Vinicola Toyan

Toyan might change your life. Vino por Vino is not only proud, but we get thrilled knowing the finale to our amazing wine tour comes to this wonder of the wine world.

Surrounded by fruit trees and statues of gargoyles, nuns and monks, Vinicola Toyan has the feeling of an ancient abandoned monastery. The tour constantly unfolds surprising joys – an old chapel that is now a theatre, a replica of a 19th century Mexican kitchen where we have an organic,onsite-produced lunch, even the fact that the vineyard is run almost exclusively by women – and many other details we don’t want to spoil here.

The culmination of the tour is actually the bottom of a 14 meter cavern where the temperature stays constant for the aging wine there. The stunning walk down illuminates with mystic blue light, and an army of stone monks guard the way each in its own niche.

 Our tasting takes place in another blue-lit throne room, all stone and something right out of a fantasy story. We don’t accept commissions so if you are interested in purchasing from their rich selection of wine, you’ll be getting the best price. And don’t worry about carting all that wine back on the plane – Toyan can ship back to your home.

Some things are so exquisite, it just isn’t worth it to describe – so we will leave it at that.

El Correo Restaurant

Correa means ‘post office’ and that works out, cuz this comfy place is right across the street from the Post Office.

More importantly this fabulous restaurant combines traditional Mexican food, good prices and a joyful ambience. It feels as if you are sitting in some classic Mexican living room. Dainty artwork surrounds you.

The menu is straight up traditional Mexican offerings – sopes, enchiladas Suizaschilaquiles, great soups, generous portions. They also have a full bar.

In addition to its central location, business casual vibe, and attentive staff – the prices are great! It is a popular place so try to come before or after the lunch/dinner rush. 

Zumo Restaurant

“Zumo” means ‘juice’ but it also kinda sorta means “zest,” and this magnificent venue has a zest for the exquisite. The architecture, the view, the drinks, and especially the food all make Zumo a premier dining experience.

Chef Alejandro Zuno looks barely old enough to be a busser, yet he ranks as one of the top chefs in a town of great chefs. A member of Slow Food movement, and himself a producer of organic foods, Chef Zuno uses responsible, locally-sourced ingredients. And his well-balanced menu hits an astounding number of lovely notes.

His Achiote Miso Marinated Sea Bass with Cilantro Chard Cream Sauce, Sticky Rice & Sauteed Zucchini sounds like a poem. A touch of France, a touch of Japan, a touch of Pacific Coast and all parts of Mexico influence the table here.

It also must be mentioned that the mixologist at the bar is a master as well producing intriguing concoctions – Carajillo and Amore & Muerte (Love and Death) – among many others. Zumo has a pretty impressive array of wines.

Elegant Dining in San Miguel de Allende

Now that SMA is the best city in the world you just know many Playahs are going to come to town. If you want to blow it all out on an elegant evening of dining, sipping and just being awesome; or you just want to savor some of the best culinary experiences in the world – it’s all here. 

COMING SOON

The Restaurant, Zumo, Aperi, Moxi, Antonia, 1826, L’Escargot

Zumo

Traditional Mexican Restaurants

These places are humble, usually with no sign except someone’s name – “Gordita’s Dona Maria” – and a scrawled menu. So let’s talk about those menus – sometimes you’ll find no menu, but a row of earthenware pots (cazuelas), and you pick up the cover as the lady behind the table tells you what it is.

 Pro Tip: Mexicans have separate words for hot temperature and hot spicy food – caliente means temperature hot – picante or picoso is spicy. 

What they are offering are called guisados, kinda stews. And normally they will prepare you an open-face thick tortilla with that delicious stuff spooned on top. Sometimes they’re served on a long, narrow tortilla which they call huarache cuz it looks like the bottom of a sandal.

     There are countless guisados, if you discover one you love tell us about it. Here are some common offerings:

Albondigas – Small meatballs in a mild chili sauce.

Bistec en pasilla – Steak chopped and simmered in a chili sauce. This can be a little spicy.

Champinones – Mushrooms. Served in various styles.

Chicharron – Pork rinds served in a casserole of tomatoes, chilies, garlic and onion. 

Chorizo con papa – Mildly spicy red pork sausage. Mexican chorizo is different from the Spanish sausage that shares its name. Often served in a guisado with potatoes.

Deshebrada – Shredded, marinated, slow-cooked beef, the Mexican version of ropa vieja.

