Hello again. I am forcing myself out of vacation mode and into writing mode before I go completely and permanently atrophied. I'll paraphrase myself with something I posted elsewhere recently: maybe it's my thoroughly successful immersion into retirement, augmented by my natural “melting” when I get to PV, that has contributed to my reaching near-expert status as an idler. But by whatever path or discipline, I've become so good at doing next to nothing that it leaves little room on my schedule for anything else. It may sound a little like an oxymoron -- or a zen koan -- but I am busy doing nothing. Via a virtual slap to face (like the old red light/green light button) I steer my fingers keyward.
WHERE WE DINED, 1st WEEK
We normally go out for breakfast only once per Vallarta vacation, that occurring on the morning of the day following our arrival. Connie doesn't much care for breakfast food and we don't care much for going out in public in the morning other than for our daily 2-4 mile walk; one doesn't need to get clean and pretty for that. Anyhow, first morning the same place as last year, that being La Hacienda, Lazaro Cardenas at Aguacate across L. Card from the church. Connie had an omelette, 58$ (pesos. If it's pesos I'll put the $ after the number, US dollars, $ before the number). I had the chicken tamales in a delicious tomato and cheese sauce, 65$. Two coffees, 19$ each. Observance: it used to be rare to be given more than one refill of coffee. The “bottomless cup” practice did not exist here. That's changed. ¡Hurray!Beautiful courtyard setting, excellent service from a busy but accommodating waitstaff, tasty and reasonably priced. Added bonus: church service was taking place and we could hear from our table what was either the children's choir or children singing along with the adult choir, but their little voices sounded like a band of angels. I think maybe this is what we'll be greeted with when, if we play our cards right, we pass through the pearly gates. If we go the other way it'll probably be Whitney Houston.
We broke our “one breakfast” rule this morning, Sunday, 1/29. Walked down to the Paradise Community Center, 127 Pulpito, for church. Aside: we are United Methodists and attend regularly at home church in Lake Mills, and have in the past felt welcome and comforted at this multi- or non-denominational church back when they held services at the old Santa Barbara theater on Olas Altas. I particularly appreciate that they perform, along with the congregants joining in with voice, what is known as praise music, a more modern style of worship music than what we have in our United Methodist Hymnal. We had a praise band in our church for a few years and I played both bass and 6-string guitars, though not simultaneously. The band was mostly adults but with a teen or two joining in frequently. We played once a month for a youth-oriented service on Sunday nights and I enjoyed it as much or more than playing in bars. The band broke up for the same reason that bar bands break up: “artistic differences” – in other words, “couldn't get along with one another”. True. The front man/lead singer/keyboard guy and the other guy who sings professionally in a bar band and several of the other adults involved in the youth service's non-music functions disagreed with our pastor over this or that piddley matter and left the congregation. Back to the point. Well, almost. We thought church was to begin at 10:00, as advertised in the tourist papers and on their website, but they had over 200 people show up last Sunday and it was SRO, so they decided to have two services this week, at 9:00 and 10:30. We caught the end of the 9:00 service and headed across the street to Coco's Kitchen. Haven't been in there since Hank and Conrad were there as Chile's. Connie had the American omelette, ham, mushrooms and cheese, I think. It came with hash browns, 72$. I had the chile relleno omelette which was an omelette stuffed with – you guessed it -- a cheese-stuffed poblano, 85$. Both meals came with choice of white toast, corn bread, or biscuit. Connie chose toast, I the biscuit. Toast was very white bread (literally), biscuit was excellent, almost like a pastry. Ran into Julianna and Rob, chatted a little. They asked if we'd been there for Greek Night on Mondays. We said no, we hadn't, but had seen on Facebook fotos of her dad enjoying the belly dancing and I mentioned that I had a really good belly dancing story with a tie-in to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, but it wasn't the right time to tell it. And neither is now. I know, I'm a tease.Two coffees at 22$ each, total of 201$. Mildly pricey, but great service, cute waitress, lovely setting.
Moving along, and trying to pick up the pace a bit.
1/14. First night, we need to smell some salt air. Coco Tropical, one of our favorites for the food, the staff, and the location. On the beach at the end of Basilio Badillo, just south of Daquiri Dick's. The boys recognize us from appearances past. I have the chicken breast in orange sauce, Connie the pepper steak which is actually a good sized fillet mignon. Veggies on the side and a little basket of warm bread and butter. We caught the end of happy hour (5-6:30) so I had two margaritas, rocas y sin sal, Connie a decent Chilean cabernet, also 2x1, unusual for an import at happy hours. Total 520$. Love the place. You can pay more for a lesser meal without having to walk very far from here.
