Category Archives: Central America Travel

A hundred days of silence

Nothing significant about the number 100 just a human penchant for symmetry.  Although I continued to write for publications for which I had deadlines, since February I took time away from my own website to reorganize a significant facet of life – to be settled or wander. Necessity for the change was partly dictated by the end of a long relationship – isn’t that the truth in literature.

But as a life-long traveler – I was barely 20 years old when I went off on a solo year in Europe – the decision I made did not cause much loss of sleep. Okay, a little. Perhaps it was loosing the relationship that caused more sleepless nights, but that’s more for a romance novel than a travel web site, and besides, it ended amicably.

Old & new in the Principality of Andorra

Being a full-time culinary and cultural travel writer since 2009 after a long and varied career as a chef, educator and historian, relocating – having a permanent address – in any number of suitable American locations appeared an oxymoron.  (I’m doing my best not to bring politics into this.)

on Paros Island, Greece

Except for frequent transportation connections – aka waiting – I freely admit being turned-on by the road. Why have an apartment when I don’t have to clean a hotel room? Why cook for myself when as a culinary writer it’s the cuisine of others that I seek? Why agonize over choosing among Earth’s beautiful locations when passport in hand I can be on a beach, hiking in a mountain or rambling through a vibrant urban space.

French House Party, Carcassonne – a loyal sponsor for 3 trips.

That doesn’t mean I seek the life of a wandering gypsy. I do have commitments to publications, fine public relations firms and tourism boards that work with me and my own interests that have already helped shape life for the foreseeable future.

One month ago, after considerable research and several invitations, I embarked on an ambitious seven month schedule that has already taken me to Mexico, France, the Pyrenees Mountain Principality of Andorra and, after several days in Barcelona, currently a long train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside for a return visit to the ancient Roman/Visigoth/Moorish/Spanish city of Cordoba – a personal favorite.

Walls of the 9th century Mezquita mosque, Cordoba

By mid-June I’ll make a long-anticipated visit to Morocco. Having extensive life experiences with Spanish and Latino cultures and cuisine, Morocco – the wellspring of Moorish civilization – is essential in understanding the interplay of cultures that has so influenced the Western Mediterranean, Central and South America.

From Morocco I’ll fly east to the Balkans and a third return to beloved Greece. My smart sponsors for two months in Greece – September and October – not only admire my writing on Greek culture and cuisine, but also recognize my keen interest in history. I’ve always taken a holistic view that the life experiences of people in any region help determine its fascination as a travel destination.

Basilica Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

1917 was the turning point for the Balkans and Greece during the First World War. Thessaloniki in particular is honoring this pivotal year that saw Macedonia and Thrace reunited with southern Greece after centuries of separation during Ottoman rule. Besides continuing culinary and cultural explorations in the north and Halkidiki ­­­– including Mount Athos – the Corinthian coast in the south will be a new region that’ll only add to my Greek experience.

Mt. Athos as seen from Sithonia, Halkidiki, Greece

Prior to my Greek return in September there are the months of July and August which will be filled with culinary and 1917 experiences in the heart of the Balkans including first time visits to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the city that sparked the world changing conflagration, the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo.

raw oysters, quail egg, sea urchin & golden caviar in Puerto Vallarta

By the 1st of December I’ll have made a full circle from where this adventure started returning to Mexico where I already signed a year-long lease on a beautiful apartment in Puerto Vallarta with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean – and weekly maid service (I still don’t have to clean!) It’s fortuitous that just as life was changing, invitations for two culinary press trips to Puerto Vallarta occupied a month of my life last Autumn. Not only did the city’s excellent cuisine and vibrant culture win me over but solidified my acceptance that being on the road is the life meant for me.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

So a year in one city is not like being on the road? Not necessarily since exploring Central and South America has been part of my writing life since 2009 and Puerto Vallarta will become a hub.

After 2018…I don’t yet need to know. That’s the freedom of being on the road. The hundred days of silence are over, and a hundred articles are sure to follow.

sunset over the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 

 

 

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So you think you know Mexican food?

