Vera Bakery in Bucerias satisfies the sweet tooth

Vera Bakery in Bucerias, Nayarit, is a delight for the pastry lover. Owner and baker Christian Calvento is my market neighbor at the new La Cruz Sunday Market and I wish he were my next-door-neighbor at my home in La Cruz. But if he were, I’d weigh 200 pounds by now. His pastries, cakes, and other tasty treats are so tempting, I’m gaining weight just looking at these photos.

Christian, an Argentinian by birth, came to Bucerias by way of pastry jobs with the Marriott Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires, Disney cruise lines, and then the Four Seasons in Puenta Mita, where he worked as a assistant pastry chef for four years, learning everything he could from the head pastry chef. Bucerias was his next stop, when he and his partner, Jorge, opened Vera Bakery, named after his mother, from whom he first learned to cook as a youngster.

The menu changes from day to day, but regular items include cinnamon rolls, chocolate chunk muffins, cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake, brownies, quiches and breads. Elodia speaks perfect English and will wait on you with a smile.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much are these next four worth? All four, plus the one at the top, were taken by Christian. Uh, Christian, do you want to start taking the photos for my blog?

One of the sweeter legacies of the European occupation of Mexico is pastries. Spanish nuns and French bakers gave Mexico delightful desserts for those who tener un paladar delicado (have a sweet tooth). Culinary influence went in both directions, as chocolate from the New World traveled back to Europe, adding a new dimension to  Old World cakes and pastries.

If you pop in for a pastry, be sure to try the coffee, roasted by award-winning Bacio, a Mexican coffee company. Christian feels that this special blend of beans from the states of Chiapas, Vera Cruz and Guerrero, is the best he can offer.

Christian does special orders for birthdays, weddings, and parties. For the holidays, he will be baking Bûche de Noël, the yule log cake, a Christmas favorite in France and of our many French-Canadian visitors. Savory yule logs with fillings such as roquefort cheese with ham are also planned, as are baguettes and small, appetizer-sized empanadas.

Vera Bakery is located in Bucerias, Nayarit, Lazaro Cardenas # 101, in the same block as Mark’s. Phone: (329) 298-1962. Open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday 8 am- 8 pm, Sunday 8:30 am – 3 pm. WiFi available.

Vera_Bakery_Bucerias_Team

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La Cascada in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, my home town, is blessed with an abundance of fine restaurants, La Cascada being one of them. New owners Joe and Priscilla Sulham are offering an international menu, and feature beautiful Mexican plates for breakfast.

Lucky me. I live almost right across the street from La Cascada (Spanish for waterfall). Three minutes after we walk out our gate, Russ and I can be placing our orders for Squash Blossom Crêpes in a creamy poblano sauce or Enfrijoladas (pictured above). Somedays, it is hard to stand in front of the stove when I know what awaits us at nearby restaurants. This was one of those days.

While I was visiting their kitchen, this classic Mexican dish of Enfrijoladas was being prepared for another table. I took advantage of my proximity, but unfortunately, all I had in my hands at the time was a camera and not a fork. La Cascada’s version of Enfrijoladas is corn tortillas filled with scrambled eggs and chorizo, bathed in a bean sauce. (En-frijol-adas –“in beans” is the literal translation.)

Two of my table mates ordered Crêpes Filled with Squash Blossoms, Mushrooms and Huitlacoche. I was faced with a familiar conundrum. Do I order something else for the sake of a different menu item to review, or do I follow suit, because that’s what really appeals to me. “Make that three orders of crêpes”. While the crêpes themselves are not traditionally Mexican, the fillings sure are, and that was good enough for me. The creamy poblano sauce was so good, I should have asked for a spoon. And a bowl of sauce on the side. I think Angélica, our attentive waitress, would have obliged me.

Inside dining is offered, but on such a beautiful day the patio with its waterfall and tropical landscaping was a lovely setting for a relaxed, mid-morning breakfast. And a great place to linger over coffee and conversation long after our plates had been cleared.

A great looking dish of salsa was offered for the omelet. I love taking photos of salsa. Their primary color lights up any table, any plate of almost anything. As beautiful as it was, this was a very mild salsa. Maybe it was set at a low heat level for gringos.

