“Welcome home”, said the woman in the monogrammed mask, as we walked through the glass doors into Kenten’s S.M.A.
“Welcome home”, I thought. Do I know this woman? Have I been here before? How drunk was I?
It was almost two hours later, heading out through those same glass doors, before I really got it. Kenten’s is about comfort, about companionship, about casual, about camaraderie. By the time you leave, you’re family.
“We don’t make clients”, said that same woman, now known by her name, Jaimdi Anaid Quintero Rocha, “we make friends.”
Kenten’s S.M.A. began about four months ago, in San Miguel de Allende’s Colonia San Antonio, as Kenten’s Fried Chicken. One month ago, they moved to what was formally a cozy little four-room hotel on Calle del Rosal in the same colonia. They’ve dropped the Fried Chicken from their handle because they obviously have much more to offer than what that Kentucky Colonel had. We tasted some of those treats last week.
I asked chef Kenten Marin to feed us what he was most proud of. He had reason…actually a lot of reasons…to be proud.
Jicama might be the world’s most under-appreciated vegetable. Kenten’s proves that the vegetable can stand alone and stand proud in a ceviche that contains absolutely nothing that’s ever swam in a sea. I measure ceviches mostly on their marinade and their ability to provide freshness and acidity without ever being vinegary. Kenten’s Ceviche de Jicama measured up, way up.
Kenten Marin was born in Wisconsin, raised in Peru. Though I, and possibly you, associate empanadas with Argentina, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Peruvian chef who didn’t have an empanada on their mind if not on their menu. Chef Kenten’s empanada pays tribute to his grandmother but I suspect that Kenten Marin’s business and life partner, the born-in-Mexico, Jaimdi Anaid Quintero Rocha, may have had an influence on the stuffing. Grandma’s Empanadas had some wonderfully ooey-gooey, very tasteful and very Mexican Chihuahua cheese in their middle.
The words Poblano Bread on the menu didn’t excite me with its straightforward name and it seemed a little gimmicky when it first arrived at the table. But, with a smooth and throaty sales talk (imagine Lauren Bacall speaking Spanish) from the no-longer Jaimdi Anaid Quintero Rocha but now simply Anaid, we were excited about cracking the shell.
Inside the deep-fried pizza crust were cheddar and asadero cheese, beer and roasted poblano pepper, including chunks that were ripe and red. Outside was a chimichurri sauce that “came from our kitchen not a jar” said Chef Kenten.
Kenten Marin arrived in San Miguel about two years ago.
“It was 2:00 am. I was drunk and someone said this place in Mexico is looking for a chef,” said Kenten. I checked it out. Wooooo!, pretty town I thought, and the rest is…well you know what the rest is.”
That place was Hotel Amparo. A year later, Travel & Leisure magazine called the tiny, five-room Amparo the best hotel in Mexico and the second best hotel in the entire world.
“From the time I was five years old, my grandmother tried to persuade me, over and over, to become a chef. Her job was architect but her love was cooking,” said Kenten. “She even wrote recipe books. That’s me with the chef’s hat at the bottom of the cover on her book of desserts.”
“I didn’t listen…of course. I was a typical kid. I went off and got a business degree. After three months in an office, I wanted so much to be in a kitchen.”
Kenten’s S.M.A. website says this about the culinary career of the chef:
Before leaving Peru at age 18, Kenten turned down a job offer from Peruvian chef and ambassador of Peruvian cuisine, Gaston Acurio, to work at his restaurant Astrid & Gaston. After going to school and completing multiple degrees, Marin decided to go to culinary school and discovered it was his true passion. His grandmother was right!
Marin received an Associate in Arts, Culinary Arts from The Art Institute of Houston, a certificate from the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and completed an internship at Mugaritz in Errenteria, Spain in May 2012. His varied work experience includes kitchens in Lima, Peru, and Tokyo, and notable Houston restaurants including Underbelly, Brasserie 19, Stella Sola, Plonk and Holley’s Seafood.
“The chef at Holley’s was my mentor and my menu pays tribute to him”, said Kenten. “He worked with Emeril at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. It’s hard to put a handle on my cuisine, maybe just call it southern hospitality.”
Shrimp and grits just screams Louisiana to me and it’s on the top of the list of Kenten’s entrées. In the past, I’ve had too many over-spiced cocktail shrimp and bland porridgy slops to get too excited about the dish. But, as mentioned before, we’d put our palates in the hands of Kenten Marin and he wanted us to experience a mini bowl of his shrimp and grits.
The shrimp were a good size, nicely spiced and perfectly cooked. I’ve never quite understood the thrill people get from grits but at Kenten’s I finally got it. I’m not sure if it was the deep taste of the corn or the addition of mascarpone cheese but grits, yeh, I now get grits.
As I mentioned, fried chicken was the feature dish when Kenten’s opened. It’s still the heart of their menu. I think it would be impossible to ever revisit Kenten’s without ordering one of the many magic things Kenten Marin does to our fine feathered friends.
There are two parts to a Southern style chicken dish. Moist, tender and flavorful meat with the accent on moist. And a crispy, well-spiced coating. Kenten’s has a number of treatments of poultry on his menu: breast, legs and thighs; tenders; a sandwich; livers; and wings. What’s nice is that different parts are coated a little differently so every piece is a new experience.
This fried chicken could drastically change my Wednesday night adoration of and alliance with Mr. Crunchy Chicken and a switch of my allegiance to Kenten’s. They do deliver and I expect aren’t too much more expensive. And do I really need that extra half of chicken that goes home with our housekeeper the day after?
Chefs Kenten and Anaid insisted on a postre. We were helpless to resist. They chose a brownie, once again from one of Grandma’s books, with the addition of a local vanilla gelato. It had a crispy crunch on the outside, a velvety creaminess on the inside, a rich, sweet chocolatey taste throughout. I know where I’m taking my grandkids when Covid allows us to open our doors again.
I started this review by talking about walking through glass doors. When you walk through them, I think you’ll be as surprised as we were.
You’ll step into a cozy bar that could challenge Berlin and El Manantial as a place where I might like to perch my behind for an hour or two. A walk down the hall leads to an airy courtyard that seats about 20 in Covid times, twice that in better times. Above the courtyard, on a pleasant balcony, three new tables (with construction by Anaid) are within days of completion. Behind the balcony, there’s a party room, with a widescreen TV that shouts wings and beer to me.
I really like the look of Kenten’s S.M.A. It’s a creative combination of casual and classy. Those big glass doors could become a very familiar sight.
The city has yet to approve them hanging their sign but you’ll find the glass doors of Kenten’s S.M.A. at Calle del Rosal #3 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. To view the menu, go to https://www.kentens.com/gallery. For delivery, call 415 104 6990.