“You can’t eat ambience.”

My dad said that. He probably wasn’t the first to say it. But he may have been the person who said it the most.

“What’s wrong with chrome and formica?”, he’d say. “You think food tastes any better when it’s served on fancy-dan tablecloths and china?”

Though I was careful to never let him know, I agreed with my father. I liked diners, delis and drive-ins just as much as he did but, once in a while, particular when I discovered there was an opposite sex, I wanted to dine in the loftiest lap of luxury.

In San Miguel de Allende, there are a few places that my dad would’ve called classy joints, places he would only set foot in if my mother dragged him in. Moxi, Bovine, Zumo, Aperi, Atrio. There’s another one though that, visually, I think stands a notch or two above these.

The last time we were there it was with friends Peter Perley and Therese Wong. Peter, who I don’t think can eat out without then telling Trip Advisor, summed the place up perfectly in two words, “sophisticated elegance”. The place he was describing was Trazo 1810.

Though it’s only a block and a half from the jardin, social central in San Miguel, Trazo 1810 is still a bit of an unknown and almost every one I’ve met who has dined there were guests of the hotel that the restaurant is housed in. I only discovered it when I reached the back of a retail store one day while shopping for a mirror. There was this glass door and, when I opened it, it was like opening a treasure chest. There was a spectacular lobby courtyard surrounded by three floors of magnificent stone arches. I was almost knocked off my feet.

The hotel is called Casa 1810. The glassed in restaurant is visible from the lobby two floors up, as is an additional dining area on the roof. It looks very good during the day. It looks spectacular at night. And for an upscale restaurant, sight can be almost as important a sense as taste.

There are good reasons why a restaurant chooses to go for a look of luxury. You will attract a “moneyed” crowd, they may well spend more on wine, and they may linger longer, nursing an expensive mezcal, single malt or brandy.

An elevator takes you to the third floor restaurant. The walk through an open lobby will have you looking up at sunbrellas floating in the sky.

Inside the restaurant there’s a lot of soft browns and touches of beige. Acoustics are good; there’s a hum, a buzz, but no echos, no bangs or clangs. The wicker chairs, spaced comfortably apart, feature two of my favorite things, arms. Hat and bag stands are tucked into corners.

Don Day’s Wife wants to rewrite the lyrics to Black Cars. Something like “women over 50 look better in the shade”. A couple of months ago, she insisted we leave a Michelin-starred restaurant about two minutes after we arrived because “I don’t eat in places lit like cafeterias.” The lighting at Trazo 1810 on the other hand is a warm gold, not an icy blue. It’s a place that suggests you hold hands above the table, touch knees beneath it.

And to solve the problem of old eyes at dim tables, there are imaginative lights that attach to the menus.

Chef Alan Carias refers to the cuisine as “modern with European influences and Asian touches”. It’s what Don Day’s Wife refers to as a “foodie menu” which, unless you are strictly meat and potatoes, is a good thing.

The pleasures of the palate are matched by the visual thrills. Every dish is eye candy. Every plate is suitable for framing.

My favorite thing on the menu is a strange choice for an upscale restaurant. It’s the prices. Even my dear old anti-ambience dad might have eaten at Trazo 1810. All of the starters are under $200. All of the mains are under $400. All of the desserts are under $150.

Which means if you sit at the bar and have a couple of appetizers, then share a main course like the risotto that’s extremely generous with its shrimp, plus a sweet, two can be out for $1000.

Add a $650 bottle of Incognito, one of my favorite Mexican wines, and you can be out for less than $2000 including tip. That’s difficult to do at any of the other high end restaurants in San Miguel. It’s almost impossible to do in any other of the world’s great cities.

Though I agreed with my dad that you can’t eat ambience, I think if he could have experienced the affordable ambience and sophisticated elegance of Trazo 1810, he would have gobbled it up.

Trazo 1810 is located at Hidalgo 8 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm, Sunday to Thursday and 8:00 am to 11:00 pm, Friday and Saturday.

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