The best meal of the day

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. There’s something incredibly satisfying about a big hearty meal in the morning, accompanied by lots of tea. I can’t understand why so many people just skip it.

Now, shrimp tacos were my breakfast of choice in Mexico, but now that we’re travelling around California, I’ve found a few more dishes that make my mornings so much better.

On our first morning in San Francisco, we walked 40 minutes across the city to a little cafe called Bar Tartine – their sister establishment is a block away and is a hugely popular bakery, so we knew that all the bread would be good!

We shared an incredible dish of french toast, eggy brioche, strawberries with candied almonds. The bread didn’t disappoint – it was light and fluffy and beautifully buttery. Perfection.

French toast and brioche at Bar Tartine

The next morning, we discovered a cafe around the corner from our hotel called Blue Bottle Coffee – there are a few around San Francisco but this was their very first shop. There was a queue snaking around the block even on a Monday morning (who has time to queue for coffee on a Monday?) and being from HK, we had to of course join it to find out what it was all about.

I guess most people were there for the coffee, which was meant to be outstanding (I had a sip of one and it was smooth and mellow) but not being a coffee drinker, I ordered a herbal tea. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in a lovely glass pot full of fresh lemon verbena leaves. The tea itself was amazing so I’m on a mission to find these leaves fresh in HK now!

Pot of fresh lemon verbena tea

Simon ordered me Pecan Granola, which came with natural yoghurt, macerated strawberries and peaches, grapefruit juice and blueberries. The juice was poured over the top of the fruit and could probably have been used a bit more sparingly as I really dislike soggy cereal, but despite this, it was a great combination. The granola was home-made and lovely and crunchy, not too sweet, and packed with pecans.

We shared an order of Belgian style waffles which came with the same macerated fruit, whipped butter and maple syrup. The waffles were perfectly crisp yet soft and spongy on the inside and the fruit was a great accompaniment until it started to seep in and make everything a bit too soft. Also not crazy about soggy waffles.

Simon also had poached eggs with a catalan style tomato sauce, braised greens and shaved cheese  – I had a bite and it was a really unusual combination, especially for a breakfast dish. The toast was especially good, how I miss having decent bread!

Homemade granola at Blue Bottle

Waffles with macerated fruit at Blue Bottle

Poached eggs at Blue Bottle

So the next day we considered lining up again at Blue Bottle (the wait by the way, was around 20 minutes), but I found another place through Foursquare (yes it has its uses!) that was actually started by two ex-Blue Bottlers that was on the same street as our hotel.

It was a tiny little place with just one square table that wasn’t even that big. Luckily there was only two other people there so we got a seat. They only offered 4 dishes for breakfast and we decided to order 3 of them, cos that’s how we roll (literally roll, must go on serious diet once we get back home).

I ordered the cereal of the day with organic yoghurt, blackberries and blueberries. The cereal was a mix of bran flakes, puffed rice and something else equally brown and cardboard. The yoghurt was amazing, thick, incredibly creamy and heavy.

Cereal of the day at farm:table

Simon had hard-boiled eggs on toasted baguette with teeny tiny sungold tomatoes, padrone peppers and caramelised red onions. He was a bit wary about ordering it at first but once he took a bite, it was a different story altogether. I think he may have eaten it with his eyes shut as he enjoyed it so much. I had a bite too – the bread was super thick and liberally coated in olive oil, but the combination of the all the flavors worked incredibly well. And in such a small space too, with limited cooking tools, it was a brilliant concoction.

Hard-boiled eggs on baguette at farm:table

After this we had toast covered in goats cheese and strawberries marinated in beet syrup. Seriously I think this was a stroke of genius, the goats cheese was the perfect companion to the lovely sweet, perfectly ripe strawberries and the beet syrup added just a slight bit of tartness. The bread was a little bit sweet too, and quite buttery. A relatively simple dish but amazing. Going to try to try to recreate this once I’m home. I’m going to be busy.

Goats cheese. Strawberries marinated in beet syrup. Toast.

