If its Saturday, more often than not, the well-heeled, and not so well heeled, in Mexico City can be found in the San Angel neighborhood at the Bazaar Sabado. There the discerning DeFeno (tilda on the n) can stroll through old homes that have been renovated into shops selling upscale, good quality crafts of all kinds from throughout the Republic, while in the Plaza San Jacinto artists display their original creations on every inch of available sidewalk. And in this age of convenience and technology, a surprising number of the sidewalk artisans accept MasterCard or Visa. The Bazaar shops dont officially open until 10 AM, so the ideal way to start the day is by hitting the buffet at the Fonda San Angel. Strategically located across from the Plaza, the buffet offers all the usual Mexican breakfast suspects i.e. assorted fruits, juices, pan dulces, meats, eggs, chilaquiles, etc. in a cozy surrounding that lets you see, be seen and watch the neighborhood activities unfold. The food isnt especially outstanding, but it will certainly do the trick of getting you fortified for a morning of power shopping.
One can only stroll and shop for so long before the hunger pangs set in again. In keeping with the tradition of the Bazaar Sabado and the well heeled, grab a cab, or walk, the few blocks to the San Angel Inn. To pass through the front doors is to step back into a slower, kinder, gentler era of old world charm; where its all too easy to forget that there are 22 million people just outside the door to the Inn. The 18th century hacienda, which is the San Angel Inn, has been meticulously maintained and the attractive and well-manicured grounds, whether in the inner courtyard, or the garden in back, are the perfect place to discover what leisurely and gracious living was all about.
Order a margarita and be prepared for a delightful service surprise. A straight-sided, silver ice bucket, about 1/3 the size of the standard wine chiller is filled with crushed ice. Nestled into the ice is a flat-bottomed silver urn with curved neck holding the drink. Empty salt rimmed glasses are set down and the waiter pours the heady elixir of white tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice, a dash of sweet/sour mix and triple sec. The service is impressive, elegant and understated. Which is exactly how the drink is as well, an understated and elegant balance of flavors that belies the kick the drink is packing. One margarita will relax you; a second one may make you want to write bad checks.
For years fine dining in Mexico City meant Continental and the San Angel Inn still does the classics as well as anyone. Cesar Cardini may have created the Cesar Salad in Tijuana, but youd hardly know it by the version served here. They prepare it tableside with an ease that makes you think as if theyd been doing it forever. If you hate anchovies never fear, the dressing, made with raw egg, is engagingly soft and smooth with nary a hint of fishiness; the romaine crisp and tender and not overdressed. Very traditional, very well executed and very, very good.
Follow the salad with another classic, Chauteaubriand. Roasted perfectly to medium rare, thick slices of tenderloin are served with a perfect rendition of Sauce Bernaise. A bite of sublimely tender meat, a dab of buttery, eggy tarragon scented sauce is satisfying if not a little on the rich side. The side of french fries might seem strange, but theyre fresh, hand-cut, greaseless and taste of nothing but potato.
When was the last time you saw Floating Island on a dessert menu? Its on the San Angel Inn menu as Isla Ingleterra, and its definitely worth ordering. Plump, airy meringue pillows are poached in milk creating a luxurious texture, branded with a crosshatch design and served in a pool of incredibly rich and flavorful creme anglaise with a few berries as garnish.
The midday meal in Mexico comida - is a relaxed, leisurely affair where the food, drink and conversation flows throughout the afternoon and even moreso on a Saturday or Sunday when people have the chance to forget about work and enjoy their families. At the San Angel Inn youll see multiple generations of a family, from the smallest toddler to the oldest sage, all congregated around the table (or in some cases tables) talking, laughing, noshing on an assortment of foods and enjoying a day spent together. The children might wander, trailed by an ever watchful, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle or parent, but they are adorable and well behaved, not to mention well dressed. While there is no serious dress code at the San Angle Inn you might want to leave those Nikes, Birkenstocks, Teva sandals, Aloha shirts, shorts and sweats in the hotel room for the day and think casual chic. Comida in Mexico is as much about tradition as anything, and so is the San Angel Inn. It may not break any new ground culinarily, but it traverses the road of the classics with skill, deftness and a respect for quality and tradition that is reassuring.
Cant make it on a Saturday? Not to worry, its open 1 PM 1 AM daily and is within walking distance of the Diego Rivera & Frida Khalo museum. It is expensive by Mexican standards and on the high end of moderate by American. Service is exceptionally efficient and also exceptionally good. The waitstaff is impeccably trained and take pride in the jobs they do and the service provided. Expect to spend $35 - $50 and up for a multi-course meal including beverages. It is possible to eat for less by having fewer courses, making judicious menu selection, no wine, etc.
San Angel Inn
Col. San Angel
Diego Rivera 50 at the corner of Altavista
For reservations try 616-22-22 or 616-15-43