It’s been happening for a few years now. The decline of 50+ expats out on the town. And their rapid replacement by 20+ nationals. But I really noticed it on Sunday. First, on the streets of Centro. And then at lunch at one of our favorite San Miguel restaurants.
“Remember when the granddaughters came down about 15 years ago and we had to do the mini-lecture about wearing shorts in the jardin”, said Don Day’s Wife. “Did you notice how short some of those cut-offs were today.”
“Oh yes, I definitely noticed”, I replied, “and I took a couple of turnaround looks. And I recall that even I wouldn’t wear shorts in Centro 15 years ago. Remember when you couldn’t get into a church with bare shoulders?”
We were meeting up with Ben Penman and his wife Cheryl. Ben was one of my best buds in Toronto during the seventies and that friendship was rekindled when Ben joined the snowbirds who flocked to San Miguel each winter.
We were a loud “yes” when Ben and Cheryl suggested Zumo. We had definitely wanted to squeeze in another visit before we took to the wing and headed North again. And Zumo has that wide open atmosphere that’s become so important to us during covid.
We took the elevator up to Zumo’s rooftop restaurant (glass elevators fascinate me) and noticed the difference as soon as we walked into the dining area. Out on the patio was Bob Glaze, the creator of the food and travel website, Globalphile. And that was it for anyone over 40. The look and sound of the rest of the crowd was almost definitely Mexican.
“My customers are now 90% Mexican and nowhere near the age of the old crowd”, Stewart Haverlack, owner of Zumo, told us later.
We’d already been told that Zumo no longer served brunch, only lunch. The difference? Brunch at Zumo included bottomless mimosas. Not any more.
“I’d look around the room”, said Stewart, “and every table I saw drinking mimosas was another table where I’d be losing money. It was a great draw but didn’t make any economic sense.”
There are still, however, some reasonably-priced wines on Zumo’s list and Ben chose a Casa Magoni rosé for the table.
There’s a new executive chef at Zumo, the Swiss-trained Jonathan Cuevas Fuentes. There are a lot of new items on the menu as well, many of them reflecting what’s trendy but also what’s already tried and true in kitchens run by young Mexicans.
I always look for dishes I don’t get at home and two caught my eye: the soft shelled crab tostada and the grilled octopus. Don Day’s Wife went for the pork belly tacos and a salmon tartare.
San Miguel restaurant Tostévere has made the tostada de jaiba a somewhat legendary dish in this town and every one else’s soft shelled crab is always subject to comparison.
Chef Jonathan’s is marinated in chile morita and Japanese ponzu and served with Chinese cabbage and grapefruit. It rivalled but didn’t top Tostévere’s. I would have liked a little more of the chile mayo and I’m always waiting for someone to scrap the tostada and wrap the crab in a big flour tortilla so I don’t end up with half in my lap. But I guess I’ll have to wait.
Zumo’s salmon tartare is unusual in that it includes both fresh and smoked salmon. Cucumbers are the dominant green and a sweet and sour lemony mayo holds it together.
Potato chips instead of the usual corn chips were also welcomed.
I liked the presentation of the suckling pig tacos. The cast iron pan worked beautifully with the blue corn tacos. The meat was tasty but a little dry and the beer salsa didn’t really help to add moisture.
Pork and fried onions, though, always seem to make perfect partners.
Octopus seems to be on almost every San Miguel menu these days including Zumo’s. The first measurement standard of grilled octopus is tenderness and Chef Jonathan has obviously mastered the technique. The second way octopus is judged is with the spicing. The chef blends tamarind and harissa and plates it over an avocado emulsion and baby red potatoes. Everything worked harmoniously.
Apart from adjusting to a younger, Mexican crowd, I asked Stewart Haverlack if there had been other changes necessary during covid times.
“One big change has been our hours. San Miguel has become much more of a weekend place so we’ve cut back on our hours”, Stewart told me. “We’re now only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
“I remember one Tuesday. I had seven staff and zero customers. Not one the entire night,” Stewart continued.
“Last night we did 90 covers. That’s a great night with or without covid.”
I can never leave Zumo without circling the patio, checking the view from each vantage point. The angles are different than from most rooftop restaurants and especially beautiful in April when the jacarandas are in bloom.
The scene in Centro had become even busier when we emerged after our two relaxing hours at Zumo. More 20ish Mexican couples were now walking hand in hand. More 30ish moms and dads scurried after their balloon carrying kids. But nary a retired expat was to be seen anywhere.
It’s been much more difficult for almost everyone to enjoy San Miguel during the last year. But I still consider it to be the best little town in the world. I wonder if it will change again post-covid. I wonder if, then, I’ll like the town even more.
Zumo is located at Quebrada 93 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from Friday to Sunday, 1:00 pm to 11:00 pm.