Aguachiles at Moxi in San Miguel de Allende (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Enrique Olvera is one of Mexico’s most important chefs. His restaurant Pujol, in Mexico City’s chic Polanco neighborhood, has done for fine dining in his country what Thomas Keller did for America or what Ferran Adria has for Spain. Pujol celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, and yet the chef and his wildly popular restaurant are still relatively unknown to most foodies in the United States. But that’s finally starting to change.
Within Mexico, Olvera is a already superstar. And like Keller, he is also very humble and soft-spoken. He cooks for passion, not for fame. When I met him in April, I asked, “It’s been 10 years, Enrique. You’ve been very successful. Why haven’t you opened another restaurant?” And he looked me in the eyes and said, very self-assured: “One restaurant is all I need. It is all I want.” But he said it with a smirk on his face. At the time, I didn’t think any more of it. But little did I know at that moment, he was holding back a huge secret. One week after our meeting, I received a press release announcing that he would be taking control of Moxi restaurant at Hotel Matilda in San Miguel de Allende. And something else I just learned this week, which hasn’t yet been widely reported: When Matilda opens its second hotel, in Queretero sometime next year, Olvera will oversee the restaurant there, too.
But for now, there is only one Matilda, a chic, art-driven boutique hotel hidden behind tall, unassuming walls on a quiet cobblestone street two blocks from San Miguel’s Parque Juarez. Moxi is a laid-back indoor/outdoor restaurant with white tablecloths, fine crystal and one of the best beverage programs in San Miguel (headed by sommelier and F&B manager Sebastian Acosta).
Olvera rolled out the first phase of his menu at Moxi in June, but the fully realized menu wasn’t rolled out until last week, and I got an exclusive first look. It’s a far cry from the painstakingly detailed degustation-style menu offered at Pujol. (Photos from my visit a while back to Pujol can be found here.) After all, this is San Miguel, not Mexico City. But an old mountain outpost has become a world-class dining town, and the clientele at Moxi is made up primarily of the wealthy Mexico City cognoscenti who routinely flock on weekends to their second homes in San Miguel.
Fittingly, Olvera has struck a keen balance between the casual, farm-to-table spirit of San Miguel and the avant-garde experimentalism of Polanco. Here’s an exclusive first look at his new menu at Moxi:
Beet salad at Moxi (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
The farm-to-table movement in San Miguel has leapfrogged ahead of any other city or region in Mexico (yes, even Oaxaca, by a long shot), and Olvera has wholeheartedly embraced this trend, as evidenced with this heirloom beet salad crafted with vegetables from Hacienda Purismo de Jalpa, an organic farm on San Miguel’s outskirts, plus local mesquite honey and sheep’s cheese from a local creamery.
Above is the aguachile style ceviche of red snapper with cucumber, honeydew melon, lime and serrano chiles. Those little red squares are tomato gelée, because aguachiles is typically topped with tomato.
This is a sous-vide-style beef short rib with a pasilla chile mole, fresh local corn, chayote squash and a carrot purée. Knife not needed.
And here we have a locally grown chicken, marinated in basil and spinach and pan-roasted, served atop chorizo-infused beans and wilted greens. San Miguel is well-known for its chickens, and this dish is a clear indication as to why.
Huitlacoche tamal (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Above is the huitlacoche tamal gently cloaked in Mexican string cheese foam and salsa verde.
Buñuelos (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
And finally, one of my favorite all-time favorite snacks, buñuelos, reinvented with a more elegant flair, dusted just ever-so-slightly with cinnamon and sugar and paired with candied guava caramel and cinnamon ice cream.
With these few dishes, I’m barely scratching the surface of the new menu, but I’ve certainly dug deep enough to understand what’s happening here. And I love it. San Miguel de Allende has truly grown up. I’ve been traveling here almost annually for the past 15 years, and it’s been exciting to see the transformation from a dusty little mountain hideaway with always decent food into one of the great culinary resort towns of North America. The arrival of Enrique Olvera makes it official.