Bar Tartine
561 Valencia Street
San Francisco
www.bartartine.com

Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza
66 Mint Street
San Francisco
www.bluebottlecoffee.net

farm:table
754 Post St
San Francisco
www.farmtablesf.com

Seafood spectacular

I had the best meal of our trip today, and possibly one of the top three dining experiences I’ve ever had. And it was at lunch.

This was the one must-visit place in LA we had on our list – infact, Luis’ friend Grant told him not to come back if we didn’t go. The Water Grill is in downtown LA, and after a good hour’s drive from Brentwood, we finally found the restaurant, which was on the ground floor of an unassuming looking office building.

We were seated in front of the seafood bar, and I couldn’t resist photographing all the different varieties on show. The menu changes on a daily basis, depending on what’s fresh and in season. We shared a small seafood platter, which arrived glistening and packed with five different oysters (not my favourite food, so I didn’t try), Peruvian Bay Scallops (incredibly fresh) served with orange and pistachio, Wild Jumbo Pacific Shrimp (they were so amazing and fresh we ordered a dozen more to share), Prince Edward Island Black Mussels (huge!), Cherrystone Clams and half a hard shell American Lobster.

The seafood platter

More seafood

I ordered the calamari fritto mist – swordtail squid with olives, basil leaves, zucchini, lemon, and harissa sauce. I hadn’t seen lemon deep-fried before but it worked incredibly well, rind and all.

Calamari Fritto Misto

Simon had a Thai-inspired hand cut big eye tuna tartare with vermicelli, green papaya, red chilis and candied peanuts, all in a spicy coconut sauce. Such an unusual combination that worked really well – I imagined the tuna would be overpowered but it was really well seasoned and mixed with fresh herbs so it held up well against the spicy sauce.

The Thai-inspired tuna tartare

Luis chose their signature clam chowder. It was packed full of clams and vegetables, topped with Niman Ranch smoked bacon and was very rich yet still light ( apparently made lighter because of the climate).

Clam Chowder

Our server, Scott, was a real charmer. Perhaps I’ve been in the US a bit too long now, but there was something very endearing about being called ‘my lady’ every time he served me something or I had a question. My main course, pan-seared sea bass with Prince Edward Island black mussels with a fennel and carrot ragout and an orange emulsion, came a little overcooked, and he was incredibly gracious about it (though I imagine the problem was our shrimp order – the fish probably ended up sitting under the heat lamps for some time) and thanked me for mentioning it as it was his favorite dish on the menu and he wanted us to love it too (yep, I’ve been here too long!).

When it did come back, it was very slightly undercooked, but perfect nonetheless. The soft flesh of the sea bass worked really well with the small plump mussels and fennel and the orange sauce was surprisingly delicate.

Sea bass, second time round

Simon and Sergio both had the sturgeon – it was good, but the sea bass was much better.  I don’t normally order sturgeon – it’s a lot heavier, almost meaty, a bit like chicken, but personally I like much lighter, less fleshy fish. It was served with a lovely roasted beet risotto that I thought was the best part of the dish.

Wild Quinault Reservation Sturgeon

It seemed a bit too much to have dessert as it was only lunchtime –  but we made the mistake of ‘just having a look’ and were hooked as soon as we saw ‘ red velvet cake with cocoa nib streusel and raspberry and marscapone ice cream’. Then we decided we might as well try a couple of others as well and ordered a Tahitian Vanilla Flan (served with orange Cognac caramel, mandarin orange sorbet and cardamom churros) and a Vermont Maple Pudding (with creme fraiche, fleur de sell and pecan shortbread).

Red velvety goodness!

