Memorable Meals in Mexico 1 – Las Mercedes, Guanajuato

ensalada

In the last few weeks, I have had the great fortune to eat two of the most memorable meals I have consumed not just in Mexico but anywhere in the world. Rather than combine writing about them in one piece, I am going to dedicate a separate post to each meal to do them justice.

The two meals are completely different. As always with a memorable meal, it is not just the food, though that is important, but also the overall context – the place, the company, what happens around the meal – that serves to create the experience of a great meal.

Guanajuato

Guanajuato (photo courtesy of Kevin Borman)

The first of these two meals took place during a visit I made to Guanajuato, accompanied by Troy (my ex-wife), Kevin (her partner), our son Michael, and a good Mexican friend, Lupita. (¡Así viajan los Ingleses!)

In fact, this visit was part of a five day trip we made from Ciudad Guzmán, where I live, first to San Miguel de Allende for two days and then on to Guanajuato for a further two days. The two old colonial silver-mining cities of San Miguel and Guanajuato are each extraordinarily beautiful and interesting but in very different ways. Hopefully, I will find the time to write about these contrasting cities in another post.

For the moment, though, the theme is food. Fortunately, before visiting Guanajuato, I had made contact with Rachel Laudan. Rachel is an Englishwoman living in Guanajuato who writes a fascinating and well-researched blog, principally about food history, but which also encompasses many other themes.On her blog, Rachel has a page with recommendations about eating in Guanajuato (as well as more pages with recommendations for other Mexican cities).

As an aside, one of her recommendations for Guanajuato is a funky coffee shop called Cafe Tal on the south-east side of the town (Temezciutate 4, opposite VIPS on Sangre de Cristo) which is well worth tracking down for both the quality of its coffee (they roast their own beans and have endless discussions about the best way to make an expresso) and its hot chocolate. In addition, they have great T-shirts for sale, one sporting the molecular structure of caffeine and another the chemical formula involved in the making of expresso.

Unfortunately, they do not have the T-shirt shown in the photo below for sale, but I did take the picture from the upstairs balcony of the cafe, much to the bemusement of its owner as I shouted to him to ask him to get closer so I could snap his T-shirt.

thirsty-for-eternity

In her page about eating out in Guanajuato, Rachel praises a restaurant called Las Mercedes. She provides a link to a review of this restaurant written by a well-known food writer called Steve Sando where he does a great job in lovingly describing the meal he had in this restaurant and concluding that this was one of the ten best meals he had ever eaten. After reading that, I was desperate to visit the restaurant.

I wrote to Rachel and checked that the restaurant was still as good as Steve Sando’s review had indicated. She assured me it was, and suggested that I talk to the restaurant and ask them to prepare a special regional menu for a small group. Corresponding with the restaurant beforehand was a delight –  because of the consideration and attention to detail that the owners took- as we discussed different options and finally agreed on a five-course meal of regional specialities with two or three choices per course.

As the evening arrived, I had the pleasurable sense of anticipation that I have before the prospect of eating out with high expectations. It’s advisable to go to the restaurant by taxi, as it is in a residential area, on the north west of the city heading towards the mine at Valenciana, and hard to find. Even the taxi driver, though he knew the street, did not know the restaurant. It is not the sort of place you would ever stumble across.

el-grupito1

On arrival, we were immediately made to feel very welcome. In fact, it turned out that the restaurant is normally closed on Mondays, when we went, so they had opened especially for us. We had a table in the window overlooking the city. I was at first concerned that, as we were the only diners, the restaurant might lack atmosphere, but the friendliness and attentiveness of the owner, his son, and the waiter all helped create a very intimate and warm atmosphere.

The meal began with a special drink made of mezcal from the local Sierra, much ice, and the fruit of a cactus that only grows in this central part of Mexico. It was so good that we immediately arranged for four bottles of the mezcal to be delivered to our hotel the following morning. My son asked for the recipe to be sent to him, and planned to visit the market the following day to buy a six month supply of the special cactus fruit. Unfortunately he forget to go.

The meal was fantastic. My friend Lupita had been worried about being able to eat five courses, especially because, as a Mexican, she was not accustomed to eating much in the evening, but the meal was beautifully balanced and put together.

Rather than attempting to describe it blow-by-blow, I’m going to reproduce the menu course-by-course, show some photographs (courtesy of Michael and Troy) and leave the rest to your imagination. The menu reads and looks better in Spanish, some of it is untranslatable to English anyway, and the photos and their captions will help make sense of it, but make a comment and let me know if there is anything you don’t understand.

