A Mexican Food Adventure (Part II)

Hopefully you enjoyed (and remember) my post last week about my culinary adventure in Hamilton, Ontario! That was Part I of an excellent culinary adventure. Here, is Part II 🙂

As mentioned in my last post, my intended destination was Playa del Carmen via Hamilton, Ontario and Cancun. After a non-stop morning flight from Toronto, I arrived to the heat of Cancun, ready to explore.

Make sure you pre-organize your transportation from the Airport to your hotel, so you don’t over pay and wait! Because all you ever want to do is just GET TO THE HOTEL as soon as you can, am I right?! So put on your proactive ‘hat’ and book a private, semi-private or shared shuttle. I used Lomas Travel to organize mine – a local Mexican tour company. And they were the most organized (that I could see) at the Cancun airport!

About 1-1.5 hours later, we arrived in Playa del Carmen, south of Cancun. Usually a shuttle will drop you off right in front of your hotel UNLESS you are like me and book a hotel on the 5th Ave promenade for pedestrians only and doesn’t allow vehicles! ha ha. So my lovely driver,  carried my luggage a block until we arrived at Hotel Lunata.

 

My intention for 48 hours was to discover a quaint side of Playa del Carmen, which is easily a tourist hub and full of all-inclusive resorts! I am not sure how I found this wonderful little place, but wow, did I do well!

Hotel Lunata – A Spanish style archway entrance, green courtyard with spanish tile work on the stairs up to the rooms. What. A. Gem. And located right on the 5th avenue pedestrian walkway that seems to go for miles parallel to the beach, with shops and restaurants galore.

I did end up with a room facing the pedestrian walkway, which only tires around 12-1am, but had I had a room facing the courtyard it would have been quieter and I could have enjoyed my own private balcony. The staff were wonderful and helpful, it was safe and comfortable.

 

Upon arrival and fully admiring my quaint little hotel, I headed for the beach, sand between my toes was almost shouting at me, and it had a cold beer and lime waiting!

 

Now, here are the wonderful places I discovered…

Axiote – Cocina de Mexico. A recommendation by a Vancouverite living in Playa, and a pleasant surprise! YOU MUST go here. Opened by Xavier Pérez Stone, the Mexican winner of the Canadian Iron Chef in 2014. The cocktails are equally impressive and they did offer some wine, however I opted to try their mezcal drinks! I had the “Tomate” cocktail made of mezcal, cucumber, parsley, tomatillo and worm salt rim. It was delicious beyond my expectation plus it was refreshing! It’s on the other end of the 5th Ave promenade from Hotel Lunata, on a side street, so a destination and a bit of a secret, which is nice.

For food I had the most beautiful green salad I think I’ve seen “Salad Verde” with apples, avocado, tomato, dusted with Spirulina. And a dish with Oaxacan cheese with crispy grasshoppers sprinkled on top and ‘coloradito’ mole sauce. I was a little worried about eating crispy hoppers but at the same time intrigued. And all they did was add a touch of crunch (an apparently protein), but there was no other indication they were high hopping insects!

 

Piola – Another suggestion from fellow Vancouverite. She said “go for the Basil Margarita, trust me.” But you might as well go for food, such as a pizza which is what they do very well. Now, I know it’s not “mexican” food, but sometimes you just need to eat. And if you’re going to drink an entire Basil Margarita, then you’ll need it! Let me tell you, this margarita was sooooo fresh, it was actually worth walking the 20+ blocks to the other end of the 5th Ave promenade! A definite must as I am guessing it’s going to be hard to find a place anywhere else who can match this. The atmosphere here was awesome, lots of plants and breezy.

 

Tropical – Yes this little place I discovered was right on the 5th Ave promenade. But this particular day I was hungry and thirsty and I really needed shade, the sunshine was hot hot hot! Not only were the staff genuinely nice, the menu was not expensive and they had some unique dishes from this region of Mexico. I am a big fan of ceviche (although not native to this area, they added their local spin) so I had the “Green Ceviche” – fish marinated in coriander, parsley and cucumber sauce with a touch of avocado oil. It was, absolutely delicious. Normally ceviche is quite acidic, whereas this was smooth and tangy. Heaven on a plate.

 

Mango Margarita from a beachside café…

 

A ‘Michelada’ made with beer, lime juice, spices and a salted rim…

My Mom Doris and I at the Travel Marketing Conference…

I hope you enjoyed my Mexican food adventure and will add these places to your future travels!

Safe Travels & Happy Summer, Enjoy xo

Advertisements

Escape to Sunshine

I awoke one morning in late February at my home in Vancouver, to find Winter was still outside. It was cold and raining, with a possible snowfall warning in the forecast. Was I dreaming (again)? Was it ever going to leave? The Westcoast was hit hard by a very long winter this year, and it’s something we are not used to.

Craving sunshine, warmth, culture and to escape this Canadian winter, I began researching hot destinations like Florida, Bahamas, Hawaii and Mexico. And the easiest and quickest flight (at the best price) I could find was Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. So I booked a last-minute trip to search for my freckles and try to save my sanity!

Flights were easy to organize, mostly because I always use a Travel Agent after doing a little research myself. I once called this my main career, so I don’t even blink an eye at calling up my “travel assistant” to handle bookings. And if you are a Nexxus card holder, you’ll wiz by any line ups and feel like a V.I.P.! The perfect way to start any vacation.

