On our second winter escape to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we are treading old ground and visiting familiar spots we enjoy, as well as venturing out to new places and having new adventures. Last year we quickly discovered our favourite restaurants and we’ve been back to some of them, especially those which offer value for money, good food and excellent mojitos. With literally hundreds of restaurants within a 10 minute walk of the condo we’ve rented, and hundreds more a short taxi ride away, there’s not much incentive to work in a hot kitchen.
Joe Jack’s Fish Shackon Basilio Badillo still tops our list for its friendly welcome and I quickly add to my collection of fluorescent plastic mermaids which hang off every generous mojito. I’m delighted they still serve an outstanding Paradiso salad – deconstructed lightly steamed Brussels sprouts, bacon lardons and a soft boiled egg, with hot garlic breadcrumbs. Co-owner and former Manxman Greg greets us warmly at the door and the staff are busy and attentive. When we want fish and chips, this is where we come. Joe Jack’s is only steps from our condo and that’s my excuse.
Across the road is a new favourite, the oddly spelled Fredy’s Tucan, only open for breakfast and lunch. This place is even closer to the back gate of the condo, so when our usual morning ritual of fresh fruit and yoghurt does not suffice, there’s not much holding us back from a tasty omelette or eggs benny. We’ve taken to ordering a side of guacamole, without nachos, which goes surprisingly well with egg dishes. The latte is good, and so is the bloody Mary. Now I’ve made my mouth water. As soon as I write 1,000 words, I’m heading out to Fredy’s.
Early in our visit, friends who winter down here took us to their favourite place, Bistro Teresa, just a bit out of town on the road to Mismaloya. Two ladies run the place with Teresa in the kitchen and Laura on the door, who gives us hugs all round. Even with reservations we have to wait a few minutes, as the foursome occupying our table dawdle over their coffees. In Mexico, la cuenta is not presented until asked for, but at last we see them ask for their bill and they pay and leave. As we pass them, I speak to them politely: Thank you for leaving, I say. We are feeling adventurous and my host and I have ahi tuna tartare, which is absolutely melt in your mouth delicious. We all have sea bass, which is the best fish I get in the whole of our trip to PV, moist and delicious. Although we arrive after dark, this looks like another good spot to watch the sun set. I’ve reviewed each of these places on Trip Advisor (check the links, where you’ll see I still contribute under the pseudonym Gentleman’s Portion) and until this visit, I have not bothered to review places I didn’t like. If they didn’t make my top 10, then why waste time writing about them. But this year we have had some disappointments. Places which we were anxious to try for ourselves, places which came highly recommended, have not always lived up to expectations.
The biggest disappointment has been Casa Isabel, owned by the legendary Isabel Manore, who also owns The Madison Pub and boutique hotel just around the corner from our Toronto house in The Annex. Madison South, as it’s known to the large Canadian community in PV, is a higgledy-piggledy stack of buildings climbing up a steep hillside above the old town. We meet people by the pool who warn against it and local residents say it has gone downhill over the past few years, but I’m determined. Well, it’s awful. We arrive at the entry garage, which is unwelcoming and deserted, climb many staircases past rooms and little pools until we finally puff our way up to the top and the restaurant. The much vaunted sunset view is blocked by two new high rises under construction, the food is mediocre and we don’t linger.
On the plus side, we have arrived in time for the official unveiling of Jim Demetro’s bronze sculpture. Last year, we met Jim at a gallery during the Wednesday night Art Walk when he showed us the maquette for his proposed sculpture, a salute to the burros who helped carry all the building materials up the hills as the town expanded. Only a couple are left of the hundreds which once toiled for the construction trades. He has shown the burro being pulled by one boy, whose trouser is in turn being pulled by a dog, while another boy pushes from behind. It has all the life and action of Jim’s other works. Later we visit the studio where he was working on the full size clay work up. We make a small contribution and add a few pinches of clay.
A year later, we wait with friends through the endless speeches in Spanish and then listen as Jim thanks his many supporters, including Isabel of Casa Isabel, and his sculptor daughter who has flown in from Alaska to help with the final touches. The maquette has now been cast in bronze and waits beside the shrouded sculpture so we get a small hint of what’s in store. The dignitaries march up and a selected few and Jim cut the ribbons and unveil the statue. There’s a gasp from the large assembled throng and then lengthy applause. I think the people of PV and the visitors approve of Jim’s work and he looks shy and pleased at the same time.
The most fun we’ve had so far, and I know my faithful readers will not be surprised to hear this, was a sailing outing. Captain Johan’s catamaran Grins is substantial and easily holds our party of a dozen or so. As soon as we clear the harbour the sails go up and they stay that way for our five hour sail around the Bahía de Banderas. There’s a good wind and we see a whale and her calf at close quarters, the advantage of sail over power. I’ve discovered pre-mixed canned Scotch and soda available locally, which makes a perfect boating drink at cocktail hour. I’m invited to take the wheel and I helm the boat for half an hour or so. Then the captain and his wife Barb take the sails down and I power the boat back to harbour as the sun sets behind us.
The captain’s live-aboard Cocker spaniel climbs into my lap. It’s the end of a perfect day.
This article was originally published on March 6, 2014.