ENTRADAS:
– Coliflor Capeada a la Antigua (rellena de queso, en caldillo de
jitomate con sutil toque de canela)
– Chile Pasilla Relleno de Queso con Salsa de Nata (marinado especial
con piloncillo servido envuelto en tortilla de harina y frijol negro)
-Chile Poblano Relleno de Elote y Queso Ranchero (servido con crema)

Coliflor capeada a la antigua

Coliflor capeada a la antigua

Chile Pasilla Relleno de Queso con Salsa de Nata

Chile Pasilla Relleno de Queso con Salsa de Nata

SOPAS:
– Sopa Negra de Cuitlachoche (compleja combinación de sabores de
varios tipos de hongos y elote)
– Sopa de Haba Verde con Julianas de Nopal (servida con un poco de
chile seco molido)
– Sopa Capone (de chicharrón con xoconostle y hierbas)

Sopa Negra de Cuitlachoche (a type of fungus that grows on the maize plant)

Sopa Negra de Cuitlachoche (a type of fungus that grows on the maize plant)

Sopa de Haba Verde (broad beans) con Julianas de Nopal

Sopa de Haba Verde (broad beans) con Julianas de Nopal

ENSALADAS:
– Ensalada Mexicana de Flor de Calabaza con Aderezo de Lentejas y Estragón
– Ensalada de Nopalitos

Ensalada Mexicana de Flor de Calabaza (courgette flowers) con Aderezo de Lentejas y Estragón (lentil and tarragon dressing)

Ensalada Mexicana de Flor de Calabaza (courgette flowers) con Aderezo de Lentejas y Estragón (lentil and tarragon dressing)

Ensalada de Nopalitos

Ensalada de Nopalitos

PLATO PRINCIPAL:
– Filete de Pescado Blanco en Molito de Camarón
– Carne de Res en Salsa Negra de Chile Pasilla
– Chamorro de Cerdo “Las Mercedes” (chamorro de 400 grs. aprox.
marinado especial con hierbas y especias, servido en caldillo con
frijol negro. Receta de más de cien años de mi bisabuela Mercedes)

Filete de Pescado Blanco (white fish) en Molito de Camarón (a Mole sauce made with prawns - shrimp in American)

Filete de Pescado Blanco (white fish) en Molito de Camarón (a Mole sauce made with prawns - shrimp in American)

Chamorro de Cerdo (pork knuckle) "Las Mercedes"

Chamorro de Cerdo (pork knuckle) "Las Mercedes"

EL FINAL PERFECTO:
– Buñuelos en Dulce Típico de Piloncillo y Guayaba
– Peras marinadas en canela, servidas con Cajeta 100% Casera
– Tamalitos hechos a la antigua de Coco y Piña

Troy astonished by the Buñuelos en Dulce Típico de Piloncillo y Guayaba

Troy astonished by the Buñuelos en Dulce Típico de Piloncillo y Guayaba

Peras marinadas en canela (cinnamon), servidas con Cajeta 100% Casera, with a special birthday message for Kevin

Peras marinadas en canela (cinnamon), servidas con Cajeta 100% Casera, with a special birthday message for Kevin

As they like to say in restaurant reviews, all this was ‘washed down’ by two excellent bottles of Mexican wine, and, later, a good bottle of South African wine (Two Oceans). I used to think that the words excellent, Mexican and wine could not be combined (except with a negative) but I now see the error of my ways. For the record, the Mexican wines, both red and from the state of Coahuila (not one of the most recognisable wine-producing regions of the world) were:

1. Malteviña 2007 Parras Coahuila (Vinicola San Lorenzo)

2. San Lorenzo Cabernet Sauvignon/Temparanillo  Valle de Parras

The final bill was for 3473 pesos – around thirty five pounds or fifty US Dollars per head. That is indeed expensive for Mexico and it is certainly possible to eat well here for much, much less. But this was such a particular and memorable experience and of such high quality that it seemed incredibly good value to me. In many places in the world, it would be possible to pay the same or more and eat an extremely mediocre meal.

bill1

Finally, many thank to Rachel Laudan for her recommendation, and for all the staff at las Mercedes for such a wonderful meal.

Las Mercedes can be found at:

Calle de Arriba No.6, Fracc. San Javier, C.P. 36020, Guanajuato, Gto.

Telephone: +52 (473) 733 9059

E-mail: lasmercedesbanquetes@gmail.com


UPDATE: For another rave review of Las Mercedes have a look at

http://mexkitchen.blogspot.com/2009/06/gua.html

4 comments so far

  1. What’s Up | Rachel Laudan on

    […] Paul Roberts, like Steve Sando before him, loved his Guanajuato meal at Las Mercedes.  Let’s hear it for […]

  2. […] two weeks. This meal could not have been more different from the other one – that I wrote about in the previous post – which was very accomplished, sophisticated regional cooking in a charming, elegant restaurant in […]

  3. Frank on

    The photos are fantastic and I can imagine what a moving and special occasion this must have been.

  4. […] I know in Mexico – Las Mercedes. I, along with other people, for example Steve Sando, have written rave reviews of this in the past. I visited it again, and found it more up-market than I remembered – for […]


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