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Riviera Nayarit, México

I had high expectations coming into Nayarit, México. I’ve visited Baja California  and always left incredibly satisfied with the experience. I’ve been to México City, albeit with intentions other than exploring the local cuisine, and left with a new appreciation for México and all it has to offer. But this time, it was different. I came back home to Los Angeles, relieved and ultimately, disappointed.

I can’t take anything away from the people that my wife and I had met while we were there. We both agreed that they were incredibly kind and hospitable. One of our absolute favorite places was a place called Serendipity, a mezcaleria. We didn’t eat any of the food, but we always came back for the drinks. It was a beautiful place. The restaurant opens up to the beach that it’s on. You’re literally walking on sand as you take your seat. You then get to dine (or drink in our case) accompanied by the cool ocean breeze and the serenade of the soothing waves. If you get a chance to spend your time here, get the mezcal sampler. Three different mezcals are offered at an incredible price along with orange slices and roasted crickets (they’re actually yummy!). They also have a fantastic mezcalita, the cousin to a margarita.

Overall, there were still some positives from this trip. I am grateful that this trip offered me an experience to develop my appreciation for mezcal. I think I prefer it over tequila. That’s saying a lot because I absolutely adore tequila. If you ever get a chance to try it, go for it!

I’ve always loved tacos, and this trip only allowed for me to enjoy more of them on a daily basis. I would stop by as many taco stands as I could to explore what they had to offer, even if my stomach was practically about to explode.

It was also very amusing being told, “Wow, your Spanish is very good! Where did you learn it?” It had come to a point where a scripted reply would be given back to them, “I used to live in Puerto Rico when I was younger”. I think it was the Spanish that helped break the cultural barrier that existed between us and them. Not to mention, it made ordering delicious food that much easier.

The disappointment of the trip was multi-factorial. We got incredibly unlucky with the weather. We headed out to Lo de Marcos, a tiny and fairly, pristine beach town, and were greeted by gloom. We had hoped to use that day to bronze our pasty selves. Yes, I can’t fault Mexico for the weather, that would be silly. But, it was a bummer nonetheless. You can tell that tourism is the absolute lifeblood of the area. Many of the places we went to were testaments to the juxtaposition of poverty and riches. In Punta de Mita, the area directly behind our hotel appeared like we walked into a war zone, relatively speaking. Another issue that I want to bring to attention without getting too political is the issue of our general safety. We opted to rent a car while in Nayarit to allow for travel. But I personally felt like our days were governed by an hourglass that always ran out too soon. I always had to make sure to return back to our hotel before sunset so as to prevent having to drive in the dark. My wife was with me and I didn’t want to risk being pulled over or encountering some form of trouble during our vacation there. We could’ve easily just stayed at an all-inclusive resort, but would that really be an exploration of the culture and food in Nayarit? The greatest disappointment of all was realizing that the people of Nayarit may be subjected to what I was honestly paranoid of. To reiterate, the people were so kind and we felt so welcomed. It saddened me to realize that many people may not want to experience that kindness because of our fears.

This point was only solidified on our last full day in Nayarit. We took a day trip out to Lo de Marcos, which has yet to be overrun with tourists. There were a lot of food options there, but because of our condensed day, we couldn’t explore it all. Also, because of the relative lack of tourists, it wasn’t super busy. You could truly just sit back, eat a taco by the street or the beach, and relax. I was getting to a point of relaxation when that timer in my head went off and reminded myself that it was time to go. Boo. Now, I don’t profess to know exactly what the relative risk to our safety truly was. Admittedly, we never got pulled over or had trouble tailing us at any moment. But with all that has been said and all that was heard, I wasn’t going to take a chance at all.

So, it’s hard for me to say if I’ll ever be back at all. If we ever to go again, it’ll be different for sure. I think we’ll stay at one of the smaller towns and explore all that that place would have to offer. No more day trips. In spite of all of that, I can’t deny that the food was absolutely fantastic. The highest quality tequila and mezcal were so cheap and wonderful! The tacos were divine. The seafood was incredibly fresh and perfect.Manao-Cebicheria.jpgI didn’t know it was spelled with a “B”. It’s cool to learn new things about food. Manao Cebicheria prides itself on how fresh the fish they serve is. They only serve fish that is caught on the day of. Great place to try for a flavor of Nayarit.