1/15. Packers playoff game, so we head up to Que Pasa. I can't tell you the address, but the taxistas know. You go east on L. Cardenas a block past the municipal market to the intersection where Cardenas goes from being two way to one way. Turn left, like the buses turn right (they're going the opposite direction -- west), 3 or 4 doors down on the right. Que P is a great place to watch NFL games and a great neighborhood type bar in general, much like we have in Wisconsin. Full of expats and tourists with a few locals mixed in. Great staff. Always specials on food, and live music, mostly American covers, many nights. Anyhow, we get a belly full of adult beverage, watch the Packers stink up Lambeau, and take sandwiches home, Connie the french dip and I the reuben, I think they were 65$ each including fries. We both think they were pretty tasty, but after four or so hours of contributing to the Smirnoff family retirement fund, the only thing we can say for sure is that they were consumed, rapidly and with extreme prejudice.
1/16. No Way Jose. Another of our favorites. On 5 de Febrero, the first street south of the river on I. Vallarta, the south-bound main drag with a bridge, east (inland) a couple doors on the right. Don't let the ugly block scare you away. Made the reservation online after seeing the crowds there last year and the year before and figured one would be essential, and got confirmation via email quickly. We requested to be seated on the rooftop terrace, which has been spiffed up since last year. As in the past, Connie had the mahi mahi in a very good white sauce, 173$, I the chiles en nogada in a cream, pomegranite, pine nut sauce, stuffed with ground beef, served warm, 139$. A bottle of an excellent Chilean cabernet, Don Victor Reserva, 290$. Total of 602$. We were told on the website, by the guy that seated us, and the waiter that they took cash only, no credit cards. It's with a heavy heart that I say this place has gone down hill a little. The food was good, but not knock-out great like at our previous visits over the two years or so that they've been open. I still recommend the place, but it's not the “must” that we felt it was and it wasn't more than ½ full, nearly empty downstairs.
1/17. Stayed in with rotisserie chicken and a green salad. Chicken and produce bought earlier in the day at Mega or yesterday at Baca's produce next to the municipal market on L. Cardenas. Observation: we've been to Mega and Ley's, large supermarkets. In both stores the shelf space dedicated to shoe polish is equal to or greater than that to salad dressing. It's a cultural difference. I polish my, and Connie's, shoes, but doubt that even 10% of my friends and aquaintances own a shoe brush. Anyhow, one of the niceties of staying in a condo: kitchen. We don't need to have someone feed us every night and, in fact, tire of it. We've also got a Subway and an Oxxo convenience store steps away up on Hwy 200 and a Kiosko (new chain, at least to us, but they're all over town and similar to Oxxo and the old “Six” stores) a little way down the hill towards town, also on Hwy 200. We can get eggs, milk, bread, tomatos, onions and so forth, as well as the standard convenience store fare, close by.
1/18. I don't have anything written down. I'll consult with Connie in the morning and if we can put our heads together and come up with it, I'll edit. REMEMBERING, HERE I EDIT It came to me while lying in bed this morning listening to the neighborhood baby yelping for the morning milk and the neighborhood rooster cock-a-doodling for the morning hen and the neighborhood cat caterwalling for the morning Meow Mix and the neighborhood burro braying about his sore back and listening to my morning coffee perking away. On the 18th we had gone to La Tia, corner of Madero and Pino Suarez. It's a simple, unassuming little open-air corner place with no pretense and surprisingly reasonable prices, especially for a place only a block from the beach. I didn't take notes that night, probably because I had over indulged already, probably at happy hour somewhere, likely Langostinos. Aside: speaking of taking notes, I was painfully shy as an adolescent and absolutely terrified of public speaking. In 8th grade English class we were all required to do an oral report, subject of our choosing. I choose to avoid standing in front of the class for any purpose you can think of, but particularly for the purpose of speaking to them. Every time the teacher -- I can't remember her name, but can still picture her -- would call out, "Mr. Hesse, are you prepared to deliver your oral report today?", I'd answer, "Uh, forgot my notes." This went on for weeks. Finally, one day she said sternly, "Well, why don't you just do without the notes." So I did and, if I say so myself, did pretty well. My subject was thoroughbred horse racing. My parents regularly spent their time and the rent money at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, often with me, having skipped school for the "real education", in tow. Economically challenged poor folk trying to strike it rich by throwing their money away. These days you don't have to drive to Inglewood or Arcadia, you can do it from the convenience of your corner convenience store by buying lottery tickets or scratch-offs. Anyhow, I knew about the track, and demonstrated my knowledge that great day in front of 30 or 35 other acne-infested faces and one adult. With pictures and arrows on the black board, I went into the history of the Sport of Kings, parimutual betting, what happens among the colorful, unseen community out in the barns, how, in order to make weigh, jockeys will wear scuba gear while buried in fresh, steaming hot horse manure. It was all colorful, well researched and comprehensive; in short, I nailed it. The teacher, reluctantly, I