Wednesday, February 25, 2009

mazatlan sunday

Whenever we asked people where we should go for menudo, they all said, "Pancho's!" With an exclaimation point. And without a trace of doubt. Pancho's looked like a giant Denny's. There was a long line, but it moved swiftly.

Pancho's. Pancho's is located south of Suites Las Flores, overlooking the beach, at the end of the Las Cabanas shopping mall. Pancho's opened with only a couple of tables. The lights would dim every time they hit the blender to make a margarita. But that was long ago. Pancho's has grown, and grown, and grown again. It's another local success story.

In the front of the house were samples of all of the breakfast specials. I just about cried when they came and took the menudo away.

There was more Tiki Room decor

You can stave off the hunger while you wait by buying pan dulce from a cart.

The crepes were unusual, stuffed with french toast, which wasin turn stuffed with queso fresca. The cheese was very sour, although Bob liked the strange interplay of flavors. And again with the stewed fruit.

They were sympathetic when they saw my distress over just missing the last of the menudo by that much. I asked if they just had a little broth I could try. Bless their hearts.

It was the best menudo I have ever head. The menudo here in Los Angeles consists of a heavy, smoky, beefy broth heavy on the chiles. This was a light chicken broth strongly tasting of fresh hominy and the lightest touch of tripas. It was delicious. Next time we'll have to get there earlier.

When I went in search of the powder room I discovered the giant hall we were seated in was matched by another giant hall. And an upstairs covering the entire expanse of the building. No wonder that liine moved so quickly. And no wonder they ran out of menudo.

There was a panaderia attached to the restaurant

With some trippy cakes

I had spent the morning watching our last sunrise on the beach. I don't know why there were easy chairs on the restroom roof

The skies reminded me of impressionist paintings

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mazatlan Saturday: Isla de Piedras

We ate leftover sandwiches Saturday from the market for breakfast. The "Cuban" was weird -- some kind of hotdog-like sausage with very sweet pork. It was slathered with a mayo-cheese nacho texture sauce. The Zurich was better, made with ham, turkey and gruyere cheese on a baguette.

We took a local ferry over to the Isla de Piedras – Stone Island – instead of taking a cheesy "Watneys Red Barrel" tour. Like when tourists talk about getting away from the tourist traps and seeing the real country - well this was getting right down to the real nitty gritty.

The ferry was tiny little boat that was floating very low in the water. We happened to get on a boat with a funeral party. Is that a bad omen?

Once on the isla, we checked out the map and started walking.

And walking, and walking. There were a lot of abandoned buildings, stray chickens and pitbulls. I had no idea if it was going to be half a mile or 10 miles to the tourist beach.

I noticed a boat on a dock with an unlucky name I had to photograph.

While on the dock, a party boat pulled up. We asked how far to the malecon (maricon, heehhee). The next thing you know, we’re swept up on the umm, "party tractor" with a bunch of college kids from Mexico City who were continuously chanting “Hey hey hey!” It was better than being stranded out in the middle of nowhere with stray rabid pitbulls.

We hit Restaurant Cardon, which had a long stretch of deserted beach. I felt like I was in a Corona commercial. They had a boat for rent, but unfortunately the sea was too churned up and the visibility to low for snorkeling.

The boat could also tow an inflatable “banana” thing that held four riders. No one wanted to suffer the indignity, not even the chanting teens. I decided the amount of tequila it would take to make it seem like a good idea was directly proportional to the amount of tequila it would take for me to fall off and be lost forever at sea.

Stray dogs wandered past, children swung a baby in a hammock, and a chicken ran around the restaurant pissing off the cooks who could never quite shoo it away for good.

The water was shallow quite a ways out, and it was fun just hanging out alone in the ocean letting the waves gently lift me off my toes and set me back down. Something pinched my little toe. Maybe I just got my toe stuck in a little tiny shell. But I really had to shake a leg to free myself.

We settled in for a lazy lunch back at the palapa. The fish tacos were unusual in that the fish was battered, fried, and then smashed into the tortilla like you would make a quesadilla, then the fillings – the usual liberal sprinkling of queso fresco, lettuce, and salsa were sprinkled on top.

Peel and eat shrimp

The traditional dish of Isla de Piedras is Fish Zarandeado. You split the fish in half and grill it.

I sniffed around to find the fish grill around back, but other than filleting, there was no action.

I asked the fish man what the fish was called. He said, “Macho.”

I asked, “Como ti?” to see if he was kidding.

He laughed and said, “Si. Como yo” with an ironic surprise that made me think he had not been thinking of that before. Later the waiter told me the fish was “mulleck”. So my final answer would have to be mullet, Alex.

One source said it is brushed with soy sauce but I couldn’t taste it. All I could taste was flaky, meaty, smoked goodness. That was the best fish I’ve eaten in a long time, especially when eaten with your fingers while your feet rest in the sand.

You can also order it fried. Here they are frying the fish

I decided drinking coconut milk from one of the coconuts piled up might be a good idea. My waiter said they weren’t at their best, but the milk was OK. He suggested a “coco loco” to liven it up. OK, what the hell. This was definitely a going with the flow day.

