Cabo San Lucas Report (Brief)
- Eat_Nopal Apr 30, 2007 09:48 AM
Just got back from a long, company sponsored weekend in Cabo with a 6 month old baby. Didn't get a chance to scour the place, but do have some good things to report & advise.
First, if you want to be a cool Chowhounder you minimize the Tequila & Beer you consume in Cabo. Damiana is the local spirit and there is a well developed repertoire of local cocktails using Damiana. Most bartenders will try to push regular Margaritas using Damiana instead of Tequila but the best drinks involve Melon & Orange licuados, Pineapple-Cactus licuados or various soda, beer & Damiana combinations. Its made from a plant native to the arid mountains of the area, and suppossedly a afrodisiac. In fact, the most ubiquitous brand - Guayrura - is fertiley shaped like a pregnant woman. So far, I would have to say there might be something to it... I will report back over time.
Second, I did have the Smoked Marlin Tacos, from the resort's room service... I am not big on smoked fishy flavors... but these were okay, and I could definitely see how in the expert hands of real Taquero these could be quite appealing. The resorts version served them up with a Tomato-Green Olive sauce and definitely lacked piquant.
One of our company dinners was at Baja Cantina on high rent Medano Beach a few doors down from "The Office".... everything about this scenario speaks of mediocre tourist chow. BUT... if you order correctly there is some very, very good food to be had. Maybe not better than some other places off the beach... but the ocean view, live music & total atmosphere is a huge plus. Note, this a place for traditional eating... not fine dining, do not expect any artful presentations. Our big winners were:
> Chile Guerito app (Yellow Jalapeno stuffed with "Spicy" Crab Salad battered, deep fried & served with a Soy-Maggi sauce)... addictive!
> Camarones a la Diabla (the shrimp were extremely fresh, the texture was perfect, the sauce was tasty but you have to ask for a side of sauce to go with it... the garlic-butter rice was a good complement, the sauteed vegetables were good... similar to something you would get in a "normal" American restaurant but better executed). I don't think I have ever had a la Diabla this good in the U.S.
> Camarones al Coco (again the shrimp were perfect, served with a slice of fresh grilled pineapple, & a mango reduction... garlic-butter rice & sauteed vegetables). This wasn't as intriguing as the versions I had in the Yucatan yet they were still divine... in a more simply-flavored but nonetheless perfected manner). Again I can't remember a version of Coconut Shrimp this good in any U.S. restaurant (Mexican or Other).
Based on all the recommendations we hit Nick San... and weren't disappointed. The quality of the fish is superior to most Sushi I've had in California. In fact, I think only Matsuhisa (the original in Beverly Hills... 5 years ago... has delivered something so fresh tasting & textural that its almost impossible to describe). However, Nick San also represented one of my worst dining elections ever... the Lobster & Vegetable Tempura. There was nothing wrong with the lobster, it was actually decent lobster but at MN $370, and almost 3x as much as the Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura it reminded me of how overrated lobster really is.
> The Pacific Oysters in Ponzu sauce were solid... the Oysters were perfect size (not the diminuitive Northeast type... but not the 5 inch Sea of Cortez version either) with a pleasant icy ocean flavor.
> The Spicy Tuna Rolls were the best I can remember... basicaly a California Roll that has a mound of Spicy Tuna Tartare on top of it... so you really taste the fish, and get Rice etc., as merely background flavor.
> But the real winners were the Nigiri... we started with a local fish (I can't remember the name but roughly translated as Sea Bass) it was so good... we asked for another local fish recommendation... this time it was Yellow Tail... again it was so good we could have done this all night.
In the end we paid $70 for a light dinner (no drinks just a bottle of water, and green tea)... in a nicely decorated, but casual Sushi house (not unlike what you typically find in California)... with outstanding fish. They have an impressive menu with a lot of Mexicanized Sushi that was extremely difficult not to order (particularly the Ahi Tuna Belly tostadas)... but it was nice to have more traditional Sushi to compare to.
To even more exciting finds... if you walk north of the Marina across Lazaro Cardenas (the main drag) you will pass the super market in a somewhat run down shopping center... go two blocks north to leave the tourist zone, and a potent, intriguing aroma will take hold of you. Its a nameless outdoor Birrieria that serves beef birria in its consomme that is a notch better than anything I had in L.A. Wow... I am could go for some birria now.