“Thankfully, we’re starting to pull away from the idea that all Mexican food means burritos as big as your head.” Chef Rick Bayless 1

Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli
Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli

American Chef Rick Bayless has built his celebrity status on both introducing Mexican regional cuisine to the United States as well as creatively reinterpreting its concepts to a 21st century palate. Naturally the word fusion comes to many people’s mind. Yet fused from where and with what – other ingredients from the Americas?

If you accept that concept – other ingredients from the Americas – than it’s not a fusion (a joining of unknowns) it’s creativity with native sources that form a cuisine of the Americas. It’s estimated that over 50% of commonly eaten foods by North American descendants of European immigrants were unknown to their ancestors prior to 1492 including vanilla, tomatoes, bell peppers, catfish and ducks.

tuna steak from Mexico's northwest coast
tuna steak from Mexico’s northwest coast

So if we can get beyond the self-imposed value judgment of authentic cuisine – aka a real Italian pizza is only made with (American) tomatoes…? – than perhaps we can revel in our human culinary diversity and sit down to an enjoyable meal full of terrific flavors.

When covering the recent 22nd Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, more than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied? The names of several popular American corporate chains of Tex-Mex food were often cited. The festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever-evolving New World cuisine.

Chefs Luis Noriega & Heinz Reize owner of Coco Tropical
Chefs Luis Noriega & Heinz Reize owner of Coco Tropical

Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco to European capitals and Chef/Professor at leading Mexican culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Gula in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. At the November festival Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical on the beautiful beachfront Malecon.

Restaurant Coco Tropical, Puerto Vallarta Malecon
Restaurant Coco Tropical, Puerto Vallarta Malecon

Grilled sesame crusted tuna steak on a bed of mint scented vermicelli may not sound Mexican, but more than half the ingredients are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere and the remainder were introduced through European domination more than 500 years ago. So the recipe is as “American as apple pie” – apples are indigenous of central Asia.

Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli

Ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 500 gr. (16 oz)  fresh tuna steaks
  • to taste                fresh ground sea salt & black pepper
  • 100 gr. (3 oz)     sesame seeds
  • 50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) olive oil
  • 100 gr. (3 oz)     rice vermicelli
  • 50 gr. (1½ tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 10 each              finely chopped leaves of fresh mint
  • 2 each                small ripe avocados
  • 2 each                green chili piquin – very small HOT chilis – finely                                minced – or substitute ½ to 1 teaspoon (hot) hot                                 sauce
  • 50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) sour cream

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 Preparation:

  1. Cook the rice vermicelli according to package directions
  2. Mash the avocados and blend in the chili and sour cream to make either a chunky or a creamy guacamole.
  3. Place the sesame seeds in a bowl, season tuna with salt & pepper and coat the tuna steaks.
  4. Heat  (preferably) a cast iron pan, add the olive oil and sear the tuna steaks for a minute or 2 per side until browned but pink in the middle. Transfer to a cutting board.
  5. Drain the rice vermicelli and toss with butter and the mint.
  6. Divide the vermicelli among 4 plates, top with slices of tuna steak and decoratively add a generous garnish of guacamole.

Serve with a fine Rivero Gonzalez Scielo Blanco (Chardonnay) from Mexico’s Valle de Parras, Coahuila and enjoy New World cuisine.

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

The 23rd Festival Gourmet International will be held November 10 – 19, 2017.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

Footnote:

1 “Let’s Talk to Rick Bayless About Mexican Food.” The National Culinary Review, Vol. 41, Num. 2, American Culinary Federation, February 2017, St. Augustine, FL

Additional Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Oysters two ways in Puerto Vallarta

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Wagu Tatki and Japanese Mexican Fusion

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You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Wagyu Tataki and Japanese Mexican fusion

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki
Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito of Restaurant Zoku in Mexico City epitomizes the international trend that’s creating Mexican New World Cuisine. Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, Chef Kawahito returned to his home country after university studies in architecture. Drawn to Japanese cooking he honed his skills over a decade and a half before returning to Los Angeles.

Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta
Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta

Despite a successful Los Angeles restaurant experience, Mexico attracted Hiroshi, and Zoku offered a venue for his imaginative Japanese inspired cuisine. During the incomparable 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was guest chef at Casa Magna Marriott’s Japanese/pan-Pacific Rim restaurant Mikado.

