Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mexico 4: Puerto Vallarta

The 3rd Mexican excursion I'd signed up for was the Dolphin Encounter in Puerto Vallarta. This involved a bunch of glowing white people getting in a pool with two dolphins. The mother let us touch her stomache, which felt like a kind of living rubber. In the next part of the pool, a baby dolphin came over and "kissed" us as the photographer snapped away. The other folks complained that this dolphin spent more time with my face than theirs. Must be the beard.

While some of the group ate, I followed some iguanas. Probably trained to sniff dollars.
It seemed fitting, in the town made famous by the movie Night of the Iguana.

A sleeping sibling.

Lots of flowers. It is after all, Mexico.

The restaurant I'd made a reservation at told me (through a $35 phone call from the ship) that I had to wear long pants and a long shirt. Wandering around PV with such massively inappropriate clothing was quite painful in the intense heat of the city. The statues along the waterfront looked like they were having more fun than me. I had the long sleeve shirt in my bag and walked the city wearing my T-shirt with a picture of Bit on it, as she had spent a week in this city 12 years ago and I wanted to show it to her again.

I saw a Canadian flag on this bar called No Home and went in. A sports bar, full of memorabilia and good vibes. I had a couple of Dos Equis with slices of lime inserted in the bottles. After walking around for two hours in the hideous heat, they tasted miraculous. Did Bit ever drink in this bar? I killed the last hour before my 6:00 dinner reservation.

The restaurant, which the web indicated was the best in PV, is called Cafe Des Artistes, was not surprisingly, surrounded by art galleries.

Looked nice enough from the outside. Once inside, I had the choice of dining inside or outside in the "garden." Who could guess from outside there was a pocket forest inside?

The amuse bouche, fennel crème with bruchetta, mushrooms. Yellow leaf not pepper surely. Its quite satisfying. Satisfying isn’t really what I want. It’s quite hot here. I’ve been wandering around for a couple of hours here with long cords, however rolled up. Now I’m here and there are other men in shorts. I’m one of a number of men here in t-shirts (with long shirt unbuttoned on top) and it’s already 6:00. I begin with a tiny bottle of Orange Widow, a perfectly Firesonian way to begin my invocation of trying to get the Firesign more attention (the staff of Radio Now drink it in the magnificent Firesign album Give Me Immortality, or Give Me Death.)

Serious presentation here. Little dribbles of jewels known only to this chef cast upon the bowl for our instant visual enjoyment only, then subsumed by an ocean of pumpkin/prawn soup, doled out of an actual pumpkin as a speciality of the house. Fumiyo, and many others make an excellent pumpkin soup, and I’m in the land of prawns, so how can I go wrong? Well, first by not telling the server to stop after a single ladle full. First sip hits me as a chocolate, and then it becomes a pumpkin flavour. Nouvelle comfort food, if there is such a thing.
The water is not cold enough. I request more ice cubes, At first they seem not to know the word.
It’s a flat San Pellegrino I’m drinking (between wine pairings)and it goes so much better with enough cubes. A subtle comfort food, it is so filling but I refuse to fill up on soup.

Looks like ceviche. Not as bad as I feared. I ordered a white wine, and it was kind of buttery, not what you’d expect from a saugivnon blanc. Is it paired poorly with the ceviche salad dressing? They don’t mind taking away 97% of what they just brought me. Or at least pretend not to really well. I hope they feast on my inability to. Most people have big appetites The fact that I’m not one of them, doesn’t faze them. The fact that I avoid all raw fish like the plague and would never have ordered it is no longer relavent. An amuse bouche BETWEEN courses is a novelty our restaurants should consider.

It’s a chard after all. The sauvignon blanc shows up next and is the real palate cleanser. Endive and goat cheese, a fine combination.
The lemon foam the sea bass is bathing in is exquisite. Reminds me of the sea bass at Caruso’s in Sorrento, with the wonderful lemons from its volcanic soil. This lemon foam lacks the bite of Caruso’s limoncello sauce, but that’s not a bad thing. The scalloped potatoes don’t taste like potatoes at all. The chef has invented a new flavour for potatoes. Does he get to be prime minister of Ireland? That’s good cooking: you see something on your plate and you know what it is, but you can’t recognize the taste. The mini ice bucket, to keep my glass cold, not just the bottle. What a great idea! I dread the green cone may contain avocado and rejoice to discover, instead, it tastes like the wonderful Stauffers spinache soufflé I used to enjoy decades ago. Actually it doesn’t work well with the potatoes, magnifies the starchiness. You don’t want bland waves overwhelming the subtle flavours of the potato-bass combination. The flavour begins to fail as the fish gets cooler too. I marvel at the cheapness of one of the best fish dishes I've ever eaten and take a cab back to the ship, where I watch my tablemates feast on something nowhere near as good at dinner. My fondness for Mexico has been magically magnified.


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