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Guanajuato report

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Spent the holiday weekend in Guanajuato and to sum up the food experience, all I can say is ¨meh¨.

Day 1: Afternoon snack. Had some drinks and apps at an outdoor place on Plazuela San Fernando. I can´t remember the name of the place; it was the Mexican one closer to Mercado Hidalgo. Got some drinks, delicious choriqueso (queso fundido with chorizo) and chicken tostadas that were cold and not very good. It was overpriced, but we were paying for the comfortable table under the umbrellas, which was why we picked the place. As we relaxed and soaked up the afternoon breeze, we got the occasional whiffs of arrachera on the outdoor grill, which smelled delicious.

Night 1: Dinner at El Abue. Relatively cozy restaurant with good service and an interesting menu. The meal started with goat cheese salad, a somewhat odd collection of veg -- lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, beets, and some others with crispy toast and goat cheese. Tasty, and the veg were a welcome change from usual options, but nothing to write home about. Next had the chiles en nogada, which was a well prepared rendition. Friend had the filet mignon in a mushroom sauce, not as tender as one might have wished, but still good. Skipped dessert since the only offering was apple pie (apparently they were out of other items on the menu that looked more interesting, like chocolate-tequila truffles). The thing the meal was missing was the perfect drink to accompany… We saw no drink list and were shown 2 types of red wine, but decided to forego wine, thinking it wouldn´t go that well with chiles. It did not appear that there were any spirits for an after-dinner drink, but to be fair we did not ask. All in all, easily the best meal of the weekend. There were many interesting menu items, some with a Italian influence (the one that comes to mind was pasta with poblano sauce), and had we been around longer, we would have gone back to sample more.

Day 2: Lunch at Truco 7. After walking all around town seeing the sites, and being underwhelmed by lack of alluring restaurants, decided to go here based on many positive reviews on the board, in guidebooks, etc. This is a large café/restaurant with nice atmosphere and tremendous popularity. Although we only waited about 5 minutes for a table, by the time we left, there was a line starting down the block. The food on the tables looked good – we saw some people with enchiladas verdes that appeared promising, and a tampiquena that also looked pretty good. Ordered the comida corrida, which on that day was a choice of consommé or mushroom cream soup, rice or spaghetti, and chile rellenos, mole poblano, or arrachera. To save my appetite, I skipped the soup, but friend found the crema to be thin and unappealing. The rice was rice. I had the chile relleno which was terrible. It looked like it had been cooked the day before and arrived barely lukewarm. Sauce was plain tomato-based sauce. The filling was an unappealing, unidentifiable mixture of cheese, corn, some other vegetable, and brown stuff that was either meat or mushroom. It was gross. Mole poblano was one of the worst moles I´ve had, tasting like it came from the jar you can buy at the supermarket. It was extremely oily, with overpowering chocolate flavor and little else. The meal was 37 pesos with agua de pina or 42 with cerveza. I got the cerveza, but my friend who got the agua de pina got a special ¨cleansing¨ later that night as a bonus. In this case, we got what we paid for. I am struggling to understand the popularity of this place. The menu is average and when we first walked by, we did not even think it smelled very good. Could it be that breakfast is better there? Or maybe the trick is to avoid the comida corrida. Thankfully, I will not be around to answer these questions myself. In summary, if this were the only restaurant in Guanajuato, I would buy some fruit at the market and eat that instead.

Day 2: Dinner at El Gallo Pitogorica. Following the lunch experience, we were ready for a more appealing dinner and decided to try El Gallo, also for its high marks in guidebooks and some positive CH reviews. Well, this in combination with the fact that we were too lazy to get in the car, navigate the impossible maze of streets to leave town and try Chez Nicole or Casa de la Conde de la Valenciana.
When we arrived, there was one large group and a couple dining, but otherwise the restaurant was empty. Oddly, the staff still gave us some attitude for arriving without a reservation and stalled for a few minutes before seating us. Within about a half hour, many of the tables in the restaurant did fill. However, a couple of women asked to be seated at the table by the window with a view and were refused because it was ¨reserved¨ but that table and the one directly behind it never did fill. Tried to order the caprese salad for an appetizer, but we were told they were out of mozzarella cheese. OK, instead we started with the proscuitto and melon, which consisted of a few cubes of cantaloupe, sliced kiwi, sliced apple, and halved grapes artfully arranged on slices of prosciutto. It wasn’t exactly what we imagined, but it was tasty. For the record, however, I would have preferred just the melon over the fruit medley. For mains, tried to order the lasagna Bolognese, but this was unavailable also, for unclear reasons. It seemed they were out of Bolognese sauce, or maybe the meat used to make it. I got a penne with requeso (like ricotta) a tomato, olive, saffron sauce and friend for the ravioli with prosciutto sauce. I am not entirely sure what that actually was. My pasta was fair – cooked al dente, with a thick, heavy tomato-cream sauce and canned black olives that didn´t improve the dish. Ravioli was described as “one step better than Chef Boyardee”. It was overcooked and the sauce appeared to be the same as the same as for the dish I had. With the meal we got some glasses of house red wine, which was fine. The dishes were a little slow to come out, but not too bad. The table next to us waited for an incredibly long time for their pastas (we overheard them saying they weren´t even hungry anymore) and when the food arrived, it had the exact same dense pink sauce as what we got. They, however, requested black pepper and parmesan cheese. This was the first non-Mexican meal we{ve had in about 2 weeks, apart from the filet mignon the previous night, so I can´t compare to other Italian food in Mexico. With that disclaimer, I would say that it was a fair meal. The wine definitely helped me forget that it wasn´t one of the better Italian meals in my life. I would consider going back there, with lower expectations, particularly if you are wanting a change from Mexican food and happen to be in Guanajuato.

Summary: El Abue is a solid restaurant, and even better when considering the alternatives. We didn´t see many restaurants that stood out or grabbed our attention. That said, we did walk past a small carnitas restaurant down from the main square, and a rotisserie chicken place near the Mercado, both of which appear in hindsight to have had good lunch potential. Truco 7 was disappointing and I´d be interested to hear if other people have had different experiences. I wonder whether the further-afield Chez Nicole or La Valenciana would have been better options than El Gallo.

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  1. While it's entirely possible that Truco 7 has slipped in quality since our several visits over the 90s, we have found it most appealing for breakfast and especially, pastry and coffee. The whole comida corrida we had there was ok, but I cann't remember what we had. (I would have it it were outstanding.)
    When we were visiting GTO, we almost always ate Mexican food, with the exception of a Spanish restaurant, again, I don't recall the name of the place, but it was underwhelming.
    The most satisfying meals in GTO for us have been in the mercado Hidalgo fondas, up the stairs to the left, outside of the main ""Eiffel style" structure. It's hearty and honest home style cooking, at low prices.