Airline:

American Airlines was extremely pleasant to fly and we even arrived early due to “extraordinary airmanship”. Once in US airspace their Wi-fi kicks in, although as hard as I tried – it wouldn’t work for this Canadian girl and her iPhone. But, I really didn’t need it, as there was free entertainment aboard my flight. Half the plane from Phoenix to Cabo was University students on Spring Break! If you’ve got a stop in Phoenix, buy the locally made Arizona Sun natural body products or grab a bite at Taco and Tequila before boarding your next flight.

Transfers:

Upon arrival, the airport is filled with individuals trying to “help you” find a ride. It’s best to pretend you have transport already booked, and confidentaly walk straight outside without engaging with them. But I do recommend you pre-organize your transfers. I ended up researching transfers from the airport to my hotel until the wee hours of the night, and booked last-minute direct with Grayline, who had the best rate ($37usd roundtrip). I don’t recommend doing it so late, as I was booked as “pending”, although I was confirmed when I found them and checked in outside the airport. The transfer was fast and the shared van service only took 25 minutes.

Estancia Hotel Pool

Hotel #1:

My cute little 3-storey hotel was right in the town of Cabo San Lucas at the very southern part of the Baja Peninsula. Just 2 blocks from the Marina, the Estancia Hotel, was perfectly located. It offered simple, but very clean and spacious rooms, continental breakfast, 24-hour friendly front desk and a really lovely pool and courtyard with full sun from 11am – 4pm. Sure, I could have chosen a waterfront resort with all-inclusive dining, however I would not have gotten the experience I did.

Day 1:

My mission for my first evening – was go for a walk, eat, buy suntan lotion, bottled water (because you still cant drink or brush your teeth from the tap!), and get acquainted with my surroundings. A tortilla soup, 2 Damiana Margaritas (Damiana is a local root liqueur which nicely accents tequila – good for rookie tequila drinkers like me!), and a taco made me feel very welcome. It was a warm and very comfortable 18 C at night with a light ocean breeze. I had arrived to warmth, where English is spoken but Spanish is preferred and although I could get wi-fi at the restaurant, why? I was on vacation in a beautiful seaside town.

 

Day 2:

The next day I went for an early morning walk and discovered a local patisserie just across the street called: Cal Forner.  One block away was a local fresh juice shop (for just 30-50 pesos) making shakes or juices from fresh vegetables and fruits. After a nice leisurely day in the sun by the pool (plotting my adventures), I walked around the block to a local restaurant Mariscos Mazatlan. I ordered ceviche to-go and it was less expensive than the main street restaurants, and enough to feed 4 people for just 135 pesos! As I enjoyed ceviche and a beer in the hotel courtyard for happy hour, I struck up a conversation with another guest named Claudia who was from Germany. She had been visiting family in Monterey, Mexico and then travelling to eastern Mexico and to Guatemala with a friend, before heading back to Europe. We chatted about travels, life, politics, a bit of everything actually. It was fantastic. This has to be the most favourite part of my trips – unexpected, spontaneous conversations with fellow travelers. With everyone on their phones and computers these days, socializing in person has become a bit of a lost art, except when you go travelling.

For dinner I decided to visit a Wine Bar and Restaurant on my list called DOC Wine.

Mostly because they had a few local Mexican wines by the glass, and I was very intrigued to try them. After getting lost and getting directions from the locals, I found this quaint little restaurant, with a front patio overlooking a park on the edge of town. It was quiet in the area, compared to the rest of the town, it was just what I needed. I chatted with a lovely couple from Northern California – Randy and Suzanne who suggested a Whale Watching trip to see the Gray Whales. They have the longest known migration of any mammal. They travel north every year from their winter mating and calving area in the warm waters off Baja, Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic waters.

So consider March a great time to see them off the Baja! (Sometimes, other travellers have some great ideas, so keep your itinerary somewhat flexible.)

The owner of DOC Wine is also the sommelier and has the largest cellar of Italian wines in Mexico! And don’t miss the house-made limoncello with vodka, rosemary and peppercorns. Of course, my travels always include wine, so here’s what I learned about Mexican wines, and what I tasted.

Map courtesy of Wine Folly

Baja California Wine Regions:

There are a few valleys in the Northern Baja peninsula, which make it possible to grow grapes and have a wine region. Guadalupe, Calafia, Santo Tomas, San Vicente and San Antonio de las Minas valleys offer a unique terroir. They have cool breezes and salty air from the Pacific ocean, a sunny and dry Mediterranean climate, and the Sands of the Sonoran desert to the east (which by the way go all the way north to Osoyoos, BC, a Canadian wine region). Their wine region is smaller than Napa Valley but quaint, and has been up and coming for years, attracting winemakers from around the world.

Viñedos Malagón

Malagón Sauvignon Blanc – Lovely acidity, minerals, citrus and an apple- herbaceous note, dry. I’m shocked this is really good! Paired with taleggio cheese.

Malagón Grenache Rosé – is delightfully acidic the salty mineral and round body from plump red fruits, but nicely balanced, again shocked, this is good!

Tinto Malagón Blend– ok wow. Floral and dense on the nose is that Petit Sirah cause Grenache can’t do this alone! Smooth floral, complex, bright, mocha, spice acidity… wholly heck lots going on!!!!

 

LA Cetto

Chardonnay – Off dry (not a fan of this style, but interesting none the less) aged in oak, creamy but fruit forward with salty minerals, its throwing me off but it’s tasty.

 

Casa Magoni

Sangiovese/Cabernet Blend – Super lean, showing off more the red fruit sangiovese side, slight spice is subdued by the Cab, I’m on the fence on this one , it’s like voluptuous yet a hint of cab holds it back… it is good just different… it’s growing on me! An Italian winemaker is in charge at this winery.

To read about my day 3 and 4, please see the rest of my article on Cork Affairs.