Taste & Travel - - Lodgings - by ELYSE GLICKMAN

CABO, ON THE SOUTHERNMOST tip of the Baja Penin­sula, is “in­stant va­ca­tion” for many us liv­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Its two hubs are Cabo San Lu­cas, the heav­ily com­mer­cial ex­panse suited to col­lege-age rev­ellers, and San Juan del Cabo, which ap­peals to arty types and deeper pock­ets. “THE COR­RI­DOR” HIGH­WAY con­nect­ing the two boom­towns is dot­ted with luxe all-in­clu­sives of­fer­ing stel­lar ocean­front views and beau­ti­fully pre­pared food. How­ever, savvy tourists with well-trav­elled taste buds are find­ing th­ese pho­to­genic spreads leave some­thing to be de­sired. En­ter Ve­las Re­sorts Mex­ico, a 20-year-old, fam­ily-owned com­pany blend­ing its home­grown spin on the Mex­i­can re­sort ex­pe­ri­ence with un­ex­pected ameni­ties and din­ing op­tions.

At Ve­las’ award-win­ning Grand Ve­las Riviera Maya and Grand Ve­las Riviera Na­yarit re­sorts, there’s a suc­cess­ful for­mula in place en­com­pass­ing four branded res­tau­rants: all-day Azul, fea­tur­ing break­fasts with au­then­tic Mex­i­can com­po­nents, con­tem­po­rary Mex­i­can fare at Frida; Ital­ian spe­cial­ties at Lucca; and Piaf’s French-Mediter­ranean menus.

At the dawn of 2016, founder and pres­i­dent Ed­uardo Vela Ruiz and his team set out to take that for­mula to new places. In Fe­bru­ary 2016, ground was bro­ken and by early De­cem­ber, travel writ­ers and Vela-Ruiz’s net­work of “friends and fam­ily” were in­vited to a pre­view of the 304-suite prop­erty.

As a vet­eran vis­i­tor to Grand Ve­las Riviera Na­yarit, I im­me­di­ately no­ticed Grand Ve­las Los Ca­bos is markedly dif­fer­ent from its older sis­ters. Though the ar­chi­tec­ture fits in with the lo­cal char­ac­ter of the Baja Penin­sula, the lines are sweep­ing and min­i­mal­ist. The lobby is not decked out in “fi­es­tastyle” — in­stead, mid­cen­tury mod­ern in­door-out­door fur­nish­ings and bold, Dali-es­que sculp­tures by lo­cal artist Ser­gio Bus­ta­mante pro­vide a nice pre­view of the ex­pe­ri­ence that’s in store. In­di­vid­ual suites, most which hover around 1,200 square feet, are wrapped in a calm seafoam and cream colour pal­ette that flows into ocean vis­tas and sprawl­ing in­fin­ity pool. The ad­join­ing ter­race is out­fit­ted with more mid­cen­tury fur­nish­ings, in­clud­ing a deca­dent daybed.

Although not ev­ery­thing was ready to roll on my visit (the ex­te­rior signs for the res­tau­rants went up the day we ar­rived), the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence strongly sug­gested Ve­las 2.0 will be suc­cess­ful on the culi­nary front. The new expressions of Piaf, Lucca and Frida will have com­pletely dif­fer­ent menus from the sib­ling prop­er­ties. In ad­di­tion, sev­eral new din­ing con­cepts have been rolled out.

My first meal of the pre­view week­end, at Cocina de Au­tor — one of the new

con­cepts — was bliss at ev­ery bite. Chef de Cui­sine Vin­cent Co­lauto, un­der the di­rec­tion twostar Miche­lin Chef Sid­ney Schutte (both na­tive to The Nether­lands), put to­gether a meal on par with some of Am­s­ter­dam’s most in­no­va­tive res­tau­rants. Fea­tur­ing lo­cally sourced pro­duce, the Crispy Tuna ap­pe­tizer and treat­ment of lan­gous­tine, rib eye beef and heir­loom toma­toes deftly bal­anced the artis­tic and de­li­cious.

The next morn­ing we feasted our eyes on the clean, ur­bane dé­cor of the core sig­na­ture res­tau­rants. The in­te­ri­ors are clean can­vases where Naples­bred An­to­nio La Marca (Lucca), French chef Aure­lian Legeay (Piaf), and Roberto Babio (Frida) will put their culi­nary fi­nesse on dis­play. Ve­las 10, still un­der con­struc­tion, prom­ises to present steak and seafood in an al­lur­ing and airy trop­i­cal set­ting.

A grand tour of the kitchen, com­plete with hands-on cook­ing lessons (which will be made avail­able to guests), of­fered a sense of things to come. La Marca shared the se­cret of the per­fect Neapoli­tan pizza crust, while we went wild with top­pings. Legeay had us mak­ing onion soup, while from Babio we learned the finer points of mak­ing au­then­tic gua­camole. He pointed out that while the ad­di­tion of toma­toes is pop­u­lar with Amer­i­cans, some lo­cals en­joy more exotic mix-ins such as cha­pu­lines (crick­ets) and chic­cha­rones (pork crack­lings). As we shifted be­tween the in­di­vid­ual kitchens, lead mixol­o­gist Kahled Pinda had us sam­ple each res­tau­rant’s sig­na­ture cock­tails.

Af­ter a busy se­cond day of bask­ing at the pool and strolling San Juan del Cabo, we am­bled over to Pinda’s tequila and mez­cal tast­ing class at the Koi lobby bar. His dis­course came with a side of condi­ments, salts and cit­rus wedges en­hanc­ing the sub­tle dif­fer­ences be­tween the var­i­ous spir­its he poured for us.

While the se­cond night’s din­ner at Piaf had de­light­ful el­e­ments, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how som­me­lier Don Pe­dro Pon­celis Bram­bila’s wine list (in­clud­ing Mex­i­can fine wines from the north of Baja Cal­i­for­nia and its val­leys) will be paired once the per­ma­nent menu is in place. Other plans Bram­bila has in the works in­clude cus­tom­ized wine tast­ings, pair­ing meals, and a wine lovers’ get­away for con­nois­seurs with re­fined palates and money to spend.

The pin­na­cle of the pre­view week­end was the of­fi­cial grand open­ing bash, show­cas­ing the of­fer­ings of all prop­erty res­tau­rants. Lucca’s lush risot­tos, Ve­las 10’s grilled skew­ers, roasted meats and seafood, witty foiegras lol­ly­pops from Chef Legeay, and spicy, so­phis­ti­cated bites from Frida were in­deed ready for prime time. There were desserts ga­lore and more won­der­ful bites from Cocina de Au­tor. Ev­ery­thing was washed down with Pinda’s cock­tail cre­ations and Bram­bila’s wine se­lec­tions, as well as an im­pres­sive fire­works dis­play.

Of course, there are times when one wants to forgo the elab­o­rate pro­duc­tion and get some­thing sim­ple, lo­cal and crave-wor­thy, such as Baja’s fa­mous fish tacos. I am happy to re­port that the ones served up pool­side at the ho­tel were as de­li­cious as those I en­joyed on the back­streets of San Juan del Cabo. Just add a fresh­fruit mar­garita, gua­camole and chips, and you’ve got the best of Cabo on a tray at your in­fin­ity pool ca­bana. That alone is worth the trip.

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