Don Day gets emails. Not a lot of emails. Maybe a couple each week. Most of them are short and sweet emails. Occasionally they are short and sour emails. Recently I received one that wasn’t short and sweet or short and sour. It was long. So long and so informative that I thought it should be published as a separate post on the blog. Besides, it would save me the hour or two it takes to write a blog, not to mention the arduous and exhausting task of overeating and excessive drinking that’s often a painful necessity in the research of a subject for a blog.
The long email was in response to a blog post I’ve done annually for a few years now. It’s about my 50 favorite things to eat in San Miguel de Allende. Well it used to be about my 50 favorites but, as we now have many more and much better restaurants in this town, the number has gotten a little out of control. If you check it out here http://dondayinsma.com/2016/01/03/4784/ you’ll see the list is now over 80 and, with the help of that long email, it may break the century mark in 2017.
The email came from a pirate. I’ve always liked pirates, well at least the ones in Jimmy Buffet songs. Actually I should say the email writer said he’s a pirate. I’ve never seen his eye patch, he never once said “shiver me timbers” in his email, and, for all I know, he might not even own a parrot. But, as I do not want to risk being plundered and made to walk the plank by a guy with a cutlass in his mouth and silver buckles on his shoes, let’s agree that he’s a real pirate.
I’ve had short emails suggesting I remove an item from the list. I’ve had short emails suggesting I add an item to the list. The pirate’s long email suggested I add twelve more items to my list. And, having already experienced some of his recommendations, I must say I praise his finely-tuned tastebuds.
I originally included a few comments of my own about his additions to the list. But then I removed them. For a lot might have best been described as lame excuses. So, I’ll leave you simply with the words of the pirate:
Hola. First please let me introduce myself. My name is John Burger, but a select group of my friends know me as Pirate John. With a last name like Burger, how could I not enjoy food. My wife, Debra, and I have been visiting San Miguel for the past several years from our home base in Palm Springs, and we are now in the midst of constructing a casa on San Rafael Norte in San Antonio.
I have thoroughly enjoyed following your blog. It has been extremely helpful and entertaining as we try to integrate ourselves into the wondrous lifestyle of San Miguel.
I love to cook. My friends tell me that I am quite proficient at it, but now I only like to prepare meals for ourselves and close friends. I have taken cooking lessons from chefs specializing in cuisines from all over the world, including French from Jacques Pepin. French was my initial foray into cooking in the 90’s. But I have since learned that you can make almost anything taste good with enough salt, sugar, or fat, and good techniques. Viva La France! Now I have evolved into a philosophy of what I call ingredient-based cooking. Which means using only the best and freshest ingredients available and not messing them up.
This morphing became especially crucial when I turned 60 and realized: Durn, I might not live forever after all, so I’d better learn to eat healthy to maximize my odds. I greatly modified my cooking style, lost 40 pounds, and am glad to report that I take zero meds at 66. But don’t worry. I also believe in Oscar Wilde’s philosophy of “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
My impetus for sending you this email was your article, 89 Things To Eat in San Miguel, 2016, from which I have compiled and targeted my strafing list. Many of your selections I have already tried and agree with. But since you elicited other nominations, I humbly submit some of my suggestions. They come from a slightly different slant; lighter, smaller plates and taking in more of the entire ambience of the eating experience rather just the dish itself. Some are for venues more experiential than the food itself, some are for supplementing home cooking, and some are just variations on your themes. But whose counting. So here goes.
Numero Uno y Dos: Tio Lucas Caesar Salad and Irish Coffee. How many places are left in the world where you can experience an authentic tableside prepared Caesar salad or a flame poured Irish coffee on a rainy and chilly afternoon? The salad for the price of limp romaine with dressing from a jar in the U.S., and a cocktail that is probably banned by OSHA.
Numero Tres: Jicama tacos on the rooftop at La Azotea. Light, healthy, with a delicious Asian spin of, I believe, hoisin sauce and a killer sunset view. The jicama shell means that you can have at least four or more.
Numero Cuatro: Hecho in Mexico. Sitting at their intimate bar with my wife sharing an overly generous portion of guacamole with chips and a couple of Chiladas. It is far more than enough for lunch, and you can engage with other locals if you so desire. My favorite experience was in February as I sat alone because Debra had come down with the flu. A woman came in and ordered four large containers of their soups to go. I asked if she was coming down with something. She replied, “No, but everyone I know has the flu, so I am going to hole up until it passes and wanted something good to eat.”
Numero Cinco: Don Taco Tequila. My favorite taco bar in San Miguel. But two non-taco items are what kick it up and above the others. First, is their ubiquitous presentation of four salsas, ranging from cool and soothing to a habanero that screams caliente. All are delicious and unique. Not your typical rojo or verde watery salsas served everywhere else. Then there are the nachos with grilled top sirloin. So good, it is not fair to call them nachos. Having a half portion of these on their two-for-one margarita Thursdays is a weekly event for me. And as a side note, a must try is the Coyote Sotol served up. Bet you can’t have just one. Okay, so maybe this is three menu items.
Numero Seis: Mario’s Mariscos Frescos. Although the smoked marlin ahumado made your list, I prefer their simple and fresh ceviche tostado. But only when accompanied with one of their micheladas. A delicious fully loaded lada that even comes with a sweet shrimp as garnish. Best michelada in town for me.
Numero Siete: La Mezcaleria’s sauteed shrimp in garlic oil with grape tomatoes. Simplicity at its best. Five of us celebrated my birthday here two years ago, and even though I made it through almost all nine of their mescal selections that evening, I still remember that shrimp dish.
Numero Ocho: Osteria de Mia Italia. Another venue that made your list with their spaghetti carbonara and pizza fantasia. But one of the dishes that amazes me is their Ensalada Camarones. Fresh, lite, and citrusy, this dish is the best use of opio I have had ever had. I confess that I now make it frequently at home.
Numero Nueve: Petit Four’s cream puffs. Not always available and I’ll let this photo of mi esposa and Tia Betty speak for itself.
Numero Diez: Apolo XI. Again on your list. I would add why would you ever take the trouble to make your own carnitas when for 50 pesos you can pick up enough pork for at least eight tacos at home. Perfectly seasoned, I always ask for todo crispy, which ensures all lean meat. If you are fortunate, Nicholas will be the one working, as he seems to be more generous and always provides a parting sample to whet your appetite.
Numero Once: Nirvana on the weekend when they provide a wide selection of open pit grilled meats including ostrich. But then again the venue makes it overly special. Two of my friends had doubts about San Miguel until we took them to Nirvana. They immediately started looking for equine properties.
Numero Doce: Cumpanio. Ending up with a baker’s dozen, I would add to your baguette recommendation, to get the scissor snipped spiky version. It maximizes the crunchy crust so much that only half of it ever makes it home.
Well, that’s all folks. Someday I hope we can up your list to an even 99. Meanwhile, keep up the fantastic work and consider yourself an honorary member of my not so secret society of pirates. And I hope we can meet someday soon.