The up-scale design of the restaurant with seating surrounding expansive cooking stations allowed participants at Mikado’s festival cooking demonstration an up front experience of Chef Kawahito’s imaginative preparations. Crispy panko crusted giant shrimp from Mexico’s northwest coast rested on a tartar sauce seasoned with Japanese 7 spice. A personal favorite was fresh-shucked local oysters topped with raw quail egg, caviar and sea urchin.

Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX
Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX

The key to Mexico’s New World Cuisine is pairing local ingredients with international preparations. Wagyu beef is now raised in Durango. Sea urchin is available in the Gulf of California.

Wagyu Tataki is quick to prepare. The tender barely seared beef blends well with the subtle brininess of sea urchin. It’s a beautiful dish for a special meal.

For the home cook, wagyu beef is available at good meat markets. Fresh sea urchin is available at Japanese or other specialty seafood markets. Salmon caviar can serve as a substitute.

ingredients for Wagyu Tataki
ingredients for Wagyu Tataki

Wagyu Tataki – 2 servings or 4 as a first course

Ingredients:

  • 2                               3-ounce Wagyu rib eye steak
  • 2 teaspoons       truffle oil
  • 2 slices                  fresh lime
  • 1/3rd teaspoon    Hawaiian black salt or sea salt
  • 2                                sea urchin tongues or 3 tablespoons salmon caviar
  • 2 tablespoons     Japanese ponzu sauce
  • 1                                  radish thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons         finely diced fresh chives
seared wagyu steaks
seared wagyu steaks

Preparation:

  1. Thinly slice the sea urchin tongue and set aside.
  2. Heat a cast iron pan until very hot – a couple drops of water should dance in the pan and quickly evaporate.
  3. Sear the two steaks for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes per side. The steak will be rare but not bleeding. Transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice each steak and arrange on 2 to 4 plates.
  4. Sprinkle half the black salt on each steak and then 1 tablespoon ponzu sauce and juice from 1 lime slice.
  5. Arrange half the sliced sea urchin or caviar over each steak and drizzle each with 1 teaspoon truffle oil.
  6. Garnish with radish slices and fresh chives.

Although this dish is easy to prepare, why not enjoy a vacation in Puerto Vallarta and feast in the full range of New World Cuisine in Mexico’s culinary powerhouse.   A historic seaport, dining on the beach, the warm water of Bahia de Banderas, beautiful hotels and guest houses make Puerto Vallarta a safe and easy choice for the whole family.

Wagyu Tataki
Wagyu Tataki

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) is served by many international airlines from major cities worldwide.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, and the Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa.

More Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Peace, waterfalls and trout in Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest

Leaving the sprawling modern city of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, Maurice Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels and my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica, deftly maneuvered the Toyota Rav4 on the winding roads as we ascended into the Cloud Forest. I was pleased I didn’t have to drive or else my field of vision would have been narrowed concentrating on the well paved but narrow mountain roads on our way to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Instead I could marvel at the panorama of the receding Central Valley as we entered the lush landscape for which this bio-diverse Central American nation is justifiably famous.

a Cloud Forest flower
a Cloud Forest flower

Costa Rica is a landmass equal to 0.03% of the Earth, about 20,000 square miles – the size of Vermont – but accounts for over 6% of the globe’s biodiversity. Just one hour from San Jose the emerald green mountain slopes are thick with coffee plants. Costa Rica leads world coffee production per acre because two trees are planted together.

strawberries & white cheese
strawberries & white cheese

Herds of cows and goats graze wrapped in swirls of misty clouds. Vendors selling large plump strawberries and the country’s ubiquitous balls of fresh mozzarella-like white cheese line village roads.

plants at Parc National Volcan Poas
plants at Parc National Volcan Poas
Volcan Poas
Volcan Poas

We stopped first at one of Costa Rica’s 27 national parks, which along with private wildlife and biological reserves encompasses nearly a third of the country – the largest percentage of protected national land on Earth. Central America is a seismically potent part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and Parc National Volcan Poas encompasses one of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes. Exacerbated by the temperature differential of the venting volcano, the crater is often shrouded in mist that wafts up the steep walls of the caldera. Yet when the mist parts mineral rich turquoise lakes are visible.