Blvrd de Nayarit 2 local 2, Nuevo Vallarta, 63735 Nuevo Vallarta, MexicoMarlin-CebicheMarlin-Cebiche-2.jpgTuna-CevicheThey give you a packet of crackers to which you lay the fish on. I don’t know if we were just hungry or what, but man they were good.Tuna-on-a-cracker.jpgYou eat fish. The fish charges you.Fish-Check.jpg

The beach in front of our hotel. Absolute beauty. Punta-Mita-Beach.jpgPunta-Mita-Beach-2.jpg

Huichol bead art found in Sayulita. Incredibly, all made by hand. Proceeds going back to the indigenous people. Huichol-Jaguar.jpgHuichol-Skull.jpg

A surfboard for the surf town of Sayulita. Surfboard-Huichol

There’s a magical food stand in Sayulita called Carnitas Prietos. I didn’t know until this visit but I guess the state of Michoacan is famous for this preparation of pork. Hats off to them! Pork as many of you know is a magical culinary animal. Under the gleam of heat lamps, it glistens advertising the wave of flavor you’re about to embark on. This bag contained all the glorious bits and pieces of pork heaven. I regret not getting more. Carnitas-Prieto's-Sign.jpgCarnitas-Michoacan-2Carnitas-MichoacanCarnitas-Prieto's-TacosPapel picado, a folk art paper decoration, which was hung in the small town of Sayulita.Papel-Picado-Sayulita.jpgIt wasn’t a very hot day in Sayulita, but just warm enough to welcome to cool, refreshing, and vibrant taste of paletas, or popsicles from Wa Kika. If you’ve ever had agua frescas, water that has been infused with fruit, it’s like having a frozen version of that. Wakika-Sayulita.jpgNaty’s offered up some delicious vegetarian tacos. Rajas (strips of poblano peppers) and beans with queso fresco, a type of Mexican cheese that usually isn’t aged, hence the name, filled our stomachs before we ventured out to explore Sayulita further.Naty's.jpg

The cool thing about Naty’s is that you order and you can see everybody working on making the food. Then you can choose to eat al fresco right in front of the restaurant or wrap around on the small counters with stools, which is what we opted to do. It’s a small place, but worth a visit! Not sure if you can tell by the picture but the tacos around 13 pesos, which at the time, equated to less than 1 USD! Naty's-Inside.jpgRajas-Tacos-from-Naty's-Sayulita.jpg

Norma’s tacos in Punta de Mita, is the absolute epitome of a mom and pop shop/hole in the wall. Firstly, it’s literally run by a husband and wife team. They cook some amazingly flavorful tacos and serve it up with warmth and service that frankly wasn’t rivaled at any other place we went to in Punta Mita, Nayarit. A big group had beaten us to the punch of getting to the house restaurant, so seating was practically non existent. We were fortunately invited by a group sitting at a table to join them. But, there wasn’t a chair for me. The husband quickly noted this and ran inside the house and grabbed one of their own chairs for me to sit in. It was such a small act, but one that made me realize how truly warm and generous people were in Nayarit. Norma served up simple food that could’ve been easily passed up as another meal. Instead, they offered homemade, heart-filled tacos served with a lot of pride and care. Norma's-TacosWorking the plancha.Norma-putting-work-in.jpg

Steak and al pastor tacos. To me, al pastor is still the king. Norma's-Tacos-2

We hit up “El Sazon de Mita” (The spice of Mita) for breakfast. I noticed a common theme in regards to many of the restaurants throughout Punta Mita. The restaurants basically appeared to house the family that ends up serving you food. So, it’s like eating a home-cooked meal every time. Sazon-de-mita-menu.jpgIt wouldn’t be any fun to get the “American breakfast” so we opted for something more local: chilaquiles, which is a dish comprised of tortilla chips and some sort of protein drenched in a rich and hearty, often spicy, sauce. It is then topped off with chunks of queso fresco and sometimes eggs.

