Sunday, January 21, 2007

musings on CABO cuisine(Cafe Sante Fe in Todos Santos; Agua at Palmilla)

Just a short summary of two other dining experiences here in southern Baja California over the past two days. On Saturday we headed north for part of the day about 90 minutes from here to the artist colony and adorable town of TODOS SANTOS. I didn't do my homework that well since the trip was very spur of the moment, and we ended up at one of the most expensive dining spots in Baja for lunch. Cafe SANTA FE is a beautiful setting with gorgeous gardens and elegant as well; the cuisine is ITALIAN with a hint of Mexican and Samuel and I split an albeit very large plate of PENNE ARRABIATA with a mildly spicy (they said they would bring extra spicy peppers on the side, but forgot) sauce made from local peppers for over $20 (at lunch!). The FRITO MISTO sported lots of deliciously fried foods in a tasty batter that was as crispy as could be, not a hint of greasiness and the RAVIOLI with Spinach & Ricotta in a Cream Sauce was also superb, but ridiculous at some $25+. We all skipped dessert knowing that our multi-course dinner cooked by Nigel would be much better and more reasonably priced to boot.

Last night we returned to AGUA at the ONE & ONLY PALMILLA Resort located seaside just below us. This is where our whole experience in Los Cabos began a year ago and we were expecting another wonderful meal. Indeed, we recently found out that an old acquaintance, Chef Larbi Daroush, who worked for many years in DC with our famed dear friend, the late Jean-Louis Palladin, is Executive Chef here, but alas it was his day off! We drove our golf cart down the hill and entered the beautiful grounds lit by giant fires in urns along the driveway. Sam got his requisite coloring books and toys from their box of goodies for kids and he was happy with his Fries & Chicken Fingers, but I don't blame him for leaving most of the fingers as they were not the best, and quite dry.

We did like the small ensemble of guitars and violin with a female vocalist that made us feel like swaying in the breezes. An excellent bottle of CASA GRANDE Gran Reserva 2005 CHARDONNAY from Valle de Parras in the Mexican wine region of Coahuilla was slightly okay and buttery and perfect for our palates and all the food. This comes from the oldest winery in Mexico dating to 1597, but I must admit it is hardly worth the $120 or so price tag. I fear the restaurant wine prices here are so inflated at 500% over US prices that it is truly a ripoff. We have even been told the market price of these wines locally is only 20% more than at home, so the markup is really unforgivable. As Sam rattled off the colors of glass on the pretty stained glass wall in Spanish, we enjoyed the superb HUMMUS and ROASTED PEPPERs on the Olive Focaccia, Parmesan Tomato Flatbread (which Sam also adored) and other breads.

I started with the ROASTED PIQUILLO PEPPERS Stuffed with GRILLED OCTOPUS, LOCAL CHORIZO in a Tomato Marmalade and CREAMY SERRANO Pepper Sauce that was superb and nicely spicy from the sausage. Will's BAJA SHRIMP ENCHILADAS with OAXACA Cheese in GUAJILLO SAUCE also made perfect use of Mexican delicacies.

My entree was less successful as the ORGANIC PORK "PIBIL" consisted of an overcooked and dry Pork Chop but a superb pulled pork with a yummy HUITLACOCHE TACO (made from the local mushroom with dabs of Goat Cheese) with an ACHIOTE Salsa. Oddly the Sweet Potato Puree appeared as diced potatoes.

Will fared much better with one of the best fish dishes Agua has: ROASTED PARROT FISH with ARTICHOKE BARIGOULE, Oven Dried Tomato, Sauteed Asparagus and Squash Blossom Tempura.

The desserts were simply gorgeous to look at but WAY TOO SWEET. The MEXICAN CHOCOLATE CAKE was flourless and rich with a DULCE di LECHE thick Caramel sauce and Ice Cream and was quite dense and intense. The BAJA LIME PIE with Vanilla Meringue was odd in that the meringue came in pencil shaped cylinders stuck vertically into the pie. The Graham-Cracker crust was superb, but again the filling just too sweet for me.

My GINGER LEMON Tea came with the prettiest teabag looking like a pyramid, but sadly the water was not hot enough, Will fared better with his Mint Tea. Neither of these were a touch on the BASIL TEA prepared by Nigel in the villa for breakfast that morning. It was loaded with spices and basil and a touch of tequila to soothe the throat. Sam adored the FRUIT RAINBOW JELLOW with Fresh Berries--he even used one of his favorite letter songs to describe it: "the 'M' says mmmmm."

We received a pretty plate of truffles, crunchy pralines and excellent DATES dipped in WHITE CHOCOLATE before heading back up the hill to our villa for the (sadly) last night before moving on to a new hotel today. More food reports coming.....