Other Mexican entrées for lunch and dinner include Sopecitos de Cochinita Pibil, a pork dish from the Yucatán Peninsula, Molletes, an open-faced bean sandwich with melted cheese, Chilaquiles, Cheese Enchiladas with Peanut Sauce, and Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple-Mango Dipping Sauce. North of the border fare, such as rib-eyes, T-bones and fillet mignon are also offered, as are a variety of egg dishes for breakfast. More La Cascada menu items can be seen on line.

La Cascada offers relaxed dining six days a week from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m; closed Tuesdays. Wifi service is available. Coral #61, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Phone: 329-295-5948.

Update, Oct. 2011: La Cascada Restaurant has closed. We miss their great breakfast offerings.


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Comida Mexicana is alive and well in Minneapolis

It can be a challenge to find great restaurant food when eating out far away from home. And finding great Mexican food in the Midwest is even more of a challenge. When we hit the jackpot at Marissa’s Deli on “Eat Street” in Minneapolis, I knew there was only one reason: Flor the cook is from Mexico — Puebla to be exact — and she knows her stuff. In between serving customers, she was pressing corn tortillas on her wooden press, a sight that is, to me, the gold standard of authentic Mexican cooking. ¡Que milagro!

My son orderd a quesadilla al pastor (top photo). He liked it enough to immediately order another. My daughter-in-law had pork stewed in a tomatillo-green chile sauce, served with beans, rice, tortillas and sweet grilled onions, just like they make them in Mexico. You may know already that I don’t eat pork (see About on masthead at top), but I have to say that her dish looked delicious.

I more or less stayed true to my eating habits, and order beef — tacos de cabeza. I really wanted tacos de lengua (tongue), but Flor was already out of it. I guess I’m not the only one who knows how good tongue tacos can be. So I settled for cabeza, muscle meat of the head. To the squeamish, this may be more information than you really want to know, but this is how it is in Mexico — all parts of the animal are eaten. This culture does not waste much. I was glad to see that this culinary value can stay with cooks, even when they are out of their motherland.

The tacos were served exactly like you would see them in Mexico, with lots of chopped cilantro, a great salsa verde and lime wedges. The only difference was that the plastic plate was not encased in a plastic bag to facilitate dishwashing, a practice common in Mexico. Flor was the dishwasher as well, and obviously has some sense of restaurant decorum to serve plates without plastic bags.

The setting is simple — a few chairs and tables near the counter where you place and pick up your order, a TV on the wall tuned to a telenovela, one of Mexico’s beloved soap operas, and a tub of  jalapeños en escabeche on every table. Marissa’s Deli is attached to Marissa’s grocery store, and there is also Marissa’s Bakery, a muy mexicana panadería selling pastries glowing with brightly colored icing and tons of sugar. Hot pan de muertos, egg-rich “bread of the dead” with dough formed in the shape of bones on a skull, was ready for All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos.

Sugary churros and flakey pastries were tempting, and I would be lying to say we did not take home a bag with almost something of everything.

Maybe Flor will  move back to Mexico someday and open a restaurant. Until that day, if you are anywhere close to Minnepolis, Marissa’s Deli is worth seeking out. It doesn’t get any better in or out of Mexico.

Marissa’s Deli; 2750 Nicollet Ave.; Minneapolis MN; (612) 871-4519

Marissa’s — Mercado Mexicano in Minneapolis

Just when I was starting to miss Mexico — its colorful markets, sweet tropical fruit, chiles of all colors and sizes — I found Marissa’s in Minneapolis, Minnesota. What a vibrant, honest to goodness Mexican grocery store, as good as any tienda south of the border. I felt right at home cruising the aisles of produce, with selections of nopal, pineapples, tomatillos, cilantro, chiles, even the elusive epazote.

Beautiful murals cover the walls depicting agrarian scenes from the homeland, scenes that every Mexican must picture when they are so far from home, scenes that no longer exist in much of today’s modern Mexico, but still found in the interior of the country. For the murals alone, Marissa’s is worth a visit.

