Art in vallARTa

Art in vallArta

This trip, I set aside time to really explore Vallarta’s thirty galleries.  The depth and breadth of the art scene in Vallarta should not be underestimated.  The city’s galleries feature local and international artesian/craftsman creating stunning works in many mediums – sculptures, paintings, photography, folk art and pottery.  From galleries scattered throughout the Historic, Old Town, Viejo and along the Malecon, art is literally everywhere. This is what helps to make PV not just another beach town; the cultural events here are thriving and expanding.

While walking about I found most of the galleries, including a few off the main thoroughfares, but there is another option – Art Walk!  This event takes place every Wednesday evening [October-April] in the Historic district and features thirteen galleries and a number of restaurants.  Strolling through the galleries, drinking some wine and having dinner; this was not a bad way to spend an evening out.

On the Walk, I visited Galeria Pacifico, which represents several of the sculptors, whom created the large bronze works on the Malecon, plus a selection of rising talents working a variety of Medias.  Up the street just a few doors is Galeria Caballito de Mar, who specialize in Antique Silver Jewelry and rare Textiles and Ceramics.  Their collection Deco era Silver jewelry was captivating.  I also visited the Galeria Whitlow where Still Life Realism, Realistic and the amazing paintings of a miniaturist are on display. 

After touring the galleries, I set off for dinner, stopping in at Si’ Senor.  I was intriqued by the Tampiquena and it was an excellent choice.  Perfectly seared Steak, sitting atop a grilled Nopale [Prickly Pear Cactus Leaf] accompanied by a pair of tamales, fresh guacamole and a diminutive corn tortilla filled with refried beans.  The slightly acidic quality of nopale worked perfectly with the steak and the grilled whole onions.  Between the meal and the view it was a really great way to finish off an evening.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The following day, I visited a number of the galleries in the Colonial Emiliano Zapata part of the city.  Galeria Dante is PV’s largest gallery and their space is glorious; indoors there are a number of rooms and an open inner courtyard reveals fountains and sculptures. Creating a marvelous retreat to linger and ponder the works.  Next door is Ambos Galeria, which when I was there, was highlighting Abstract paintings and Photography.  They feature contemporary artists on two floors of wonderfully lit galleries. They also plan on offering workshops, lectures and performance in their space.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A short walk away, in the Centro district, is Arte Popular Mexicano Galeria.  Estela Camacho features locally produced museum quality pre-Columbian replicas, ceramics and catrinas.  She calls her Galeria a shop for “Only those who know”.  Spend a while with her and your education will be enhanced dramatically; plus gain a much better understanding of the artwork offered and the lovely people of the region.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wander up the Isla Cuale walkway and you will find the Cultural Centre where in the morning and evening classes are offered in painting, sculpture, photography and dance.  A lot of tourists do not explore this far up, but it is a great respite from the bustle of the city, with a few small cafes nearby and the relaxation offered by the natural beauty that surrounds you here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the way back, I stopped at Joe Jack’s Fish Shack for late lunch.  This is one those places that no stay to PV would complete without a visit.  It’s always very good, always very busy and always a great crowd. I had a very delicious simply grilled fish sandwich, super fresh and seasoned with a touch of Black Olive Tapenade[I added a bit of coarse mustard].  Served with crispy fires it was a great lunch.  I was tempted by and succumbed to the Chili-Cucumber Margarita that was the featured drink of the day.  The cooling flavor of the Cucumber was highlighted by the Serrano chili.  The frosty glass was rimmed with Tajin,  a seasoning blend consisting mostly of chilies, lime and salt.  My new favourite Margarita!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On another evening out, the Plaza de Armas was taken over by artisans working with chalk.  Several dozen very talented artists were on the pavement creating vivid designs of folk, religious and environmental and political themes.    For me, the added joy of meeting and talking with these artists was such a plus. Unfortunately a few days later, an odd rainfall washed all the creations away; but while they were here, the walkways of the Plaza were vibrant with colour.

