I had an old friend visiting this week. We go back a long way. To when “having a ball” meant owning a treasured piece of pigskin. And going long, up-and-down the avenue, was our favorite pastime.
“Though a dragon lives for ever, not so little boys”, wrote Leonard Lipton. So my old friend and I don’t have as much in common anymore. But it was still great to see him, to hang out with him, to eat and drink and be merry with him. Though I’m often guilty of forgetting it, old friends do make the best friends.
Good restaurants are a lot like good friends. Good restaurants ask very little of you. Good restaurants are warm, comfortable, respectful, friendly, faithful. But I often forget about a lot of good old restaurants. I’m often too busy searching for new tastes that I ignore the old, reliable ones.
It had been months since Don Day’s Wife and I had been at The Restaurant. Even though, for the last eight maybe nine years, it has consistently been one of San Miguel’s very best restaurants, I had almost forgotten it. I shouldn’t have. For The Restaurant is one of the best friends a person with an adventurous palate can have.
The look of the restaurant is very much like it was the first week it opened. The setting is in the courtyard of what was probably once one of San Miguel’s more upscale homes. It’s framed by Moorish arches on one side and a spectacular spider web wall of vegetation on the other. A tinkling fountain in the center is filled with rose petals. Art from a neighboring interior design shop graces the wall. The room is elegant yet casual.
We were greeted by Jorge Flores. Jorge had worked at The Restaurant a few years ago and has now returned. I’m not sure what his responsibilities are but last week he was part time shopper, part time waiter, part time accountant, part time delivery man, and full time filled with charm and grace in everything he did.
“It is so good to be working with Donnie (chef/owner Donnie Masterton) again…there’s nobody I’ve learned more from”, Jorge told us.
Service has always been quite good at The Restaurant. These days, it is very good. Menus accompanied us to the table. Chairs were pulled out. A drink order was taken quickly. Every server, dressed in classy but casual black, contributed to the delivery of the courses. Water glasses were constantly refilled. Multiple servers cleared the table of the chunky flatware, cloth napkins and dishes designed to show off what’s placed on them. The only miss was a common one at The Restaurant, the failure to contribute to the size of the check by bringing a wine list. Don Day’s Wife and I seldom drink wine at lunch but we can easily be led astray by something intriguing on a list.
Lunch to me is the best time to visit The Restaurant. The menu items are styled, sized and priced like starters. And the best way to enjoy them at The Restaurant is to treat the dishes like tapas and order for the table rather than individually. There’s something romantic, almost erotic, about sharing food and, if I was a single guy, this would be the place I would choose for a first date.
When it opened, the cuisine at The Restaurant was somewhat revolutionary fare for San Miguel de Allende. It was the first to introduce Asian fusion and it was one of the first to help elevate the status of Mexican ingredients. Little has changed and I think if I had a copy of the very first menu, I’d find a lot of the same dishes that are on the menu today.
Chef Masterton told me, “It is in constant state of change to some degree. We now have some menu items that are our signature dishes but in general we change one to two items every couple of weeks.” The chef continued, “We rotate dishes that we have done already back into the menu. I think that is very important to teach our staff new things with food, wine and service. It helps to keep them motivated and stimulated.”
All of the dishes I’ve had on the lunch menu are good. Some border on greatness. There are two or three on the menu that, like old friends, we want to spend time with on almost every visit. The pork riblets, a generous portion of firm toothsome flesh, as opposed to fall-off-the-bone meat, come bathed in a right-amount-of-sweetness chile sauce with hints of teriyaki.
The crimped pillows stuffed with pork and shrimp are simply the town’s very best pot stickers. And the accompanying soy/ginger sauce is so good that there’s no way you could ever avoid double-dipping.
The tuna tostados that come crusted in pepper and topped with rings of sweet and crispy leeks were AWOL on the menu on this visit. They are probably the dish that we have ordered more than any other over the years so, hopefully, it’s a temporary leave.
It did though give us an opportunity to try something totally new. Neither of us could remember the shrimp cakes on the menu before so they were a must. The avocado relish had lots of heat and the pepper and citrus reduction added some acidity.
The only disappointment might have been the rabbit tostados and it was a minor disappointment. I really like the taste and texture of the cumin-scented beans but they overpower the flavor of the meat.
One of the best salads in town is The Restaurant’s Brussels sprout leaves and shaved fennel but there had been a change to the Caesar that warranted a try. Kale leaves have been added to the romaine and have contributed a little bitterness to the mix. The Caesar was creamy, garlicky and the anchovies came in big chunks, not blended in like Don Day’s Wife prefers them, so I got them all.
There wasn’t room for a postre this time, even though the burnt caramel sundae ranks near the top of this town’s desserts.
In the film King Georges, Daniel Boulud says “…every ten years you have to destroy and change everything.” Daniel Boulud may be one of the world’s best chefs and most successful restauranteurs but his comment just doesn’t apply to The Restaurant.
Restaurant years are like dog years. A ten year old restaurant is an old restaurant. Probably less than 10% of all restaurants last ten years. The main reason The Restaurant has lasted is, in my opinion, Donnie Masterton’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.
We initially choose our friends because we like the way they are. And the ones we like the most are the friendships that last the longest. I think I’ll be spending time at The Restaurant for a very long time.
The Restaurant is located at Sollano 16 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday from Noon to 10:00 pm; Thursday, Friday and Saturday from Noon to 11:00 pm. Telephone 415 154 7862 for reservations.