Dining aficionados need never go gourmet-hungry in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Just sample these restaurant delights. (To call any of these restaurants outside Mexico you must first dial 001+52 and then the number.)
In one of the oldest buildings in Puerto Vallarta, Los Xitomates is landscape-inspired earth tones, wooden beams and furniture of tropical parota hardwood, white Mexican textured cotton tablecloths, the warmth of candlelight and soft jazz, original contemporary Mexican artwork, and High Mexican cuisine.
Los Xitomates extensive wine selection.
Los Xitomates is the name of an Aztec fruit that became an important contribution to gastronomy worldwide—the tomato. High Mexican cuisine (alta cocina mexicana) has evolved from pre-Colombian roots to join today’s Mediterranean, Continental, Caribbean and Asian influences.
A three-dimensional wall sculpture created from recycled tomato boxes dominates an exposed adobe wall. The natural menu cover is its own work of art, hand-made from recycled paper. We’re first served four kinds of salsa in box-shaped dishes with long, curved tortilla chips sitting upright in a glass vase.
An ahi delight.
When Chef Luis Fitch, a tall man with an intense gaze, talks about Mexican cuisine you feel his sincerity. “It’s like in the blood. Everybody in my house is what Americans would call ‘foodies.’” He grew up in Mexico City, attended hotel school in Austria, and arrived in Puerto Vallarta six years ago via Germany and Jamaica. “This is a culinary destination. As a chef this is the place to be if you don’t want to be in Mexico City.”
For the appetizer, I choose Mussels in Chilpachole. These mussels are fresh from Baja California, large, tender and flavorful. Chilpachole is a broth made from fish, crab, and shrimp, originating from Vera Cruz. Stuffed mushrooms, deep-fried in cornflakes, come with Huitlacoche, “the Mexican truffle, a fungus that grows on corn.” It’s black, has a caviar-like consistency and its own distinct flavor.
Dine gourmet in Puerto Vallarta's Centro.
Salad choices include a Romaine and Avocado salad with blue cheese-chipotle dressing and a Caesar with marinated salmon and spiced croutons. Besides Tortilla Soup with Guajillo chile, avocado and crème fraîche, there’s a wonderful Poblano Chile Cream Soup with Cuitlacoche and Squash Blossom.
“What is a Guajillo chile?” I ask, and Chef Fitch says it’s a dry chile from this region, and it’s “uncommon to find a kitchen without it.”
Main courses include Wild Grilled Salmon Filet in Poblano sauce; Red Snapper Sarandeado style (on a wire grill), and Linguine with Tequilla-flamed Seafood and a cream sauce of smoked chiles.
“Do you like beef?” Chef Fitch asks. He recommends the Torreon style Cabreria (the name of the cut of beef) with Nopales (a light, sweet Mexican cactus) and grilled onions. “It’s going to be the highlight of your visit to Xitomates.”
He says the most important thing about a restaurant is cuisine. “I like to give a different twist, using ancient ingredients such as 25 varieties of chiles, or xoconostle, a sour prickly pear, and fruits such as garambullos, a kind of cactus berry, which only grow in the area around where I was born.” These are the flavors he grew up with. “My own children already know many different flavors.”
Morelos 610 - Centro - C.P. 48300
Puerto Vallarta - Jal.México
Telephone (322) 222 94 34
Wine cellar selections come “from the most important regions of the world, at very reasonable prices.” The list includes wines from Argentina, France, and Portugal as well as the US and Mexico.
Chef Fitch changes Los Xitomates’ menu seasonally “based on availability of fruits, vegetables and changes in the weather.” Los Xitomates can accommodate low sodium, gluten-free, vegetarian, and even Rastafarian (nothing with a face) tastes.
Z’TAI RESTAURANT LOUNGE AND GARDEN
From the street an austere white building on the corners of Leona Vicario and Calle Morelos displays a simple name, Z’Tai. Inside is a spacious, tiered deck garden restaurant with a sophisticated black and white décor against a background of music with an international beat.
Z'Tai's garden bar.
An extensive drink menu of cocktails, specialty martinis, tequilas and rums offers Wokka liqueur and a Geisha Martini, made with sake, vodka and Sprite.
Starters include Spring Rolls with Prawns, Tempura Nori Wrapped Shrimp, a Warm Goat Cheese Strudel and Razuradito Beef with a crispy roquette and artichoke and stone ground mustard mayo.
The chilled Avocado Soup contains King Crab and Black Mujjol Caviar. In addition to Caesar and Caprese and Flash Fried Calabari salads, a specialty is Roasted Beet with Goat Cheese Truffle, Asian Pear and an Apple and Strawberry Balsamic dressing.