Crafts at the Visitor Center Parc National Volcan Poas
Crafts at the Visitor Center Parc National Volcan Poas

The spacious modern visitor center at Parc National Volcan Poas has fine educational exhibits of the surrounding ecology. The gift shop displays top quality pottery and woodwork from some of Costa Rica’s most famous artists. I was particularly taken with the ingenious creations made from recycled materials such as a life-size toucan crafted from a single automobile tire.

toucan crafted from a single recycled automobile tire with carved wood beak
toucan crafted from a single recycled automobile tire with carved wood beak

Our objective for the day was a visit to the privately owned La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge – one of the Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica. Florida entrepreneur Lee Banks purchased this property with its five spectacular waterfalls with the intention of preserving its pristine biosphere. Visitors take self-guided tours along several miles of well-designed wooden walkways through the hills, along the La Paz River providing numerous vistas of the spectacular falls.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Within the gardens is a large butterfly house with a colorful collection of over 4,000 butterflies from 40 species native to this mile-high environment – only a small portion of Costa Rica’s over 1,200 species. The butterfly conservatory is part of an educational heritage village of pre-industrial rural life.

In the butterfly conservatory, La Paz Waterfall Gardens
In the butterfly conservatory, La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The visitor center complex is the gateway to the gardens and Peace Lodge. The architectural integration of the structures with their native wood and stone mirrors the surrounding environment. Like all Small Distinctive Hotels, the quality of the cuisine matched the beauty of the surroundings.

(left)Vanessa Gonzalez & (right)Executive Chef Diego Seitour
(left)Vanessa Gonzalez & (right)Executive Chef Diego Seitour

Lunch with Vanessa Gonzalez, restaurant manager, and Executive Chef Diego Seitour highlighted the quality of local ingredients and the creativity of Costa Rican talent. Diego’s French grandfather and Argentine born father were chefs. His Spanish mother added an additional culinary insight to his environment. Diego was born in Costa Rica and studied culinary arts in France and Costa Rica but worked in restaurants since he was a boy. I found this mix of talents and culinary backgrounds common in Costa Rica.

sea bass ceviche
sea bass ceviche

Lunch started with a sea bass ceviche. The paper-thin slices of sea bass were garnished with pajibaye – the iconic steamed bright orange Costa Rican fruit of the Peach Palm tree – and napped with a lime, orange juice and olive oil dressing that was bright and intense. Diego adds meat bones to the broth when simmering the pajibaye to provide a depth of flavor uncommon when the fruit is simply cooked in water.

trout Napoleon
trout Napoleon

Surrounding the base of a waterfall adjacent to the swimming pool at Peace Lodge is a large free form trout pond fed by the La Paz River. Chef Seitour uses the organically farmed trout in his menus. His impressive trout Napoleon is a pair of fillets sandwiched between grilled onions and eggplant resting on risotto cakes that have been pan seared. The accompanying vegetables and rice have a smoky flavor, which gives depth to the trout. The fish is glazed with a red and yellow pepper jam.

Papaya Curry soup
Papaya Curry soup

Papaya and Curry Soup blends the natural sweetness of papaya with the spice of curry creating a warm flavored soup.

Diego has assembled an impressive collection of craft beers for Peace Lodge. A local Escalante brew was dark and strong with a distinct hint of chocolate followed by coffee notes that worked well with the warm tones of the soup. Famed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià created Estrella Damm Inedit for Barcelona based Damm S.A. that had strong citrus overtones with a light and effervescent mouth feel. It paired well with both fish dishes.

Peace Lodge
Peace Lodge

Hugging the hillside, the village-like complex of 18 rooms and suites of Peace Lodge are unique. Each is individually designed to integrate the Cloud Forest into the room while providing maximum privacy. Large log beds, stone gas fireplaces – Peace Lodge is 5,300 feet elevation – plant infused bathrooms with their own waterfalls and hot tubs on private patios and balconies are only a few of the serine elements that make Peace Lodge a sought after refuge and honeymoon haven.

