I’ve written about the new restaurant El Vergel before. And quite recently. But I still had more to say. For the food and the service are continuing to get better. That’s supposed to be what happens when new restaurants have their slow opening, the time when they tweak and test recipes. So it’s appropriate that El Vergel’s grand opening is this week. I think they’re ready.
Though we prefer the courtyard, we chose indoors during our last visit. The winds outside were bringing words like typhoon and cyclone into our conversation. And dust and grit into our eyes. And though we’d much rather be outside, even with its view of the parking lot, it was impossible.
Inside, the clings and clangs of dishes and cutlery colliding with the commands of chefs and servers is reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. And as much as the sponge-washed blue grey walls make me think I’m floating in the clouds, I’d like to see those walls wearing some art to hide their cold, stark nakedness.
OK. On to those seven very positive reasons.
Number one. Vichyssoise. A traditional recipe. A lot of leeks. A little potatoes. Some chicken stock. A little butter. A lot of cream. Nothing there that doesn’t belong. And all in appropriate portions. You don’t mess with vichyssoise except for perhaps how much nutmeg you add and chives you sprinkle. And El Vergel stays true to the original. With very crispy croutons. Even to the point of serving it at room temperature. No refrigeration please. You don’t find vichyssoise much on menus anymore which is a shame. And nowhere else in San Miguel de Allende I know of except at El Vergel.
Number two. If you’re a traditionalist, you may not like El Vergel’s French onion soup. If you have an open mind, you might adore it. El Vergel’s onion soup is not a broth that spent hours simmering in beef bones. There’s no hint of Vermouth or Cognac. The onions aren’t deep brown and sugary, they’re still translucent. But El Vergel’s onion soup is very creamy and very cheesy so that even at the bottom of the bowl you’re bringing out big chunks of Comte (or is it Emmental?).
The toast that the restaurant floats on top stays crisp until the last spoonful and this is one of the few times I’ve ever had crisp and cream working in harmony in a French onion soup.
Number three. An almost always complaint I have of seafood tartares is too much citrus or too much vinegar. Please chefs, save that for the ceviches. But I have no complaint with El Vergel’s salmon tartare. The taste of the salmon is first and foremost and the fine dicing of the onions and tomatoes keeps them in the background.
Number four. Salade Nicoise is almost always served on a plate and its components are traditionally eaten individually, one thing on the fork at a time. El Vergel serves its Salade Nicoise in a bowl which means that the components…potatoes, anchovies, black olives (thank you for slicing and pitting), green beans, boiled eggs, lettuce (more than most Nicoises), and tuna…tend to end up in twos and threes on the fork. That’s fine with me and most fine is that tuna.
I spent the first fifty years of my life thinking that Salade Nicoise had to be made with canned tuna. Then, a couple of decades ago, I had it with fresh tuna. That’s the way El Vergel serves it. It’s previously frozen, as is the salmon in the tartare, but it’s good tuna, yellowfin tuna, and, knowing from experience that the difference in raw yellowfin and overcooked yellowfin is less time than it takes to refill a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, plaudits to sous chef Chu Chu, ex of La Virundela, for his sense of perfect timing.
One more thing about the Nicoise. There was something on top of the salad that I had problems identifying. Were these skinny onion rings? No, I think these were deep fried leeks. The imaginative influence of executive chef Donnie Masterton was showing.
Number five. I like poached pears. I really like Poire Belle Helene. But I don’t think I’ve seen it on a menu since the nineties. El Vergel serves a poached pear “infused with lavender”. It comes to the table looking like a Cezanne still life. It’s perhaps the best visual presentation I’ve seen on a plate this year. It makes me look like I know how to take photographs. Don Day’s Wife simply calls it “excellent” (a word seldom used by DDW and I can’t remember her ever using it to refer to anything I’ve ever made). The pears are poached to the point where they’re not soggy but still have give. The berry sauce is both sweet and sour. And heat brings out the best of the blackberries. There’s no evidence on the tongue of that lavender infusion but I decided long ago that lavender is for looking and touching and smelling, not for tasting.
Reason number six. We drink a lot. And seven. We’re cheap.
I understand that most of a restaurant’s profits come from inside glasses not on top of plates. And I’m happy to contribute to those profits. But only to a certain extent. When one San Miguel restaurant recently raised its cheapest bottle of wine to $850, I just couldn’t fathom…or should I say finance…going there any more. Even the lowest priced bottle at one of El Vergel chef Donnie Masterton’s other restaurants, The Restaurant, is $495 which is close to my upper limit.
So praise Dionysus and pass the corkscrew for El Vergel’s wine list. There are two whites at $320, a Viento Sur Argentinean Torrontes and an Ikis Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. As for reds, there’s a Norton Argentinean Cabernet Sauvignon at the same price and a Pierre Jean French blend at $340. And for 20 pesos more, there’s a Casa Madero Rosado that’s perfect for warm weather courtyard quaffing.
El Vergel. It stands to reason. At least seven of them.
El Vergel is located off Salida a Dolores. The road leading to it is almost directly across the highway from Candelaria. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, every day except Monday.