Monday, May 17, 2010

Romantic Meal with a Sunset Backdrop

There are many places to eat in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico in the Pacific state of Guerrero. However if you are looking for a romantic dinner, a setting sun backdrop, excellent service and a menu that could place you in almost any major city in the world, then you might want to head to Villa de la Selva.

Up the hill from the Las Brisas resort on the Ixtapa side of the area, Villa de la Selva has a three tiered dining area on a hillside overlooking the crashing waves. Views of the beach at Las Brisas, most of the Playa El Palmar beach and the point by the Ixtapa Marina frame your views on the right side as you look towards the water. Piped in music seems to come from the trees and if you arrive early you can take a well-maintained foot path to the rocky shore to see the waves up close.

The first dinner reservation is at 7 pm and from late spring through fall it can still be downright hot at that hour - so come at 7:15 pm or 7:30 pm if you prefer a little less sun after an entire day at the beach.

Unfortunately the wine list although extensive is outrageously priced. Forget paying 3 times retail for a bottle of wine - these are all 4 to 5 times or higher - hard to swallow no matter how much cash is burning a hole in your pocket. Stick with the mixed drinks - priced at about 110 Mex. pesos apiece they are a much better bargain and many are made with Havana Club rum from Cuba - currently unavailable in the US.

The starters or appetizers are your best bet. They have an extensive list of offerings that all sounded delicious. We highly recommend making a meal of two appetizers per person and sharing a dessert. The warm rosemary accented dinner rolls with butter were a nice change from totopes (tortilla chips) served elsewhere.

Caesar salads are prepared table-side in the classic fine dining tradition. It was tasty but for our liking it lacked garlic and was an oilier and less creamy version than those to which we are accustomed.

A duet of tostadas with seafood was very light and yet quite flavorful. Two perfectly crisp corn tortilla bases came in two treatments - one with soy, sesame and wasabi accented tuna, the other with a shrimp and avocado medley with flavored  red onion, bits of tomato, cilantro and a subtle chipotle aioli.

The main dishes we ordered were less successful and left us wishing we had ordered differently. The fish trio was very fresh but nothing special. It featured salmon with a green pepper and nut sauce, dorado with a red pepper chipotle sauce and tuna with a soy-ginger sauce. It came with crispy fried spinach leaves and corn (elote) dotted mashed potatoes - but the potatoes were heavy and dragged down the dish. Even though we had specifically requested the tuna be cooked very rare it was cooked to medium and became slightly dry.

The Villa de la Selva fish was a large piece of grilled dorado topped with shrimp and béarnaise sauce served on rice. The shrimp had a strong iodine flavor that overpowered, the béarnaise was slightly broken and the dorado was lost in the mix. Not bad but again nothing memorable.

Although we were split on how we felt about the food itself we agreed that the atmosphere and setting was spectacular. If we were to return we certainly would take a different approach to our menu choices.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Authentic Mexican Without Rick Bayless

We recently had the opportunity to spend some time on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. The medium sized twin-town of Ixtapa Zihuatanejo is an idyllic place to hang out for a while and enjoy the sun and surf. However one gets hungry and thirsty playing in the waves and reading books.

Eschewing the new Subway in the neighboring hotel and the long-standing Domino's Pizza across the street, we asked Jose, one of the security guards where we were staying where we could get some good tacos in the area without going into the main town of Zihua. He was about to end his shift so we took the micro-bus with him to his hometown of San Jose Ixtapa (a.k.a. Barrio Viejo) a few kilometers inland from the beach.

Jose's sister Juana and her husband own a little taqueria there named after the town. Located at the Y intersection of Avenida Los Tulipanes and Calle Principal, this tiny place with seating for just over 20 is a locals joint open from 6 pm to 2 am to help feed the workers returning home from the resort area. This is locals food - fresh, inexpensive and authentic - and Rick Bayless was nowhere in site although one could imagine him at just such a place.

Fresh bowls of salsa and a radish, tomato and onion salad were laid out before us - one salsa was fiery hot and smoky with little bits of charred peppers, the other a cilantro and onion, milder green sauce was perfectly balanced in its flavors.
Never before liking radishes we were stunned by the delicious contrast of flavors and textures between the firm radishes, zesty onions and sweet tomatoes. Only after developing a bead of sweat across the brow did we learn that Habanero peppers were used in the dish giving it a complex flavor while also being blazingly spicy. The cheese topped green chili chicken enchiladas were the best we've ever tasted - with a smooth and complex flavored chili sauce that was clearly homemade. 

A pork huarache (shown at right) included pork seasoned al-pastor, sauteed peppers and onions and some smooth green chili sauce. Creamy shredded cheese added the crowning note. This was a huarache that required a knife and fork - forget about eating a dry hand held version ever again - we are tainted now and no huarache will ever meet up to this one. If you ever head to Ixtapa you need to find this little gem of a taqueria.

Check out some shots of pork tacos, their hand-written menu board, Juana hand forming huarache and sope bases and her husband cooking on their flat top grill.