think, gave me a B+. Reluctant in that I think she was expecting me to stammer, staring at my shoe tops, saying, "I am unprepared. I have no report. I have nothing to say. I am a disgrace to South Gate Junior High School and teens all around the globe and am an example of God's either failed experimentation or sense of humor -- like the camel or the dachshund -- and could I just go back now to my desk and my miserable, lonely life? Please!?", and she really wanted to pound me with a D or worse but was simply too impressed. Blown away, perhaps. But with the daily stalling and all, no way was I getting an A. And if you think this is the place where the kids all jump up and start cheering and the boys clap me on the back and the girls start batting their eyelashes at me and they all say, "Hey! We thought you were just some invisible, semi-mute dork, maybe from Arkansas or even Bulgaria!", sorry, but no. They all sat there slack-jawed like so many Napoleon Dynamites waiting, like me, for June, or at least 3:00, to finally come around. That's what I have to say about notes, or at least the dearth of notes. Back to La Tia. Great location, particularly for those staying on Los Muertos or visiting the area for the night, great prices like you'd find several blocks inland, and excellent, non-pretensious Mexican fare. Working from our combined memories and the little hand-out menu I saved, Connie had the chicken quesadillas, excellent and 85$, I the chicken enchiladas, probably in a green tomatillo sauce, 70$, both with rice and beans and a little pile of shredded lettuce, onion and slice of tomato. Probably a vino tinto por la mujer, and for sure a 40$ Stollie or two for me. Yes, that's what the menu said: 40$ Stollie. Shape I was in, they could have poured me Steelie or Stoolie or sold me a knock-off Felix watch, for that matter. Place was packed but the one waiter did his honest, zippedey best. Free pico de gallo and chips, something that's becoming less and less prevalent these days.
1/19. Joe Jack's Fish Shack. On B. Badillo just east (inland) of Pino Suarez, by that mansion-looking place that was empty for so many years. I see people slam this place from time to time, but we've never been disappointed, at least with the food, and I personally think they make a great margarita. What I don't like is the English-as-a-first-language speaking wait staff, a personal pet peeve of mine – gringos working jobs that would make a Mexican family middle class. And I think they need to remove a table or two upstairs. You think flying in coach is cramped? Anyhow, we both have fish and chips, 120$ each, with cole slaw, 25$ extra, and some raw veggies sprinkled with salt and paprika, gratis. An OK glass of cabernet for the lady, 80$, and a margarita for me, 70$. Got out of there for 440$, only 80$ (about $6) less than we'd paid at Coco Tropical last Saturday. I like the place but I can't understand people standing in line on the sidewalk, like another over rated B. Badillo place whose last name is Olla, waiting for a table when there are comparable or better and cheaper places just steps away.
1/20. Casa Naranjo, 263 Naranjo on the corner of L. Cardenas. We walked past this place dozens of times during our month here last winter, staying in a condo not far away. Never ate there, but that's changed. It's a bit unassuming, almost sterile looking with the orange and white exterior color scheme continuing into the dining room's décor. But wow. We are converts. There were only, I think, two other tables occupied with a total of five diners. Connie had the buttered shrimp and spinach-stuffed ravioli over fetuccini, a bit pricey at 265$ but worth the treat, I the chicken breast stuffed with ricotta cheese and in a squash blossom cream sauce, 175$. A glass of chardonnay, two of cabernet, 65$ each. Complimentary excellent smoked marlin puff pastry appies and average, Sara Lee style small dinner rolls with butter. At or near the top of our budget at 635$ but truly a great dinner. I'll repeat what I said last year: I'm no foodie; I don't dream about the stuff. But I recognize and give credit when I find something that is out of the ordinary, and that's what they have here. I applauded chef Lucy on the way out.
That's about it for tonight. At least I've covered the first week's restaurants, if not bars or shopping. If I'd gotten any further behind I'd have procrastinated trying to catch up and that would have put me on the bus to Stressville, a place I haven't visited in just over three years, when I gave up the glamour and prestige of postal work.
But first, one more thing I find
interesting. If you read my reports last year, and if you're reading
now on Brenda's (bzy1) All Vallarta board, I think they're on about
page 2 of “What I Did on My Vacation”, I talked about having
found avocados in an appliance store and a dream I've never had, at
least not yet, about space aliens' gardens where their plants yield
little microwave ovens and electric carving knives instead of onions
and tomatos and so forth. This year it's toilet paper at the bakery.
Our first night in town, on the way to sand, we were on the hunt for
some toilet paper, only one roll of which was left for us in our
condo. We figured we'd grab some at one of the little tiendas or an
Oxxo on Olas Altas. But as we passed the bakery on B. Badillo near
Pino Suarez, I saw what I thought were rolls of paper towels, also on
our shopping list, just inside the door. No, they were 4-packs of
toilet paper and I'm pretty sure that's the only non-food article in
the place. It just seems like a strange combo and not a strong sales
approach: “Enjoy our product, but be sure you've got some toilet
Edited to say, sorry for all the edits. I keep finding omissions and errors and keep thinking of embellishments.