Mexican Chef Patricia Jinich on Her Favorite Restaurant That Closed
This week's Young & Hungry column plumbs the depths of my despair over the pending closure of Ren's Ramen in Bethesda. As part of the column, I asked a number of chefs, restaurateurs, and writers to share their own stories about beloved eateries that have bit the dust. Some of the stories, unfortunately, didn't make it into print. Like this one, from Mexican chef, instructor, and food writer Patricia Jinich:
Sanborcito was the name of the small restaurant which used to sit right in front of the "Parque del reloj" or "Park of the Big Clock" in Polanco in Mexico City. Owned by an American couple, it mimicked the name of a big Mexican restaurant chain/sell-everything department store called Sanborns.
Some of the charm of Sanborncito, a small restaurant with just 6 or 7 tables, came from its perfect location in front of a gorgeous park. But it also had a consistently good small menu — with excellent fresh-made coffee; fluffy and warm pan dulce (or sweet breads and pastries); traditional standard choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and a small selection of desserts. More of its charm came from the proud couple of waiters who had been waiting tables for the life span of the restaurant. They grew old with the clients. They aged along with the menu.
I used to go there with my paternal grandfather. He would sit down, light up his pipe, which smelled of vanilla, order a coffee, and a school-day afternoon would deliciously fly away. Each and every time we were there, we would run into his same friends who, like him, had recently retired. We held each others' hands or I took a smoke of his pipe. With the other, we would split one pan dulce after another.
Sanborncito started going down hill after the American couple sold the business. Like my grandfather, and most of their clients, they wanted to retire, too. They moved to Cuernavaca. Around then, my grandfather died, too.
The new owner, kept the restaurant name and the menu, but he didn't have such a good idea about how to run a restaurant. Before I moved to the U.S. more than a dozen years ago, I went back to the restaurant, and you could already taste the difference.
Every time I traveled back to Mexico, I would go back. To sit down and have that cup of coffee and remember those sweet times with my grandfather. But the place wasn't the same. The food wasn't the same. The coffee wasn't the same. And the waiters, who had been there for decades, weren't there anymore.
Eventually, a restaurant that opened next door absorbed what used to be Sanborncito. It is Spanish or Portuguese.... But I can't tell you what it's like. I have no desire to go back.