“Have you been to the Italian place?”, I keep hearing from the other conference attendees. I once tried to look for Portofino but the confusing arrows led me to the livelihood of El Patio instead. Another time I managed to find the door, which was locked, and two hotel workers tried to tell me in lightning fast Spanish that behind those glass panels was indeed Portofino and that I should just pull them open, or at least that’s what I gathered. The simple truth is they don’t open for lunch.
Undeterred, I returned to those doors to get my last Dreams dinner that evening. The place was dark, my heart sank thinking of unborn pictures with blurry details, when I ran into three other conference attendees from CINVESTAV and the National University of Mexico. It became the most memorable dinner I had the entire trip.
The menu came in two versions, English for me and Spanish for my new acquaintances, both with long fancy Italian names and description in the according language. I was hungry for some vegetables, so after Abril translated to me the waiter’s explanation of a few words on the list, the appetizer was an easy pick: a small endive and arugula salad dressed in a fruity vinaigrette, accompanied by four paper-thin slices of sweetened pear that tasted most like chewy brown sugar.
It boiled down to two choices for entrée: linguine with quail or beef with foie gras. I asked the waiter for advice and he chose the beef in less than one hundredth of a second. The filet mignon, itself topping a mash potato bed, was topped with mushroom sauce and a sliver of foie gras the size of my pinky’s top digit. Everything was soft, lustrous, soothing, and melting into one another. You bet I cleaned the plate.
Dessert, too, was nothing short of an allurement. More precisely, it was a lava cake nostalgia, harmoniously paired with a lime sorbet and coyly tarted up by a sliced strawberry. Under the magenta candle light and our reflections from the glass ceiling, three Mexicans and a Vietnamese talked the night away about the American education system, the economy, the train from Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta, about esquites, tamarind, and mango. It was the first time I’d felt like a foreigner at a dinner table, not being able to understand the others’ conversation in their mother tongue. But strangely, I also felt very much included in this courteous town, among these courteous people.