From very modern works, museum quality indigenous pieces, large sculptures, to antique jewelry and outdoor installations, all represent the Mexican heritage and culture.  The vibrancy, the intimacy, the diversity of works continues to impress me.  I find the openness and at times the whimsy in the works equally delightful.  Theses galleries are alive!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mexico’s Sour Mash Whiskey

Los-Compadres-Whiskey-5

We are all familiar with Mexico’s most renowned liquor, and the State of Jalisco makes some of the very best Tequilas I have ever sampled; smooth and delicious. But a new beverage has arrived – Sour Mash Whiskey, in a small fishing village no less! As you walk down to the beaches at Boca de Tamlatan, you pass a few small businesses, homes and this distillery. Los 2 Compadres is a very good small distillery at that; making a Single Cask Sour Mash Whiskey, a “Shine Whiskey” and a Coffee Liquor.
As we wandered into in, the air was heavy and humid with the smell of fermenting corn. The casks of aging whiskey and “shine” [a shortened form of moonshine] are sitting there – just passing the time away. The five fermenting tanks are busy transforming the local Aztecan Maize into the “wash” that will be distilled to make the whiskey. They are bit unique here, in that they use a 100% mash bill

for their Whiskey. In the center of the room sits the large distilling kettle; stainless steel with bright blue feet, just waiting for the next batch to be cooked. Larry Dorwart was on hand to pour us a sample, or two, and gave us the tour.

The Corn Mash

The Corn Mash

The Fermenting Containers

The Fermenting Containers

The Distilling Kettle

The Distilling Kettle

The Condenser

The Condenser

The Aging Casks

The Aging Casks

This is a small local artisan distillery. He gets his heirloom corn from the hills surrounding the little village of Boca de Tamlatan from a farmer who goes there on mules. I am not kidding! The water, an essential component, is perfectly suited for this use. Larry should know, for he refers to a long family tradition of making “shine” through the years – even during Prohibition. Therefore, when he retired and moved down here, this seemed like the thing to do.

Aztecan Maize

Aztecan Maize

The Cask Whiskey is based on an American Bourbon recipe. As such, some of the prior soured mash is used to get the fermenting started.  The tanks also are not sealed, so as to allow the wild natural yeasts in this region to help flavour the whiskey. After being freshly distilled, the liquor goes to the wooden casks to age.  They use old French wine barrels; taken apart and charred to their specs.  I was intrigued by the nuanced aromatic differences in the casks, depending upon which of the barrels the whiskey was aging in. The colour of this young whiskey is attributable, no doubt to the use of theses casks.  Currently they produce about 1500 bottles per month but are getting ready to increase that and offer a Blended Whiskey also. The whiskey rests for year in these barrels, then bottled by hand.   Los 2 Compadres Whiskey is reminiscent of some Kentucky’s lighter bourbons.  For me it has definite caramel overtones along with a hint of vanilla and agave essences.  I found it to possess a very nice mouth finish, fresh, not heavy but with a light finish consistent with it’s aging.  Eminently sippable, I prefer mine just in a snifter.  However, on the rocks or with a bit of water added also works

.A small amount of this aged Whiskey is used to blend in their “Gringo Larry’s Shine”. This whiskey is aged for a shorter period and much lighter in colour. Los 2 Compadres shine is a full flavour, but not a harsh biting shine. It feels full in the mouth with lovely warmth as swallowed. Much smoother than other moonshine offerings I have had before.

The much unexpected third offering from them is a delicious Coffee-Creamed Liquor; Licor de Café’ Mexicano. Think Vietnamese coffee, dark roasted and locally grown beans and sweetened condensed milk, combined with their “Shine” to make it 40 proof! Larry’s affection for the cuisine of Vietnam lead him create this beverage. It is fantastic over ice and a great way to finish a meal.

The Single Cask Whiskey, Gringo Larry’s Shine and even the Licor de Café’ Mexico are available locally in several bars and restaurants, along with stand he mans at the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Puerto Vallarta.