Homemade tortillas not only taste good because of knowing that they are made fresh, but also because you realize how far short store bought tortillas fall from the real thing. The slightly dense nature of homemade tortilla’s texture lends a pleasant chewiness . The flavor of the corn that makes the taco also becomes more pronounced. Inside-Sazon-de-Mita.jpgChilaquiles-Sazon-de-Mita.jpgBirria tacos – stewed goat tacos. I haven’t seen much of these in the states. You’ll usually find birria being served on the weekends, but I haven’t seen it come in a taco. Because it’s stewed in a rich sauce, the gaminess of the meat is gone. Birria-Tacos-Sazon-de-Mita

We both enjoyed Sayulita a lot so we decided to come back. Good news for me because that just means more tacos! Can you tell I love tacos? We visited Luna’s Metseri Taco. Luna's-tacos-storefront.jpgYou can see the lady with a ball of masa in hand ready to make magic in the tortilla press. Oh yeah, it’s about to go down. Luna's-Metseri-Taco.jpgLuna's-Tacos-making-tortillas.jpgLuna's-Tacos-in-a-clay-plate.jpg

So there’s this churro lady on a random corner in Punta Mita that we were able to find. I actually had to ask about it from a local store owner. I can’t remember exactly what time she appears on this corner, but I do remember it being later on in the afternoon. She extrudes the churro dough with the help of a wheel and drops them into a vat of piping hot oil. The product is magical. The churros were crispy with a wonderfully chewy center. If only there was a magical vanilla ice cream man that popped up next to her. That would’ve been a dream come true. Churros-on-the-corner.jpgChurro-lady-extruding-dough.jpg

The churros smelled so good that the horse wanted some as well.Horse-and-the-churro.jpgChurros-Punta-Mita.jpgOur trip was coming to a close. For our last day trip, we headed out to a sleepy, small town called Lo de Marcos. This was the day we had hoped to use to sunbathe, but instead it turned out to be gloomy, which was a bummer. It wasn’t a total waste, because the tacos were amazing! Yes, I can’t get enough tacos.

This time, we changed it up with some shrimp (camarones) tacos. I forget the name of the place we stopped at. But, it’s on a corner located in the town square, across from Tacos Oscar. Deep-fried-shrimp-tacos-Lo-de-Marcos.jpgFinished-shrimp-tacos-Lo-de-Marcos.jpgThe beach was practically empty, perhaps due to the weather. But, it was still beautiful.Lo-de-Marcos-Beach.jpgAnd, there were horses on the beach (for rental). Horses-on-the-beach-Lo-de-Marcos.jpgTacos Oscar opens up later in the afternoon and serves up traditional tacos. It was our last meal before departing Lo de Marcos – a perfect ending. Tacos-Oscar-Storefront-2.jpgTacos-Oscar-storefront.jpgTacos-Oscar-meat.jpg

Tacos de Marlin, near the airport is a must stop before you leave Nayarit. The marlin ahumado (smoked marlin) is probably their most popular burrito. It wasn’t until after I ordered however, that I found out there is a burrito made with fish wrapped in bacon (tocino). If I remember correctly, I think it was the combinados (combination) burrito. I was incredibly distraught that this choice eluded me. It wasn’t explicitly written on the menu, but was only realized after I had taken pictures of it on the plancha. You’re probably thinking, “Why didn’t you just order it?”. Well, I had ran out of pesos. I didn’t want to deal with exchanging left over pesos into USD, so I made sure to spend it all on the final meal.

Despite this, the burritos were still pretty good. I didn’t get a lot of smoke flavor, but the fish was incredibly moist and flavorful. The burritos are incredibly hearty too, which is always a plus. Tacos-de-Marlin.jpgTacos-de-Marlin-posing-cookUltimate regret. Don’t be like me. Order this and be happier. Le sigh…Fish-with-Tocino.jpgThe final burrito. Hearty goodness.Smoked-Marlin-Burrito.jpgOh yeah, and there was this. Al pastor fish. Brilliance. I didn’t get a chance to order any, however because I didn’t have any cash. Boo. Al-pastor-fish.jpg

As I finish up this post, I realized that that was a ton of tacos (whew!). But I assure you, it wasn’t just all eating. I took the opportunity of being in Mexico to sample a variety of tequilas and mezcal, as previously mentioned. I definitely gained a new appreciation for them. Sadly, prior to Mexico, tequila to me was associated with just Patrón. Now, I’m not saying that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After the trip, my eyes were opened and horizons expanded. There’s a beautiful world of reposado and añejo tequila out there waiting to be explored. The depth of flavor that you get on your palate from these types of tequila is nothing short of marvelous. It would be short-handed to just describe it as smooth. So please, do yourself a favor and venture away from Patrón silver. Try reposado or añejo. You’ll thank yourself for it.

If you ever get a chance to try the following, you’ll REALLY thank yourself.

