The Villa Montaña and Salad Dressing

All over the world, foodies are wringing their hands over the demise of Gourmet magazine. They apparently forgot the day when Connoisseur folded itself into Gourmet, more than a decade and a half or ago. Some probably don’t even remember Laurie Colwin’s column in Gourmet.

Frankly, I’m tired of food magazines. In the bodega are several boxes filled with old Gourmet magazines, and they read not much differently than last month’s. I’m tired of hearing people wax on about slow food, eating locally, politically correct food, and molecular gastronomy. Just don’t get me started on the vegans, or I may write something I’ll regret later. I’d much rather read food literature, about culinary disasters, and food science and throw a piece of meat on the fire.

And then I finally came across a recipe that I’d been searching for, well, for a long time. I knew that it had appeared at some point in Gourmet, but it never showed up on the magazine’s website. But first I must bore you, dear reader, with the history of the recipe.

Back in the 1950’s, a man from Connecticut by way of Arkansas landed in Morelia. Ray Cote was his name, and he started up a small inn, the Villa Montaña, which Texas Monthly would go on to name one of the five best little hotels in all of Mexico. That article led me to Morelia. We’ll save discussion about the Villa Montaña for another day.

Today, the Villa Montana’s restaurant is my favorite in the entire city. The menu now is elegant, perfect and costly, salads of baby greens dressed with fine truffle oils and vinegars, the kind of fare my blogging partner must eat every single day in New York City.

lettuce There was a time, not so far back, when olive oil could only be had at a pharmacy in this part of the country. Oil was oil, just plain old corn oil. Canola hadn’t become part of the vocabulary of oil. And there was vinegar, the same kind that you’d use to clean mugre from places where scum collected. There was none of this nonsense about balsamic vinegar or acids cultivated from rotted kiwi—or even anything called vinaigrette. Greens meant lettuce, available in as many as two incarnations: iceberg and Romaine.

In the old days of the Villa Montaña, the menu was good but basic. It was just good food served in pleasant surroundings with impeccable service. “American cuisine” hadn’t yet been invented. Nor did diners pine away for the food grandmother made. The Villa Montaña’s dessert might be a baked-from-scratch cake iced with marshmallow crème. And its basic green salad, served with practically every dinner, consisted of iceberg lettuce, peeled and seeded tomatoes, peeled and seeded cucumbers cut into half-moons, and topped off with a marvelous dressing. And here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for:


1 med. onion, diced

3 med. cloves garlic

1 tbsp. salt

1/4 tsp. dry mustard

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/8 tsp. pepper

3 tbsp. sugar

2 c. oil

3/4 c. apple or cider vinegar

1/4 c. water

1 tsp. parsley, chopped

1 tsp. celery, chopped

Put all ingredients in a blender and stir until well blended. Makes 1 quart.

There you have it. The world’s best salad dressing. In Heartburn, Nora Ephron shared what she insisted was the world’s best vinaigrette. It doesn’t hold a candle to this salad dressing.