily basis. On return visits I’ve seen salmon, a burger and shepherd’s pie and Erick told me he’s looking for a good source for lamb.
But I’m hoping pork remains the star of the show. It’s now the most widely eaten meat in the world and, though it still ranks behind poultry in Mexico, per capita pork consumption is up over 50% in recent years. Keep on serving up that belly, Erick. And I’ll keep working on Bonnie to give it a try. We’ll get that number up to 60%.
Pork Belly is located at Cinco de Mayo #10 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Monday to Saturday and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Sunday.