The Tahitian flan

Cardamom churros

Maple pudding

Hands down, the Red Velvet cake was the best dessert. It was warm, soft and deliciously chocolately. The streusel was also rich, warm and crumbly and the cocoa nibs added a little bit of crunch. The flan was good – lovely deep vanilla flavor and a smooth creamy texture, and went well with the crispy churros.  But the real surprise was the maple pudding. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but the presentation, served in a jar, with the homemade shortbread on the lid, and with a quenelle of creme fraiche worked really well. The deep mellow maple flavor was almost a little smoky but was offset with the sweetness of the other ingredients to perfection. I pretty much finished this off by myself.

As we started to wobble out the door, Scott brought over some petit fours – mini dark chocolate ganache macarons, lemon curd and fresh fruit jellies. Great end to an amazing meal. I’m thinking about going back already!

The Water Grill
544 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071
www.watergrill.com

Fruit jellies, chocolate macarons and lemon curd

Black mussels

Sea urchin

Interior of restaurant

Kitchen at Water Grill

The best burgers in LA?

Luis told me we had to go and try ‘the best burger in LA’ (according to GQ magazine) at a place called Umami Burger, where they apparently grind their own meat, pickle their own vegetables, process their own cheese, and make their own ketchup from scratch. Sounded good to me!

We had spent the morning at Santa Monica pier and beach, and by the time we were ready to eat, it was well after 3pm. It took us some time to find the restaurant – the address we had for it was a department store – Fred Segal – so we kept walking and had a look at a few other places including a great deli where we bought some freshly baked peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies (eating healthily has gone completely out of the window by this point of the trip).

Umami Burger entrance

We finally realised it was actually at the back of the department store, and there was no signage or branding anywhere!

Needless to say, we were famished by this point, so ordered straight away. Between us we had the Umami burger ( beef patty with grilled shiitake mushrooms, parmesan cheese wafer, caramelised onions, and roasted tomatoes), truffle burger (beef patty glazed with truffle oil and topped with truffle cheese), the Greenbird (Turkey patty with crushed avocado, green cheese, butter lettuce, alfa alfa and green goddess) and the Pork & Stilton burger (served with port-caramelised onions). We also ordered some sweet potato fries, homemade ketchup and roasted garlic aioli.

The menu - the logo looks like a pair of lips but I guess it's a burger!

I had big expectations and all in all was quite impressed. The Truffle burger was by far my favorite – the beef patty was tender and juicy and the truffle glaze on it complemented it perfectly. The Umami burger was good, same beef patty, but there was perhaps too many other tastes and textures to contend with, however this is meant to be the key to the famed ‘umami’ flavor.

The Umami Burger

The Truffle Burger

The Greenbird

The turkey burger was a little dry, but perhaps it was an unfair comparison after having the truffle burger. the Pork and Stilton was also a little dry, and either there wasn’t enough Stilton or it was very mild, but I could barely taste it.

I really liked the bun the burgers were served in – light and fluffy, almost like brioche, with a lovely glaze on top. Each was branded with a grilled ‘U’ on top, which I thought was a great (design) touch.

The sweet potato fries were delicious – they were twice fried and coated with a mixture of cinnamon, salt and brown sugar, which worked really well. Dipped into the roasted garlic aioli, they were incredibly moreish.

Sweet potato fries

Roasted garlic aioli

We didn’t order more of them though – we decided to share two more burgers between us. After much deliberation we settled on the Manly burger ( beef patty with beer-cheddar cheese, onion strings and lardons) and the Triple Pork Burger (ground pork, chorizo and bacon, served with manchego cheese and pimento aioli).

Luis expertly cut them into four when they arrived and we quickly polished them off. The Manly was a little bit too heavy – the lardons in particular were very salty and chewy. The Triple Pork burger was tasty but the chorizo was the most dominant flavor and overpowered all the other ingredients.

Inside the Truffle Burger

Manly Burger

Triple Pork Burger

Outside the restaurant

Umami Burger
500 Broadway, 
Santa Monica, CA 90401

www.umamiburger.com

Soy sauce, sesame oil and tamarind margaritas

We had a leisurely breakfast with the entire family and left Alamos around 11 and headed back to Hermosillo. The rain and clouds were gone and the sun beat down on us for the entire four-hour drive through the driest looking deserts I’ve ever seen.

