A Five-Minute Appetizer and A Tale of Two Restaurants Part II
by Victoria Challancin
When I am thinking superficially, I suspect that I secretly live for cheese. I just love the stuff. Strong, mild, soft, hard, sharp, pungent, nutty, acidic, floral, earthy, complex, mottled, peppery, fermented, herbaceous, intense, or tart...yep, I love them all. Each and every one. So when looking for a quick, stand-in appetizer, I naturally look for cheese. When there is no time for a proper cheese tasting plate, I often opt for something as simple as this dish: Goat Cheese Slathered with Fig Jam and Topped with Toasted Salted Pumpkin Seeds. Dead easy. Dead delicious. Tangy, sweet, salty...all these flavors blend perfectly with the accompanying textures: crunchy, soft, and gooey. A winner in every way. And did I mention that you can usually pull it together in about five minutes with ingredients you probably have on hand?
Cook's Notes: San Miguel's largest supermarket usually carries a nice variety of English jams, of which fig is normally one. Not so on the day when I made this. So...I opted for pear, which made a nice substitute. Because I also failed to find pre-toasted and salted pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, I heated a bit of olive oil in a skillet and toasted raw ones for a few minutes until they popped, then ground coarse sea salt over them. Nice. Of, and of course, I probably tripled the amount of jam and pepitas, called for in the recipe just because I just don't seem to be a moderate person in general and because more just seemed better.
Recipe: Fig and Pepita Goat Cheese Log
(Recipe adapted slightly from Food Network)
One 15.5 oz log goat cheese (I chose plain, but herbed with garlic would have been nice as well)
1/4 cup fig jam, or to taste
1/2 cup toasted, salted shelled pumpkin seeds (see Cook's Notes)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the goat cheese log on a cheese board, plate, or platter. Spoon the fig jam over the goat cheese, gently spreading it with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the jam to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crostini or crackers.
Made a bit prettier by being served on a Moroccan fossil plate from a 600-million-year-old slab with a thoroughly modern Moroccan cheese knife
A Tale of Two Restaurants, Part II
Although I rarely write a restaurant "review", I did choose to do so last week as I had eaten two fabulous lunches two days in a row in two very different types of eating establishments. Two meals, completely different from each other, each lovely in its own way.
As you probably know, the first restaurant was Las Cazuelas Mexican buffet in nearby Comonfort--terrific, reasonably priced Mexican fare with the best chiles rellenos capeados ever!
What will be the second restaurant, friends have written to ask? Knowing me, I think they suspected Don Taco Tequila for my favorite addictive ancho chile taco stuffed with goat cheese (yes, cheese again), almonds and a touch of honey--and of course with tortilla chips served with their salsas, which I think are the BEST five table salsas in San Miguel. Is it DTT? No. Could it be Delica Mitsu, the Japanese deli/cafe where I go frequently for my bento box fix (always with their hijiki salad)? Not this time. Firenze or The Restaurant for their special offerings, the former always perfectly executed if small in number, the latter always innovative? No, indeed not this time. Mi Vida for their duck ragu? Although I would almost crawl there to enjoy it...not for this review. Hecho en Mexico for its reliable everything, from hamburgers on sour dough bread, to crispy fried chicken or squid, to that huge and yummy Thai-Mex salad? Nah. Buen Dia Cafe, my favorite breakfast spot (though Cafe Monet does a good eggs Benedict) for its unbelievably delicious cappuccino and green chilaquiles? No, not breakfast on that day. Media Naranja for the best tortilla soup in town? Too hot still for hot soup. Rosewood for its Sunday brunch at which I always overdo it...starting with a tamarind margarita, moving on to smoked salmon and cheese, then to the grilled food a la parilla, and still on to the beautiful dessert spread? Nope, it wasn't Sunday. Pizza Pig for great thin-crust pizza (I am NOT from Chicago--none of that thick stuff for me, please) and delicious salad? No, we met in the historic centro. Or speaking of out of town, perhaps Los Senderos with its house organic garden of vegetables and beautiful vistas--and great food as well. No, we weren't out of town, as I said. Fenicia for my regular fix of properly prepared Lebanese-style hummus and a spot-on mezze plate of equally authentic Middle Eastern fare? Not on that Thursday. Perhaps a quiche and salad from Cumpunio or one of Robin's terrific desserts from across the street at El Pegaso? No, and no again. Vivoli for the unctuous olivado and homemade bread which arrives as soon as you are seated? No. So which restaurant did my old and very dear friend and EXCELLENT travel writer Donna Meyer (visit Donna's beautifully-executed blog Nomad Women here) and I choose for our long-overdue reunion? Scroll down to see.
For Restaurant #2, Donna and I chose Néctar, the quiet and subtly elegant Casa de Té en Camino Silvestre on Correo.
And now to continue with the "Why Do I Do What I Do" theme I began last week. Why, exactly, did I choose this particular restaurant?
