Guatemala City, Guatemala

  • Date
  • 24 October 2001

As one would expect of a couple driving around the world, without the luxury of a kitchen in our trailer, we dine in a restaurant – a few Michelin rated, but many five-fly joints – almost every evening. During our 34 months of travel through 114 countries thus far, we have devoured mouth-watering morsels, as well as existed purely on eggs and beans for 12 days while trapped in the northern Sudanese desert.

Prior to dinner at Jean Francois in Guatemala City’s chic Zona 10, we have never willingly returned to a restaurant for a second night, but Jean Francois’ faultless Chipolte Steak warrants an encore. With Mediterranean character, Jean Francois offers seating both inside, where an enormous centerpiece holds enough sunflowers to set one back US$150 in New York, and outside, where four-top tables stand over worn, uneven cobblestones. The extensive menu includes French fare, Guatemalan flavors and wines from France and South America.

To begin the meal, we accepted guidance from friends suggesting traditional anacbates – a variety of Guatemalan mushroom that grows only during the rainy season. I requested my Chipolte Steak con ensalada (with salad) as opposed to the usual potato and vegetable accompaniments, and the waiter was more than willing to honor my request. Jim, who adores fish, selected the Montpellier Robalo, since he had yet to taste this typical local seafood. As companions to our food, Jim ordered a Monte Carlo cerveza, while I selected a Chilean cabernet from Santa Rita vineyard. Almost instantly, the special mushrooms arrived – tender, yet chewy buttons and stems marinated in light gravy topped with scallions. Even the warm dinner rolls were irresistible, especially with sweet, salted butter.

No matter the appetizer and bread, a good meal is judged by the main course. Jim’s Montpellier Robalo, flavored with herbs, spices and butter, arrived looking a bit green, but the sauce’s cilantro and herbs created a perfect tasting fish. My beef came perched in a blend of tomatoes and smoked peppers, and upon the first bite, I fell in love with this succulent filet, as supple as any I tasted in Argentina, where I may move solely to eat the red meat nightly. The tasty chipolte sauce, spicy and fiery from the peppers, was the best partner for beef I have ever tasted. Complimenting the meat flawlessly was a generous portion of lettuce, tomatoes and avocados coated lightly with tangy vinaigrette and scallions.

Some meals, few and far between, make one pause and genuinely take notice of the food. Jean Francois’ Chipolte Steak pleased me with every mouthful. Repeatedly I buzzed with delight to Jim, “This is divine”. Wisely, I shared enough with him so upon suggesting we return the following evening, he agreed wholeheartedly. Jim and I have eaten fine meals in Paris, London, Rome, Tokyo, Sydney, Buenos Aires and places of which one has never heard. Guatemala City’s Jean Francois rates as high as any.