The sun sets in this garden oasis, and one two-story white wall becomes projection art: video images from Fashion TV. At the base of the wall is a long, low recessed waterfall illuminated with blue lights. Colored lights project upwards into the bamboo, mango and parota trees, making leaves dance with psychedelic designs. A tropical breeze causes the votive candles on the tables to flicker along with the pulse of the techno music.
An artful presentation.
Z'Lounge with view of Banderas Bay.
We sip white wine, a Flor de Guadalupe Chardonnay, and anticipate the main courses. A Spicy Seafood Rotini contains roasted tomatoes, prawns, scallops and calamari. Other sea food choices are Miso Cured Mahi-Mahi, Pan-Seared Ahi Tuna and Chilean Sea Bass. Meat lovers will enjoy the Herb Crusted Lamb or the Grilled Chipotle Glazed New York Strip Steak with Cajun Onion Rings.
Dessert choices include Cheesecake with goat cheese and burned caramel milk, Key Lime Pie with pecan crust, and Caramel Crêpes with ricotta cheese and brulée sauce. Chocolate lovers have not been forgotten—the Molten Chocolate Cake sports a raspberry coulis and is served with vanilla ice cream.
Stylish Z’Tai combines three concepts: a Pacific Rim International restaurant boasting the largest selection of wines in Banderas Bay, a Zen-like garden and the sophisticated Z’Lounge. The lounge features the sounds of the 80s and alcohol selections you’ll only find here—including exclusive champagnes and their signature cucumber martini—all with an amazing view of the Malecon and Bay.
LOUNGE & GARDEN
Morelos 737, Centro Puerto Vallarta
P.V. Tel: (322) 222-0306
This is a popular spot for the professional crowd so reservations are recommended and can be made online. The restaurant is open until 2 a.m. (sometimes later) and the lounge vibrates until 4 a.m. Valet car service is available.
Family dining at El Arrayan.
El Arrayán exudes a cozy atmosphere reminiscent of country customs and traditions. Its painted chairs with woven seats and plastic flowered tablecloths are typical of Mexican homes. Four large Huichol art pieces honoring Huichol traditions adorn the walls. Music is chosen for its authentic Mexican origin. Terra cottas, browns and lively Mexican pink surround the traditional central courtyard, where a large arrayán tree reaches to the sky.
Owner and designer Carmen Porras, who attended hotel school in Switzerland and previously worked for Four Seasons, strives to bring traditional Mexican cuisine up to internationally renowned standards. “Our mission is to rescue old family recipes using locally produced ingredients,” she says, “including corn which is milled every day.” Porras is dedicated to changing Mexican food stereotypes, such as “the belief that all Mexican food must be deep fried and have lots of melted cheese on top.” Because of the variety of available flavors, true Mexican cuisine is considered to be one of the best cuisines in the world.
Fruits and vegetables from local organic growers are hygienically washed. Porras supports the slow food movement, “enjoying your food with your family, taking your time.”’
A traditional family recipe.
We begin with El Arrayán Margueritas, rimmed with sugar. Arrayán fruit has a sweet, tart taste, similar to the guava. Porras remembers being introduced as a child to a candy made from arrayán. “We make our own ice from filtered water on site,” she adds.
Plantain Empanadas filled with black beans and served with a garlic/chipotle pepper salsa, are “our most popular appetizer.” Ceviches provide a Mexican way to eat fresh seafood over sesame tortilla chips. Ceviche Colima has baby scallops combined with avocado, cilantro and onion, and Shrimp Aquachile contains fresh mango, Seraano peppers, cucumbers and onions.
A house specialty is Roasted Chopulines, crunchy crickets sautéed with red onion and cilantro, served with avocado and tomatillo salsa. If you want to take some home, you can purchase chopulines by the jar.
El Arrayan voted "Best Mexican"
food in Puerto Vallarta.
Shrimp Pozole is a hearty soup with shrimp, tomato stock, and hominy corn; your choice of a mini, medium or large bowl. A family recipe is the Nopal Cactus Pad Salad, with fresh local Panela cheese and a marjoram vinaigrette.
My entrée of choice was the Cochinita Pibil, a boneless pork leg marinated in spices from Southeast Mexico served with black beans and a Habanero pepper relish. Other entrées worth trying are the Chicken Breast filled with zucchini blossom and a light Mexican Pipian sauce (a family recipe); and a house specialty, Duck Carnitas with Arrayán-orange Sauce.
The wine list is predominately Mexican. “We try to promote Mexican wines because they go really well with our food.” We enjoy a Cabernet Monteviña de Casa Madero from the town of Parras in the state of Coahuila.
