Miriam Vega added to her culinary education by living and working in Mexico
Published in the Oct. 29 – Nov. 11, 2014 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Marty Cheek
After graduating from Live Oak High School in 1996, Miriam Vega felt a desire to study to become a professional chef and focus on preparing traditional Mexican cuisine.
This summer, a dream came true for her when she opened in downtown Morgan Hill her restaurant La Niña Perdida: Tastes of Mexico.
The eatery on Main Avenue (located a short distance east of Monterey Road) has been getting raves from diners who are impressed with its friendly charm and its authenticity of dish offerings.
“I went to culinary school and went to Mexico and took culinary courses there and came back,” Vega said about her training to prepare to run a restaurant. “I was doing personal chef things around town. I said, you know what, I’ve done everything else, and I’ve always worked in the food industry, so I said ‘let’s do it.’”
La Niña Perdida is not what many Americans expect when they step into a Mexican restaurant. The décor puts a smile on people’s faces when they see the whimsical collection of art works — such as comical Day of the Dead sculptures — as well as a set of masks from Mexican wrestling culture that Vega has collected from her trips to Mexico.
Diners won’t find on the menu the usual combination plate of burritos, beans and rice, but rather will find themselves with an adventurous selection of items from various states of Mexico such as the Yucatan and Michoacan.
“I think people have to be open minded and relearn how to eat Mexican food when they come here,” Vega said. “A lot of Mexican food has been Americanized, and that’s OK, but there are things in Mexico that are very unique. We have years and years and years of history in Mexico so our cuisine is influenced by the Aztecs, and by the Spaniards, by the Arabs, and it shows.”
Importing ingredients and fish and meat from Mexico is vital to truly present the authentic flavors of Mexico into Vega’s dishes, she said.
“Here at our restaurant, my vanilla comes imported from Mexico,” she said. “My chilis are imported from Mexico. All my spices, even my cinnamon which we use here daily, I have imported from Mexico.”
The dinner menu varies with what might be in season, but offers mouth-watering Mexican cuisine to please any adventurous appetite.
The Mixiote de Cordero is delicious. Mixiote is a type of outer membrane like paper that is removed from the leaves of young Agave plants. Lamb is wrapped in this paper and then steamed until the meat is cooked to a tender delicacy. The lamb shank is braised in a spicy guajillo sauce and served with consomme cilantro and onions.
The Chile en Nogada is a traditional Puebla dish well worth trying out. A popular dish throughout Mexico, it features a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with lean pork, pignole, apples, peaches, raisins and almonds. Vega drizzles this in a creamy walnut sauce decorated with pomegranate seeds.
La Nina Perdida’s quesadillas are far beyond anything most Americans know. Diners get three quesadillas, one made with organic blue corn masa and corn truffle, one made of organic blue corn masa and zucchini blossoms, and a white corn masa filled with Oaxaca cheese. This is served with a delicious guacamole sauce to dip in.
To make a special meal for guests, Vega reserves the second Monday of the month for a dinner that focuses on a fun theme that celebrates Mexico’s culinary culture.
In October, she held a “pre-Hispanic” dinner that featured worms, ant larvae, crickets and mosquito caviar among the ingredients. Thirty-four people showed up and were delighted with this dinner that went far beyond their experiences in previous Mexican restaurants. Wines from Mexico were served with the meal.
“It was a fun thing to do and people really enjoyed it,” Vega said.
The young chef is proud of her Mexican heritage and wants to share it with all her guests who come into her restaurant.
The overall reception of La Niña Perdida has been very positive, with groups of diners coming in for lunch and dinner — with a choice of seating either inside or outside on a street-view patio. Many guests keep returning because the food is prepared with loving care to present Mexico’s diverse culinary culture in the best ways possible.
“I have some very first generation Mexican families who have come in for dinner and they keep coming back because they love it because this is what they use to eat at home,” Vega said. “To me that’s a huge compliment. It’s like another Mexican telling me, ‘This is what my mom use to make,’ or ‘This is what I remember as a child at home.’”