It was our anniversary. Our first anniversary. An entire year since we had eaten dinner indoors at a restaurant.
So, where to go? Actually an easy choice. We’d simply go to the restaurant that’s been San Miguel’s favorite for four of the last five years. And the last three years running.
But first though, let me take you back a year. We had just finalized the plans for the Smart Awards annual dinner, the night we celebrate San Miguel’s top ten restaurants as judged by the readers of Don Day in SMA. The menu was set. The wines were ordered. The invitations were sent. The dinner sold out in seconds. And then the whole world turned upside down.
We sensibly cancelled the Smarts dinner and since March, 2020, the cutting board that is presented to the top restaurant had sat on a shelf in my closet. It was finally time to personally present it to Antonio Arrieta, the chef/owner of Firenze, the San Miguel restaurant that, once again, dominated the Smarts voting in 2020.
Why now to finally dine indoors at Firenze you might wonder. Well not because the Covid numbers are down that significantly. More because, for a restaurant with a roof, they don’t come much more open than in the Firenze courtyard. And because, from what we’d heard, the place wasn’t going to be crowded.
Crowded it wasn’t. Three people were just leaving when we arrived at 7:00 pm. It was simply the two of us for the rest of the evening.
“February is usually our busiest month. We’re probably at 10% of what a normal February was like”, Antonio told us. “We had two delivery orders tonight, you and the three that left and that was it.”
We ordered glasses of Chilean Chardonnay and decided to split the scallop main as starters. Chef Antonio’s creations are feasts for the eyes as well as the tongue and I asked if I could join him in the not quite big enough kitchen and capture its creation with my camera.
The scallops had already been grilled by the time I made it to the kitchen (blame the Chardonnay) but here’s the rest of the make you hungry story.
What made it most impressive in my mind was that the sprouts and the edible pansies looked like they’d been picked minutes before. Not easy when you have nine customers in an entire evening.
I had decided on my main course weeks before my return to Firenze. If I included a favorite San Miguel dish in the Smart Awards voting, I’d give 3 to 1 odds it would be Firenze’s short ribs. When Antonio served them to me eleven years ago, I’d never seen them butchered with what I call the English cut in Mexico before.
As always, the beef was moist and fork tender with a titch of tamarind in the juice. And the hint of sweet spicing in the mashed camote works perfectly with it.
Don Day’s Wife chose a special that was on the menu of that celebratory dinner that never quite happened the previous year. Antonio sous-vides duck breast to medium rare inside before searing the skin to a nice crisp. The sauce was reminiscent of Montmorency, the cherry sauce that used to partner duck back in the seventies.
We weren’t even sure that we could squeeze in a dessert. But Firenze does keeps it fairly simple in the sweets column and I needed an excuse to order an accompanying vin santé. The choice was the one I consider Firenze’s signature classic, the panna cotta with raspberries.
I sat there looking at the wall of the restaurant where Firenze’s annual awards are mounted. They’ll have to redecorate when they mount the 2020 trophy, I thought. They’ll need more wall if the Smart Awards are around much longer.
We talked about how, apart from a few of the “see and be seen” restaurants in Centro, the food industry had been hit as hard as almost any industry. Antonio agreed with our decision that there would be no restaurant awards in 2021. We congratulated Firenze for simply surviving into 2021, cheered Antonio and his staff once more, and toasted to better days and the return of the reigning Smart Awards champion in 2022.
Firenze is located at Recreo #13 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.