Peace Lodge
Peace Lodge

I found it unique that Peace Lodge suggests no more than a three day stay. The expressed purpose is to encourage guests to explore the rest of Costa Rica. After over a week at five Small Distinctive Hotels I was no longer surprised at this sentiment, which seems to run counter to maximizing profits. What makes the Costa Rican experience memorable is the obvious pride both the owners of these beautiful hotels and ordinary citizens from scientist to street vendors have for their peaceful nation and their eagerness to share it with visitors.

trout pond & the swimming pool at Peace Lodge
trout pond & the swimming pool at Peace Lodge

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive to downtown San Jose and an hour to La Paz Waterfall Gardens/Peace Lodge

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica
Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

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Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
View of Bay of Banderas from room at Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway

As a chef I usually shy away from all-inclusive resorts. Being a captive audience for a resort’s desire to maximize profits too often results in forced acceptance of less than stellar quality. Yet Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel proves that excellence is by design.

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway
hand painted inspirational quotes on the interior walls throughout the hotel
hand painted inspirational quotes on the interior walls throughout the hotel

Hoteles Buenaventura group was founded over 30 years ago in Puerto Vallarta by a family of engineers and architects with three generations now actively involved. A flair for design is evident in the liberal use of original art that decorates public spaces and rooms as well as the ergonomic comfort that dominates the furnishings. Villa Premiere is one of three resorts under the group’s umbrella along the vibrant shore of the Bay of Banderas.

Infinity pool & bar
Infinity pool & bar
private hot tub/pool on balcony of a corner suite
private hot tub/pool on balcony of a corner suite

Villa Premiere, built in 1999, completed a multi-million dollar renovation in September 2016 under the direction of the second generation family CEO and architect José Abel Villa Fernandez. Not only were all 60 rooms and suites refurbished but the public areas including pools and the three restaurants received major improvements. The adult only Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway exudes comfort, serenity and extraordinary customer service even before you arrive. Upon making a reservation an email is sent with a list of pillow, room scent and mini-bar preferences.

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Guests receive a complimentary neck massage upon registration
sweets
sweets

Guests are presented with glasses of champagne before sitting at the reception desk. After the necessary formalities of registration they’re whisked to one of two masseuses who provide a complimentary neck massage. By the time they’re thoroughly relaxed a staff member escorts the guest to their room where the baggage has already been delivered. A platter may await in the antechamber of the room next to the espresso machine with an attractive arrangement of welcoming sweets. That’s all within the first hour.

pool
pool

 

the hotel gym
the hotel gym

If a guest has opted for the all-inclusive package – highly recommended – the discrete pampering will continue during their stay. An extensive room service menu and a well-stocked mini-bar may entice one to remain in their room gazing out on the pounding surf of the Bay of Banderas from the balcony. Yet the glass walled and open air restaurants, beachfront pool bar, luxurious Mind & Soul Spa, the spacious well equipped gym and the soft sand beach are equally enticing.

exquisite dishes & presentations
exquisite dishes & presentations

cocktailFrom breakfast to late night cocktails, the Villa Premiere’s chefs and mixologists never cease to amaze. Each dish whether it’s traditional mechaca – northern Mexican dried beef scrambled with eggs – a tropical fruit plate, extraordinary seafood soup or a fanciful dessert of faux sweet fried egg with tulle cookie bacon, the skill, quality and imaginative presentations are outstanding. Cocktails are made with the freshest ingredients from superb fresh fruit margaritas (no mixes here!) to the finest scotch.

Trio of breakfast quesadillas: Huitlachoche (mushrooms that grow on local corn) Squash blossom & Mexican sausage
Trio of breakfast quesadillas: Huitlachoche (mushrooms that grow on local corn) Squash blossom & Mexican sausage

Yet the Villa Premiere/Hoteles Buenaventura’s commitment to service goes beyond the paying guest. I met staff members that have been in the family’s employ for years. The young executive chef has been in charge of the kitchen for five years – since he was 24. In an age when longevity in the hospitality industry is often measured in months, that’s a lifetime.

La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta with Villa Premiere GM Allesandro Stifani
La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta with Villa Premiere GM Allesandro Stifani

One evening we were serenaded at Villa Premiere by the La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta, a youth orchestra consisting of at risk Puerto Vallarta teens. Under the direction of an equally youthful Daniel Oliveros and the patronage of Hoteles Buenaventura, these children are learning life skills equal to their newfound musical talents. The success of La Orquesta Escuela de Puerto Vallarta bodes well for both the city and Mexico.

