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If It Isn ́t One Villa It ́s Another

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And we ́re not talkin ́about Pancho Villa, but the Villa Montaña in Morelia and the Villa Bejar in Cuernavaca.

Morelia is a UNESCO Heritage site, the entire city. One of the primary jewels in this crown is the cathederal constructed from local marble that gives off a soft pink glow late in the day and when lit at night. The daily lighting of the cathederal occurs about 8:30 PM each evening and is accompanied by fireworks and, if you ́re at street level, classical music. One of the many patio ́s at La Villa Montaña has a very clear and very unobstructed view of the cathederal and the fireworks. 3 of us settled in for the lighting, 2 of us with Don Julio reposado and the other with vino tinto. While the lighting certianly has greater impact at street level, sitting on the patio is a throw-back to an earlier, perhaps more refined period of time, in a setting oozing, elegance and grace.

With the cathederal lit and our drinks finished we moved into the well appointed dining room for dinner. I elected to start with the Sopa de Cuatro Cebollas, a nice, traditional rendition of French onion soup. One of the things that ́s always amazed and enchanted me are the precise and detailed knife skills many Mexican chefs possess. Impossibly thin slices of impossibly ripe avocado and tomato ringed the plate of our friend who ordere the house salad. Inside the ring was a crispy assortment of baby greens, carrots, aspargus and more vegetables than I can remember. But it was Cristina who scored the biggest hit with the appetizer course. She ordered Endivias Gratinea (sp?). Her dish arrived with the warm endive arranged in wagon-wheel spokes. Between the spokes were squares of brown bread on which warm brie rested, and on top of each little wedge of bried was a pecan. A cajeta sauce was pooled around the endives. Normally cajeta is very sweet but the sauce was not especially sweet with only a mysterious hint of cajeta. The vague sweetness played exceptionally well with the bitterness of the endive and creaminess of the brie. It was an unusual, if not totally unexpected combination and for whatever reason it really worked.

The list of possibilities for entrees is seemingly endless. Unfortunately, the 3 of us were rather unadverturous and all ordered the Arrachera, which was a 10 oz portion of steak. All of us ordered it medium rare and that ́s pretty much what came out of the kitchen. I can ́t speak for the other ladies but my steak was extremely good. The plate was garnished with a small baked potato, some mixed vegetables (squash & carrots) and a timble of creamed spinach.

We each had dessert. Cristina the Creme Brulee de Rompope, our friend the ice cream in a large tuile cup and me something called a Chocolate Rainforest. this turned out to be two flavors of chocolate mousse encased in a circular cage of chocolate meringue batons. All of it on top of sauce of chocolate and coffee.

The meal, including tax and tip for the 3 of us was approximately $100, drinks not included. I would be remiss if I did not mention the exceptional quality of the service. It was very attentive without being invasive or oppressive. If there was a problem - and there was at the table next to us - it was resolved in a snap with virtually not disruption to conversation of activity. The staff is very skilled and well trained and it was a pleasure to experience.

Yesterday morning a group of friends decided to go for breakfast the the Villa Bejar in Cuernavaca. Where the Villa Montaña exudes grace and elegance, the Villa Bejar feels like a trip to Morocco. They could not be more different. The Villa Bejar is at minimum a 4-star hotel with beautiful grounds and a spa, even if the Arabian architecture is a bit jarring at first. The Villa Bejar is famous for their breakfast buffet is scattered around a large courtyard complete with topiary, statues and loads of charm.

There were masses of freshly cut fruit, delicious and mellow yogurts, cereals and grapefruit juice, mango juice and a juice from nopales, parsley and celery, which was absoultely delicious. Svory dishes that most Americans would consider non-traditional are almost always available at a Mexican breakfast buffet, and this one was not exception. We had albondigas, chicken wings in adobo, veal in a creamy sauce I did not taste. There were eggs with cecina and salsa verde and chilaquiles with chicken and all the trimmings. And as fi that weren ́t enough there was an active display cooking station for quesadillas and eggs to order. The quesadillas were made from masa pressed and patted on the spot and filled with options such as huitlacoche, chicharon, queso con rajas, chorizo and more. If you could come up with a version of eggs, or any combination, the chef manning that station could produce it.

I also need to mention that the Villa Bejar serves a mean version of cafe de olla, one of the best I ́ve encountered in the last 2 or 3 years. Cafe de olla is coffee, canela (Mexican cinnamon) and piloncillo (the hard cone-shaped Mexican brown sugarm for lack of a better description). Once again service was exceptionally good, very attentive without being entrusive. Cost for this meal was approximate $125 pesos, which is around $12 +/-.

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