I had an all you can eat lunch last Sunday. There were seven women and little old me. Talk about a feast!
The venue was a favorite. It’s been around long enough now that I almost consider it an old favorite. I certainly can’t think of any place I’d rather favor with my company on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
It started with an email from La Cucina di Afrodita reminding us about their lunch and that most of it would be cooked al horno, in their wood-fired oven. An invite from Liliane Vidicek to join her and her friends there clinched it.
It’s a bit of a haul out to La Cucina (Trattoria da Laura a los Mezquites). Almost half an hour from our home in Centro. With the last ten minutes best serenaded by Duane Eddy’s “40 Miles of Bad Road”.
But when you finally get there it’s a wow. The restaurant is nestled in rolling wheat-colored hills with a Western view through olive trees to blue-grey mountains on the horizon.
Laura Buccheri is La Cucina di Afrodita’s chef but it was her husband Justin Marino who was manning the brick oven. I’ve never understood why brick ovens and barbecues are always manned and never womanned; is that the real reason women marry and put up with us?
The porchetta had already been removed from the oven and the foil topped pan with the chicken was next to exit and be moved to the kitchen to keep warm.
The temperature of the brick oven read about 275 degrees C. It was now time to throw in more wood and crank it up to 350 ready for the pizza.
“It’s all olive wood”, Justin told me. Pruned from the trees at our home. It adds a great taste to the crust and don’t you love that smell?
The pizza was simple. Tomato sauce, crumbled mozzarella, olive oil, fresh basil and a few black olives. What I’d call a pizza margherita if the olives weren’t there.
“This is exactly what you’d get if you ordered a pizza in Naples”, said Justin.
The crust was crisp and slightly charred with light and puffy edges.
“What do you think?”, I asked another brick oven owner, Cliff Avant, who was checking out all the dough-kneeding details with me.
“Perfect!”, said Cliff.
Chloe Arnould, who was sat next to me added, “Everything tastes so very fresh.”
Next up was one of the few things that hadn’t seen the inside of the brick oven. It was a pasta with the fancy name, tortiglioni alla boscaiola. It’s one of those sauces that means different things to different people. I’m used to seeing versions that have mushrooms, zucchini and pancetta. Chef Laura’s version includes tomatoes, peas, and parmesan. I like Laura’s version.
“Would you like more?”, asked Justin.
“I would”, I replied, “if I hadn’t caught a glimpse of what was still to come.”
To come were a lot of things. Some delivered on a dinner plate. Some additions brought around by the servers.
For her porchetta, Laura had smeared an assortment of fresh Italian herbs and spices over a pork belly, then rolled it around a loin, then wrapped it with pork rind.
Laura called her poultry dish, Grandma’s chicken. Chicken thighs and legs were braised in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red wine, onion and fresh tomatoes to a moist tenderness.
“They’ve raised rosemary to a new high with this chicken”, tablemate Kristen Lankester remarked.
Baby potatoes had been roasted in the brick oven.
Peppers had been sauteed in olive oil.
The pork skin had been returned to the oven for extra crisping and was getting “more, please” requests from both ends of our table.
Though she insisted that Laura receive all the credit, Laura’s sous and fellow Sicilian Tonina Trischitta was removing dessert from the conventional gas oven. She called it Danish Kringle. Strange I thought from an Italian chef. Until Tonina told me how Laura had taken the dish out of Denmark and Italianized it.
There were two different pastries, a shortbread style on the bottom and a patachou on top, plus an almond cream, slivered almonds, blackberries and strawberries. It was further proof that Laura Buccheri is one of San Miguel’s premier patissiers.
Maybe it’s being in the country. Maybe it’s the way the light shimmers through the wide glass windows. But each time I go to La Cucina di Afrodita it’s more of an outing than just an eating.
The Montepulciano flows. And if you’re very fortunate, the Italian atmosphere will inspire someone to break out into an aria.
Another tablemate, D. Kaiser, summed up the day perfectly: “Ambiance wonderful. Lunch fantastic.”
Trattoria da Laura by La Cucina di Afrodita is located at Camino Real a Marroquin de Abajo, on the way to Hotel Boutique Sagrada before entering the little village of Marroquin, 9.6 kilometres from Fabrica la Aurora, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Lunch is served by reservation only on most Sundays of the year and during major festivities. Catering, chef at home, and cooking lessons services are also available. Telephone 415 124 2435 for reservations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be placed on the restaurant’s mailing list and for any inquiry. You can enjoy similar but simpler food in central San Miguel at La Cucina di Afrodita’s Spagheterria in Mercado del Carmen, open seven days a week from 1:00 to 9:00 pm, Monday to Thursday; 1:00 to 11:00 pm, Friday and Saturday; and 1:00 to 7:00 pm, on Sundays.