Luxury linens & appoinments
Luxury linens & appoinments

Puerto Vallarta, unlike many resort cities that I’ve visited worldwide still maintains the charm of its humble beginnings as just another village on the Mexican coast. When discovered in the 1960s it attracted artists, writers and sport fishermen looking for tranquility. Although luxury resorts, condos and beachfront nightlife along the Malecon now entertain thousands, it’s still the gentle rhythmic sound of the surf while drifting off to sleep at Villa Premiere that’ll remind you life is good.

contented cats & craft sellers on La Islita del Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta
contented cats & craft sellers on La Islita del Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway, Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board and Latitude International

Parasailing on the beach in front of Villa Premiere
Parasailing on the beach in front of Villa Premiere

 

You can read more by Marc d’Entremont on Puerto Vallarta:

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica

El Faro Seafood Bisque
El Faro Seafood Bisque

Hotel El Faro’s Executive Chef Ali Garita Fonesta makes the finest seafood bisque that I as a chef journalist has ever tasted in all my international travels. Besides the talent necessary to create such a delectable dish, location to the freshest fish and seafood is essential. Quepos on Costa Rica’s central Pacific Coast is that ideal location.

fish tacos El FaroThe Pacific Ocean coastline of Costa Rica is a veritable super market for some of the freshest sustainable seafood available. Costa Rica has strict laws governing commercial fishing – catch and release only for sports fishing.

Only forty some miles south of Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose, the Central Pacific Coast has been popular with locals and expats for decades. Besides the warm water of Manuel Antonio National Park and the shrikes of the holler monkey, Quepos is a quintessential beach town. Lush vegetation surrounds a jumble of beach houses, B & Bs, hotels, restaurants and bars.

Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park
El Faro, lighthouse, off Quepos, Costa Rica
El Faro, lighthouse, off Quepos, Costa Rica

From the waterfront the landscape rises dramatically up tropical forested hills. Sitting high up the hills is Costa Rica’s unique shipping container Hotel El Faro. From every balcony is a view of the dramatic swimming pool and its namesake the El Faro (lighthouse) clearly visible on its small rock island in the harbor.

Hotel El Faro
Hotel El Faro

The use of shipping containers as unique modular housing, given the tiny house movement, is in line with Costa Rica’s drive for ecologically sensitive living. The repurposed containers provide all the amenities any guest would desire. Sizes range from compact to suites with efficiency kitchens.

stream at El Faro
stream at El Faro

Although the location is positioned on a dramatically steep location the hotel provides transport from its reception area and parking lot to the hotel rooms. The reception area is at the base of an impressive tropical plant and rock landscaped stream that flows from the hotel high on the hill. It’s a favorite habitat for Costa Rica’s impressive garrobo lizards which are virtual pets of the El Faro.

Yet it’s the restaurant that’s the El Faro’s most impressive feature. Under the talented hands of Chef Ali Garita Fonseca this open air venue at the edge of the hotel’s infinity pool is ideal. The location is perfect and the cuisine equals the view. All the selections I sampled were superb, but the Pacific Seafood Bisque was outstanding.

garrobo lizards at El Faro
garrobo lizards at El Faro

Chef Ali Garita Fonseca’s El Faro Seafood Bisque – 2 to 4 servings depending if it’s a first course or the entrée.

Notes: This is not inexpensive for the average North American but well worth the cost, time and effort. Although a cook can substitute packaged seafood stock, the dish’s unique flavor begins with a home made fish stock. Since it’s best to purchase a whole small red snapper simply ask the fish monger to give you the head and tail after filleting the fish.

Ingredients:

For the fish stock:

  • Head and tail of a filleted red snapper or other firm white  fish
  • medium onion peeled and chopped
  • 2 to 3 stalks of fresh celery
  • small bunch of rinsed cilantro
  • 1 to 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 peeled carrot
  • 6 cups cold water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Add all the ingredients to a pot and cover with the cold water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 to 60 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock. Discard the solids.

