I first encountered hearts of palm at Pampas Grill, a Brazilian churrascaria in the Farmers Market in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. I have no idea how I’d gone so long without coming across the vegetable, but it’s been a favorite ever since then. I used them in making what is now one of my favorite salads:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cans hearts of palm, drained and rinsed
1 hard-boiled egg, shelled and chopped
1/2 pound cooked tiny shrimp
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper
1. In a bowl, whisk olive oil, vinegar, capers, lemon juice, shallots, mustard, and salt to taste. Cut hearts of palm in half lengthwise. Lay hearts of palm in dressing, turn over, and let stand for 5 minutes.
2.Lift hearts of palm from dressing and arrange on a large salad plate. Add shrimp to dressing in bowl and mix. Arrange avocado on salad. Spoon shrimp and all the dressing over the hearts of palm and avocado. Top with egg, and sprinkle with pepper to taste.
On my last full day in Mexico, I decided to take it easy. I’d been running around pretty hard for most of the trip, trying to pack in as much as possible, so I figured one day of rest was well-deserved. After stopping at Xocodiva to buy some chocolates as gifts to take back (I bought a chili-lime and a tequila truffle for immediate gratification too), I went back to the hotel and spent the better part of the day in the pool:
The sun never came out much during the trip, but it was nice to hang around in the warm water and lament how it came to be that I was in the same space as a large group of endless spring breakers.
For dinner, I made one last splurge at La Palapa, and I am ridiculously glad I did. I started with an amuse bouche of rice paper-wrapped tuna and bean sprouts:
If the concept of freshness could manifest itself into a dish, this would be it.
I had the seared sea scallops with orange miso sauce, bell pepper and saffron polenta:
I couldn’t taste the miso, but rather a light tamarind sauce. Which is just fine really, because they were the most perfectly sublime scallops I’ve ever tasted. Sweet, briny and tender enough to cut with a fork.
For dessert, I had the chocolate fantasmagoria with fresh fruit compote and coconut ice cream:
I’m usually not very fond of sweets, but this was ethereal.
I headed back to my hotel early, to pack and get a good night’s sleep before the flight back to San Francisco the next morning. This was my second trip to Mexico, but everything I experienced was new and exciting and as cliched at it sounds, a learning experience. I only wish I’d had more time to spend.
If it weren’t for Yelapa, my trip to the coast might have been a bust. Though I’m not a fan of boats, I had done our research beforehand and knew that I wanted to spend a day in Yelapa. A small village forty-five minutes south of Vallarta by boat, there are no roads that lead there, and no vehicles in town. I bought tickets for the morning water taxi and boarded at Los Muertos pier:
The ride was bumpy. Really bumpy. The water was choppy and our boat went airborne several times, and passengers literally had to hold on to our seats to keep from falling forward. It probably didn’t help that it began pouring rain towards the end of the ride either. Once we arrived, I knew it was worth it:
I had heard about a picturesque waterfall in the Yelapa mountains, so I teamed up with a gringo group from New York who I met on the boat and began the hike up through town, not really knowing where we were going, but enjoying every minute of it. Despite the heat and humidity, Yelapa looks like it’s right out of a storybook.
We used a boat to cross El Tuito River, and after about an hour of hiking, we arrived at our destination:
We spent the next couple of hours walking back downhill and along the coast, occasionally interrupted by crossing iguanas, crabs, and a donkey here and there. Once we got back to the river, we realized the boat we had used to cross the river was gone, and its owner was nowhere to be found. So what else to do but wade through it? We stepped gingerly through the water, looking for the shallowest parts with the firmest sand:
I know it doesn’t look like that much water, but it was up to my hips. Plus I’m not the most comfortable person in water, so this was a big deal.
One gets hungry after conquering two fears in one day, so I quickly stopped by Hotel Lagunita’s restaurant for fish tacos before catching the water taxi back to Puerto Vallarta:
Back in town, I settled on Brasil Churrascaria for dinner, which turned out to be an delicious choice, except for the Vallarta Adventures sales pitch towards the end of the meal. I’ll take this perfect top sirloin, thanks, but I’ll pass on the provocatively dressed women trying to sell me an eco tour.
The accompanying sauces and side dishes were delicious too, though I wish they offered more traditional types of meat (chicken heart, anyone?). I suppose that’s not standard tourist fare, though, and I can’t really complain about the chicken wings or fillet.
From the moment I arrived in Puerto Vallarta, I had been accosted by offers of booze cruises, snorkeling excursions, canopy tours and mass-produced souvenir knick-knacks. To get away from it all (and to kill time while I waited for my correct hotel room to materialize), I took a cab to Mismaloya, a small village where Rio Mismaloya meets Banderas Bay.
Mismaloya found its fame as the site where the 1963 movie Night of the Iguana was filmed. I avoided the film tours and instead wandered around the bay, followed by an apathetic but adorable stray dog as I explored the shore. On the walk back, I stopped for a drink and chatted with the restaurant proprietor while I took in the view:
This one pretty much sums up how I was feeling. Mismaloya helped, but I had to take a cab back into the city to change hotel rooms again.
Back in Vallarta, I walked towards downtown to grab a bite to eat at Coexist Cafe. My ceviche was a curiosity:
Where’s the ceviche?
I spent the rest of the day in the hotel pool, a welcome refuge from the humidity. By evening I was pretty tired and opted to stay in my room and read. No foam parties or dance clubs for me, thanks.
I woke up early on my last morning in Guadalajara to catch the ETN bus to Puerto Vallarta. The journey ended up taking over seven hours instead of five because of bad traffic in Guadalajara. The bus fare included “lunch,” which turned out to be a limp white bread sandwich with mayonnaise and ham inside, but other than that, the bus service was pretty nice.
My troubles began when I checked into my hotel, Playa Los Arcos. They had mixed up my reservation and placed me in the wrong room, saying that they’d move me to the right one in the morning. (Little did I know that the next day, they still wouldn’t have our room ready and would be rude about it to boot. By the time I was shown the correct room, I conceded that the hotel was a far cry from its online description, to put it nicely.)
Defeated, I took a stroll down Playa de los Muertos to check out the new surroundings. Vallarta was not what I thought it would be. I knew it was going to a touristy city, but I never thought it would be as rampant as it turned out to be, especially since I was visiting during the low season. But with a Hooters downtown (opposite a cathedral, no less) and a Senor Frog’s down the street from our hotel, it felt like some kind of tacky endless spring break where I couldn’t help but wonder how the residents feel about it all.
It took a while to adjust to the humidity, so I slowly made my way to La Palapa for dinner. If there is one place in Vallarta that makes up for all the mediocre food, this is it. My only regret is that I didn’t have much of an appetite that evening. Still, my grilled shrimp, salad of frisee and avocado, yam-plantain mash and white corn puree was absolutely delicious.
The service was wonderful too, and I was seated just a few steps away from the beach. As I walked back to the hotel that evening, I made a point to come back to La Palapa again during our stay.