It was agreed that we’d all meet at another of Luis’ favourite restaurants, El Farallon, on the north side of Hermosillo for a late lunch. We all arrived around 3.30pm, famished and hot, and quickly sat and ordered drinks. I decided to try a tamarind margarita since the one I’d had a few nights ago was so good. This one was even better – much less sugar so the sour tamarind flavour really stood out. I had two as we ate tortilla chips with a lovely roasted salsa that was much darker in colour than usual and was packed with chili seeds.

Tamarind margarita. Amazing.

Salsa, lime and chips

The first dish to arrive was the inspiration for a dish we made a few weeks ago for the magazine – crispy baby calamari with buttered corn tortillas. The calamari was chopped up into small pieces, coated in batter and deep-fried with spring onions. My first thought was that it tasted very much like a Chinese dish – Luis and I stared at each trying to identify the different flavours. It seems the recipe has changed since he was last there and they’ve started adding both soya sauce and sesame oil – the latter being especially apparent. The calamari was very crispy, almost to the point of being overdone, but underneath the batter is was still very tender.

Crispy calamari with spring onions

Buttered corn tortilla

Close up of calamari

We ordered a couple of seafood platters to share as well as plate of assorted quesadillas -a mix of shredded crab, prawn and smoked marlin. The platters were huge and included around six different items. My favourite was the tempura battered prawns that had a really unusual flavour- when we asked what it was we were told it was Sriracha sauce, which was a bit of a surprise! There was also shrimp cooked with sweet chilli skin (in the metal bowl), battered pomfret, fried fish fillet, fried rice with shrimps and vegetables, which had been cooked with chicken stock and very generous amounts of butter. Overall there was a lot of Asian influence in this food, I would almost call it fusion, but Luis would probably kill me.

Seafood platter. We had two of these.

Assorted seafood quesadillas

The nieces and nephew also ordered some sushi, which is apparently the newest and most popular food in Mexico at the moment. There’s no raw fish involved though, and a lot of alternatives are used such as chicken instead of fish, and adding sauces like chipotle to the rolls.

Mexican style sushi with chipotle sauce and mango

Tempura battered prawns

Fried fish fillet

The wine cart in the restaurant

El Farallon

www.restaurantelfarallon.com

Mexican hot dogs

After our lunch at Teresita’s, we were all so full we decided not to go anywhere for dinner. Then we heard that the whole town congregates in the main square in the evenings, along with many food and drink hawkers and couldn’t resist going to have a look.

Luis’ mum was craving some corn on the corn, so we walked a couple of streets over to the square to see what we could find. The first few corn sellers were all sold out of corn (obviously popular, it was only 8pm and most people here eat a lot later in the evening) so we ended up at a hot dog stall.  Luis insisted we all try one, so we crowded around watching the sausages and onions being fried.

One corner of the town square

The hot dog stand

The sausages are wrapped in bacon and served in a light bun that has a slit cut into it, where the meat is placed. This is topped with fried onions and then your choice of 10 different condiments. I added tomato sauce, chipotle mayonnaise, cilantro sauce, salsa and chopped mushrooms to mine. The bread was really light and soft unlike the normal hot dog buns you get in the US. The sausage was a little too smooth and soft for my liking, I prefer ones that are packed with (real) meat, and I could barely tell that it was wrapped in bacon. All in all though, it was a great hot dog, full of different rich flavours and not too heavy or greasy.

Sausage wrapped in bacon

Alexia's hot dog with cilantro sauce, chopped mushrooms, cheese, salsa and American mustard

Sergio's hot dog with lardons, salsa verde, chili sauce and American mustard

In the meanwhile, Reyna, Aloysus and Paola had been hunting for corn and found some in the next square. They brought back several cups of it, off the husk and piping hot in a mixture of cream, butter and lime. The corn was very chewy (it’s white corn, which has a very different texture to the yellow corn I’m used to) and the sauce seemed like an odd combination but seemed to work well, though was a bit too heavy with all the cream in it.

