Saturday, December 7, 2013

Postcard from Puerto Vallarta: Cuisine, Adventure & Paradise

From the first moments of my arrival in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico--blanketed with the warm and balmy weather that served as the perfect haven from the wind and cold storm I had barely escaped back home--until my departure several days later, I was enthralled in a state of perpetual discovery and delight that cemented this tropical paradise as a destination that is brimming with life, luxury, adventure, and its own special charm that is not to be missed.  

Each day brought unique flavor, discovery and the occasional element of surprise, as the people, places, sights and tastes of Puerto Vallarta were uncovered. And every passing moment seemed to build on the beauty, wonder and grandness of the previous, culminating into an epic journey that is best shared as it unfolded: day by day.

Day 1

My stay began with a relaxed afternoon at my home away from home, the Fiesta Americana Hotel, getting comfortably settled into my digs, which included taking in the sweeping views from my balcony, followed by a late lunch on the beach and an amazingly gorgeous sunset.  From there, I indulged in a bit of pampering at the hotel spa before preparing for dinner.  The evening was capped with a stellar six-course menu served in one of the beautiful private dining areas within the hotel.  Those first hours within Puerto Vallarta’s corridors were a welcomed introduction to its relaxing, yet sophisticated, offerings and proved to be the perfect harbinger of all the exquisite tastes, sights and scenes that awaited my discovery.  

Day 2

A relatively early start the next morning gave way to taking in more of the scenic beach, replete with a gorgeous, mountainous backdrop, as well as a breakfast buffet that dished up popular Mexican fare, like my favorite chilaquiles, along with more traditional dishes, providing something for everyone. 

As the afternoon rolled around, I was off to the CasaMagna MarriotPuerto Vallarta Resort & Spa for a delightful lunch and more of the beach scene.  

A decadent dessert served as the perfect sweet ending

I had already begun chatting up the locals the day before for tips and recommendations on where to go to experience the heart of Puerto Vallarta and the overwhelming response was the fabulous Malecon Boardwalk.

With a few hours available to explore before the evening festivities began, I eagerly headed to the highly touted Malecon and immediately understood why the locals regarded it.  Flanked by the ocean, and dotted with restaurants, shops, breathtaking sculpture art, and the buzz of its people, the Malecon seemed to embody the heart of the culture of Puerto Vallarta in an exciting, yet equally relaxed, way.  If I lived there, I could see myself spending untold hours in this hub of beauty, energy, culture and cuisine.  My few hours of exploration were simply not enough, and I left desiring more.

Back at the hotel, it was time to “clean up” in anticipation of the evening’s World Chef’s Welcome Party, the kickoff event of the 19th annual Festival Gourmet International.  Dressed and ready to indulge in the excitement of the things to come, I took the short walk down to my hotel’s beach, which had been beautifully transformed to welcome the festival’s premier chefs and guests.  From there, an unforgettably special evening unfolded before me.   

Gorgeously dressed tables lined the sand, while live entertainment serenaded the crowd, and a tangible pulse rippled through the air.  And just when I thought it couldn't get any grander, celebrated chefs from throughout Mexico--and beyond--arrived in high style via small sailboats.   Attentions then turned to a Mexican feast that was served buffet style, highlighting each chef's offerings.  The good times lasted into the wee hours of the night, replete with fireworks, celebration, laughter, music, more food, and dancing.  It was a welcome party to trump all others and the perfect ending to another exceptional day.

Festival Co-Founder, Distinguished Chef and Restauranteur, Thierry Blouet
Day 3

The next day began with a relatively early start as I prepared for my day trip to San Sebastian del Oeste, a quaint town on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta that maintains the feel and character of "Old World Mexico" that seemed to transport me to an earlier, simpler time.   With a lively and well-versed tour guide from Vallarta Adventures leading the way, it was a day spent immersed in history, culture, food and heritage, while meeting local artisans and shop keepers, touring a beautiful church and relishing in my opportunity to make homemade tortillas during our lunch at Los Arrayanes restaurant.

With a full day of activity already under my belt, it would take something as amazing as the evening's Gourmet Safari to keep my mojo flowing--and, oh, how it did!  Another highlight of the Festival Gourmet, the Gourmet Safari was geniusly curated, allowing for a dining experience at several of Puerto Vallarta's acclaimed restaurants--highlighting the owners, chefs and guest chefs who served up amazing cuisine and hospitality.  

A 'food crawl' of luxurious proportions, the evening kicked off with a decadent lobster first course and a table-side serenade at Restaurant Michel.  I had the pleasure of meeting the namesake and owner and chatting about the vision behind his restaurant and his place within the Puerto Vallarta foodscape.  I even snagged a brief introduction to the evening's guest chef as he busily led the charge in the kitchen.  Satisfied and well-perched, I was off to indulge in each subsequent course--taking in a new restaurant, ambiance, culinary savvy and all-around excitement along the way.  Four additional restaurants later, concluding with one absolutely, scrumptious dessert course of Pecan Pie and Ice Cream at Kaiser Maximillan, I felt privileged to have captured unique memories of Puerto Vallarta's gastronomy, fine dining scene and culture in such magnitude. 

And still there was more to explore, experience and relish.

Day 4
I awoke to falling rain and wondered how the brief turn in the weather would impact my morning agenda of a local food tour.  Leaving the comfort of the resort, I headed into town to begin an excursion with Vallarta Food Tours that would introduce me to the heart of Puerto Vallarta's food scene.  The walking tour intersected the streets, stands, restaurants and purveyors of the best in authentic, Mexican fare. 

Tucked away gems and local favorites marked our exploration, and I indulged in amazing mole, tacos, chocolate, ceviche, coconut, hearty soups, and more along the way, while our jovial tour guide shared the traditions and stories that imparted greater appreciation for each experience and bite.  (And somewhere in the midst of it all, the rain subsided for clear skies!)  I have always counted Mexican cuisine as one of my favorites and as the tour came to an end, I was more convinced than ever.

The day's momentum continued as my food adventure gave way to real-life adventure at Dolphin Discovery Vallarta.  I opted not to swim with the dolphins this time around, but enjoyed watching the action, as well as a special one-on-one session with one of the loveable creatures.  I ended my time with a kiss from a ginormous sea lion to seal the deal.

Back at the hotel, it was time to prepare for my final evening within Puerto Vallarta's enchanted borders and one unforgettable dinner that proved to be a most perfect ending.  A dreamy Chef's Table experience in a private dining room was the set-up for my party at Cafe des Artistes, replete with a decadent multi-course menu and personal tour by Owner and Executive Chef, Thierry Blouet. Being guided through the restaurant's art adorned and beautifully styled interiors and exteriors, including a stop by the kitchen to witness a bit of the action, caused my mouth to gasp and my eyes to sparkle more than once.  It was a magnificent evening in every way imaginable and left me seriously wanting more of this jewel of Mexico. 


Day 5

The morning greeted me with bright sunshine, and I drank in yet another glorious view from my balcony, ending my time in Puerto Vallarta almost exactly as it had begun days before.  Memories of my many splendored discoveries flooded my thoughts and left me anticipating my return to this beautiful oasis.  And with that, I was off to take on the friendly skies and return home from this most extraordinary of travel journeys.

In the days ahead, I'll also share my picks for the best of Puerto Vallarta for when you decide to visit.  Until then...

Happy Eating & Traveling!


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