  1. Jose Cuervo – Reserva de la Familia (personal favorite, but very expensive)
  2. Don Julio 70 –  It’s a clear añejo, which is mind-blasting itself, but the flavor of it will add more mind-blastingness to the overall experience. You can find this at Costco for a fair price!
  3. Clase Azul – Another one of my favorites, but very pricey as well.

Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your next visit!

 

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Seattle Part 4: Macrina Bakery + Kerry Park

Macrina is a big-name bakery in Seattle and rightly so. With a handful locations to choose from, my wife and I settled on the Queen Anne location. It’s the perfect pit stop before heading over to Kerry Park for some spectacular views. You can pick up some coffee and baked goods and head over there for a perfect picnic on a perfect Seattle day with your perfect somebody.

Banana nutella hand pie. Honestly, I was left wanting more. I thought there wasn’t enough filling and nutella. Banana, I think, is a strong flavor. The flavor combination of banana and nutella is clever, but just didn’t come through. What filling I did get, I thought was great. The crust was also very dry. Overall, I was sad afterwards.

Nutella-Banana-hand-pie-closeupNutella-Banana-Hand-Pie-Macrina

I typically don’t eat scones for one primary reason: my mouth is left feeling like a desert. But this scone totally blasted my expectations. It wasn’t overly dry. Rather, the texture was just right. The cheese was perfectly married to the dill. Just the right amount of dill gave it the necessary tang to cut through the richness of the cheese. Oh man, was I pleasantly surprised by this one. You see it, you get this one. No question about it.

Cheese-Dill-Scone

Macrina Bakery – 615 W McGraw St, Seattle, WA 98119

Kerry Park – Soak in the sun while you drench in the views

Kerry-Park-Skyline

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Seattle Part 3: Honore Bakery

I feel like there’s something special about bakeries in Seattle. Maybe it’s the great water? I hate to use a word that is becoming more and more cliché to describe them, but they are truly artisanal in that you can sense passion in every nook and cranny in all that is baked. Honore bakery is no exception. And so is Macrina (more on that later). And so is Bakery Nouveau (DEFINITELY more on that later). My bakery sample size is small, but I also got to experience the craft of others in some big name places: Walrus and the Carpenter + Columbia Bakery, Un Bien + Macrina, to name a few. On a side note, I really like those partnerships. Small businesses supporting each other and supplementing each other.

We visited the Ballard location for some breakfast and coffee. It’s a small and cozy location with some face-the-window-seating seats for some people watching.

My drink of choice is a latte. I have an espresso machine at home, but cannot do latte art for the life of me. So, I live vicariously through the latte art of others.

Honore-Coffee.jpg

Honore macarons. Earl grey, coffee, vanilla, and passionfruit. All different. All delicious. Personally, I liked these macarons over Bakery Nouveau’s.

Honore Bakery (Ballard) – 1413 NW 70th St, Seattle, WA 98117

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Seattle Part 2: Un Bien

So, I’m just gonna come out with it. Un Bien was not all that bueno in that it doesn’t live up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad sandwich. But, it also isn’t perfection. This statement is probably going to light a mighty fire from within you, but before you go on a rage fest, let me explain. I have to admit that the overall flavor of the sandwich is mighty pleasing. Some people may complain that it’s an absolute mess of a sandwich, but that’s not what grinds my gears about it. The big hunks of pork shoulder you get was actually dry for me. That lone fact was its Achilles heel. Everything else about it was great. The bread was toasted to perfection and soaked up all that flavor in its soft core. That aioli (or perhaps it’s a mayo flavor bomb) that finds itself as one of the sandwich layers does a fine job in boosting the flavor of the sandwich. And oh mah gah, those caramelized onions! The sandwich is sweet, savory, and mmm-mmm goodness all in one. But, one chink in the armor undid it all. And consider this, there are plenty of other amazing sandwiches in the city of Seattle. Rain Shadow Meats Squared serves up an absolute delight in between bread. Heck, so does Bakery Nouveau. And, let’s not forget Salumi. So, if there’s all that hype about a sandwich, it’s got to be perfect.

Un-Bien-Storefront.jpgWhole-sandwich

What? You want a close-up of the goodness? Sure!Sandwich-Closeup.jpg

Look at the bread. You can just see its crunch factor!Bread-Closeup.jpg

Meat-Closeup-Un-Bien.jpg

Un Bien – 15th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98117

 

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Comin’ back to Seattle (Go Hawks!) Part 1: Pike Place Market

My wife and I decided to go to Seattle for a mini vacation. She has never been, and I have wanted to show her around. We picked a great time to go because the weather was great (for the most part). I do have to admit that Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. My heart will always be in Los Angeles, but my stomach will happily oblige to dine in Seattle.