I handed the cup over to Luis, who happily finished it off for me.

Chewy corn in a cup

Next stop, Alamos!

Last night, after sleeping off our huge lunch, we decided to go and try some more tacos – this time, beef. It was raining (which is a rare occurrence, especially in this part of Mexico) as we dashed from the car into Luis’ favourite taco restaurant – this is normally his first stop from the airport when he arrives in Hermosillo.

Inside the taqueria

Some queso fundido as a starter

Luis ordered us some queso fundido to keep us going while we waited for the tacos to arrive. This version was a lot runnier and softer than the one we had before – a lesser quality cheese.

We each ordered 2 skirt steak tacos and went and chose from a big condiment station in the middle of the restaurant what we wanted to eat with them.

Steak tacos

I chose fresh salsa, cilantro mayonnaise, 3 kinds of chile sauce and salsa verde, which was a great accompaniment to the steak. It was simply grilled, still very pink and incredibly tender.

Adding condiments to our tacos

The condiment station

We washed it all down with a jug of horchata, which is made from rice milk, cinnamon and sugar. I found it a bit too sweet but it was quite refreshing.

After a night of tacos, we found ourselves back at Taco Fish this morning. This time we stuck to shrimp and I had three orders. Luis only had 2 as we had a 4 and a half hour drive ahead of us so he didn’t want to fall asleep. I have to say, I could get used to having tacos for breakfast.

The whole family set off for Álamos, a colonial town south of Hermosillo, near the state border, around 10 and arrived at our hotel, Hacienda de los Santos, (the house of the saints) a series of heritage buildings lovingly restored by it’s American owners, by 2.30.

Since every day seems to revolve around food (and rightfully so!) we immediately found the hotel restaurant, Agave café, and ordered lunch. The guacamole was served in a huge black lava bowl and we had a huge plate of nachos for the table. Simon and I shared a bowl of tortilla soup (which Luis told us he had put on the menu at Agave in Hong Kong) – a chicken broth base, chock full of tortilla chips, chicken, vegetables and avocado.  I ordered a beef salad, trying to opt for something a bit lighter, but it was huge and contained peppers, corn, beans, avocado, carrots and lots of rare beef all coated in a tangy chipotle and lime dressing.

Big bowl of salsa

Chicken fajita with peppers and beans

Beef salad

Tortilla soup

Collection of cowboy paraphernalia outside the restaurant

I heart Rolles de Canela

Simon and I went for an early breakfast, around 7am, and sat outside as it was still quite cool (well around 35 degrees or so). They brought us honeydew melon, papaya, watermelon and orange with a little bit of lime to squeeze over them. We ordered an omelette stuffed with sweet peppers, served with bacon, frijoles, potatoes and tortilla chips, and granola with natural fruit yoghurt and a freshly baked banana muffin that I smothered in homemade marmalade. It was sweet and rich, not the usual bitter flavour I normally associate with this kind of jam.

Early morning breakfast at Agave cafe in Hacienda

Omelette with bacon, frijoles and potatoes

After a walk up a nearby hill for a panoramic view of Alamos, we wandered around the town for an hour or so – we walked past cows, chickens, sleeping dogs, orchards of fruit and vegetable patches. We saw tortilla dough in one place being shaped and created by machine, and a few shops down being rolled out by hand. It’s a lovely little town full of colonial buildings and is remarkably well preserved because of all the Americans who holiday there.

Teresita's courtyard

We ended up having a late lunch and strolled in the baking sun to the other side of town, to a charming little bistro and bakery, Teresita’s. Behind the door, which doubled up as blackboard menu, was a small courtyard with a pond and a few outdoor tables. Inside, the walls were white washed, the ground was cement with hand painted carpet patterns on it, and stone boar’s head hung over a huge stone fireplace. The kitchen was entirely open and the wall at the end of it was covered in blue and white tiles.

