Deals, Dares & Reviews To Help You Savor Your World.
“There’s no such thing as Mexican food,” says my friend Maria, and I have to agree. What she means is that Mexico is a vast country, with many distinctly different regional flavors. Lumping the entire country’s food together as “Mexican” is as vague and incorrect as lumping all of our country’s food together as “American.” It’d be like saying that New Orleans’ cuisine is the same as that of New England’s. It just isn’t, and therein lies the beauty of it all.
Nayarit cuisine, from Mexico’s Pacific Coast, is probably my favorite regional taste south of the border. It relies heavily on its riotous abundance of seafood, which is plucked fresh from the sparkling sea, spiced with the smoky huichol chile and simply grilled. It tastes of sun and jungle and heat, and there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
So I couldn’t wait to take my culinary club to El Barco Mariscos for a seafood feast reminiscent of that jewel of the Nayarit, Puerto Vallarta. I admit that I was a bit skeptical, though; I knew that El Barco would be hard pressed to compare well to my favorite beachside restuarants in Mexico. After all, I’m used to feasting on grilled fish with my toes in the sand and the sea air in my face. Kinda hard to beat that.
But El Barco grew on me quickly, like a buzz from a pitcher of mango margaritas. With a huge school of taxidermied fish hanging from the ceiling, an entire wall of tequila bottles, hand-carved wooden chairs and a long table already set with a basket of limones and a variety of bottled salsas picantes*, I felt instantly bienvenido-ed as we settled in for our feast. Ham and I opted for the Parillada for two, a freakishly huge platter of grilled octopus, mussels, calamari and prawns, chunks of chicken breast and carne asada, steamed crab legs, fried fish, assorted vegetables and servings of beans and rice in small, separate bowls. Like one of our fellow culinarians pointed out, eating this made us feel like we were archaeologists excavating a site and finding layer after layer of deliciousness. Discarded, empty shells and skins grew in a pile as we dug deeper.
When we’d finally had too much, I looked around the table at my friends and tried to pinpoint exactly what I was feeling about El Barco Mariscos. The food was good here, and certainly plentiful. Our servers were competent and friendly and quick. The decor was interesting. All good things.
But there was something else — something very reminiscent of the Nayarit coast. A happiness, I guess. A hospitality that made us feel as carefree as if we were on vacation thousands of miles away, instead of across town on a work night. And even though El Barco Marisco’s windows look out over a parking lot instead of the sparkling Pacific Ocean, I realized we could still pretend — if just for a while — that we were back on the beach in Mexico.
We could almost smell salt in the air.
*I was especially happy to see Salsa Huichol on the tables, the signature regional condiment of our beloved Puerto Vallarta — we brought back similar bottles for ourselves and friends last time we were down there.