La Cucina di Afrodita has always been one of my favorite places. But I haven’t eaten there very often. I guess it’s because I’m not a very good planner and going to a rural restaurant does take a bit of planning. Plus, La Cucina di Afrodita is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, the days that a lot of other things happen in San Miguel de Allende.
Then there’s the transportation problem. Both Don Day and Don Day’s Wife drink a bit…OK, more than a bit…so driving is out of the question. And taxis. It’s not so much the added cost, it’s the irregularity of the cost. When the taxi that takes me out charges $150 and the taxi that brings me back charges $250, I’m liable to have a hissy fit and spoil my and other people’s entire evening.
These days, those taxi fares are a little lower. Because last summer, La Cucina di Afrodita moved a little closer to town. To a spectacular location perched in the foothills, with a Western exposure that dazzles you with its sunsets, and a greatly improved kitchen and much improved dining area.
But I still don’t go there very often. Maybe I’m just an urban guy. A guy who gets a little uneasy without the sound of the sirens, the smell of the smog.
Then I got the news. Sicilian native Laura Buccheri, the chef/owner of La Cucina di Afrodita was opening a spaghetteria in San Miguel’s new Mercado Sano. I walked there last week. I like being able to walk to restaurants.
Restaurant, though, may be a bit of an over-statement. Snack bar, though, may be a bit of an understatement. The urban version of La Cucina di Afrodita is part of a food court on the top floor of the new market. Unlike most food courts, though, there are no chains, no franchises, no factory food, just a few local chefs serving some of their more simple fare.
The food is much more simple at Laura’s pasta bar. She’s saving words like cavola verza, bianca y nera, polpettone and curcuma for her weekend menu at her location off the road to Dolores Hidalgo. In town, the focus is on sauces and your choice of penne or fusilli to mop them up with. It’s not quite a move from fine food to fast food but it’s somewhere in between.
The sauces are the classics. Arrabbiata. Al Salmone. Amatraciana. Pomodorini. Bolognese.
The Puttanesca comes with black olives and more capers than usual, adding a nice saltiness to the dish.
The Sicilian sausage doesn’t make it on the regular menu.
“It’s extremely time consuming to make”, Laura told me, “especially when you’re trying to cook for two restaurants, seven days a week.”
If it’s on the specials board, served in a very traditional red sauce, it’s a must.
I asked Laura what her favorite thing on the menu was, what she had problems not sampling when she was making it.
“The Gorgonzola”, she told me, and the sauce, made with the Italian blue cheese, cream, bacon and walnuts, then topped with Parmesan and chile flakes, may now be my favorite as well.
The in-town version of La Cucina di Afrodita is a tiny space, with about four square meters of hip check room for Laura, chef/part owner Tonina Rischitti and assistant Luis Hernandez Ramirez. Most dishes are cooked à la minute on a six burner stove and, to me, the place to be is on one of the stools out front watching it all happen.
There is usually a soup or an appetizer on the menu and a couple of desserts made by a woman that I consider one of San Miguel’s finest patissiers (yes, Laura makes her own desserts as well). The chocolate cake and profiteroles are not to be missed and, each day, a fresh fruit pie goes into the oven.
Mercado Sano has been open for a couple of months now but the second floor still remains to be discovered by a lot of people.
“We need to be busier”, Laura told me. “This is Saturday, what should be our busiest day and the organic market downstairs is hopping. Yet we’re not even half…not even one quarter full.”
It is a shame. Because upstairs should be hopping as well. My recommendation? If you like the pleasures of pasta smothered in simple sauces, climb the steps. They’re like a stairway to heaven.
The urban location of La Cucina di Afrodita is located in Mercado Sano, Ancha de San Antonio 123, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The market is open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, seven days a week.