Colorful vegetable stew is served by chef by chef Hugo Ahumada at Maia. // © 2017 Lina Zeldovich
Feature image (above): La Leche features a white and black interior and offers seasonal menu items. // © 2017 La Leche
Having established itself as a Mexican culture and cuisine destination, Puerto Vallarta is now spicing up its culinary scene by tossing traditional ingredients used by indigenous peoples into modern recipes and using creative decor to stimulate diners’ palates. Moreover, with its upcoming Dining in the Sky adventure, Puerto Vallarta is quite literally taking its gastronomy to new heights — 150 feet above the city.
Here are three epicurean experiences that are not to be missed.
Dinner in the Sky with Casa Velas
The sky may be the limit, but not for Casa Velas hotel, which will be pushing Puerto Vallarta’s culinary frontiers above anything imaginable. For a limited time, the luxury hotel is partnering with Dinner in the Sky to create unique culinary experiences in which diners are lifted and floated on special platforms over the city. From Jan. 28 through Feb. 28, adventurous foodies will have the opportunity to enjoy dishes prepared by top local chefs while hovering over Puerto Vallarta at nearly 150 feet above ground. Guests will enjoy breathtaking views of Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madre Mountains while savoring a gourmet dinner, prepared in flight.
“Tastes are taken to new heights, too, with three-course menus designed by top chefs, including Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza, disciples of Spanish superstar Juan Mari Arzak and owners of Biko in Mexico City,” said Luis Angarita, managing director of Casa Velas. “This year, Dinner in the Sky is only one month, but if it’s as successful as we anticipate, it will be repeated the next two years.”
Dinner in the Sky runs Wednesday through Sunday and costs $50 per person for those staying at Casa Velas or the AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, and $80 for those staying at Velas Vallarta. For outside guests, prices are $170 when booked in advance and $242 at the door.
Decorated in stylish, avant-garde fashion — white with little touches of black — La Leche creates a feeling of being inside an old Hollywood movie. La Leche means “milk,” yet the creamy interior is more than just a name, explains owner and chef Ignacio “Nacho” Cadena, who designed the restaurant with his three sons. It is a special setting that enhances diners’ palates by switching their attention from decor to dishes. Contrasting the monochromatic background, colorful gourmet offerings made with fresh, local ingredients exude Mexico’s vibrant energy, awakening the senses to a host of complex flavors. La Leche’s menu changes daily, based on what’s in season and available on the market.
“From the decor to the dishes, everything must have an element of surprise,” Cadena said. “That’s why we update our menu daily, so that our guests keep coming back for dishes they haven’t tried before.”
Only minutes from Puerto Vallarta’s “malecon” (waterfront promenade), the recently renovated Maia — located in Villa Mercedes Petit Hotel — serves nuevo-Mexican cuisine. Traditional ingredients are used to create sophisticated, French-influenced dishes served with a backdrop of decor inspired by indigenous peoples and colorful Mexican art. Maia is the brainchild of chef Hugo Ahumada, who worked in a French restaurant and won several national awards before launching his own venue. For his Maia menu, Ahumada draws inspiration from traditional Mexican cooking and has visited local tribes in search of new ingredients and recipe ideas. Some of his fusion dishes for the upcoming season include coconut shrimp soup, risotto with “huitlacoche” mushrooms (an edible fungus that grows on corn) and duck confit tacos with a honey peanut sauce.
“Reconnecting with my roots and remembering my grandmother’s stews and soups helps me create these special dishes,” Ahumada said. “And I use the concept of ‘cucina poetica’ — a way of cooking with inspiration, love and creativity.”