Guacamole – Finally! Something you recognize. If you are a spicy-phobic (you should be ashamed); check they didn’t chop up some fresh jalapeno in there. Jalapenos are way hotter when they are fresh and not pickled.

Huevos – Scrambled eggs with tomato, garlic and onion. Sometimes chopped up hot dogs. Umm, yeah.

Huitlacoche – A delicious grey/black/purple fungus that grows on corn. It is often prepared as a casserole with onions, garlic, chili and corn kernels.

Nopales – Cactus. This veggie looks and feels like stewed green pepper, but the flavor is milder. Usually stewed with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Nopal is an excellent anti-cancer agent.

Picadillo – Ground beef with potatoes and carrots sometimes with tomatoes – kind of like a fine-textured hash

Pollo con Mole – Chicken in mole sauce – moles are the curries of Mexico – as some moles have more than 20 ingredients, there are numerous versions. If it is almost black, that is the famous mole poblano that uses unsweet chocolate in the mix.

Rajas de chili poblano – Rajas is a special spelling of the word for strips, so when you see this it’ll be sliced strips of something. Here it is the wide, not-too-spicy chili you may have seen stuffed (relleno). They simmer the strips of the pepper in a creamy cheese sauce with corn.

Salchicha – Hot dogs are an honored member of the Mexican table. Often the guisado will be a casserole of chopped hot dogs and potatoes, chilies, or other ingredients.

Salsas – The steak or chicken or other things sometimes will be con Salsa – with salsa – these are the two colors.

Salsa Roja – Red sauce. Some form of chili serrano, tomatoes, garlic and stuff. There are as many versions as grandmas in Mexico. And the color does not indicate how spicy or not it is. Ask for a taste first. 

Salsa Verde – Green sauce. Some form of tomatillos, lime, chilies, garlic and stuff. There are as many versions as grandmas in Mexico. And the color does not indicate how spicy or not it is. Ask for a taste first. 

 

Dining Out in Mexico

    Vino por Vino Culture Alert:  Dining Out, Mexican Style – There are some fascinating  differences in the foodie experience here. 

Click Here to Eat!

Keep in mind, the restaurant service focus in many other countries is ‘Greet ‘em, get ‘em a drink, get the order, get the food out.’ Especially in busy places – it’s called ‘Turn and Burn.’ The service focus here, on the other hand, is guest comfort – don’t bug the clients. It’s to the point in some restaurants that you have to ask the server to bring you a menu! The idea is when the guest is ready, the guest will let the servers know.

    Once you are seated you might get a menu. If you do, you can decide on drinks and meal right away, or if you need more time, call over the server and order your drinks. Remember when you order water it’s going to be either still (natural)  or sparkling (mineralizada). If you don’t want to pay for bottled water and just want a glass of water remember this. You will (almost) never be served tap water; but it will come from big water coolers of safe water – ask for agua de garrafon or vaso de agua. Also ice (hielo) is something you often have to ask for, even with soft drinks.

    In other places, when folks enter a restaurant waiting for a table, or get up to leave, there are these uncomfortable moments when the seaters make eye contact with eaters. Everyone averts their eyes, no one tries to notice what each others are eating. Here in Mexico, diners look you right in the eye and wish you ‘Buen Provecho!’ Or just ‘Provecho!’ It kinda means ‘Bon Appetit,’ and the proper response is ‘Gracias!’ Try it next time you catch a Mexican in mid-meal.

    Finally, when you have had, we hope, a wonderful repast, you have to ask for your check. Most places will absolutely not pester you with a check, until you ask. Tipping (propina) is a sort of social experiment in San Miguel de Allende. Up until recently, locals didn’t tip. This is the case  all over Mexico. Because of the influx of foreigners, however, there are a lot more gratuities going on. here  Ten percent is about right. Finally, don’t be a twerp and leave US dollars, it’s a sort of hassle to change for regular folks. Buen Provecho!

San Miguel de Allende Restaurants

   Restaurants could be the subject of an entire website as every sort of restaurant can be found in San Miguel de Allende. We will highlight our favorites more and more moving forward.  If you have an amazing experience please share it with us.

High-End – These are the places you should wear your nice shirt.  The nice thing in San Miguel is often you can experience elegance, and still look at your wallet in the morning.

Comfort – Great places, with wonderful ambiance, that feature meals at really reasonable prices. Many have more familiar dishes to visitors.

