Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pizza and Clams - a match made in Heaven!

I haven’t written recently about dining options here in Loreto, so this week I thought I would tell you about two recent experiences that show the range of choices we have available.

Thursday evenings have become a bit of a tradition here this winter – La Mission Hotel in Loreto (see Missionary Style, February ’09) has an “All You Can Eat Pizza” night on their pool patio – all the pizza you can eat for 89 pesos ($7.00 US)! Needless to say, this has become a popular event and there are regulars who show up almost every week to enjoy their fill of fresh pizza hot from the oven.

The beautiful new Mission Hotel surrounds the pool patio on three sides, open to the Malacon and Ocean front, with a bar and open air kitchen around a brick oven. The bar area is surrounded by tables and chairs and this is where the pizza is served. But with the popularity of this event, some weeks the demand exceeds the seating available on the patio, and the dining room on the mezzanine is used for the overflow guests.

Once you are seated and have ordered drinks (which are the profit margin for the Hotel) the wait staff brings platters of pizza and serves them by the slice to the hungry customers. Each time they return with a different selection; four cheese, salami and onion, pepperoni, vegetarian, Hawaiian, Mexican – on and on it comes – until, eventually, even the most ambitious and hungry diner has to decline that final slice!

The ambiance of sitting by a beautiful pool, surrounded by a fine hotel, overlooking the Sea of Cortez, enjoying generous servings of delicious food, fresh from the oven a few feet away, with several cold drinks, then receiving a bill (la cuenta) at the end of the evening for less than $20.00 per person, makes for an experience that would be hard to duplicate anywhere else I have ever been.

And if that isn’t enough – I have never walked into a restaurant anywhere else that I can reasonably expect to know, at least by sight, half of the other patrons – which is the case when I eat here in Loreto. These are the sort of evenings that make the simple experience of a casual dinner in town become part of the sense of community that is such an important piece of the lifestyle, making this such a special place.

The second experience that I want to share with you is completely different. About 5 km. south of the Loreto Bay development, on Mexico #1, where the highway runs close to a small bay of the Sea of Cortez, is the Restaurant Vista al Mar (appropriately, View of the Sea) or, as it is more commonly known by locals, the Clam Shack.

I had planned to go there, with a friend, for lunch on Saturday, but I was late leaving the office and wound up going on my own. I don’t normally enjoy eating at a restaurant alone, but I had planned to write about this place for the Blog and I needed to get some pictures, so I decided to go anyway. There were more cars than usual in the parking lot when I arrived mid-afternoon, and when I made my way to the beach patio area I was greeted by a table with Loreto Bay Homeowners and their guests, who invited me to join them.

The restaurant is made up of a main building of perhaps a thousand sq. ft., almost half of which is the kitchen and bar area with rest of the dark interior taken up with the ubiquitous plastic tables and chairs you see everywhere in Mexico. I mention the dark interior because this place is “off the grid” without power or running water, but that doesn’t stop them from doing a thriving business in fresh local sea food. There are large cisterns holding water for the kitchen and the washrooms and most of the seating is outside on the beach, under a palapa for shade, or in the direct sun.

Although the menu offers a complete selection from breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinners, the specialty is clams, prepared in many different ways. The “Chocolata” clam (so called because of it’s creamy brown coloured shell) is a local delicacy, harvested in large quantities from locations often kept secret by the fishermen who find them. There is a local expression I was told by a friend: “once you have tasted the Chocolatas in Loreto, you never want to leave” – and like most old sayings, this one carries a lot of truth. I think the best way to enjoy these delicious morsels is fresh and raw, particularly when you can eat them on a beachfront patio, probably within sight of where they were collected a few hours earlier.

The friends I joined had finished their meal and were relaxing with drinks, so I ordered a dozen clams for 60 pesos (less than $5.00) and my favourite beer, Tecate. Literally, a few minutes later, I was presented with a platter of beautifully arranged shells cradling their succulent treats accompanied by several packets of saltine crackers and a bowl of half limes on the side – bliss! If one has any doubt about the freshness of the clams, a quick squeeze of lime juice that causes the still live clam flesh to writhe, is all the proof needed. I admit that I have difficulty describing the taste and texture of these fresh clams with a touch of lime, but, suffice to say, they are ambrosia to me.

A very pleasant hour or two passed as I enjoyed my feast, the unexpected company of old and new friends, while I sat on the beach, watching the waves breaking on the rocky shore, and in the distance, the Islands of Carmen and Danzante hung on the horizon. I have described many wonderful times and places over the course of writing about my thoughts and experiences here, but I would be hard pressed to choose a more perfect example of the simple pleasures of food, drink, company, and location, that combined for this afternoon at the Clam Shack.

So, there you have it – a “cosmopolitan” evening of pizza around the pool of a fine Hotel, and a dozen of the freshest clams on a beach in the mid-afternoon, both enjoyed with good company and a sense of belonging in a good community – life doesn’t get a lot better than that, even if you are “Living Loreto”.