Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Moveable Feast in Zihuatanejo

Zihautanejo  25 February 2016
Goose-neck Barnacles appetizer
 “This is the most unusual crustacean I have ever seen”, I said to our waiter at Marisquería Leo, “but what is it?”
“Madam, they are barnacles” our waiter told us.
He had brought us a plate to be shared as an appetizer. It didn’t look like the barnacles I was used to seeing on rocks. Picture a cluster of dark brown, flexible fingers each topped with a giraffe-patterned triangular shell for the finger end.
“How do we eat it?” we asked. “
“You just make a cut at the base of the shell finger end through the soft finger and draw out a long string of tender meat”, he told us. We all tried and despite the weird appearance, found it went down easily and was quite tasty, although it might not have rated number one in appetizers, but that was not the end of surprises for the evening.

There is an abundance of good restaurants in Zihuatanejo and we kept getting recommendations for terrific restaurants to try. We had been to two excellent ones, La Terracita and Mito’s, when the Andrews and Sheila and Barry were in Zihua. We also had a very good dinner at La Arrayan on Adelita, the street just below Casa Azul, but they didn’t compare to the unique experience Ray and I and Don and Joyce Kaplan, friends from Minnesota, were having.
Don and Joyce Kaplan
 The Kaplans had heard rave reviews for Marisquería Leo, a seafood restaurant, and invited Ray and I to join them for dinner one Friday. It wasn’t close enough to Casa Azul, our apartment, for us to walk, so we went by taxi. Thank goodness the taxi driver knew where he was going. The restaurant was on an obscure side road way up in the hills at the far north end of Zihuatanejo Bay. The first person Don and Joyce saw when we arrived was a young lady who greeted them with hugs. She was the ex-wife of their first property manager for the apartment they own at La Madera Beach and now worked for their lawyer in Zihuatanejo. On top of that, her uncle Leo was the owner of the restaurant. Boy, did we have star treatment after that.

We chose a table at the edge of a balcony with a view over Zihuatanejo Bay. As we looked at the menu and listened to recommendations from the staff, we were offered an ‘amuse gueule’ of a small glass of broth with small cubes of seven different varieties of fish. We added chopped onion and hot sauce to taste and proclaimed the dish a success. Our next course was those barnacles, which I found out by Googling them on the internet, that they are Goose-neck Barnacles (Pollicipes polymerus), that attach themselves to wave-swept rocks. There was even a video of a fellow demonstrating how to eat them. Our waiter said they had been collected by local divers just north of the restaurant.
Octopus Leo, a specialty
We all made our main course selections; lobster for Don, shrimp for Joyce and sailfish for Ray. I chose one of their specialties, Pulpo (octopus) Leo. Our meals arrived and I looked at my selection. It was an entire octopus, minus the eyes, artfully arranged on my plate with vegetables and rice. Our waiter told us the octopus was boiled until the meat was tender, given an initial frying, and finally fried again after being covered with a spice mixture. The tentacles were incredibly tender and tasty, although the body, which I tried, were too chewy for my taste. The dish earned my highest rating and certainly deserved to be a repeat order. A small glass of tequila ended our meal.

There is an alternative to sampling all those great restaurants. You can buy fresh fish or seafood direct from the fishermen and cook it yourself. The fishermen return from overnight fishing early each morning and pull their boats onto the La Principal Beach, the original Zihua beach. The fishermen store all their equipment in large wooden boxes on shore and set up tables or display their catch on top of the storage boxes or on tarps on the sand. You need to go early for the best selection for the restaurant owners and those in the know will be there to get the best selection.

Rooster Fish and 2 yellowfin tuna
We got to the fish market shortly after 8 AM on a Wednesday. That day there was yellowfin tuna, red snapper, sailfish, shrimp and even a shark, variety unknown. I took a photo of a 2 tunas and a rooster fish with long spines on its back.
filleting the shark, next to sailfish
We had been told the rooster fish was a popular game fish but was not very good eating. Most sport fishermen catch and release but it can be sold to those unfamiliar with the fish. We bought some shrimp and a piece of shark, carved to our requested size by the fisherman. We ate the shark that night. I put some mild curry powder on it and fried it first with onions and poblano peppers, than added zucchini and tomato. It was a very firm fleshed fish and tasty. The shrimp made another excellent dinner the next day. There is nothing like freshly caught fish.

Don and Joyce persuaded us we had to experience a Thursday Pozole lunch at Santa Prisca restaurant. To prepare for this event, I determined that a massage on the beach was in order. The women offering this service are excellent and the price at 200 pesos (about $18 CAD) can’t be beat. This would be my second massage and next year I am going to make it a weekly session.

Six of us went by taxi to Santa Prisca restaurant, The Kaplans, Ray and I and Leanne and Candace, two women who were renting the apartment owned by the Kaplans. The weekly Thursday event is very popular so we were there early to get a good seat with a view of the stage where the entertainment would be. Ray and I had tasted Pozole, which means "hominy", is a traditional soup from Mexico. It is made from dried corn, with either pork or chicken, and can be seasoned and garnished with chile peppers, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado, cabbage, salsa and limes. This pozole earned Ray’s approval. The smallest bowls of soup are large so each pair shared one order and came accompanied with a variety of garnishes. We ordered side dishes of tamales, tacos and stuffed peppers.
Santa Prisca Band
We enjoyed this sumptuous meal to the music of a five piece band, including a vocalist who has become the favourite of several women who come every week. The band played jazz and salsa music for the next two hours and were replaced by an excellent Spanish guitarist, who is a regular of the annual Zihuatanejo Guitar festival coming up in early March.
Santa Prisca Guitarist
So ended our 2016 visit to Zihuatanejo. We had discussed what the 2017 trip would be and at this point it will include a February trip to Zihuatanejo. We cannot beat the climate, beach experience, good markets and the restaurants, plus friends to share the experience.