Epoca, Puerto Vallarta - my new favorite restaurant
After the Ernesto's issues (see other post), I went looking for a new rib place in Puerto Vallarta, figuring that there wasn’t going to be anything decent. I tried several recommended places for ribs to which I would never return, either at all, or for ribs. These included Gilmar on Francisco Madero (simmered; not worth further review), El Torito (sent back my platter TWICE to get the ribs to be even WARM, much less fully cooked) and even a great place which is a favorite for other foods, El Barracuda near the Hotel Buenaventura on the beach.
And then an angel appeared, in the form of a nice lady named Judy from Chicago, who mentioned Epoca, for smoked ribs and rack of lamb. I adore lamb chops, and am typically disappointed to the point of non-returning to a place when they call three single chops a rack (River Café, of yore). Judy said that depending on weight, Epoca’s rack was 6 or so. Off I went, that very night.
Epoca is located on the beach at Achilles Serdan, which is the street on the south side of the big huge giant condo monstrosity, which replaced wonderful tacky old Molina de Agua. They are the restaurant of record, so to speak, for the other condo complex which is on top of them, providing room service to that building as well as the new big giant ignore-the-building-permit-and-keep-building-higher-and-higher Molina.
I asked the waiter how big the portion was. “Three pieces,” he replied. Disappointed, I said that my friend had said that there were 5 or 6. Well, he continued, the 3 are all double bones. AHAH. When mine arrived, the pieces were on their little rumps, so to speak, bones in the air. And there were 4 pieces, I realized a few minutes later, and one of them had 3 bones. So there were 9 small chops. Now I have a good appetite, but with the salad I’d ordered, bread & butter they furnish, and roast potatoes I requested instead of some weird-sounding beet side, I could not finish everything. Well, not the potatoes, anyway. The chops were beautifully done and the bones were not shaved all the way to the chop part. I prefer that, because it’s so much fun to gnaw on the length of them. There’s a nice bit of au jus (the occasional piece of pretzel, or possibly sea, salt; just perfect) and pieces of fresh mint. And there was a lovely garlic topped asparagus. These are not the standard veggies with this; again, ask for them; there are also mashed and French fries, typically. I went back a couple weeks later for the same dish and it was, again, nine chops, and this time, not having had the (big) salad, I did finish. 269 pesos.
In the meantime, I’d gone to Rib Night! Now, I have written a lot of reviews for Chow.com on various New Jersey and Philadelphia area rib places, and most were more negative than not. And I’ve got disagreement from other rib fans who didn’t have the same enjoyable experiences that I did at Ol’ West, and, hmm, well, I guess that’s about it. Suffice to say that Epoca has the best smoked ribs I have had. They are really really good. They make 50 portions on Wednesdays, and reservations are necessary. That’s capacity – they usually sell out. The smoker is a SmokeVault and appears taller than the 24; I saw it and it looks like a Brinkmann (gas) with the wide sturdy legs. They use hickory wood.
The portion is 5 full size back ribs, cut so that there is about 2” of meat above the bone. There is a smoke ring. They do not parboil. They finish them on a grill, with a small amount of sauce with a perfect amount of heat. No rub. They do not remove the membrane, but it’s invariably crispy and so I didn’t mind it. The 2” of meat can have fat in it, but it’s easy to cut away. My fingers smelled like smoke. Except that one Wednesday they brought a FINGER BOWL and the limon (lime to us) removed that lovely scent. Actually, 2 hours later, the lime has disappeared, but the smoke lingers on.
Another night I ordered the Rib-Eye Al Pastor. The steak was fine, perfectly done, and again, a nice portion, like everything there, but there wasn't any Al Pastor-ness to it. But as far as a rib-eye goes, it was as good as (Bruce's) Back Alley, whose meat I consider excellent. .
The owner, Kurt, took over Epoca 5 years ago; his background includes producing events in the USA, and some of those were rib cook-off events. He didn’t compete but he got to taste a lot. It shows. The rib night price as of this writing is 179 pesos. Run, do not walk.
I posted most of this to Tripadvisor Jan 6, 2011 and am copying it here. I am the original poster of this review.
Due to staffing changes in the kitchen, including the head Chef, the menu and the preparation at Epoca is not quite the same as it was. If you have a favorite dish, double check with the staff (whom, I find, are still very very good) that it's prepared the same exact way. The rack of lamb has NOT changed except that the fresh mint is gone, replaced by some weird wet green stuff, and the chef seems to have a tendency to cook meat well past the ordered level. Panela Crocantes no longer have the amazing jalapeno jelly. Smoked ribs are one casualty of the changes; they're now a delicious sauced rib portion but smoking hasn't succeeded as it used to.
Epoca has undergone so many changes of management over the years. It is nice to see this place established and good word circulating. They brought in a fine chef. Love the locale and open air right on the beach. Many poeople do not walk that far north away from the PLM activity on both sides of the pier. But it is a quiet venue and seems to be catching on. I am pleased you liked the ribs. I still like Ernesto's but it is not in the same class.