It was five days of Seattle for us! I’m glad I get a chance to share with you some of the things that were seen and eaten!

I don’t think a trip to Seattle isn’t complete without a visit to Pike Place Market, which is the oldest farmer’s market in the United States. Sure it’s the ultra-touristy thing to do, but I did come back to Seattle, but I came back as a tourist this time. Pike-Place-Walkthrough

As you’ll see, we were greeted by a bright sun and blue skies…

Public-Market-Sign

This is where all the flying fish on TV come from.

Pike-Place-Fish-Market

We didn’t just come to Pike Place Market for the sights. We headed over to Beecher’s cheese for some of their absolutely awesome mac n cheese. It’s so good, they called it the “World’s Best” Mac N Cheese. That’s a mighty high claim, but I’ll have to concede that it definitely doesn’t disappoint. The cheese is rich and gooey. Beecher’s also serves up their Flagship, which is one of my favorite cuts of cheese. On rare occasion, I would spot some Flagship being served up in a Whole Foods Market. If you see it, grab it. You’ll be happy you did.

Beecher's-Mac-N-Cheese

Piroshky Piroshky was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show. We grabbed a smoked salmon pate filled piroshky (pictured) and a beef filled piroshky. The salmon one was great, but the beef one was too salty. Do yourself a favor and order ahead like the bag says. It’s good food, but not worth the crazy wait. Next door (or a few doors down, I don’t remember) there was a German deli. I didn’t take any pictures of it, but it seemed to be filled with some great German fare. I’ll have to visit them next time. Maybe, you should too!

Piroshky.jpg

There’s a big flower section within the market. Some amazing colors and compositions to be seen.
Pike-Place-Bouquet.jpgPike-Place-Tulips.jpgSeafood-Collection.jpgFresh-King-Salmon.jpg

Some grilled salmon sounds good right about now…

Gum-Wall.jpgOf course it’s right after seeing food.

Blue skies turned to grey really quickly. At least it didn’t rain.Public-Market-Gloom.jpg

Next up…

We go to Un Bien!

 

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Wok BBQ + Fosselman’s

Today was a rainy day in Southern California. My mind was on food and food was on my mind. A friend of mine and I were supposed to get together to get some good grubbin around Monterey Park. Wok BBQ was suggested as it would be good for hot pot- something to warm the soul and fill the tummy. I do declare, this place was quite the satisfactory choice. It’s a fairly small place and very clean. Fortunately for me, my friend spoke immaculate Mandarin. All I had to do was decide on what to order and she would convey our desires.

So the process is simple. You order a stir-fry dish, which happens to be the main dish. Your order arrives onto your table in a wok carrying all your ingredients, which is placed onto a conduction cooker. I believe this was the first time that I ever tried something like this, and I have to say it was quite a fulfilling experience. Now, I have to admit that my spice tolerance is quite low, especially for a Korean, so the order came in not spicy. This was a regretful decision however, as the dish demanded some heat. Salty, savory, and sweet dominated the dish. Individual portions are then transferred over to your plate. Chili oil was then requested and added to the portion, which livened it up quite a bit. Once we had enough of stir-fry, we then opted for the wok to be transformed into a hot pot. Ingredients are ordered a la carte to spruce up the hot pot. We had ordered Chinese vegetables, egg dumplings (best described as mini-omelets filled with some meat), shrimp dumplings, spam (yes, spam), wide noodles, and tripe.

I do declare, the broth was quite delicious. The stir-fry sauce was allowed to reduce adding extra flavor to the broth. With the addition of the chili oil, the broth had reached its complete form, one that would satisfy, soothe, and conquer hunger like no other. The deep layers of flavor, full of complexity and richness definitely left me content and wanting more. I was beyond stuffed, yet the spoon kept digging for more and I was happy to oblige to accept.

A happy meal is not complete without a satisfying dessert. Fosselman’s is a great place to go as it’s a local spot, and they make great ice cream! I ordered a waffle cone filled with one scoop of cappuccino goodness. Was I still very full? Heck yes! But as they say, there’s always room for dessert. This place has been reviewed a lot I’m sure, so I’ll keep in short and sweet. The cappuccino flavor was spot on, and not too overpowering. I really enjoyed the creaminess of the ice cream. It was quite the good ending to a fabulous meal.

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