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Go Ahead. Do it. Splurge at Quanax By Don Day

It’s been a bit of a tradition for Don Day’s Wife and I. Blowing the budget and taking a big bite out of the bank account once in every long while. All for the sake of what some people might call gluttony. I call it a gastronomic voyage, a culinary journey. Restaurants call it their Tasting Menu. It’s the occasion when chefs strut their best stuff and usually pair each of a multitude of courses with appropriate beverages.

It had been many months since we had done the splurge in San Miguel. I’d been thinking of the great times at Aperi and Nomada and my tongue was getting itchy. There aren’t a lot of options when it comes to tasting menus in town these days. The craze went a little crazy, ’round about the time menus reached 27 dishes and a lot of chefs ditched them. But I’d heard good things about one local tasting menu by Irving Cano, the, if not quite celebrity, at least celebrated chef at Quanax and was anxious to…well…taste it. But I had a problem. Don Day’s Wife still has her adoration for food but her appetite continues to dwindle: “There’s no way I’m going to be able to eat seven courses no matter how small plate they may be.”

An emergency. What do you do in an emergency? You rely on your best buds, your best foodie buds. Jack Jacobs said “yes”. Lou Campese said “in”. Stan Jones said he was “heading back to Texas”. That made three, ready for a disgusting degustación. I messaged Quanax. Yes, they still did the seven-course tasting menu. But no Irving Cano wouldn’t be there. He was about to guest for ten days in Mexico City, then one night in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Chef Cano himself messaged me. He asked me to trust his sous. We did. We were glad. If you’ve been around in San Miguel de Allende for a while, you probably know the address. Hernandez Macias #43. It went through a couple of lives as La Virundela and then was Marsala’s, home to Marcela Bolano, perhaps the most vivacious chef I’ve ever known in this town.

It felt a little strange walking through the front door with someone else’s logo on the wall. It felt even stranger that there wasn’t one other person on the patio or in the main room at prime time on a Thursday eve. Damn it must be hard making a buck…or even a peso…in the restaurant biz in this town. We were met at the door by service manager Kassandra Leticia Aboytes Grimaldi and, with no one else in the house, of course had our choice of tables. For memory’s sake, I selected the one beside but not exactly where Marcela Bolano used to sit. Kassandra told us that she would be serving the wines and apologized that the selections were different than those on the menu and asked if we had any problems with that. We didn’t.

We liked the elegant way the cutlery was brought to the table. We liked the way the water was served from a clay vessel. We liked the first wine, a Spanish Alborino, how it was chilled to a very cold temperature and how it paired well with the fish ceviche in tiger’s milk. About the only thing missing was a spoon to get the last bit of the juice from the bowl. Sous chef Hector Hiran Nino brought the next course to the table. He reinforced that, despite the head chef being absent, he knew all of the dishes well and, prior to Quanax, he and Chef Cano had worked together at Trazo 1810. When we saw the bowls he brought, we were again knocked out by the eye appeal. Yes, the inedible fishbone and the raw red beans were a little superfluous (two of us tested our molars on the beans before we realized they were just decoration) but they provided a nice frame for the octopus, cheese, pork rind and cactus that came in the tortilla cup. The wines kept coming, the courses kept coming…clams, tuna, pork belly, beef ribs…mostly contemporary takes on classic Mexican dishes, all “suitable for framing” in their presentation, all photographable for foodies. It was hard to focus on the highlights but mine was not one of the main ingredients, it was an accompanying sauce. When Chef Hector presented the Thai Wagyu short ribs and told us how they were braised with onions for 14 hours, he didn’t return to the kitchen right away. He stood and watched us fork our first piece of meat away from the bone and slide it through the juice. I looked up at him and nodded my head. He grinned and asked, “The sauce?”. “The sauce”, I replied, “it is so rich, so deep, with so many flavor nuances, one of the best gravies I’ve ever had.”

It was time for the nasty part, the cheque, the roadblock, the bright red stop sign that prevents so many people from savoring a Ménu de Degustación in San Miguel or any other town. Quanax’s price was $1590. With four people dedicated almost exclusively to our table we tipped well, taking it up to $1900. Mucho pesos, yes, but how expensive compared to a conventional dinner at a fine dining restaurant? I did a little research. I chose ten high-end San Miguel restaurants and went on line to check their menus. I could only find seven with prices on my search. The average cost of an appetizer, main and dessert accompanied by one cocktail and half a bottle of mid-priced wine was almost exactly what the tasting menu cost at Quanax. So if you occasionally take that special splurge when dining and have a wide open mind when it comes to foods, I urge you to try a tasting menu. And there may be no better place in town to do that than at Quanax.

Don Day writes about food and wine in San Miguel de Allende on his blog site,

Quanax Sabor a México Calle Del Doctor Ignacio Hernández Macías 48, Centro+52 4151520080

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