Friday, November 30, 2007

Vacation Blues

Bienvenidos! Buenos Dias! Hello there friends! We have returned from our adventures along the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Back from the beautiful sun, white sand, blue water and cold drinks of an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. Back from room service, beach-side restaurants and amazing food in, you guessed it, Mexico. And, oh yeah, we got hitched! If you can't tell by this point, I am suffering from the vacation blues. Just a little bit. It's not easy being torn away from the lap of luxury in an exotic tropical locale and dropped unceremoniously back into the real world.

But alas, we are back, and I do actually have some fun stuff to talk about, food wise. I don't feel I need to torment you all with each and every bite I took while on holiday, but I will throw out a few high-lights (and low-lights.) First of all, the food at our resort was, well, resort food. The Secrets Capri resort boasts five different restaurants, each with their own theme and menus. Our best bet for breakfast was always the buffet, with food ranging from empanadas to omelets to poached eggs, the buffet had it all, not to mention a bloody Mary and mimosa station, and a fantastic Mexican coffee that is made with cinnamon.
The rest of the restaurants were good, not remarkable, but good. The choices were Italian, seafood, Asian, a steakhouse, and of course, the buffet. Everything we ate was always very well presented and tasty, although the portions were small; but my problem was that none of these things were foods I cannot find anywhere else, in any city or at any hotel in America. There wasn't even a MEXICAN restaurant at the resort in Mexico. When they did do a Mexican menu, like at our rehearsal dinner, it was fantastic, with seafood ceviches, grilled marinated pork, and an assortment of other delicious Mexican foods and deserts to fill our plates and bellies.

One of our best food experiences was while on our excursion out to see the ruins of Tulum and snorkel. Once we decided to take a much-needed lunch break after swimming in the Dos Ojos cenote, our driver took us to the town of Akumal, a small resort town perched on the white sands of the Caribbean. We stopped in a residential area, at a small restaurant with sand for a floor dug snugly into the beach. Our group settled at a long, rough-hewn wood table with a straw thatch shade, not ten feet from the lapping waves of the sea. Not only was the locale idyllic, but the food was amazing as well. Just a simple dish of tacos, chopped beef grilled with vegetables, served hot on a plate with warm, fresh tortillas, and an ice cold Sol cerveza is just about as perfect as you can get. I could have sat at that table on that beach all day, drinking Sol, eating the fresh chips and salsa, tacos and tortillas for the rest of the day and been happy. Very happy. So, so happy.

But, of course, we had things to do, and places to go. Later on in the week, once we had officially been dubbed "Mister and Missus", a few of us made a trip into Playa Del Carmen, a busy little beach town with a happening tourist area called 5th ave. (Not after the street in New York, by the way. It just happens to be 5th Ave.) After poking our heads into a few stores, buying a couple of Cuban cigars, we stopped at one of many Mexican restaurants on the avenue, La Parilla Mexican Grill. The place itself was nothing special, just a restaurant for gringos to trick themselves into thinking they are eating traditional Mexican cuisine. The menu even resembled something you might find at Chevy's. What was memorable about the restaurant was what I found on that menu.

Anyone who has seen the movie "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" will remember Johnny Depp's character, Agent Sands, ordering Puerco Pibil at every restaurant he visits. The dish is such a centerpiece of the film that in the DVD, director Robert Rodriguez walks the viewer through how to make the dish from scratch. The dish is pork, marinated in achiote and orange juice, wrapped in banana leaves, and slow cooked until tender and juicy. With the enthusiasm Rodriguez shows for the dish in the movie, I told myself that I would not leave Mexico without trying some. Well, I never found Puerco Pibil, but I did manage to find Pollo Pibil, the same dish made with chicken. The dish was simple: Chicken and onions marinated with orange juice and achiote, wrapped in banana leaves and foil, and cooked until perfect. The dish was great, although it did not provoke me to go back to the kitchen and shoot the cook. I can't help thinking though that the pork dish would have been that much better.

Mexico was amazing. No, really, I didn't want to leave. There was so much there left to do, so many things left to taste. We never got to go out and have a real, authentic Mexican meal. The food we had was good, no doubt, but it was made for gringo tourists who are afraid to leave their comfort zone of safe Americanized Mexican fare. Next time, we will have to travel further off of the beaten tourist path. I cannot wait to get back; back to the white sand beaches, back to the clear blue water the temperature of bath water, back to ice cold cervezas, and back to the warm and hospitable Mexican people who made our stay so enjoyable. Until next time.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Fresh Choice in the Marina

I have been neglecting my wonderful blogs and the blogosphere as of late, and I have to get some new stuff up. My absence is excusable, however, as I have been spending my time preparing for my upcoming wedding next Saturday. That wonderful woman I have so often referred to as my fiance will very soon be referred to as my beautiful wife. Yes, dear bloggers, the next time you hear from me I will be a married man. As of Monday, we will hop a plane to Cancun, Mexico for two weeks of sun, sand, blue water and cold beer. I am hoping to come back to you with a few great foodie things to discuss. Hopefully none of them will involve dysentery.

Before we go, I wanted to tell you all about a great new restaurant out in the hip and fashionable Marina of San Francisco. On the corner of Steiner and Chestnut, Lettus Organic Cafe is a refuge from all of the over priced, pretentious restaurants peppering the Marina. The menu is almost totally organic, with each dish being made of fresh, healthy ingredients without tasting like baked cardboard as with many vegetarian dishes. It should be noted that the menu is mostly vegetarian, but with the option of adding grilled chicken, shrimp, or salmon it will satisfy most carnivores looking for a healthy alternative to heavy meat-laden dishes.

The restaurant is fittingly hip for the neighborhood, with sleek minimalistic furniture of light wood and steel, mood lighting through wood slats on the walls, and an open, spacious feel for what is a relatively small space. We stopped at lettus on a weekday around 6:30, and the restaurant was slow but not dead. Word has it on busy nights the line at the order counter can lead out the door. I ordered the spicy red curry with grilled chicken while my fiance tried the udon noodles with tofu. Other than the salmon dishes, every entree is vegetarian, but with the option of adding chicken, shrimp, or tofu. We started with the vegetarian spring rolls, which were served with two dipping sauces; a peanut sauce and a spicy dipping oil. The vegetables were crisp and fresh, and being one of my favorites, the peanut sauce was delicious.

Our entree portions were huge, so much in fact that neither of us cleaned our plates. The red curry was spicy without being overbearing, and was not so saucy that the rice and vegetables were drowned in it. It was just enough to give the dish a great flavor with the grilled chicken and fresh vegetables. My fiances udon noodles were fantastic, served in a tangy broth with tofu and cooked vegetables. For me, it is a testament to a restaurants quality when you want to share your dish with the people at your table, and we both picked off each others plates throughout the meal. The deserts, made totally in-house, are fantastic and made with mostly organic ingredients. I recommend the chocolate cupcakes.

In the spirit of being totally un-pretentious but unabashedly cool, Lettus offers its entire menu to-go, and even offers a daily "grab & go" area for those on the run. The place seems to be popular with the fashionable marina-ites, and I would recommend it for anyone looking for a healthy and fresh alternative without having to venture too deeply into the vegetarian world. For more information on Lettus, check out their website,

Thanks are due to my friend Josh Marden who, as a former employee of Lettus, insisted I find the place and try it, and even turned me onto those delightful chocolate cupcakes. Thanks Josh.

So now, it's off to Mexico! See you all in two weeks!