Vallarta’s Gardens

VBG (36 of 52)Vallarta’s Botanical Gardens are a special place that definitely should not be missed. A combination of Orchid houses, nurseries, nature trails, a very nice restaurant and even a place to take a dip, await you upon arrival.  It was just what I needed to relax and escape into nature for a day.

Getting there is easy; catch the bus, bound for El Tuito, at the corner of Aguacate and Carranza streets in the Romantic Sector of PV.  The fare is 20 pesos, and you are dropped off right at the Garden’s entrance.  Now for me, on my Sunday visit, I did have an adventure getting there.  Our bus had a small calamity. The turbine overheated, filling the bus with smoke and causing us to pull over to the side of the road, the driver quickly doused the engine compartment with water and we all spread out and awaited another bus to pick us up.  The thing was; nobody got terribly upset, we all just sat roadside and waited the 20 minutes for our rescue – boarded our new bus and headed off to our destination.

After picking up a map at the entrance, I set off.  I decided to walk the nature trails down by the Emerald Pools first.  This path is rated Difficult, but with a good set of walking shoes, it is very manageable.  The clear and cool stream, the deep green pools of water along with the sound of the rushing water made it all very worth it.   I lingered for quite a bit of time there.

[Video] Vallarta Botanical Gardens – Emerald Pools.

VBG (12 of 52)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The trail back up was well marked out and while difficult, was a great nature walkway.  The work they have done here to reforest this land is astonishing.  Much of the land here had been used for cattle and was terribly overgrazed and cleared.   The volunteers and the staff have totally transformed this place.

The trail lead me back to the Hacienda de Oro, just in time for lunch!  The building is covered with Bouganvillas and is brilliantly painted.  There is a very nice gift shop, offering many local products, including some wonderful and such fragrant whole Vanilla Beans.  Upstairs is the restaurant, where I settle in for a lite lunch of Tortilla Soup and an Agua Fresca  [Hibiscus flavoured] .  On this Sunday morning, opera arias were playing in the background and the view from up here is magnificent.  My lunch started with a little tray of fresh cucumbers, jicama and radishes sprinkled with Tajin.  This has been served to me in several other restaurants here; and is a habit I intend on continuing.  Crisp, refreshing and a bit spicy – an excellent tradition. The soup arrived in a diminutive earthenware pitcher and bowl.  A delightful presentation and delicious to boot; It was richly flavoured and topped Guacamole and Sour Cream.  The restaurant offers wood-fired oven pizzas and other traditional Mexican offerings, along with an extensive selection of tequilas.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After lunch, I joined the tour through the Orchid house and nursery.  I would highly recommend joining this – the varieties are almost endless.  Robert Price, Founder and Curator of the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens has developed an outstanding collection of orchids and in the propagation lab, endangered species of orchids are being cultivated.

To finish my day, I headed off down to the Vanilla Trail area; a more rainforest feel to these gardens.  Coffee plants abound along with Vanilla orchids and Capomo trees.  Theses trails are a bit easier to navigate and were a great way to finish up my trip to the gardens.  I cannot over state the special nature of this place; a bit of paradise not far away for the city of Puerto Vallarta and a must visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

VBG (37 of 52)

Holiday Aromas -Rodolfo el Reno

Bunuelo7
The other morning I was heading out to do some street photography, when my nose caught whiff of something very familiar; cinnamon, sugar and freshly made pastry. An immediate detour was required. I rounded the corner and discovered “Rodolfo el Reno”. A brother and sister team carrying on a family tradition, creating Buñuelos.
Buñuelos are a fried delicate pastry, made from yeast-raised dough, flavoured with a hint of anise and coated with cinnamon and sugar. This kind of pastry appears in many cultures, each with its own variation, some are rounded, others are filled with custard or jelly and in several countries, and they are made from cassava and malanga. From my own heritage, Jews in Turkey make them from matzo meal and serve them during Passover.
At this shop, Goel and Hortencia start early in the morning during the holiday season, to make hundreds of these each day. This tradition has been carried on from their mother, who made them for years in this little shop. These pastries are very popular with Vallarta’s Las Posadas celebrations. Boxes and boxes were being filled when I arrived, each containing bags of warm buñuelos.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I left with my own bag of warm Buñuelos, headed back to my apartment, and made some café de olla. I shared them with my good friend, Ramon and delayed my trip to town. This is what I love about Vallarta; so many wonderful little shops scattered throughout the city just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed

