With many thanks to photographers Richard Smerdon and Marshall Postnikoff.
Last night, at San Miguel restaurant Aguamiel, the gala dinner for the 2017 SMART awards was held. SMART stands for San Miguel de Allende Readers’ Taste and, each year, readers of Don Day in SMA vote for their favorite restaurants. At the gala dinner, which is held at the restaurant that was the top vote-getter from the previous year, we count down the top ten finishers.
This year, 626 votes were cast and 81 different restaurants received votes. Trip Advisor says there are 347 restaurants in San Miguel, so receiving one single vote puts a restaurant in the top 25%. Finishing in the top ten, puts a restaurant in the elite 5%. In other words, every single one of the restaurants who received votes should be extremely proud and those in the top ten should be absolutely beaming with pride.
In tenth place was a new addition to the list and this year’s second runner up for the best new restaurant in town. It’s a restaurant on Salida a Celaya that still a lot of people in this town don’t even know about. The menu of French classics, many learned while chef/owner Josy Treizman was working in Paris and Brussels, has been improving and people are starting to take notice of Ba*Bite Espacio Bistronómico.
Before Josy Treizman fulfilled his dream of opening his own bistro he was the chef at the ninth best favorite restaurant. People obviously love the ambience at what was last year’s winner of the best new restaurant. The atmosphere was mentioned in virtually every vote for number nine, Zumo. You may have heard that the restaurant is currently for sale. Last week, chef/owner Stewart Haverlack told me that, after six months and not one offer, “I imagine I am staying where I am. And either way, I am 100% dedicated to Zumo.”
In eighth place was a restaurant that has been in San Miguel longer than I’ve been in San Miguel though in those early days it was no more than a taco cart. Last year it made its first appearance on the SMART awards countdown, sneaking in at number ten. This year, it moved up to number eight. It’s the very essence of a family restaurant and, despite being in a location that’s hard to find even when you have the address, Tacos Don Felix is now getting the recognition it has long deserved.
In seventh place was another new restaurant and another French restaurant. It was the runner up for best new restaurant in this year’s SMARTs. I only remember one negative in the comments that were written about this excellent addition to the San Miguel dining scene and that concerned the time it takes to get there. In seventh place was El Vergel.
Hosting the SMART awards gives last year’s winner an opportunity to really show off their culinary skills and Aguamiel pulled out all the stops. By now we had already savored chef Gaby Green’s cauliflower soup sided with a huitlacoche quesadillita with cotija cheese and cream and a tostada topped with guacamole And how did Gaby top the guacamole? With caterpillars, of course, another Mexican delicacy. And yes, I saw some screwed up faces but one wasn’t mine.
We also enjoyed a refreshing red snapper ceviche and a spinach and goat cheese salad before the countdown continued.
Any restaurant that opened in 2016 was eligible for the best new restaurant award. It went to the sixth place restaurant, quite an achievement for a rookie. Virtually every vote mentioned the talents and inventive techniques of chef Marco Cruz and his wife Sofia Antillon, the very skilled pastry chef of Nomada Cocina de Interpretación. Nomada is a foodie’s dream and I noticed that the votes for Nomada looked like a who’s who of this town’s foodies.
The fourth and fifth placed restaurants exchanged places this year, though there was only a single vote separating them. In fifth place was a restaurant that has already been showered with praise this year from a few different publications and its leader is the closest thing we have to a celebrity chef. There are not too many places in this world I’d rather be than savoring Matteo Salas’ tasting menu at the chef’s table of Aperi.
Moving up one spot on the list this year was the flagship of a mini empire of restaurants. Ask any young chef working in this town who his greatest influence was and you’ll probably hear the name of the chef/owner of this restaurant. He’s now involved with four San Miguel properties including El Vergel, the restaurant that finished seventh in the SMART voting. Later this year, he’ll be opening a fifth restaurant. I’m talking about Donnie Masterton and his original and still best venture in this town. In fourth place was The Restaurant at Sollano 16.
I’d been told a few times, “You’ve got to have Gaby’s lamb”. At the SMARTs dinner I finally did. The main course was a rack accompanied by a pasilla chile sauce. With it was our third wine from Cava Maciel in the Baja that Aguamiel’s front-of-house and sommelier Jennifer Posner had selected. The unusual combination of Tempranillo and Petite Syrah grapes called Orbita was an ideal choice for red meat.
Saying that the 2017 SMART awards was a three horse race was actually an understatement. The top three finishers all received twice as many votes as any of the other 78 restaurants. In fact, one third of all of the votes cast went to the top three finishers.
2016’s third place finisher stayed in that position in 2017. I think there are a lot of reasons for the restaurant’s success, including a professionalism from its staff that never seems too slick, always warm and casual. After you get past some inventive raw seafood dishes at the top of their menu, you reach mains that are some of the very best comfort food dishes in San Miguel. In third place at this year’s SMART awards was La Parada.
Juanito Leon de Vivero and Ale Gutt, owners of La Parada, chose a trip to Lima, Peru rather than joining us for dinner at the SMARTs. The owners of restaurants number one and two were in the room, however, and I called up Antonio Arrieta and his wife Andrea from Firenze and Jennifer Posner and Gaby Green from Aguamiel. Last year, Aguamiel dethroned the 2015 winner Firenze. Everyone now knew that the same two restaurants were in contention but only myself and the accounting firm of Don Day’s Wife knew which one was on top.
The restaurant almost came to a complete hush as I announced that, in second place, was last year’s winner Aguamiel. Firenze had recaptured the crown and was, once again, San Miguel de Allende’s favorite restaurant.
I congratulated Antonio and told him I was looking forward to the 2018 SMARTs dinner at Firenze. Antonio’s response: “I’m already planning the menu.”