The Art of Fine Dining: Dinner at Don Sanchez in San Jose del Cabo
Chef and restaurateur Tadd Chapman has been a force on the San Jose del Cabo dining scene for close to two decades, from early successes like Tulip Tree, Brisas and Purple Pear to his current triumvirate of acclaimed restaurants: Don Sanchez, Habanero’s and Retro Burger Bar.
But as recent visitors to Chapman’s signature downtown restaurant Don Sanchez can attest: Chapman’s mastery of the dining experience – from detail-oriented service and charming ambiance to ambitious tasting menus and creative wine pairing options – is at an all-time high.
At Don Sanchez, the recipe for success is as simple as one, two, three. One, choose the right ingredients. Two, search for the perfect harmony between food and wines. Three, make the dining experience a memorable event.
Choosing the right ingredients involves more than simply sourcing fresh meat, seafood and produce, although certainly that too is important. So important that Chapman has established his own organic farm, Sanchez Organico, to provide him with the fresh produce needed for his unique Baja Fusion cuisine. So important that he buys his seafood fresh from local fisherman, and sources grass and grain-fed beef that are wet-aged and seasoned with natural un-iodized sea salt from Guerrero Negro in the northern part of the Baja California peninsula.
But there are other important ingredients, too: friendly, first-class service; a setting that seems to become more magical in direct proportion to the amount of moonlight and music; and of course a wine list capacious enough to complement the ever-shifting daily and seasonal tasting menus.
The cocktail menu is also excellent, of course, as I found out during a recent visit. A short detour down an anything but dusty Dirt Road – Mezcal with tamarind puree, angostura bitters, brown sugar and basil – was an immediate reminder that Don Sanchez’s commitment to a “the devil is in the details” philosophy is at the heart of the restaurant’s ongoing success. The perfection of each small detail, from custom crafted cocktails to romantic saxophone ballads, finally resolves itself, by meal’s end, in a whole that is greater than any constituent part.
But chefs and their restaurants are judged first and foremost on food. And the daily tasting menus at Don Sanchez can, at this point, properly be considered works of fine art. Not only in terms of presentation – although the pork belly and pulpo (grilled octopus) combo I sampled looked to have been plated by a mutual descendant of Mondrian and Matisse – but in terms of taste, texture, and originality. The menus change to reflect the freshest available ingredients, and the dishes themselves often involve reworkings of traditional favorites in new and interesting ways.
A great example of this idea would be the meat course served during my last visit, a new take on the old breakfast standard of steak and eggs. Only for this occasion, the stars of the show were done up in evening dress, sealed and slow cooked at low heat – sous vide style – and served with a truffle hollandaise that seemed a nod to another morning standard, Eggs Benedict. Yet the dish in its entirety – it also included arugula, potato and bacon – was decidedly unexpected, utterly original, and, more to the point, completely delicious. And, I might add, perfectly complemented by a Spanish Tempranillo, a pairing I had never for a moment considered during hundreds of previous encounters with steak and eggs. I’ll say this: it beats the hell out of coffee or orange juice.
Tasting menus at Don Sanchez follow the five-course model of amuse bouche, appetizer, salad, fish course, and meat course, with each dish working as a standalone, as well as a segue from the dish it precedes to the one that ensues. During my last dinner, the narrative progressed with the character and complexity of a fine novel: a rich beet mole with tempura avocado, baby carrot confit, and tortilla foam followed by an aesthetic masterpiece of Hoisin pork belly and grilled octopus; an interlude of baby arugula, beet, and blue cheese, with toasted pecan, strawberries, baked pecan apple crisps, and balsamic fig vinaigrette; Grilled Baja Med catch of the day – tower style – with sundried tomato tapenade, quinoa, salad, pesto, bruschetta salsa; and of course the unexpected twist of an ending – savory sous vide steak and eggs; plus a sampler of decadent desserts for good measure. All matched to order with wines that traced the globe from Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe and Valle de Parras to South America, Europe, and beyond.
Wine is a particular specialty at Don Sanchez, and the state-of-the-art wine bar and exposed cellar area and wine shop was a major focus when the restaurant was renovated several years ago. Not only does the onsite wine shop stock over 300 labels from benchmark producers around the world, but a sommelier is on hand to offer purchasing advice, and carry-out sales are permissible until 11 p.m.
Don Sanchez is located on Blvd. Mijares in downtown San Jose del Cabo, a block from City Hall and the plaza principal. For reservations, call (624) 142-2444. For more information, visit www.donsanchezrestaurant.com.
All photos courtesy of Perla Pulido.
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