We started with some freshly baked bread and whipped butter – a welcome change to the usual chips and salsa, and some fresh limonada.

The open kitchen - love the tiled walls

The first dishes to arrive were a gazpacho, a cold soup made from fresh tomatoes, chopped vegetables and herbs and copious amount of garlic and a Tarascan bean soup, a spicy pureed bean soup that was topped with avocado, cheese and croutons. The gazpacho was lovely and light, incredibly garlicky and had large chunks of avocado floating on top. It was a real contrast to the bean soup, which was incredibly rich and heavy and could have easily been a main course.

After this we tried an open face tartine sandwich – thick slices of ham and cheese over sun-dried tomatoes, a salad of chicken and artichoke soufflé and fresh crab cakes with tartar sauce.

The heavy bean soup - a meal all on it's own

Crab cakes

Deliciously refreshing gazpacho

Open face tartine sandwich

Chicken salad with artichoke souffle

We’d all been waiting for the end of the meal as the counter was lined with so many incredible looking desserts and baked goods. We ordered a few to share. First up was a flourless chocolate and almond torte, which was dense, moist, and surprisingly slightly bitter; following that was a dark chocolate mousse with a hint of cointreau and placed in a crunchy brown sugar bowl, which reminded me of brandy snaps you find in New Zealand that are piped with fresh cream. There was also a mango version of the mousse and this was incredibly light and fluffy, packed full of chunks of mango – this reminded me of mango puddings in Hong Kong and was a better pairing with the brown sugar bowl than the chocolate version.

We also tried a triangular shaped scone with clotted cream and homemade jam. The real star of the show however, was the Rolles de Canela or cinnamon roll. The first one was polished off in and under a minute so a second was quickly ordered. It was perfectly warm, the dough light and airy, drenched in a sticky cinnamon sugar sauce.

I want another one of these Rolles de Canela right now!

Dark chocolate and almond torte

Dark chocolate mousse

Lovely vintage cutlery

Luis and I agreed that when we were back in Hong Kong we’d spend an afternoon trying to make these rolls, and that we’d try variations on them as well – chocolate and almonds, salt caramel and milk chocolate, cranberry, nutmeg and cinnamon! Can’t wait to start experimenting!

Limonada

Baguettes on sale in the bakery

Tequila!

I was woken up by a call from Luis at around 9.30am, saying we were going out for fish tacos – another typical Mexican breakfast.

We drove about 5 minutes down the road to Taco Fish, a small and colorful open-air roadside taqueria. There were just two items on the menu – fish or shrimp tacos  – so we had one of each.

Fish and shrimp tacos fresh from the fryer

The shrimp and fish are lightly coated in batter and flash fried. We topped them with fresh coleslaw and salsa drizzled jalapeno sauce and cilantro mayonnaise over both.

Covered in coleslaw and salsa

Shrimp taco with red onions and chipotle mayonnaise

They were piping hot – simple yet stunning, slightly spicy and crispy, with tender shrimp and fish hidden within.  I tried all the chili sauces on the table. None were very spicy- in northern Mexico they use chiles for flavour rather than for heat. They even had soy sauce, which apparently is very popular and used in a lot of cooking.

Simon and Sergio enjoyed them so much they both ordered another shrimp taco- this time Simon smothered his with pickled red onions and jalapeno sauce.

Open air dining at Taco Fish

After breakfast, we drove around the town centre for an hour or two, did a bit of shopping and ended up in the supermarket on the way over to Luis’ sisters place to stock up on alcohol.

Chile pork cooked in claypot

Luis’ mum prepared lunch for us- chile con carne with pork instead of the usual beef. The bright red fiery looking sauce  had a lovely warmth to it, not what I was expecting based on the colour (the chiles it was made from are actually green but are sun-dried til they turn dark red). This was accompanied by what I can only term as Mexican fried rice, and some homemade frijoles. We ate this with giant flour tortillas and green chile filled tamales that were made by a family friend, which were a lot smoother than the ones we had for breakfast yesterday.