The Original Cornish Pasty in Puerto Vallarta

Leek-and-Thistle (20 of 4)
I really never expected to find proper English pies here! [My mum is English, so we grew up with her home-made ones] But, you can and they are excellent. The Leek and Thistle Pie Company has been around here since 2006 and their popularity is growing.
As Mark Hughes tells the tale; the idea for his business came about while having a few pints with a friend – I also have had a few schemes hatched that way – only his worked. So after many pastry trials, he developed a flaky and delicious crust to hold all of his marvelous fillings. And since he is making English pies, these include meat and fruit offerings.
Leek-and-Thistle (13 of 13)
The pies are truly hand-made – no hi tech dough sheeters here; each and every crush is rolled and pinched by Mark along with the lattice crusts, are cut individually. This process is repeated on average, 150 times a day. Add to this, he makes all the amazing fillings; Chicken with a creamy Leek and Mushrooms, Steak –marinated in Guinness – with Carrots Onions and Thyme, a Fisherman’s Pie – no pastry –  but topped with Parslied-creamy Mashed Potatoes. While many of the pies have simple ingredients, they are so comforting to enjoy. To me that is the essence of very good food – nourishing to both the body and the soul.
The day I was there, he was crafting a selection of fruit pies, Blackberries and Apples, Cranberries and Peach. The fruit is the main star here – chunks of the fruit with a bit of sugar and spice to compliment it. Each pie has it’s own mark on the top to help you identify it – cool! Mark has readied his English holiday mincemeat for the upcoming season. He has a very limited supply of the very best true mincemeat I have had since my mum used to make it – soaked in liquor and containing suet and beef. Charles Dickens would be satisfied, as I was taken back to my own childhood memories of holidays past by the filling’s aroma and taste.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Leek and Thistle also makes a selection of Savoury Quiches – I had a Camembert and Leek variety. Wonderfully creamy and perfectly ripe cheese accented by the slightly sweet sautéed Leeks. Simply delicious. In addition, they are working on a gluten free version of their pies – using local corn – which should be readied in the near future.

The chalkboard with with the days selection.

The chalkboard with with the days selection.

Hot, fresh and ready to go!

Hot, fresh and ready to go!

Mark is at the Farmer’s Market every weekend and at his shop on Hamburgo Street in the Colonia Versailles district of Vallarta.

Delicious Sausage Rolls - a great walk around snack.

Delicious Sausage Rolls – a great walk around snack.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Saturday Ritual in Vallarta

Squash Flowers

Squash Flowers

Saturdays are very busy in PV.  Local shops are bustling, buses fill quickly with families heading off to the beaches and several city blocks become home to the weekly Farmers Market.  There are actually two separate markets; One is in the Paradise Community Centre in the Zona Romantica and the other market is in the Colonial Emiliano Zapata section of town, (This market is located on Basilio Badillo,  Pino Suarez streets and the neighborhood Kindergarten School) only a few blocks away each other.

Saturday-Famers-Market (43 of 24)

Angela’s – Delicous tacos

Saturday-Famers-Market (15 of 36)

Sandra of Mamma Jamma Preserves

Saturday-Famers-Market (16 of 36)

Cloud Coffee – Local, Organic, micro producer – a few cups a day for me please!

Saturday-Famers-Market (8 of 36)

Lorene, owner and creator of Artisan Bread Co.