    Real Mexican Mom and Pop Joys of the Gastronomic Galaxy – These will be places that probably don’t speak English, offer delicious stuff you’ve never heard of, and cost less than your go-to, save-money meal back home.

Taco Stands – also known as Taco Stands.

Cafes – Coffee-first places that often offer light meals, juices, bakery, internet and a pleasant place to chill out.

Guide to Wine Tasting

If you already possess oenological acumen – then this article might be too simple, and by all means post your feedback and advice!

For the rest of the wine-wannabe world these quick notes will guide you in the vibrant and fulfilling pastime of wine tasting.

When we were kids, our flavor philosophy was dualistic – good or bad. That is: Hawaiian Punch – Yay!; prune juice – Yuck! Some folks never give up that mindset. Appreciating wine (or whiskey or tequila or even prune juice) is much more holistic. A taster is looking for the entire experience of the wine – its look, its aroma, its changing effect as you savor it. After a time, you will understand every glass of wine as a fourth dimensional work of art – not only a creation here and now, but the idea of it you build in your own mind. Here are some notes for a fun and gratifying wine tasting:

First – no chugging! Though this will get you buzzed faster, by the time the eighth wine comes around (professional tasters may do 25 or more!), you won’t be savoring much. Believe it or not, for large tastings, the vintner supplies a spit bucket where you swirl the wine in your mouth and spit it out. This is a great option for people that don’t really drink alcohol, but enjoy wine tasting.

Second – Have a palate cleanser. A nibble between each glass. This is a way to clean out the effects of the previous glass of wine: a cracker, a bite of bread, cheese is good, too. Many tastings will provide palate cleansers.

Third – Keep a wine journal. Wine tasting, like watching your favorite team play or bird watching, is a deeply personal experience. You don’t always see it the way others do. The sommelier tells you the wine has hints of green apple, and all you get is banana? You want to remember that.  Keep a notebook where you record your own notes on the wines you survey. Surely there are wonderful, pre-prepared wine journals online and in bookstores which are fine, but probably cost a bit. You simply need a little notebook and each page goes to a wine. There are also apps, of course. If you keep your info in the cloud like on Google Drive, for example, even better, cuz you can sort and search and other kewl stuff as your wine odyssey continues through the years.

OK, journal in one hand, cracker in the other – you are ready. Well, put down that stuff and grab a glass!

COLOR:  Don’t drink yet. Look at the wine – it’s not just red (or white) is it? It is deep ruby, or purple velvet, or light raspberry. There are infinite colors, note how you see this color – it’s exactly like your grandmother’s couch? Write that down.

BODY:  How full or light does the consistency of the wine look? Does it seem bold or does it seem refreshing just from the appearance. Swirl it, notice how the liquid runs down the glass. This is called the ‘legs.’

BOUQUET:  Don’t drink yet, hang in there. After swirling, stick your nose right in the glass. Allow the aroma, the ‘bouquet’ to waft through your brain. What do you get? Pungent, grassy, fruity, chocolate are all descriptors. There are myriad more. At first, try to connect on your own – even personal sensations:  my sister’s pumpkin bread, my first car – after a while you can go to books or online where you can find lists of thousands of descriptors. The finer wine journals have lists as well.

COMPLEXITY:  Here is the moment you have been waiting for:  take a sip, don’t swallow yet. We have our own terms for the three parts of the experience:

Nose:  How does it taste when it first hits your tongue? Spicy, lemony, oaky, sweet, etc. Again there are thousands of descriptors to describe your first taste impression.

Heart: What is the overarching characteristic that dominates the flavor? You will no doubt get several, note them all, as you proceed one or two will come forward. A fine Chardonnay might feature butter and peach. That stuff you used to get at the gas station when you were in high school might feature kool aid and turpentine.

Soul: Once you’ve swallowed or spat, no judgement here, check in with your taste buds. What are you left with? Does the savor disappear quickly, like a fast food burger? Or is there a remaining hint? This is called the finish, and one of the key reasons folks, wine snobs or not, return to a certain bottle. The finish may be entirely different from the Nose, it may be light and perfect for a hot afternoon; it may be like warm bread just right for your reading chair in front of the fireplace.

Finally, here is the best part of wine tasting:  it’s time for another glass.

Guide to Tacos

Mexicans, generally, are a busy, hard-working people. Though they have their family meals, these tend to be later in the evening. 

