Meeting Cynthia Martínez, owner and manager of this place, is being welcomed with hugs and smiles as if she was greeting lifelong friends that finally, after a long time away, were coming back home. From this moment on, the evening would have that characteristic feeling of familiarity and fraternity that is present in Mexican passion and brotherhood, always fed amongst dishes, scents, drinks and a good talk.
Walking the place to learn and getting to know the different areas, the first we got to was a private dining room with a long table in which one can clearly imagine big family reunions and, if you listen carefully, even in the silence of this empty-at-the-moment room, the pictures and walls are keeping the echoes of laughter and toast of those who, before the remodeling of this venue, came to enjoy a bullfight spectacle in a small arena turned now into part of the public dining room ready to receive those guests eager to enjoy an authentic Mexican cuisine full with origins.
In the middle of the restaurant, where a Catrina – that classic character created by Jose Guadalupe Posadas to portray the Death – watches everyone as years came by, Cynthia shows us her collection of regional shawls handcrafted according the longtime and historical tradition by thread spinners from the Purepechan upland. The Michoacan style shawl, by the way, was given the classification of Designation of Origin. With that amaze for beauty in textures, colors, forms and designs still in our minds, behind us there’s a showcase of miniature handcrafts of the Posada’s character portrayed in a wide variety of scenes and actions, showing the dedication and care for the stories told by the craftsmen of this figurines, barely with a 5 centimeters height.
Next to the bar, a holding screen showing paintings of the nation heroes caught my eye and draws me to it. Martínez told us that, besides the permanent decoration, every such time and according to each traditional holiday, some pieces are changed and, with that, she makes us promise that we’ll come for the upcoming Day of the Death, for this place not only changes the scenery but also adapts the gastronomy with a series of dishes prepared with those ingredients closely related to this date, such as Cempazuchitl flower an many more.
But we were yet to be surprised even further in the last corner of the place where our table was ready for us. This area is called The Old Maid Corner and guards an impressive collection of figures of Saint Anthony to whom, again thanks to the story turned into legend and then into belief and tradition, people grant the heavenly power for helping single women to find a husband, after a very specific action: putting him upside down after saying a very specific – and as popular and folk as Mexico can be – pray. This collection of over 600 pieces imposes a very impressive sense of respect because of the care of each piece displayed and, proudly, at the center of this room, there’s an upside down Saint Anthony upside down over 2 meters in height. And this is not over yet, for beyond the majestic statue, what really touching moment is the fact that every single woman who visits this place put her prayer and then walks around the statue for a certain amount of time for it is popular belief that “The Saint will be my miracle match-maker”. Needless to say, this moments are what profound love for a past enriched Mexico is about.
Sitting at the table, Cynthia talks about the first San Miguelito, a place opened years back in the city of San Miguel de Allende – hence the name of the place – by her father and how, years later, keeping the promise that he would return to this land where he was born, he seized the opportunity to acquire this house in Morelia and bringing the successful concept that, just as now happens in Morelia, was an absolute point of reference for the gastronomy industry of Guanajuato. Now, with Cynthia running the place, apart from keeping the original spirit and concept of her father’s idea, the place is also a window of opportunity for numerous craftsmen of this region, commonly anonymous, to show and exalt the work they do. With this, San Miguelito conquered the last part of our souls, for this spirit of rescue and keep of true traditions and expressions of this country has become necessary for this place, not only in a visual way, but also into the flavors coming out from the kitchens, by that moment, fully working for our expectations and imaginations of what we were about to enjoy.
As a short note, every dish that hit the table has its origin in flavors created in Mexico and familiar to us. However, the tasting experience was entirely new. I’m telling you this now so we can avoid saying this over and over. This settled, the first dish into the table was a very thin steak, incredibly smooth and a blank palette ready to be enlightened with any of the options of sauces that is served with. Also a sort of dry meat that even when the flavor of it remind us to that one known as Machaca and widely known as a traditional dish in the state of Nuevo Leon, actually its smoother and not overwhelming taste and crispy texture may be the reasons behind the quickness in which the dish was emptied, for this meat comes from the region of Tierra Caliente in Michoacan.