A very full plate of home-cooked food

Stuffed pepper tamale

Frosty tequila bottle

Trying to pour out the frozen tequila

Aloysus, Luis’ brother in law, brought out a chilled bottle of Reposado tequila after lunch. Infact it was so cold it was almost frozen so he had to shake it for some time until it was pourable. He served it with a  chaser of a small snifter of sangrita and a plate of lime wedges and salt  Tequila, especially good quality Reposado, should be sipped like brandy, not taken as a shot.

Some cousins arrived around 5 with some sweet snacks – some ‘bow ties’ or thin dough dipped in a sugar syrup and deep-fried until they are beautifully glossy and brown, and some flat unleavened cakes that were filled with brown sugar. Both were incredibly sweet and rich but were the first dessert we’d had since being here, so I had to sample both!

Sticky bow ties!

Filled with brown sugar

A day at the beach

Woke up at 4.30am feeling uncomfortable and incredibly hot. I had turned the aircon off because when we got back last night it was absolutely freezing in the room, but forgot it was 35 degrees even at night.

We went to the gym then headed to the hotel restaurant for a light breakfast. Once there, I sat with a green tea while Simon headed straight for the buffet. I went up to have a look a and was completely overwhelmed- there was so much heavy, rich and steaming Mexican food, most of it meat, that I couldn’t quite handle it that early in the morning.

Luis with the mini lemon cakes

Luis and Sergio joined us about 20 minutes later and Luis took us around the buffet and explained what everything was.  It wasn’t like any breakfast I have ever had – there were at least 20 different dishes on offer, plus the usual egg station serving up huge omelettes and pancakes. Luis recommended a few must tries – chilaquiles, a dish of day old corn tortilla chips cooked with tomatoes, cheese and meat, frijoles (refried beans) albondigas – beef meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce, a stew of beef, peppers, chiles and onions and white corn tamales. It was the first time I’ve ever tried tamales – they were steaming hot and wrapped in corn leaves, and a soft, mushy texture punctuated with some very chewy bits of corn.

Chihuahua!

Right after breakfast we headed over to Cosco so Luis could stock up on produce to take back to Hong Kong. There was a huge bakery section and we ended up buying cinnamon rolls, mini lemon cakes, red velvet cake and a lemon meringue cake for lunch the next day.

Panella in baskets

We then headed next door to the supermarket to stock up on some more food and checked out the huge variety of local cheeses, including the panela in a basket and the infamous chihuahua, as well as the many varieties of chorizo that are ready made and can just be heated up and put into anything from tacos to queso fundido.

After dropping off everything we had bought, we jumped back in the car and drove to Kino beach. It was an hour’s drive through the desert and when we finally saw the ocean glistening in the distance it seemed like a mirage.

The bright interiors of El Pargo Rojo

It was a sweltering day – at least 40 degrees, so when we finally arrived at El Pargo Rojo, a seafood restaurant by the beach, decked out in bright reds and oranges, the first thing we did was order big pitchers of limonada and beer.

Scallop cocktail

Lobster, garlic prawns and piri piri fish

Luis recommended the seafood cocktails, so I tried a scallop one, Simon and Luis had shrimp and Sergio chose a jumbo cocktail that was a mix of shrimps, snails, octopus and fish. They all arrived drowning in a mild tomato sauce with a few lime wedges and crackers, and I added a good dollop of chile sauces to mine. The scallops were very fresh and tender but I had a mouthful of Simon’s shrimps and immediately had food envy as they were succulent and full of flavour.

The butter and cilantro sauce

Pulpo Enamorado or 'Octopus in love'

Next up we decided to share three dishes – grilled lobster, piri piri fish and garlic prawns. The lobster was a little overdone so was a bit chewy, the fish was coated in a heavy sauce and then covered in cheese and was rich and moreish, though the fish got a bit lost under all the coatings. The prawns were tiny, more like shrimps and were lovely and garlicky, cooked liberally with lots of spicy chile seeds. Surprisingly the best part of the meal was the sauce that accompanied the lobster – melted butter with lots of cilantro and tomato, we ordered extra and simply ate it with rice.

