Chow, Baby has had way too much family time lately. Yes, I’m lucky to still have grandparents, but listening to them bemoan the ruinous state of the world is getting, um, old. Yes, Nana, I will double-check that my doors and windows are locked every night and wear a scarf at all times.
And yet, and yet … my grandmother’s passion for cooking is what spurred my lifelong love affair with food. Since she was in town, why not take her along for some critiquing? Maybe I’ll give trophies to places she likes –– the Granny Awards.
You can’t really get good Mexican food where my grandmother lives, so that was our first mission. The problem is, she is notoriously picky and wouldn’t set foot in any of my normal taqueria haunts. The solution: Hacienda San Miguel(2948 Crockett St.), where I could ease her into the world of Mexican cuisine via the high road, in this case West 7th Street.
Hacienda San Miguel fits well into the relative glitz of West 7th. While it’s not quite as haute as, say, Lanny’s Alta Cocina, it’s decidedly upscale. The décor is modern and sleek, with comfy banquettes and tables so long I had to scream so Nana’s hearing aid could pick up my voice. Frankly, I’m skeptical of dressed-up ethnic food that tries to live in that middle ground between white tablecloths and plastic plates, but Hacienda San Miguel pulls it off, for the most part.
Nana isn’t much of a drinker, but I talked her into a pomegranate margarita ($8.25) –– I could get used to vacation Nana. We snacked on the duo of salsas as she nodded her head, pretending to hear what I was saying. She seemed to favor the creamy and bright salsa verde, made with jalapeños, lime, and avocado, over the red salsa, served warm and a little lackluster in the spice department.
The menu offers a good variety of authentic Mexican stalwarts, like tacos pastor (pork) and chile relleno, but almost every traditional dish also has a fancier interpretation, as though the two sides of the menu reflect the duality of Chef Hugo L. Galvan’s culinary ambitions. For example, next to the relleno on the menu is the seafood chile poblano ($15.95), stuffed with shrimp, red snapper, and blue crab and drizzled with a lobster cream sauce. Though I couldn’t pick out the individual seafood elements by looking, each bite tasted a little different, adding an element of excitement. One of the best examples of Galvan’s imaginative double-dealing: the lobster enchiladas ($18.95), drenched in a rich, creamy roasted red pepper brandy cream sauce that served as a nice contrast to the sweetness of the lobster meat, without overpowering it.
My only complaint was that neither of the dishes was served hot enough. A thin skin had developed over the sauces, indicating that they’d been sitting for a while before being served, so that might be a service/timing issue.
Hacienda San Miguel is another in a long line of dressed-up comfort food restaurants in town, but Galvan and company do it well. The ingredients tasted fresh, and the flavor combinations illustrate a creativity rooted in polished technique. And most importantly, Nana liked it. Congrats, San Miguel.
I think they should put their Granny on the shelf. The trophy, that is.
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