I wrote this in March during the days when we first added the word covid to our vocabulary. With restaurants locking their doors, the timing certainly wasn’t right for a rave review. Now, those doors are opening again in San Miguel de Allende, so here it is.
Those quotation marks in the headline are around words that came out of my mouth. I use the word “perfect” very hesitatingly.
But that’s exactly the way I felt recently after sharing three dishes with Don Day’s Wife at a San Miguel restaurant. The ingredients, the imagination, the preparation and the presentation were as good as I think you can get in this town.
The place was Tostévere, a restaurant that’s been around for about two and a half years now. It was good…very good…when it opened, offering a small plates menu that centered around tostadas. The actual items on the menu haven’t changed much since then. But they all seem to have improved, been enhanced, by a little addition here, a slight alteration there.
“Some of the spicing has definitely changed. When we opened, there was a stronger Middle Eastern influence,” Tostévere co-owner Antonio Aranda Lavalle told me, “In time…and particularly when chef Gustavo Flores joined us about ten months ago…the menu has slowly become a little more of what you might call Mexicanized.”
On our way, to Tostévere, I checked out a restaurant that is considered one of the top 120 in all of Mexico. It was absolutely void of any customers. When we arrived at Tostévere, we got into a line for a seat at the bar. A seat at a table would have taken much longer. This was at 2:00 pm on a Monday.
Tostévere is possibly the last place you’d ever want to eat alone. Because there are so many dishes you will probably want to try. And every dish on the list is very sharable.
We decided on a couple of seafood dishes, probably our two favorite items on the menu…and the favorite of a lot of other Tostévere regulars…plus an order of the almost irresistible sweet potato fries. To wash them down, we chose the agua fresca with cucumber and lime.
Tostévere’s octopus tostada is called pulpo a las brasas. It’s served on a crisp blue corn tortilla that the restaurant sources locally. Sharing the space on top of grilled leeks and the tender tentacles are oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, olive oil, mint and parsley. On the side is grilled lemon and sun-dried tomato aioli.
As we waited for it to arrive at the table, I overheard the guy next to me commenting on the dish with our server.
“That’s the tenderest octopus I’ve ever had in my life…and I’ve had a lot of octopus…and I’ve had a lot of life.”
I asked Antonio Aranda how the restaurant makes their octopus so tender.
“It’s very important to buy the pulpo frozen.” Antonio told me. “And you want it frozen on the boat, immediately after it’s caught. It’s the start of breaking down the fibres.”
“Next comes the simmering in boiling water”, Antonio told me, “The books will tell you about 45 minutes but it depends on the size of the octopus. The big ones can take longer.”
“Then we marinate it for a couple of hours…olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and mint. A very hot griddle to get a little crisp, some char, and it’s done.”
The main competitor for best dish at Tostévere is the wrap de jaiba suave, the taco with soft-shelled crab.
A lot of people love soft-shelled crab but a lot of those people don’t order it. It’s because of what Don Day’s Wife calls the “ishy squishy part in the middle”. Chef Gustavo Flores of Tostévere has a solution: Cut the crab in half and get rid of most of what I call the “ucky gucky part in the middle” before you deep fry it.
The crab comes with avocado cream, a separate mayo, beautifully shaped and shaved beets, julienned apples and spinach leaves. They work together like a symphony orchestra.
Good French fried potatoes are almost impossible to find in Central Mexico. Because good potatoes are almost impossible to find in Central Mexico. The solution: Make French fried sweet potatoes and, in Don Day’s Wife’s words, “nobody does it better than Tostévere”.
“I have never ever been able to make sweet potato fries this good”, said Don Day’s Wife, the first time they touched her tongue. “These are the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever had in my life.”
“We dust them lightly with flour then twice fry them…about ten minutes at 90 degrees, then three minutes at about 250 degrees before they’re served”, Antonio Aranda told me.
The crispy fries are then finished with garlic, parsley and what I thought was parmesan until Antonio corrected me and told me it was aged manchego. And one more plaudit about those sweet potato fries, the tangy chipotle mayo for dipping.
If you like restaurants with a sonic buzz, you’d say that Tostévere has great atmosphere. If your idea of atmosphere is soft music and candles, you won’t be too happy with the sounds of chopping vegetables, clinking glasses and growling blenders.
The restaurant only seats about 30 but I think 30 is an almost perfect number for a restaurant. Actually, in atmosphere, Tostévere is more like a bar than a restaurant and I like bars more than restaurants.
It’s one of only about three, maybe four San Miguel restaurants with a full reservation book, a restaurant that’s constantly busy. It’s also one of only three or four San Miguel restaurants that is worth standing in line for. A lunch as close to perfect as we had last week for under 500 pesos for two is a lunch worth waiting for.
Tostévere is located at Codo 4, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Telephone 415 121 3075. The restaurant is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 1:00 to 9:00 pm; Friday and Saturday from 2:00 to 10:00 pm; Sunday from Noon to 8:00 pm. During the Covid-19 crisis, it may be best to phone and check those hours.