Soup ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 large sweet bell green pepper chopped
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 4 chopped celery stalks
  • 4 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 4 cups fish stock
  • 2 ounces chives chopped
  • 1 ounce of fresh chopped cilantro
  • 4 ounces shrimp in the shell
  • 8 to 12 ounces of red snapper fillets or other firm white fish
  • 4 ounces of cleaned clams in the shell
  • 4 ounces of cleaned mussels.
  • 8 ounces of lump crab meat or 16 ounces of crab legs in the shell
  • 6 ounces of sliced octopus – tubes &/or tenticles
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the peppers, onion, celery and gently cook for 5 to 8 minutes until soft but not browned.
  2. Add the white wine, fish stock and herbs. Bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Add all the fish and seafood. Cover and gently simmer for 5 to 8 minutes or until the clams and mussels open.

You may want to garnish the bisque with additions of steamed rice, common in Hispanic cuisine, and spritzes of fresh lime.

El Faro restaurant & pool
El Faro restaurant & pool

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel El Faro,  ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica

Sunset from Villa Caletas ampitheater
Sunset from Villa Caletas amphitheater

Denis Roy emigrated from France with a dream somewhere in his head that materialized into creating a fantasy in Costa Rica. On over 700 acres of improbable, undeveloped coastal and mountain wilderness, using building methods that hearkened back to the days of the pyramids, the hotel, restaurants and spa complex of Villa Caletas and the Zephyr Palace emerged over time. A fusion of river stone castle and tropical Victorian architecture, the 50 rooms range from stunning to awe inspiring.

Villa Caletas ampitheater
Villa Caletas amphitheater

Sunsets from the amphitheater are legendary and views encompass forested hills and ocean from many angles. Yet those beautiful hills required total reforestation due to cattle overgrazing. The lush peaks of today were barren, rocky and eroding into the clear Pacific below. Fifteen hundred trees were planted from the beach up the mountain, and Villa Caletas continues to spearhead major reforestation projects in the region.

Ten percent of electricity is solar powered and all hot water is provided through a system of air conditioner heat transfer. Each room’s air conditioning system uses smart technology reducing the temperature automatically when no one is present and increasing it to a guest’s pre-set comfort zone when they enter their room.

Villas Caletas ocean front
Villas Caletas ocean front

Twenty-five years ago this lush location had no roads, no water and no electricity. Denis had an initial concept to construct a 25 room hotel on this spectacular site with its panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean’s Herradura Bay on Costa Rica’s Central Coast. But cost and engineering reality limited his first venture to eight rooms. Yet Denis was not deterred.

view from suite 88
view from suite 88

Denis Roy is a dreamer who understands that demanding clients will pay for luxury if unique. Waking in the king size bed of my suite, room 88, a panoramic view unfolded through the expansive glass wall overlooking Herradura Bay. After a quick call to the front desk I was picked up in an electric golf cart to meet General Manager Frederick Nepveu and whisked off in a four-wheel drive car down the mountain to the beach for breakfast.

Villa Caletas room 88
Villa Caletas room 88

The slow drive down the steep hill passed Villa Caletes’ hydroponic farm growing herbs and produce. No contact with soil controls pest infestation of the produce. The lush forest teemed with animals and birds in the cool of the early morning.

El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas

The beach complex offers privacy, the well designed El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach and an array of comfortable beach chaise lounges. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Breakfast included fresh extracted organic kale juice, an artful fruit salad and a typical Costa Rican breakfast plate – gallo pinto (black beans and rice) eggs, sautéed sweet plantains, fresh avocado and a wedge of fried white cheese. The gentle lapping of Pacific Ocean waves was the only music necessary.

breakfast at El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
breakfast at El Pelicano Snack Bar on the Beach, Villa Caletas
Mirador Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Mirador Restaurant, Villa Caletas

Villa Caletas is a complex of buildings set among the lush restored mountain landscape. Small Distinctive Hotels are not for the budget traveler, but if seeking bang for the buck, Villa Caletas delivers in spades. While river stone buildings dominate most of the complex, a graceful Victorian glass and wood filigree building with the Mirador Restaurant tops a jungle of exotic plants and expansive window walls that bring the outside indoors.

