It started with an ad in San Miguel de Allende’s weekly newspaper Atencion. It was an ad for San Miguel’s Rosewood Hotel. It said sushi was half price on Thursdays.
We were heading for Toronto two days later. And I knew a visit to Solo, our favorite Toronto sushi bar, would follow within a couple of days after that. So could we wait for our sushi fix? Naw, we’d already had 33 days of sushi withdrawal and yeh, we’d been counting.
Good sushi has always been hard to find in San Miguel. And particularly since Chef David Behnke left MX where, on weekends, he would serve up some of the freshest fish ever on the restaurant’s roof.
There are other places in San Miguel. But at Delica Mitsu, it’s the menu items other than sushi that I like most. And Sushi Gami only comes close to reaching the bar on a couple of items. Plus I want fresh not smoked salmon. I want fresh not frozen tuna. And I don’t want anything Mexicanized with the addition of cream cheese.
At the Rosewood, sushi is served in the 1826 Bar. Obviously a lot classier than your average sushi joint. But grab a couple of stools at the north end of the bar and you could be in an upscale Tokyo restaurant.
We sat down and ordered drinks. For most people what to drink with sushi is relatively simple. Sake or beer? Beer or sake? At 1826, the decision is a little more complex. 1826 has the hard to find (Liverpool is the only place I know that stocks it) and exceptional value Rene Barbier Brut Reserva, a Cava much cherished by Don Day’s Wife.
“Isn’t this a bit over the top to eat with sushi?”, I said to Don Day’s Wife. “Wasn’t it a bit over the top what you lost at poker last night?”, Don Day’s Wife said to me. I ordered the Cava for her, a cerveza for myself.
Manning the sushi bar these days is a new guy who’s name doesn’t begin with K and doesn’t end with a vowel. The sushi chef’s name is Alberto Rodriguez. And, despite his mile-wide smile, he takes his sushi very, very seriously.
So where did Alberto Ramirez learn to make sushi so well? Tokyo? No. Yokohama, Osaka? No. Kyoto, Sapporo, Kawasaki? No, nowhere in Japan. Then probably Korea. Seoul? No, nowhere in Korea? Then San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto? No, nowhere in the new world.
Alberto Ramirez learned to make sushi in Paris. Yes, that Paris. The one in France. Because in Paris there is a very famous sushi bar. Actually a very famous bar, period. For 20 years now, Buddah Bar has been one of the toughest-in-town reservations to nab.
I could tell by the way Alberto was handling the rice, massaging it not squeezing it, that he knew what he was doing. Just like you know that a basketball player who can dribble the ball around a couple of guys with too many tats can also put it in the hoop.
We talked about the importance of rice in the art of sushi. The type of rice, the amount of sweetness, the amount of vinegar and how the rice must stick together without being sticky.
“Too many chefs think it’s just a bed to rest a piece of fish on”, said Chef Alberto.
We tested the chef with a small dish of sauce. “Is that soy or ponzu?”, we asked. His nose knew it was ponzu.
We now trusted him and, when we trust a chef, we love to use the words “feed me”.
“Feed you?”, inquired Alberto.
“Yes”, I said, “make us what you’re most proud of. Omakase.”
Alberto smiled. I think he knew the omakase word, the word the Japanese use for chef’s choice. I could tell he liked the idea. I could tell he was brimming with confidence.
Though everything revolves around fresh seafood, there’s much more than sushi on the 1826 menu.
“The menu’s evolving”, said Rosewood’s Food and Beverage Director Paul Sykes. “We’ll be working with Alberto to improve it once he’s more familiar with what ingredients he can source and what he can do with them.”
There’s a long list of ceviches on the current menu and that’s what Alberto started us with.
“The tuna’s from Vallarta”, said Alberto, “I’m doing it on a bed of avocados.”
The tuna, I’m guessing yellowfin, had a little hint of wasabi and was prepared a la minute so that it wasn’t cooked. The presentation was enhanced with arugula and toasted baguette.
The next course began with a bowl of fluffy clouds of joy arriving from 1826’s main kitchen. Scallops. And not the briny North Atlantic scallops that Don Day’s Wife’s turns her nose up at. But the milder, less gritty Pacific type that she likes to inhale the aroma of.
The dish was quite simple. As sushi dishes should be. A little salmon roe on the top. A twist of greens in the center. A mostly soy sauce on the side. And a peppery nasturtium blossom mostly for show.
“Stop and look. First you must eat with your eyes.”
I heard those words in 1974 from the chef in what I believe was Toronto’s first sushi restaurant. A good sushi chef will always respect both the eyes and the tongue.
Alberto Ramirez’ next dish brought visions of an octopus covered in seaweed almost beached in shallow water with waves crashing around it. Hamachi formed the tentacles, coconut milk and tapioca the ocean, arugula the weeds.
Is there anyone who doesn’t like a little showbiz for dinner. Say a Caesar Salad or Crepes Suzette prepared at the table. Chef Alberto’s two sushi sous chefs (say that three times quickly) Emma Romero Stutz and Orlando Munez were as wide-eyed as I was when he wrapped our maki in rare magret de canard and added a little pyrotechnics with a blowtorch.
We were full but we had to find room for some nigiri, fish at its finest. The nigirizushi (I think that’s how you spell it in Japanese) was, as hoped for, simple. The presentation was, again, spectacular. It came as the hull of a ship with ice for ballast and masts of purple sage.
But the salmon, the tuna and the snapper were just perched on their beds of rice accompanied only by a wad of wasabi and pickled ginger.
I’d almost forgotten that we were here first and foremost for the freshest of fish. But, amongst the elegance of the surroundings and presentation, that’s what I remember most. After 12 years off and on living in San Miguel de Allende this was the best sushi we had ever had.
Don Day’s Wife made a comparison to another sushi restaurant called Nobu and I thanked Emma, Alberto and Orlando (profusely, I hope) and we walked out of 1826. But wait, I said to Don Day’s Wife. Is that a Chuck Berry song I hear? Is that the Ra Beats playing? Is there any more reason we need to head upstairs to Luna? We might catch not just the end of their set but the end of the sunset.
The 1826 Bar at the Rosewood Hotel is located at Nemesio Diez #11 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.