Cent’anni arrived on the scene in a blaze of praise five years ago. They were the very first of very many new San Miguel restaurants with a big space, an inventive menu and a scenic rooftop. Don Day gave them the rave reviews they definitely deserved.
But then competition came. Atrio. Vinos y Tapas. Quince. Casa Nostra. Ocre. All big restaurants with big menus, big views and big ambitions. And that fire that Cent’anni once had began to flicker.
A lot of people still went there but almost always because it was a music venue not because it was a restaurant. When there wasn’t someone performing on the stage, there were seldom people eating at the tables. And Cent’anni was a big barn of a space where you felt very lonely if there were only a few diners in the room.
A couple of months ago, Cent’anni made changes. The bar was moved to the back. The stage was moved to the front. The side walls were opened. It helped, but the renovated room was a still a bit of a barn just not as big a barn as it once was.
I was at Cent’anni a couple of weeks ago to see the local heroes, Media Luna. The place was packed. The music was superb. But I came out of there not just doing my ridiculous rumba steps but thinking how well the servers handled the full house and how the pizza is still one of the town’s best.
I decided I had to come back on a dark (no music) night and get a better taste of the new Cent’anni. I spoke to new manager Jeziel Laguna and, lickety-split, he put together a wine-pairing dinner with some inviting, off-menu dishes and, thanks to sommelier Gustavo Aguilar, some very affordable wines.
Jeziel offered us the opportunity to sit on the rooftop terrazzo and I jumped at the chance. As stadium-like as the main floor is, the upstairs is a romantic, intimate spot. Take away the fact that you can’t see the parroquia or watch the sun set and you have the absolute best view in San Miguel.
When foodies sit around talking (with glass in hand, of course) about the great chefs of San Miguel, it’s doubtful you’ll hear Viridiana Guadarrama’s name. I doubt in fact that most foodies even know the name of Cent’anni’s chef. Yet she’s been there since the first day the restaurant opened. And she’s put some extraordinary things on tables in front of me.
Last week Viridiana started by assembling a plate of three classic Italian cheeses. None of the cheeses are difficult to find in San Miguel de Allende but good examples of them are like hen’s teeth. The Parmigiano was definitely Reggiano and, from the umami taste and flaky texture, had at least 18 months of aging. The Pecorino was also stagionato (aged) with its crumbly texture and buttery, nutty flavor. The third Italian cheese was not from Italy. Burrata has to be fresh and Viridiana knows that some of the world’s best burrata comes from just outside San Miguel de Allende, from Remo’s, on the road to Queretaro.
A cheese plate is not just about the cheeses, it’s about what keeps them company. The chef had sourced some of this year’s first local asparagus with pencil-thin spears and cherry tomatoes with a sweetness that makes you realize why they’re a fruit not a vegetable.
Sommelier Gustavo paired the cheeses beautifully with a crispy Casa Defrà Pinot Grigio Delle Venezio. Like chef Viridiana, Gus (I’m not sure he likes me calling him that) has been at Cent’Anni since day one and now does double duty in the afternoons serving as the new Cava Sautto’s wine expert.
When I saw what Viridiana had planned for the second course, I was taken a little aback. Now when was the last time I had venison loin carpaccio in San Miguel? Yes, you know. Never.
The razor thin meat was the color of a candy apple that became a Spanish flag when the tangy mustard sauce was smeared on top. The side could have been just baby arugula but the chef had dotted it with artichoke hearts.
Gustavo’s choice of wine was a rose from Mexico’s oldest winery Casa Madero. The rosado, made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, has strawberry and peach flavors with some strong floral notes.
Both the chef and sommelier made bold moves with the next courses. Viridiana took a trout amandine and sided it with linguini.
Gustavo paired the fish with Vigno de Maestro, a Primitivo from Puglia that usually gets poured beside ribs of beef. What can I say other than they both worked and worked well.
Good food and good wine is one thing. Getting it to and from the table is another. Head server Roberto was working our tables on the night of the dinner. Like Viridiana and Gustavo, he also has five years on his Cent’anni service record.. Roberto may just be the best server in San Miguel. Water glasses get constantly refilled. Dirty plates just disappear. You never notice him until you need him and then he always seems to be instantly there. He perhaps has greater aspirations, but he reminds me of the full-time, professional waiters of yesteryear, the guys who would put in fifty years at the same trattoria, the guys who would make you say to the front of house, “Can you put us at one of Roberto’s tables?”
I feel like I owe apologies to Cent’anni, to the restaurant and to Viridiana, Gustavo and Roberto for never giving them as much of my business as they deserve. For only going for music, on the nights when the food, deservedly, only plays second fiddle. Cent’anni not only has good music, it has good food, good servers, good wine and a good sommelier. Good for them for making it through five years in a continuingly more competitive market. And good for me for going back again.
Cent’anni is located at Canal 34 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open from 1:00 pm to 1:00 am, Monday to Saturday; 1:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Sundays.