El Arrayán’s dishes include pre-Hispanic ingredients such as chile, cactus paddles, avocado, beans and corn, in addition to originally-European ingredients that are now staples, such as pork, beef and cheese.
Desserts are an equally creative endeavor. Homemade flan has cajeta, a milk caramel spread. Porras says, “We used it on crackers and toast when we were growing up.” Pastel Dionix, “another family recipe” is made from carrots, nuts, and chocolate chips. With a Grand Marnier frosting, it’s served with vanilla ice cream. Pumpkins or yams cooked in aromatic piloncillo, (a dark sugar syrup) is also served with vanilla ice cream.
Because El Arrayán seats just 65, reservations are recommended. In this relaxed atmosphere you’ll find “a lot of families, and people in shorts and flip-flops.” Children’s needs are addressed with unbreakable glasses and plates, paper linen to color, and an alternative, non-spicy, easy-to-eat menu.
Since El Arrayán opened in 2003, it has been voted “Best Mexican” three times by the website, Virtual Vallarta. Credit cards, US and Canadian dollars and Travelers Cheques are accepted.
CAFÉ DES ARTISTES
When Café Des Artistes opened seventeen years ago in a Spanish Colonial mansion in old Vallarta, it offered exclusive seating for just 40 people. Today, this bistro gourmet restaurant with separate rooms featuring different illumination and a private outdoor cocktail area can seat five times that many.
We choose to dine in the garden under a canopy of bamboo, rubber trees, and big-leafed diefenbachias, illuminated by votive candles and caressed by background vocals of Norah Jones and Ray Charles.
We’re immediately served an Amuse Bouche, a small chicken mousse with balsamic vinaigrette and paper potato with parmesan cheese. For the bread there are three butters—natural, garlic and parsley, and sweet red bell pepper.
An intimate interior dining room.
A popular appetizer is the Tuna and Salmon Tartar with Dijon mustard sauce, served in a martini glass. Or you might choose a Block of Foie Gras with apples and pistachios or a Salad of Fried Goat Cheese wrapped with pumpkin seeds, pear, vegetarian bacon, caramelized almonds and toasted nuts.
I couldn’t resist the traditional Cream Soup of Prawn and Pumpkin, which the waiter pours into my bowl from a real carved pumpkin while I sip my Italian pinot grigio from the La Braghena Vineyard.
“We have one of the biggest private wine cellars in Mexico,” says the waiter. “2,500 bottles, 350 labels. Our wine list is very dynamic.”
Café Des Artistes has a menu section entitled, “To Share.” This includes bistro items such as a classic Cheese Tray with pecan bread and green tomato jelly; a dozen fresh Baja oysters; or Fruits De Mer, a fountain arrangement of shrimp, Baja oysters, crab, scallop coconut-mint ceviche, served with a mini Caesar.
Chef/owner Thierry Blouet believes
that the chef must be an artist.
Popular entrées are Roasted Sea Bass with potato slices; Seared Grill Tuna over wok-sautéed seafood chop suey; and a Calamari Risotto served with an Alaskan King crab leg. Other entrees include Stuffed Chicken with pine nuts, a mesquite-wood smoked and grilled Rib-eye, and Roasted Duck Adobado (a lime and ginger honey sauce) with creamy polenta. Vegetarians will enjoy the Ratatouille.
Chef/owner Thierry Blouet believes that the chef must be an artist. “If you come here you don’t just come to have dinner,” says the maitre ‘d. “You come to have an experience.”
Born in Puerto Rico to French parents and educated in France and Mexico, Blouet was admitted in 2000 to the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France, the highest qualification in the world of gastronomy.
The dessert menu has several chocolate selections such as the Moctezuma Chocolate Fondant as well as fruit desserts such as a Breton Apple/pear/pecan Tarte and fruit-flavored ice cream coupes. Or you may simply enjoy a dessert cocktail or wine.
The art of up-and-coming Mexican artist Feliciano Begara graces interior walls of Café Des Artistes, and the wine bar features the art of painter and sculptor Michael Costantini, after whom the wine bar is named. Contemporary artwork by Mexican artist Telloso is featured in the garden, which was designed on different levels to accommodate palms and orchids and existing trees like guava and passiflora.
The new Thierry Blouet Cocina de Autor, an intimate 40-seat venue with a demonstration kitchen, serves a prix-fixe chef's signature wine-pairing dinner once each evening for formally-attired guests. After dinner entertainment follows in a private Cognac and Cigar Room with piano bar.
The Puerto Vallarta evening restaurant scene is one of candlelight, open air, soft breezes and international dining choices.
Feature by Carolyn Proctor, Jetsetters Magazine Adventure Editor; photos by Carolyn and courtesy of P.V. tourism.