Beach and desert outside the restaurant

Gorgeous white washed house overlooking the beach

Hello Mexico!

We arrived in Mexico today, after a one night stay at LAX. As soon as we got off the plane we entered a sauna, the stifling heat of Hermosillo, Luis’ hometown, was almost overwhelming. Apparently we were lucky as today was only 39 degrees and had cooled down from last week’s average of 48!

Queso Panela

After dropping our bags off at our hotel, we drove over to Luis’ sister and mum’s place (his mum lives in an apartment opposite the sister’s house) and started drinking straight away. I wasn’t planning on having anything but someone mentioned Malibu and pineapple juice and I couldn’t resist.

Almost straight away, Luis’ mum brought out a big round soft cheese, a Panela, which she had covered in minced garlic, lots of fresh oregano, chili and salt and pepper and popped it in the microwave for a minute. It came out steaming and aromatic – we eagerly cut it up and spread it on top of brown crispbread. It’s a little similar to mozzarella and is a local cheese that is gets it shape (and name – it’s sometimes called Queso Canasta or ‘basket cheese’) by being set in a basket.

Panela on crispbread

We also tried a local goat’s cheese covered in blueberries that was super soft and tangy. Not the first things I had expected to eat in Mexico but absolutely wonderful all the same.

A few drinks later and it was time for dinner. A 10-minute drive and we pulled up at Palominos, one of Luis’ favourite steakhouses just outside of town.

Sergio and I started with margaritas, which arrived with the rims dipped in chilli and salt – everyone else had beer, Luis’ brother in law had his as a chaser for his snifter of tequila.

Goat cheese covered in blueberries

The first margarita of the night!

The food arrived quickly –the Mexican equivalent of a bread basket was first up – fresh tortilla chips served with three small bowls – one with fresh salsa made with tongue numbing green chiles, another with a dark red chile sauce that was very spicy and finally a bowl of frijoles, or refried beans with cheese, super smooth and surprisingly delicate in flavour. These were quickly followed by a plate of guacamole, more tortilla chips and then my personal favourite, queso fundido – melted cheese with chorizo, which you pile onto a hot fresh flour tortilla and then douse with guacamole. Red oily juice leaked all over my hands, so I had to eat from both sides to keep it in check. Luis’ sister, Reyna, told us the cheese is actually called Chihuahua – the state next to the one we are in. Cue many many jokes about Chihuahuas…

Frijoles, salsa and chile sauce with tortilla chips
The barbecued milk tripe
The giant flour tortillas

Queso Fundido – best dish of the meal!

Suddenly the table was completely laden with food –lots more guacamole and refried beans, ‘real’ chivichangas –deep-fried tortillas filled with shredded pork and topped with salad and salsa; cheese quesadillas (which Luis referred to as the Mexican equivalent of cheese on toast), barbecued milk tripe, which you were meant to eat in the largest tortilla I’ve ever seen – about 3 times the size of my head. You fold it up so it’s about a quarter of it’s size and then place the tripe inside along with the guacamole and the dark red chile sauce. By that point I was too full to have the full tortilla so I just tried the tripe. This is one of Luis’ favourite dishes but I have to say I found it a little too smoky, almost to the point of tasting like charcoal and it was also super chewy. Definitely an acquired taste I’d say and probably would have benefited from me not just having had that amazing queso fundido.

The last thing to come out was a local skirt steak – steaks in Mexico aren’t the super thick ones you get in the US but instead are nice and thin. It was delicious just simply grilled and served without any accompaniments. In terms of taste, I noticed that it was slightly gamey and Luis told us it was because cattle is grass-fed in Mexico as it’s cheaper than grain. It was very lean but had a real depth of flavour to it.

Restaurant Palominos
Paseo Rio Sonora Norte #72 – 214
Hermosillo, Sonora