There are times that, in this promotion and care for traditional Mexican cuisine work we are doing, that Mexico send us a clear and overthrowing message. Despite knowing that motivation and likeness for this rescue of national gastronomy is going to appear every once in a while along the way, there are few occasions in which it will be this evident as when, listening to our hosts for this evening, it feels like listening to our own story with an astounding similarity. For, even when we come from different families and cities, the flavors, scents and rituals in the kitchen, are bringing us close enough to get confused between the similarities.
This is how we can acknowledge our evening at Los Mirasoles, property of the Figueroa Family, founders of this iconic venue in Morelia, a place in which, between the dishes, the chatter and even the architecture of an old mansion protected by the Mexican Anthropology and History Institute an part of what helped this city to become World Heritage Site, you can get that sensation of being surrounded by stories and legacy, giving this place the importance and deepness in its creation that we can compare to what drove us to start the Flavors of Mexican Cuisine project.
Even when this isn’t our first visit to Morelia, this time, our eyes where more into discovering and feel the places we found and, at the same time, we did this without losing the critic and demanding view that is required in this search for places to include in our programs, created all for your satisfaction and improved experience of destinations that made Mexico what it is. This in mind, Los Mirasoles is, clearly, a place where traditions and memories are put in a concept with a very rare delicacy and intimate contact with our past.
Detailing today will have to be important for this review, because we’re going to try to bring you to what we lived, to share what a place like this, born in the very essence of a family from Cuitzeo and between and endless list of flavors, colors and feelings created by grandmothers, aunts, mothers and, of course, a grandfather who is a central and institutional figure in a family – that is how he is described – who knew how to pass on these feelings to Dr. Genovevo Figueroa and his wife and, these to their own children, both of them, heads of this place.
Built in the late 16th Century, the house turned into restaurant was, in the first place, the home of this family. Along the corridors, today filled with tables and chairs, Genovevo Figueroa Jr. and his brother Fernando Figueroa grew up and, as told by Fernando, even learned to walk. But it is thanks to Genovevo that, desperate to find what we called “house-like food”, after years of travels and foods anywhere but home, that the idea came to be. With a long time traveling every corner of Mexico, he returns to an abandoned house full with memories and, with his father guidance and help from an architect friend, he opens the restaurant to share the dishes he remembered eating between these walls. This is why there is no wonder knowing that the same grandmothers and even his mother are the ones who inspired, created and – these days – even direct the menu of recipes served in here. Today, those plates are complemented with those from other anecdote full women, but always with the guidance of Mrs. Figueroa whom not also creates in her kitchen, but takes a step further bringing those recipes she learns in her travels to indigenous communities, where she goes to unravel the mysteries of traditional recipes that have been served for hundredths of years.
A wine cellar that even the most experienced would envy with a private saloon for 20 guests is the first thing we notice arriving to the place. We take our seats in the main dining room decorated with a reproduction of one of the most important and emblematic fountains of this city. Behind it, a wall paint representing the corners of Morelia’s history in all its magnificence. But, if it wasn’t enough, the paint is a homage to the head of this family, Dr. Genovevo Figueroa, for you can also see in the paint a representation of Cuitzeo – his home town –, with a beautiful sunset, something that, because its geographical position, it’s impossible to see at that place. This seemingly tiny detail gets its full meaning when Fernando and Genovevo points to a particular house represented in the painting and we get emotionally stunned at the fact that it is the first house where their father lived in Morelia when he leaved Cuitzeo.
For drinking, we get a traditional Michoacan’s distillated: Charanda. This is a very smooth and sweet aguardiente that goes through without even notice it and, despite what we may think about this alcoholic beverages, it doesn’t have the characteristic alcohol punch. Obviously, we add it to our shopping list in an attempt to get back home with some of Michoacan’s taste.
For our first dish, a Fried Curd with Red Onion and Chili garnished with Fried Tortilla Chips, a delicate first step into the tasting menu we were about to enjoy. Then, Sealed Tuna Toasts got to the table as a preview of this entries menu main star: Pork Shank Tacos in Michoacan Style, so tempting that even Fernando Figueroa himself couldn’t resist the impulse of interrupting the chronicle of the restaurant’s first days to eat at least one.
Then, Capon Chili Filled with Curd and with Coriander Sauce. It is important to mention that this dish, in terms of balance and nutrition, meet the expectations and requirements of any nutritionist searching for a balanced diet. This is when we remember that one of the most important things in prehispanic food and which has transcend and that keeps it so alive these days is that, with so many ingredients, so variety of cooking techniques and flavors that melt together, is one of the healthiest foods in the world.
Then, a Salmon Trout Tacos that, even they look very much like a quesadilla, Fernando insists on the fact that a Taco is not made just by rolling the tortilla. Even with the tasting explosion already happening in our palate, this dish amaze us with its intensity of flavors and the balance between every ingredient, being the perfectly cooked fish the star when slowly melts in our mouth.
This may be enough for an excellent tasting, but one of the beautiful things of this job we’re developing for you is the opportunity of getting to taste and experiment the flavors coming from an amazingly equipped kitchen, located in what once was a large living room. Now it is time to taste the Morisquera, a true classic of this state today served with a base of Cotija Cheese – one of the only three Mexican cheeses marked with Origin Denomination and, of course, produced in Michoacan – accompanied with red sauce and a unsalted rice, key to this dish, for this is the combining base of whatever ingredient you choose to make the Morisquera with.
Then a dish with a Plazera Enchilada in Guajillo Chili Dressing Filled with Onion and Cotija Cheese; and Pork Shank in Pulque Dressing with Pasilla Chili and Mulato Chili. This last sauce, while it might reminds us to the famous Drunk Sauce used for the Barbacoa – a very Mexican dish in which a lamb is roasted on an oven dug in the earth – it’s impossible to mistake it for it. This is a smooth and sweet sauce that goes perfectly with the pork shank into a viceregal recipe marvelously executed.
The Doña Mari Steak is one of the best dishes in this menu. A steak with Walnut sauce, avocado leaves, olives, almonds and pasilla chili that, again, took us to Viceregal Mexico where its preparation was a respected ritual because it was served among the guests of the Novo Spain nobility because of its elegance.
Between bites, we were offered Mezcal from Michoacan, one of the regions with Origin Denomination for this beverage, which helped us to achieve a perfect digestion despite the endless parade of dishes in our table. It’s important to say that each region where Mezcal is manufactured delivers a totally different flavor, because of the water used in the process and even the very same soil where the agave plant is grow.
As a finishing touch, Sweet Fritters with Sugarcane Syrup and Whipped Cream took me to my own childhood, when my grandmother made this delight for me to enjoy every winter. This made that not only my taste or my scent were part of this experience, but also my heart and memories participated into taking me down memory lane into finding the smile on my face and the ghosts from those long lost moments.
There are many other dishes in the menu at Los Mirasoles, such as Scampered Hen Broth, Centenial Soup or even the simplest Chicken Steak as for, in their own words, the creators of this restaurant wanted every dish served in here to be able to transport them back to their very own childhood, running through this house as fast as they could, in a time where fear of darkness was still something to worry about.
A journey into the most intimate corners of a family, happy to talk about where they come from and that, with all humility and patience, guide us not only through their dishes, but also through the moments that made them who they are today and, between these old quarry walls, share not only with us but with everyone who, in their walking through Morelia, enter pass the doors of Los Mirasoles to travel into the past side by side with a proud present from which we returned to our hotel not only satisfied physically but also enriched spiritually.