Because I so love al fresco dining, could it be because of the visually stimulating courtyard of the restaurant itself and its charming manager Juan Carlos Cuevas Almazán? Both nice, but no.
Is it because the store which houses the restaurant in its courtyard always titillates me with its quiet elegance and tasteful handmade decorative items? No, no, no.
Is it because when my son worked with this beautiful company I inadvertently learned more than I would ever have guessed about all things hummingbird--and learned to appreciate the beauty of all of the handmade hummingbird feeders and the other tasteful objets d'art that Camino Silvestre sells? Non.
So, what led my dear friend and me to this peaceful spot? Why, the food, of course. The food and the fascinating offerings on the completely tea-inspired menu. Something a little different, a characteristic which is always pulls at my heartstrings.
Etched pitchers hold the infused drinks, the salad dressing, and simple syrup. And while the drinks alone here cost more than the entire last buffet with drink included that I wrote about last week, the prices are still very reasonable.
Sample Dishes from the Inspired Menu:
This vegetarian menu has it all...Gluten-free options, salmon and shrimp dishes for the flexitarians, a selection of vegetarian pâtés (my usual menu choice) for the hedonists like me...nay, for the sensualists (I like that better), salads, sandwiches, veggie burgers, and more...and each dish is infused with tea. Yes, "tea!" What a delightful concept which yields delicious results!
From the menu:
- Kernels of Sweet Corn with smoky Lapsang Souchong tea and condiments
- Mediterranian Plate: Turmeric cauliflower and white bean dip served with caramelized onions, chickpea fritters, and mixed olives (Teas used? Kerala Masala and El Andariego)
Dips and Pâtés: (Truly this is my favorite)
- A unique selection of vegetarian spreads with artisan crackers (Cauliflower/White Bean Dip, Sun-Dried Tomatoes with Oranges and Basil with Tropical Herb Infusion, Lentil and Walnut Pâté with smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, or Artichoke Dip infused with Mint Tea)
My dish: Green Tea-Infused Couscous with Darjeeling Tea-Roasted Vegetables
- Vegetables Roasted with Darjeeling Tea with Couscous infused with green tea, rose petals, and a touch of Artichoke/Mint Pâté (yes, you guessed it, this was my choice...it was the rose petals that grabbed me, of course. Delicious and subtle).
- Quinoa Salad with Raw Vegetables and a light infusion of tropical fruits and herbs
- Mixed Lettuces and Organic Arugula, Edamame, Pumpkin Seeds, Nuts, Amaranth, Potatoes roasted with Rosemary, and Goat Cheese...all with a dressing made from an infusion of mixed berries
- Niçoise--the classic Salade Niçoise served with a Bergamot-Orange Dressing
Donna's dish: Red Lentil and Sun-dried Tomato Vegan Meatball Sandwich in a Tomato-Orange Sauce infused with Rumba Tea
- Darjeeling-Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Goat Cheese and Arugula
- Salmon with smoky Lapsang Souchong Tea, the house turmeric mayonnaise, arugula, and goat cheese
- Breaded Eggplant with a Tomato Sauce with a touch of orange
- Garbanzo Burgers with Tomato and Onion Chutney steeped in a Ginger Rooibos Infusion
- Curried Black Bean Burgers with Corn and Caramelized Onions infused with Chai Tea
- Quinoa and Lentil Burgers with Parsley, Onion and a touch of Rooibos Ginger Infusion
- Sautéed Shrimp with Lemongrass Dressing served over Green Tea-Infused Couscous with Rose Petals and Cherry Blossoms
Soups: (all vegetable-based)
- Zucchini Soup with Fresh Lime and Lemongrass Tea
- Carrot Soup with Vanilla Rooibos Tea and Slivered Almonds
- Tomato Soup infused with a Smoky Black Tea, served with Yogurt
- Puréed Green Pea Soup with a light infusion of Mint
While I haven't exhausted the menu offerings, this is a fair sample of the interesting, innovative and utterly delicious food served at Néctar. Each of our main dishes cost 100 pesos, or about US$6.25 and the generous portions of the fruit tea infusion drinks were 70 pesos each, or about US$4.35. I am never disappointed when I eat here--and I always leave feeling gently stimulated by the artistic surroundings and replete with the satisfaction of having eaten something delicious, interesting, different, and healthy!
Do I prefer one of these restaurants over the other--the fun and economical all-Mexican buffet from Las Cazuelas in Comonfort or the quietly elegant modern vegetarian fare from San Miguel's Néctar in the courtyard of Camino Silvestre? Do I prefer one over the other? No. Not at all. The are both wonderful choices, each special in its own way, each with delicious food. Kudos to both restaurants for jobs well done.
Parting Shot: Mexican Juxtapositions
In the Courtyard of Néctar, Casa de Té, San Miguel de Allende
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
Flavors of the Sun Cooking School (and Trips!)
San Miguel de Allende, México