I watched the bartender pour in tequila, lime, beer, salt, and a little grenadine. Then he decorated it like it was a Mardi Gras float. Then they served it with a "sidecar" that was an entire pitcher to refill the coconut! I said, "I didn't order this."

They pointed to the coconut drink and said, "That's the coco..." then pointed to the pitcher of tequila and danger and laughed, "and that's the LOCO!!!" OK, I can deal with a humiliating tourist drink and not lose my dignity. But I was not in the mood to get trashed and start yelling, “hey hey hey!” so I only drank about 2/3 of a coconut. That is the official measuring system of Gilligan’s Island.

Not really sure of what to do next, we made a deal with the tour guide and soon were back on the party tractor. Hey! Hey! Hey!

Then onto the party boat. Hey! Hey! Hey!

We assumed we’d catch our own taxi, but ended up on the party taxi too. Hey! Hey! Hey! The driver didn’t want to hang a u-turn before heading to the hotel, so he surprised them by telling them to get out on the wrong side of the busy boulevard. I was a little concerned about their safety. But it seems that a group of teenage girls jumping up and down shouting, "Hey! Hey! Hey!” stops traffic faster than any crossing guard.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mazatlan Friday: El Centro

We went down to El Centro, the historic area of Mazatlan. First I wanted to try to photograph the cathedral. Traffic was bad, and worsened by a bizarre little marketing parade. This character, seen all over town, appears to be your friendly neighborhood pharmacist.

So by the time we hit the cathedral it was golden hour, which was nice for those photos, but it made the rest of our sight-seeing a race against the sun.

Luckily, once my taxi driver knew what I wanted, he zoomed around on a mission, hitting every old, decrepit building in town. He knew just what to go for, New Orleans style grande dames with crumbling facades and broken windows.

The driver overestimated my Spanish and started giving a very indepth tour. I did catch something about a hospital, that’s about it.

Then the cabbie said, “I have a friend. He is Cuban. He likes Christmas. I thought, “What does that have to do with anything?" and then we pulled up here. Score. I love this cabbie! He had the exact same streak of weird that I did.

Then we hit the Mercado Municipal, which is famous for upsetting tourists. Count me in! Pigs look very happy, like they get them drunk and slowly sing them to sleep as the gently rock them to death. Cows, however, do not go gently into this good night. A skinned, bloody cow head with protruding eyeballs definitely made me look away. I just could not photograph that. No way. Be grateful.

By now we were a bit peckish and I started checking out the stands. I thought these were gooseberries. What were they? If I don’t know what it is, I have to eat it. I chose the ones not covered with salt, lime and chile. I thought that meant they were unspiced - not intense. I was wrong. What I popped in my mouth was the most sour and salty thing I have ever experienced -- an explosion of tartness. Akkkkkkk!!! I tried to make Bob eat one and he was like, "Fuck No” It had 2 pits in it. I still don’t know what it is.

In the Mercado we were looking for old CDs and I swear to god, a rat as big as a chihuaha rushed along the edge of the wall. All I said was, “Woah” and the lady asked, “Raton?” She knew. I mean, that was one impressive rat. Later a child freaked out so I looked over and she had spotted the king of roaches. Not as big as the one I saw parading down Bourbon street once, but definitely bigger than downtown LA roaches.

It seemed like a good time to leave, so we took a little golf cart taxi over to Plazuela Machado. Pedro y Lola was the obvious choice. You need a reservation for the patio, but inside the restaurant it is virtually empty. The only thing you miss out on is balloon hats and pan flute music.

The deep fried cheese with apricot sauce was heavenly

We had the Pedro Infante, a pork dish from Pedro's family recipe. It was exquisite, with potatoes and peppers, served in a molcajete that made it appear much more generous than it actually was.

They are known for their banana cream pie, that was rich and caramelized. No matter what I said they would not give up the secret.

I got a little apricot on my shirt. There was a ladies room attendant and when she saw my predicament she totally took over. She grabbed 2 paper towels and started scrubbing the hell out of my shirt as if she were my mother. Within minutes, the stain was gone and my shirt was relatively dry. Now that’s service. I didn’t have my purse, so I ran out and ran back to tip her 500 pesos.

Pedro & Lola. This restaurant honors the memories of Pedro Infante and Lola Beltran. Pedro & Lola is in Old Mazatlan at the corner of Carnaval and Constitucion, and it is the cornerstone of the refurbished Plaza Machado, a destination of and by itself. The Angela Peralta Theater is practically adjacent to the restaurant. Pedro & Lola offers sidewalk tables shaded by trees, open archways into the restaurant, paintings by local artists, live music most evenings, and an interesting menu featuring Mexican and international cuisine. The streets surrounding Plaza Machado are closed to traffic in the evening, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tables and chairs from Pedro & Loa, and surrounding restaurants, are on the sidewalk, in the street, and occasionally spilling into the Plaza. Don't miss it. Pedro & Loa is open daily from 5:45 pm to 1 am.