One block west & north of Mocambo's (the famous, can't miss huge Mayan Palapa seafood house) there is a shoebox, extremely clean & recently renovated Fonda with only one row of tables and an open kitchen that puts out $6 comida corrida with a strong Guerrero culinary influence... that puts out simply fabulous homestyle cooking like you find in a typical Mexico City blue collar neighborhood fonda.
Walking back from the fonda I spotted some real Al Pastor tacos at a place called Pepe's on the main drag (right next to a local counter culture bar called El Mezon de Zapata). I went back for lunch the next day but the marinaded slabs of pork were still pink, and the pineapple was barely starting to sweat. It wouldn't be ready for 30 minutes so I went looking around for another place. But, everything about this joint said fabolous including the roasted-tomatillo salsa & condiments that were laid out.... this is a place that was gearing up for the locals after work Saturday shift. Not only was it Real Al Pastor... it was Real Real Al Pastor meaning the heat source was real mesquite charcoal instead of radiating electric heat... adding a satisfying smokey element not commonly found any more in Mexico's big cities. Someone has to hit this place.
Around the corner from Pepe's (on Leona Vicario) I spotted a typically little Taco Bar (4 stools, a tiled counter, and a tiny open kitchen) that had a sign.... Senor Lechon.... Mr Suckling Pork. The place specialized in Yucatecan style tacos of Suckling Pork steam baked in an achiote sauce... served with red onions pickled in seville oranges, and your choice of sauces. First, you have to give credit to a place so honest, it doesn't label them as Cochinita Pibil (which would be incorrect given the lack a smokey Closed Pit cooking) as would be the case here in California (and even in touristy places in the Yucatan). Once you combine the fall apart tender, mild pork with the Achiote and the fruity smooth habanero sauce... you have almost perfection (the one detractor is that they use commercial tortillas instead of the intriguing hand made versions you typically find at good Yucatecan eateries).
Another place to recommend is Senor Sweets on the Marina. Its not cheap, not a lot of soul to it... but if you are craving a sweet breakfast or some gelato, I doubt there is much better in Cabo. One morning I had the Crepes with Cajeta & Walnut (a wonderful dessert / breakfast that rarely makes it north of the border)... the Cajeta didn't have as much goaty gaminess as I would have liked but it was still very good. The Crepe was perfectly done. The wife had the Cinammon Roll French Toast... and thought that was the best version she ever had... they serve it with Aunt Jemima quality syrup so you might want to ask for Cajeta sauce instead.... or run across the street to the super market to buy one of the local syrups (Jarabe) made from Piloncillo and spiced with cinammon, vanilla, cloves and other good stuff to drown your French Toast. We had the gelato after our dinner at Nick San... the texture was wonderful... comparable to good ice cream in Central Mexico or gelato I had in Italy... but with uncharacteristically subtle flavors. Nonetheless, my Capuccino on a waffle cone was very good... I enjoyed that it was barely sweet and truly reminded me of having a creamier version of an iced latte.
Thats it for this trip... I did find out, most workers in the hospitality & restaurant industries are recent immigrants from Acapulco and Mazatlan. The crafts vendors on other people that support those English speakers that have direct contact with tourists, tend to be from Oaxaca, and to a less degree from Puebla.... lots of immigrants eager to eat a little piece of home. So from what I saw Cabo has the potential to be a solid culinary gem for anyone willing to spend a few months hounding around... its one detractor the low availability of quality produce in this extremely overpopulated desert with little water resource available for agriculture (thanks in part to all the people out there willing to pay big bucks to golf right next to pipe cactii deserts).
Oh by the way... most things in Cabo seems to be about 10 to 25% more expensive than their equivalents in California.
Just got back and Nick San in Cabo San Lucas is some of the best fusion food I've ever had. Wonderful fresh sushi... we strayed from sushi mainstays to try things like their black and white sushi (black and regular sesame seeds... I think this one had some cumin going on too), the clear lobster roll (lovely... this might've been one that had a tiny bit of mango... was fabulous and many of the rolls are beautiful little works of art), the tuna tostada (believe it or not) and the gyoza were very close to the best I've ever had.
It's probably a good thing they're 2.5 hours away. I'd go there every week, maybe twice a week, otherwise. (Very witty chef staff also... all around wonderful experience.)