A few weeks ago, Arne and I fulfilled a long-standing dream of visiting a tropical paradise. After some time poring over guidebooks and websites, we had chosen to visit La Paz, Mexico. A few hours by shuttle from Los Cabos on the Baja peninsula, La Paz sits on the coast of the Sea of Cortez. The water is that vivid turquoise you see in advertisements and think can’t possibly be real, and it’s clear as glass and teems with life. (Jacques Cousteau apparently called the Sea of Cortez “the aquarium of the world.”) Clusters of mussels wash up on shore, and I nearly stepped on a sea urchin while trying out my snorkeling gear. All this next to desert hills that look like someone imported them from Albuquerque.
Unlike most of our vacations, this one wasn’t primarily about food and running around seeing stuff; it was about waking up late, reading by the pool – any one of several blue-tiled pools in the CostaBaja resort – and snorkeling with sea lions. You know, just a little relaxing in paradise.
But I am me, after all, so I also dreamed of seafood. Especially ceviche. As soon as I got a chance, I ordered a bowlful at the resort’s Beach Club. It was prettily presented (I thought at first the fried, decoratively punched tortilla was a lotus root), nicely limey, and accented with chunks of meltingly perfect avocado.
The Beach Club, situated between the main pool area and – you guessed it! – the beach, became our favorite place to eat in the resort. It was the place to get a casual but delicious meal or snack, and the only restaurant serving Mexican food. Pictured above is one day’s lunch: crudites of cucumber, jicama, and carrot with lime and chile for dipping, and a plate of paper-thin slices of scallop doused with olive oil and herbs. We identified thyme and rosemary for sure, but there were more. I would never have piled herbs onto scallops like that – when I make scallops, the cardinal rule is not to overpower their delicacy – but it worked somehow. Arne said the flavor was a ringer for artichokes. I’m not sure about that, but it was scrumptious.
The Beach Club also came through with fantastic huevos rancheros and a “Great Big Burrito” that turned out to be not all that huge. Instead, it was fabulously delicious, with moist shredded beef and a “chef’s sauce” that was tangy and complex. I’m pretty sure it had mustard in it, but other than that, not a clue. The grilled peppers served alongside it were divine, smoky and tangy with a soy-vinegar sauce. The server told us we were the only people he’d ever seen eat them, which is a real pity. If only they knew what they were missing!
Speaking of missing, the one dish I had at the Beach Club that wasn’t so great was a local whitefish served with pureed pineapple and pineapple salad. The pineapple accents were wonderful, but the fish was sadly overcooked, dry and flavorless. I’m going to try making the pineapple elements and serving them with a properly cooked piece of fish.
We only made two trips out of the resort. One was into the city of La Paz, to the Malecon – a six-mile walkway along the sea, across the street from a strip of stores and restaurants. We tried out our meager Spanish at the Gelateria Giulietta e Romeo and were rewarded with cups of very tasty gelato. The lemon was best… but I always like the lemon best.) We’d taken our cups and teeny-tiny spoons out to walk along the Malecon, but I ducked back in to tell our server it was “muy delicioso!” and was rewarded with a big smile.
Our other stop in the city of La Paz was a laid-back seafood restaurant called Mariscos los Laureles, also on the Malecon, and hailed on TripAdvisor as possibly the best seafood in town. It was quite a ways from Giulietta e Romeo, and I was getting tired and starting to fear that we’d missed it when Arne ran ahead and finally found the place – half a block from where I’d been considering throwing in the towel.
We picked a seat by the open front of the restaurant, where we could see the sea and feel the breeze. Our friendly waiter looked bemused when I ordered a “jarro de limonada.” No wonder – I’d ordered a whole pitcher of lemonade. I had been thinking of the soda “jarritos,” and thought I was ordering a lemonade flavored one. Whatever – I was thirsty anyway, and managed to put down about half of it.
The rest of the ordering went better, though it was not without translation error. Our ceviche tostadas – one shrimp, one fish – arrived first, and they were so fresh and delicious I wished we’d ordered more. Until our plates came out. When I’d ordered the oysters diablo and encouraged Arne to order the octopus, I had imagined small portions to share, like tapas. We received huge plates full of food instead: a generous serving of octopus and at least a dozen huge shucked oysters smothered in spicy red sauce, each accompanied by rice, potato salad, and vegetables.
The oysters were delicious, full-bellied and tender (except one that was like chewing gum), and the diablo sauce was rich and spicy. Arne’s garlicky octopus was cooked just right. The rice was a nice accompaniment, but I skipped the bland, runny potato salad and most of the underseasoned vegetables. Still, we left quite full. Luckily there was a taxi stand nearby to whisk us back to our hotel.
Part 2 coming soon…