Artisans and craftsmen offer up selections from glass work, intricate embroidery, jewelry, soaps and clothing accessories.  Everything here is locally made or grown – with 50 km of Vallarta and you are meeting the producers directly – it does not get any better.  And then there is the FOOD!!  Breads, pies, quiches, tacos, pastries, jams, fruits, meats, fresh cheeses and coffee lure you.  Bring a big bag and savour them all.  I personally grab a couple of loaves of bread, a few pieces of Queso Fresco every week along with my weekly supply of locally produced rich coffee, some fresh produce and few cigars.  [I am still using my jar of Papaya Jam I picked up a couple of weeks ago – but I don’t think I’ll be able to bring it back through customs]  The Kindergarten school has a number of eateries in the courtyard – excellent food and great prices.  In the Paradise center there are also eateries and many, many baked goods!Saturday-Famers-Market (1 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (22 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (26 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (29 of 36) Saturday-Famers-Market (38 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (40 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (39 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (42 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (50 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (52 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (56 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (57 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (59 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (55 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (49 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (47 of 24) Saturday-Famers-Market (6 of 36)

It is best to arrive early, as the season progresses the crowds are getting much larger.  By early afternoon many of the vendors are getting low on supplies.  But they will be back next week, just like me.

Walking and Eating on the Street in Vallarta

Once you settle in to your villa and go out to eat in one of the many great restaurants in town, it is now time to go try the other culinary treasures that abound in Vallarta. The Taquerias. They are the little food carts that are on every street, almost everywhere! So, make this your day three agenda in Vallarta. But which ones do you choose from? There are a couple of tour guides that offer a service, but I chose Vallarta Eats to come to the rescue. [Based on Trip Advisor and Eric is a fellow Philadelphian]
We met up and set off to eat! [Do not have breakfast on the day you go –you really eat on this tour!] I believe a good food tour is not only about sampling really good food, it should also be about the culture you are experiencing. [Full disclosure here – I was a professional Chef for over 20 years] Within the time it took us to get tour first destination – I learned that the State of Jalisco is the number two producer of Tequila, Vallarta is the second most important gourmet destination in Mexico and the unofficial name for the Isle de Cuale is Isle de Gatos!
On our first stop we sampled Birra – a stew from either Beef or Pork, cooked in a large clay pot. Besides the taco made from the meat, the broth is an essential element to easing the remnants of the night before. Even without the hangover – get a cup of the broth.Vallarta-Eats (2 of 29)


A bit later on we stopped at shop that only makes carnitas – by the whole hog. We sampled a bit of the carnitas – specifically the cheek. If you are offered this – sample it; so moist, crispy and tender. Delicious! And so we continued, visiting fabulous small eateries – stops at a local market, [the one I shop at], a bakery, a couple of great little restaurants and a tortilla factory. [Once you sample a hot fresh white corn tortilla – there is nothing quite like it] Tastings include shrimp, fish, pork, octopus and a variety of salsas and guacamoles – each were slightly different at each venue. In addition to all the food samples, we tasted a number of Auga Frescas. Memo – our guide did a marvelous job of both entertaining and informing us of local eating customs.

The kettles for the carnitas

The kettles for the carnitas

Vallarta-Eats (18 of 29)Vallarta-Eats (24 of 29)

Handmade tortilla!

Handmade tortilla!

Fried jalepeno filled with seafood

Fried jalepeno filled with seafood


Several hours later and with bellies and spirits full we set off to our final destination; a traditional Mexican dulceria. But first we had to navigate the small suspension bridges that cross the Cuale River; these can be most entertaining! But as we round the corner, the smell of the dulceria hits you – sugar, caramel and toasting pecans! And what better way to finish an eating expedition than with chocolate –dark, spicy with a hint of almond.

Memo our Guide!

Memo our Guide!

That is correct - a kilo [2.2 lbs] for $.69!

That is correct – a kilo [2.2 lbs] for $.69!