Sunday, May 24, 2009

In the "La Picazone"!

Earlier this spring I did an overview of a number of restaurants in Loreto (see “Me Gusta Mucho”) and this week I wanted to feature a unique dining experience that is available outside the town of Loreto. La Picazone is one of the “hidden secrets” of this place and while some of you may be familiar with it and have enjoyed the experience of visiting there already, I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight it here for the rest of my loyal readers.

Some of you may be familiar with the Douglas Adams book: “The Restaurant at the
Edge of the Universe”, and while that title may be a bit of an exaggeration applied to the location of La Picazone, it came to my mind as I drove out there on a recent visit. If you follow the continuation of the Malacon north past the Desert Inn (previously La Pinta) hotel and continue past the large oceanfront homes the dirt road eventually leaves the northern outskirts of the town and plunges into arroyo areas as it passes through desert brush and trees.

While this road has been improved with grading recently, it still qualifies as “rough” with many twists and turns as it winds it's way through the underbrush, and occasionally disappears when the terrain opens up and it crosses bare stretches of sand and gravel. Several kilometers outside of town there are a couple of remote clusters of
houses “off the grid” and parts of the road are bordered with barbed wire fences Private Property signs marking parcels of land destined for future development. One landmark – of a sort – is “Milles Palmas” a walled compound of half a dozen homes on the oceanfront, which is signposted on your right as you continue on your “quest”.

As a general rule (with apologies to Mel Brook's “Blazing Saddles” - “We don't need no stinkin' (badges) rules!”) when travelling this road, if in doubt, keep left, and you should be on the right track – isn't english a wierd language! As you carry on further, keep a lookout for this “sign” indicating that you are 3 km from your destination. This is followed about 2 km further on by another small sign at a “fork” in the road where you keep left (again) and now you are only a kilometer away. From the top of the next rise you can again see the coast and Coronado Island in the distance and you get your first view of the two story white building with a thatched roof that is your ultimate destination – La Picazone!

Now, you can be forgiven for wondering WHY someone would choose to build a restaurant at the end of a 10 km rocky road, literally miles from anywhere? You could also be excused for wondering WHY anyone would choose to travel that road just to get something to eat? But the answers to both questions is simple, the location is spectacular and the food is some of the best available anywhere in the Baja! The hosts of La Picazone, Alejandro and Imelda and their two sons, came to Loreto to build their home and open the attached restaurant several years ago after a successful career running restaurants in Cabo. They have created a welcome oasis for good food and a warm welcome on a beautiful stretch of rocky beach across the channel from the beaches of Ilsa Coronado.

In the two and a half years since I first visited the restaurant they have continued to develop the restaurant facility, expanding the open air kitchen and service area and enlarging the palapas that shade several dining patio areas. They continue to add decorative details, casual sitting areas and local artwork to create a truly unique and beautiful ambiance that typifies a laid back Baja elegance. Every guest that arrives is warmly greeted by Alejandro who manages to strike a balance between the casual formality that comes naturally to a born restauranteur. He welcomes you to choose your table and accomodates large or small groups and will move the tables and chairs as necessary to insure you are comfortably situated to enjoy the meal to come.

As you are getting settled a salsa tray arrives with a creamy garlic aoli, a spicy red salsa with onions and a formidable roasted jalapeno dip for the brave at heart. Drink orders follow quickly, featuring one of the best magaritas rocas I have ever tasted along with ice cold cervesas and other bebidas as requested. The menu is surprisingly extensive, considering the remote circumstances of the kitchen, with soups, salads, apetizers, fish, shellfish, chicken and wraps as well as burgers ( although I have never been tempted to try one, this may well be the closest I will ever get to a “cheeseburger in Paradise”). When he is asked if there are any “specials”, Alejandro can be relied upon to say “everything is special” and he MEANS it!

The starter menu includes seafood cocktails, salads, and soup. The main courses
are mainly seafood and include preparations of shrimp, scallops, fish (it was parrot fish on my last visit), as well as chicken and several variations on burgers. There are also a variety of wraps and quesadillas. Most of the entrees are available in your choice of several sauces, the above described “diablo”, garlic, breaded coconut, and the house-named Picazone, a herbed white wine sauce with onions that does wonderful things to anything it graces. While I haven't tried everything on the menu, a couple of my favorites are: camarones el diablo, succulent shrimp tenderly cooked in a moderately spicy red sauce studded with chunks of pineapple, lavishly presented in a half pinapple. There is also a delightful light shrimp salad accented with slivers of fruit and veggies. All of the meals are carefully prepared, beautifully presented and I have never shared a table here with anyone who has not raved about their choices.

While waiting for the food to arrive, and throughout enjoying the meal, one can also relish the spectacular views and ambiance of this “al fresco” dining experience. I have mentioned the view of Coronado on the horizon and there often boats plying the channel between with squadrons of pelicans patrolling the clear blue sky above. If the wind conditions permit, a perfect scenario for a visit here would be to cross the channel by boat after spending a morning snorkling and relaxing on the beaches of Coronado and then spend a delicious afternoon enjoying the creations from Imelda's kitchen as you drink the perfect margarita under the shade of a palapa and watch the shifting shades of blue in the Sea of Cortez.

In fact, Alejandro told me, on my last visit, that he is planning next season to start a boat charter service to pick up customers and transport them to La Picazone as part of a day-trip that will combine the best of an ocean experience complimented with a memorable meal followed by the return voyage. I am already looking forward to what I am sure will rank among my most unforgettable meal experiences as soon as this new service is available.

So when you combine a remote and beautiful location, far off the beaten track, with warm and genuine hospitality, in casually elegant surroundings with expertly prepared fresh foods and great presentation you have a formula that cannot be beat! As to the “whys” the answer is clear, if you build it, they will come. Yes, Alejandro and his family have created a true jewel of a dining experience in the middle of a beach, hard to find, but worth every effort. La Picazone is here, because he can, and that is why this one of a kind experience is one of my favorite parts of Living Loreto!