Usually during the day, folks are looking for something fast, cheap and good. And in the evenings, the party animals are out, and when the munchies hit, they are looking for the same thing. Heck that was why the taco was invented. Tacos had a bad name up in the States for years because no one knew what a taco was. You would go to Taco Tuesday at a church fair or something and it was this weird crunchy shell, ground beef with an odd chili powder, shredded cheddar, chopped tomato and iceberg lettuce. Que? Luckily we are starting to come around as more and more authentic tacos have been appearing in American cities.

Here in Mexico, the taco is the national nosh. Wagons everywhere serving them up to lines of people. How can you tell if the stand you are eyeing is safe to eat at? First, if there are a ton of people there, clearly the vendor has a good reputation – including clean food. Second, check out the cooking conditions. Many taco makers these days wear hair nets and gloves. They serve their creations on plates covered with a clean plastic baggie. Check out the condiments – are the limes and onions fresh? Is the meat looking healthy? If all that checks out, dig in.

The base of a taco is the tortilla. There are two types of tortillas – wheat flour (harina) and corn (maíz) – both are soft. You can find discussions of the great wheat vs corn tortilla social struggle – wheat is more European, corn is more Native – but it’s taco time so let’s save the politics for later. Wheat flour tortillas are better for bigger things like burritos and gringas; while corn is usually the default tortilla for tacos. Plus, corn tortillas are gluten free.

A standard taco is chopped steak (bistec or res) – usually ribeye, sirloin, or a cut from the shoulder called diezmillo. The chef grills the steaks, then chops it with a humongous curved cleaver in a convex wooden block. Then they add chopped white onions and cilantro (verduras). Normally, they fry six tortillas, smaller than you’d expect, and double up each and create three tacos per order. They usually throw some lime on the plate.

You can ask for grilled onion (cebollitas) or grilled jalapeno, and there is always some kind of homemade salsa or two or three around. Unlike in the States, you don’t pay upfront. You leisurely find a place nearby to relax and eat, order more if you’d like, get a soda (refresco), and when you’re all done you pay. How these folks remember the tabs on a busy Friday night is a world mystery.

Also you will see inscrutable lists taped up or on chalkboards, usually handwritten and misspelled, of other taco offerings – these names and choices change around different regions so the list can’t be exhaustive, however, here is an incomplete guide:

 

Asada – (grilled) – grilled steak, carne asada implies a softer texture of meat

Barbacoa – Though the word probably comes from the same root as ‘barbecue,’ it is way different. They steam meat in the ground covered with maguey leaves.  Around here it’s usually mutton, but they also do beef and chicken. It’s very tender, has strong flavors and always served with consome, a clear soup. 

Cabeza – (head) – steamed cow’s head, produces a beefy flavor, usually put in steamed tacos (al vapor)

Canasta – (basket) – you don’t see this at stands but on front stoops of houses, where the locals steam tacos in woven baskets – making a delicious, but slippery taco. They are stuffed with savory potatoes, refried beans, steamed pork skins (chicharron), or head meat (cabeza). Also called al Vapor.

al Carbon – carbon means charcoal – these have char-grilled meat

Carnitas – (little meats) – proof the universe cares about us. Slow-cooked pulled pork – not like American barbecue – but straight up, tender pork.  You will see the different cuts in the pan. Tell them if you want it more juicy (jugoso) so they can add a little of the fat and juices.

Chicharron – (pork rind or fat back) – usually this snack is fried for a way tastier improvement over potato chips, but when its steamed, it can be put in a taco with attendant chilies.  

Chorizo – a red, Mexican sausage, not generally spicy. This is usually a breakfast meat, but they will chop it up for tacos as well.

Gringa – (white girl) not meant to be offensive – it is steak and melted cheese rolled into a wheat tortilla – if you are missing cheeseburgers – this is your order.

Lengua – tongue – this is prepared from beef tongue braised with garlic and onion – it has a soft texture and is great with spicy salsa.

Longaniza – sausage – this is a pork sausage prepared with spices and chilis, a little spicier than chorizo.

Pastor – (shepherd style) – think of a pork gyro – in fact it is prepared on a shawarma grill; but instead of lamb they marinate the pork in chili, annatto (achiote) and pineapple. They put it on the vertical spit, trompo, and top it with a chunk of onion and pineapple, then spins around in the flame.

al Vapor – (steamed) – see Canasta.