Then, a dish that just by sight captured our senses. A Fried Cheese bathed with two different sauces that wrapped around an amazing tortilla unique because it’s prepared in this very kitchen, fills the palate a wide range of flavors such as the earthy and strong from the sauce to the complexity of the cheese that, even a rookie taster will feel the richness of the product and, therefore, its proved quality, for this cheese is also from the region of Tierra Caliente.
While we were waiting for our next dish, Cynthia offers a tasting of mezcal, as she tells us about the local producers and their effort to get this unique beverage. It’s impressive hearing to this woman, passionate with everything that Michoacan is and always will be, sharing her experience with those producers and then talking about the need of creating a tour to this place that takes the visitors into the discovery of this flavors. Also, she talks about her newest project: a cooking academy where those enthusiasts for the regional cuisine – essential for the recently acquired status given by UNESCO to the Mexican cuisine as Intangible World Heritage. In this academy, Cynthia is planning to take everyone through the essence of Michoacan’s flavors and Mexican gastronomy, side by side with traditional cooks, elder women from indigenous communities as she is aware that no one knows and understands the secrets that makes this food so unique as they do.
It is at this moment that the shining star of the evening arrived. Called The Master’s Steak, it is a thick beef steak served over a Huitlacoche sauce. Now it is good to get two things cleared out. I’ve never been a fan of this particular ingrediente – a fungus that grows inside the corn and known as the Mexican truffle – and that, even when I eat it, it’s because those times I’ve had it, normally I don’t find out about its presence in the recipe until my dish is served. I think that, if I had known I would have done the same thing I always do when I read about it in any menu, saving me from the experience of tasting the recipe. Fortunately, things worked out different this way, and thanks to our host’s advice, I took a bite after getting it bathed with the sauce. It took a couple of seconds for my mind to understand that, against every previous idea about it, I was actually eating Huitlacoche. If I could give, at that time, a free voice to my thoughts, I’m sure it would had gone something like “Really? This delicious thing is Huitlacoche? Are you sure? Then, why haven’t you ate more of it all this years?”. I can’t find a better way to describe that particular experience of tasting a perfectly balanced dish with ingredients seemingly made for each other.
Pretty satisfied and enjoying a delicious cup of coffee, the closure of the night came with a Corn Cake with the softest and lightest texture as its success. Unlike many places with this very traditional dessert in their menu, San Miguelito has managed to fully develop the flavor of this grain, taking advantage of its natural sweetness with a texture that sort of embraces tongue, palate and senses. Next to the cake, a cup with Wild Black Cherries with ice cream that allows the cherry to reach our mouth surrounded by the sweetness of the ice cream and then fully explode with the acidity and intense tastiness. And, as a final moment and ultimate surprise, Cynthia presented us with a tasting of what will soon become a definite favorite of diners in San Miguelito: A Cotija Cheese Ice Cream with a Balsamic and Blackberry Reduction. It is very rare that ingredients so unlikely to be together prove that for a full appreciation and development of their flavor, the only thing require is to reach and break the limits.
Night found us in San Miguelito and, as rain was falling outside, our chat went from the traditions of Michoacán to the uncertainty of a future in which, the only sure thing was the absolute need of continuously rescuing the past and everything that goes with it. Closing the evening, Cynthia says goodbye at the door, smiling as we take a last look to those halls so different between them and, at the same time, so identical in its essence and meaning of what Mexico is thanks to the vastness of its history. There, back at the bar, in what we now know is called The Conspirators Room, those paintings of the nation heroes are watching us confident that we’ll be back anytime we can. And as we see the reflection of the shadows of Saint Anthony’s figures moving only by the light of the flames provided by candles lit up around them, we exit the place and cross the gate back to a reality that, itself, has already changed enough to make us look back, as we were getting on the car, and through a window say goodbye to that gigantic Catrina that waits calmly the next evening that we pass by her.
San Miguelito Restaurant
Flavors of Mexican Cuisine
Int’ (521) 5555028067
Nac (044) 5555028067