We spent our recent honeymoon on the beach in the Vallartas of Mexico- Puerto and Nuevo, and for the most part, we did absolutely nothing. It was fabulous. After the long, harrowing, ebullient, tiring, fabulous, stressful, and joyous year of planning and being the stars of a wedding, all that you really want to do is lay on a beach, swim in the ocean, sleep, and drink pina colodas and beer. So we did. With guacamole on top.
And then one day, we put down our frosty, lime-garnished beverages and left the resort. We took a bus to Puerto Vallarta, where we walked around, took a couple of photos, and ate what was the best meal of our vacation. This post is a story of that meal.
Being the food geek that I am, I did research back in Oakland about where to go in Puerto Vallarta for some awesome, non-tourist trap seafood. Then I left the sheet of paper with my notes at home. So where we ended up, and the gloriousness that our meal happened to be was truly a gift from the food gods, for all that we did was stop walking when we got tired and decide to give in to our growling stomachs.
The joint was called San Lucas, and located over a motorcyle tourism shop. We identified the restaurant through a street sign that directed us to the second floor of the establishment, where we found red tiled floors, brightly colored table clothes, wooden railing serving as walls over the bustling street below, and a kitchen that was five feet away from our table, also completley open. After a quick menu browse, we ordered our food.
Normally I order wine at a restaurant. However, I was a little discouraged because the resort where we were staying featured Gallo as thier vino de casa and I hadn't seen much more in the Vallarta region to indicate that better wine was being offered. Hence, I stupidly did not ask to see the wine list, and regretted my decision as we were leaving when I saw some local workers swirling white wine in thier glasses. Stupid. Stupid. But if I did order wine at a restaurant like this, the varietals that I would seek would be very citrusey, and white or pink. The lemon or lime flavors in a wine would highlight this streak in the food. I would choose white or a rosé, because it was smokin' hot and humid in Puerto Vallarta, and I wanted to wrap my hands around something chilled. I'd happily sip a Vinho Verde from Portugal, for example, or a French, Spanish or Mexican Rosé that has that citrus "pop!" and acidity to it. Anyway, the beer worked very well.
Then our food came. The first dish to arrive on the table was our tostadas. We ordered ceviche and octupus to top the crispy, lard-fried tortillas, and were absolutley wowed by the quality and tenderness of the seafood. The ceviche was made of beautiful fish, marinated in lime and a touch of garlic. Salt, sure, but nothing much else. Just big, fresh flavors with little interuption. The octupus on the other tostada couldn't have been better either. Ordering octupus is always a tricky thing. Some people cook it well- they tenderize it either by cooking it for a long period of time, or they pound the hell out of it until it screams for mercy and softens. Lesser cooks cook it until it resembles a fine rubber. But the restaurant had a feeling about it that suggested that the cooks really knew what they were doing, so we ordered the octupus. I am happy to say that the cooks really did know what they were doing, and it was some of the best octupus I've had in my life- super tender, soft, and fresher than Will Smith. And did I mention that it was on a lard-fried tortilla? Swoon.
The last dish to arrive was our Camarones al Diablo. It's a traditional dish of the area which is a blend of Spanish and Mexican cultures- gigantic Mexican shrimp, onions, tomatoes, chiles, peppers, green olives, and SPICES. Sometimes. It seems to morph into an different dish wherever I see it. Sometimes with olives, sometimes with a salsa instead of cooked onions and tomatoes. Here, it was at its height. The flavors melded perfectly, the tomatoes provided an acidity that inspired the sweetness of the shrimp to shine, and the size of the camarones made my hand look small (see above picture). We each had our own shrimp and split the last.
Ah.... the last benefit to the meal was the tequilla tray. After our bellies began to extend and our beers were nothing but bubbles at the bottom of the bottle, our waiter rolled a tray to our table. He explained to us that we could pick anything off the tray, free of charge. Our choices ranged from tequilla, creme de menthe to khalua. We choose tequilla, and the waiter set down lime slices for the pairing. We salted ourselves up, shot the tequilla, and finished the meal with a lime and a smile.
All in all, it was an awesome experience that was the cherry on top of our uber-relaxing trip. And although it wasn't exactly a food and wine pairing post, I couldn't help but want to share this experience, even sans vino, because I know that someday, one of you will want to know where to go for the best seafood ever in Puerto Vallarta. And maybe you wont leave your notes at home.