SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, GUANAJUATO – We ducked into the open-air foyer leading to the lobby of San Miguel de Allende’s sophisticated Hotel Matilda – just as the daily afternoon drizzle started to fall on the cobblestone streets of this colorful Spanish Colonial town.
Non-descript from the outside, the hotel’s bright orange façade and rustic wood framed doorway nestles right into the Spanish Colonial architecture dominant here. Inside, the low-key space is accentuated by modern photography, painting and sculpture.
Walls are covered in muted earth tones and neutral greys, giving an air of artistic sophistication. The somber ambience was fitting for this overcast rainy day, yet one could visualize the interplay between light and shade on a sunny day as well.
Photographer Cintia Soto, art director Jim Kraus and I were here to meet Jonathan Alvarado, chef de cuisine at the hotel’s restaurant Moxi. I’d interviewed the chef the day before at the first annual SMA Food Festival. He’d invited us for lunch to try his menu and photograph some of their signature dishes.
Opened by famed Mexican chef Enrique Olvera in 2011, Moxi helped usher in a new era of cuisine in San Miguel de Allende that had already caught fire in nearby Mexico City. Given the international tourism base in this culturally rich region, Olvera chose to play it a little safer than he does at his Mexico City restaurant Pujol.
“We have a menu at Moxi that caters to both locals and tourists,” he states in a Q&A on the restaurant’s blog. “A menu that has a Mexican soul but that has an international palate.”
Taking a break from the kitchen to greet us in the restaurant, Alvarado explained, “I create the menu with direction from Enrique. At Moxi, we don’t really do fancy food. We keep it simple and ensure it has good flavor.”
“The quality of the ingredients is also very important,” Alvarado continued. “Because the culinary scene here is growing, you can now get about any ingredient you want in San Miguel de Allende.”
“Enrique was drawn here by the availability of organic and local products and likes to be involved (that aspect of) the town.”
At this point, the chef excused himself to supervise the preparation of our – and several other tables’ – lunch. We sipped our lemonade and contemplated the rain dripping from the awning overlooking the hotel pool and grounds.
Our first course was a tostada ahi tuna with ginger, cucumber, radish, jalapeño and and dollops of mayonnaise and avocado with lime on the side. The ahi is sourced from Ensenada in Baja California.
Next we sampled the fish aguachile of lemon, jalapeño and – interestingly – beer. The dish features sea bass sprinkled with black sesame that intermingles in the piquant aguachile with cucumber, radish and edible flowers.
The zucchini blossom tamale is made with fresh farmer’s cheese, yellow corn puree and corn ash, which gives the whole affair a slight taste of smoke.
For the “international palate”, either the homemade pasta with onion, tomato, bacon and red wine or the house hamburger of 60% beef and 40% pork are sure to satisfy.
Our final course was an interesting fusion of the sea and central Mexico. The fish pozole features Pacific sea bass atop a spicy broth of fish stock blended with chile, oregano and hominy.
Moxi and other San Miguel de Allende restaurants such as Donnie Masterson’s The Restaurant, Matteo Salas’ aperi and Daniel Esterbaranz’s B’ui continue to lead the charge in the region’s culinary resurgence. “To be authentic you must be seasonal and local,” Olvera stated in the Q&A. “We have these two words encrypted in our cuisine.”
Your Gringo in Mexico and Photographer,
Scott & Cintia
All images © Copyright 2015 Cintia Soto Photography.
Moxi at the Hotel Mitilda is located near Juarez Park at Aldama 53, San Miguel de Allende. (415) 152-1015. www.moxi.com.mx.
DISCLAIMER: We were graciously invited to dine at Moxi as guests of chef Jonathan Alvarado. My opinions are my own, and no compensation was received from the restaurant or its affiliates for writing this article.