Palapa & Serenity Spa, Villa Caletas
Palapa & Serenity Spa, Villa Caletas

A massive traditional open air palapa with hand carved wood pillars set on the edge of a cliff is dedicated to Denis’ passion for yoga, yet has become popular for events up to 300 guests. The Serenity Spa, tucked behind the palapa, is a haven of calm. Providing all the services one expects from a luxury spa, I nearly drifted off to sleep under relaxing hands, scented oils and the soft sounds of water fountains.

The Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas
The Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas

The Zephyr Palace is the crown jewel of this luxe property. Seven massive individually designed and decorated suites provide luxury befitting a palace. Private dining rooms, hand painted ceilings, in room exercise equipment, hand crafted furniture, exotic woods, marble tiles, original art, private infinity pools and televisions that slide into the foot of king size beds at the touch of a button are among just a few of the luxuries in the Zephyr Palace. On the day of my visit the suites were fully booked by a wedding party, not an uncommon occurrence.

Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas
Zephyr Palace at Villa Caletas

Providing an atmosphere of effortless comfort requires attention to detail from the eyes and hands of dedicated employees. Many of the managers live on site, including Denis Roy and general manager Frederick Nepveu. Over 150 employees, including 20 gardeners, maintain the 50 room Villa Caletes/Zephyr Palace complex.

wine & civiche, Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
wine & civiche, Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas

For a culinary travel journalist Denis Roy, Frederick Nepveu, Chef Fernando Adaniz and food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo oversee a cuisine that matches the style of Villa Caletas. Lunch started with a trio of ceviche: mango, sea snails and fish paired with a light and lemony chardonnay. Grilled rare yellow fin tuna was accompanied by a timbal of yucca and napped with pipian sauce – roasted pumpkin seeds. A salad included flor de Itavo (yucca) leaves that taste like artichoke hearts. Dessert was a light and cooling sorbet of nancy mirabelle plum.

Lunch at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Lunch at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant, Villa Caletas
Sunset cocktail at Villa Caletas
Sunset cocktail at Villa Caletas

Pre dinner drinks at sunset commenced with an orange martini cocktail created especially for me. A long peel of orange rind twisted around the stem of the glass and dipped into the fragrant drink. Its color mimicked the setting sun’s display. The steep Greek inspired Villa Caletas amphitheater adjacent to the open-air Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant is a local destination for observing beautiful sunsets for which Costa Rica has a well deserved reputation. Soft ambient music added to the charm.

Segueing to a cliff side table Chef Fernando Adaniz opened dinner with an amuse bouche of avocado and salmon with crème fraîche on toast. Seafood terrine of lobster, shrimp and mussels with chipotle mayonnaise was followed by an entrée of red snapper rolled around lobster. It was napped with a light egg and mustard seed sauce. A smooth pinot grigio with citrus hints tied together this dinner of fresh seafood.

Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas
Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas

Befitting a luxe hotel dinner, dessert was preceded by a mouth cleansing sorbet of passion fruit. Dessert was an appropriately dense chocolate cake garnished with strawberry and kiwi sauce and cubes of fresh pineapple, papaya and watermelon. Did you know that Costa Rica is the world’s largest grower of pineapples? Villa Caletas, naturally, makes all its breads, pastries and desserts in house. Food and beverage manager Pablo Lombardo’s Mexican roots shined when he presented an after dinner tasting of smooth premium tequilas.

Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas
Dinner at Anfiteatro Bar and Restaurant , Villa Caletas

I had to remind myself that with the gentle evening breeze and lush vegetation surrounding all that it was not long ago that this site was a barren wasteland. That’s why the many infinity pools dotting Villa Caletas become a metaphor for the group of Small Distinctive Hotel owners, managers and chefs this travel journalist interviewed during an eight-day tour – the visions they conjure gazing into infinity. Villa Caletas and Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica provide luxury with a conscience transforming what we destroy into what we desire.

Frederick Nepveu, GM, Chef Fernando Adaniz & Denis Roy, owner/founder Villa Caletas & Zephyr Palace
Frederick Nepveu, GM, Chef Fernando Adaniz &
Denis Roy, owner/founder Villa Caletas & Zephyr Palace

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Hotel Villa Caletas on the Central Pacific Coast region of Puntarenas is an hour and fifteen-minute drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel Villas Caletas, Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

An infinity pool view, Villa Caletas
An infinity pool view, Villa Caletas
Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

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