At Ajijic’s Hacienda del Lago you enter a spectacular centuries-old world of Spanish mission and colonial architecture – broad arched entrances, an arcade running the length of one wing while an elegant rectangular dining room complete with fine 19th Century furnishings and elaborately sculpted fireplaces makes up the other wing, both flanking a courtyard-like central garden with its working well from the 1800s. Heavy carved wooden doors, ornamental moldings, decorative iron work, tower-like chimneys all complete the trip back into Mexico’s past.
The Spanish loved open spaces and were lavish with them. Here, tables are generously spaced about the periphery of the garden in various coves and intimate corners, each placed so that one could Flamenco about it without disturbing others.
Everything about this elegant setting was impeccable, and compelled one to stroll about, as in a museum. Doing so, I discovered hidden bits of local Mexican history, such as a centuries-old former adobe basilican, or tiny church, with all its fieldstone walls exposed and intact (serving today as a pantry). Ask about it.
Eventually, I chose a table just under a prominent statue of St. Francis standing in an arched niche overlooking the table, and cuddling small birds in his arms. Needless to say, I chose not to order fowl. Instead, our table noted that the menu skewed, possibly in Saint Francis’s honor, toward seafood: octopus, tuna, mahi mahi, salmon, oysters, and a mixed fruits-of-the-sea ceviche dish – all entrees of cuisine-level distinction. Under such holy surveillance, we all ordered the seafood.
The tuna came with three generous cuts, each crusted nicely with peppery spices while the pink juices remained sealed inside. A luscious polenta side was buttery and delicious. The salmon came drenched with a rich, green curry sauce but subtle enough to go with the lightly grilled salmon filet. My mahi mahi was done Veracruzana-style, which I asked to change, a message that didn’t get through. So the wonderful mahi mahi firm texture and flavors were lost among the tomato toppings.
To go with all these exquisite, flavor-rich dishes, I chose a red Zinfandel (at a steep price, which must have outraged the great icon of voluntary poverty beaming down on us). The wine turned out to be worth every peso, such a hit that we asked for a second bottle (which they didn’t have, an intervention surely from above). Choosing the wine, like trying to get an adjusted sauce and the correct sides for my mahi mahi, was a bit of scramble. The young, extremely accommodating wait staff, I believe, were still getting used to serving intricate dishes and understanding inquiring English-speaking guests. With those exceptions, which can be solved with a bit more training, the service was fine, the presentation irresistible and the ambiance courtly.
You won’t find a better venue, situated at the west end of Ocampo on the corner of Privada Ocampo, in which to celebrate an occasion. And where saints will guide your choices.