GRAND VELOS Los Cabos... UNVEILED
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.