This is surely the best Mexican grocery store I have ever found outside of Mexico. Large, well organized, with a very extensive inventory, there is not much this store does not carry for a cocina mexicana. Every essential ingredient called for in your Mexican cookbook, plus a few non-essential goodies, like neon-colored gelatins and conchas, a favorite pan dulce, are in abundance. But maybe these are essential to cure homesickness for any mexicano far from home. Just walking the aisles took me back to my little Mexican town for a short while.

My experience with Mexican cooks has given me an appreciation for their great love of  traditional food of Mexico. The average home cook is not experimenting with Italian or French recipes. The mothers and grandmothers of the household are cooking pots of beans, buying freshly made tortillas, making fresh and cooked salsas every day — feeding their families the dishes they grew up on, the same food their mothers and grandmothers made. And if these cooks are living far from home, stores such as Marissa’s, found in every town in the U.S. where there is a sizeable Mexican population, are providing all the special ingredients for these timeless dishes, some of which have been made since Pre-Columbian times.

At Marissa’s you will find corn husks and masa for tamales, dried chile ancho and guajillo for salsas, nopal for salads, epazote to season beans. I went in looking for cajeta to make Chocoflan, and there it was. This was a busy store, testament to the many, many kitchens in this town serving up authentic Mexican food.

And like all the little tiendas in Mexico, Marissa’s also carries other essentials, such as loofahs, tortilla presses, pinatas, earthenware pots, and traditional candles.

Besides the grocery store, there is also an attached deli with an extensive, authentic Mexican menu and a bakery with pan dulce of all kinds. We had a great lunch prepared by a young cook from the city of Puebla, and took home sweet breads for dessert. If I can beg or borrow more computer time while I’m visiting, I want to tell you about our lunch. If you find yourself in Minneapolis, don’t miss breakfast or lunch at Marissa’s. This place is the real deal.

Marissa’s Grocery Store, Deli and Bakery; 2750 Nicollet, (612) 871-3628; hours Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Los Gallos for tacos y cortes in Puerto Vallarta


Los Gallos specializes in meat tacos and cuts of meat with all the trimmings. Its proximity to Puerto Vallarta’s Costco, the mega-giant warehouse club that is spreading across Mexico, has added a new reason to go grocery shopping.

The meat selections are numerous — arrachera (flank steak), lomo (pork short loin), costilla (chuck short ribs), and more. It’s a good thing they gave us tortilla chips, all kind of salsas, pickled vegetables and little bowls of frijolitos rancheros as soon as we sat down, because we were hungry and it took a while to check out  the extensive menu and make our selection.

My table mates decided on a kilo (2.2 pounds) of arrachera — tenderized flank steak — served with a steaming stack of corn tortillas. I added pickled onions and guacamole (thin avocado salsa to you gringos) to my tacos. Also a great tomato and chile salsa. One salsa roja was muy picante, one was mild.

While our waiter, Alexandro, was of the opinion that no tenderizer was on the meat, I have to differ. I have sliced enough flank steak during my restaurant years to know that it has a definite grain and chew. This was perhaps the most tender meat, let alone the most tender flank steak, any of us had eaten. Whatever they used to tenderize it, it was extremely tender and very good.

Another menu option is Al Pastor. This is thinly sliced, marinated pork stacked on a skewer with pinepple on top and onion on the bottom. As it slowly rotates in front of the heating element, pineapple juice drips down over the meat, bathing it with an enzyme in its juice, the natural meat tenderizer bromelain.

Al Pastor has an interesting history in Mexico.  Supposedly, the cooking style was brought to this country by immigrants from Lebanon who, in their home country, cooked lamb on spits for making shawarma, bread-wrapped meat similar to Greek gyros. Pastor: lamb: shepherd. The name stayed true to its origins while the meat changed to pork.

The price was right: 210 pesos for one kilo of arrachera. Salsas, pickled vegetables (a little too vinegary for our tastes), beans, tortilla chips and tortillas were all part of the order. That came out to a little under $5 U.S. per person, plus beverage and tip.

Los Gallos is located on Avenida Fluvial, #234. Hours are 10 a.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Sunday. Phone: 225-0267 and 225-0268. Call for delivery in the Puerto Vallarta area.

UPDATE: Los Gallos has closed and is now a new restaurant, called Dos Adelitos. I have not eaten there, but it appears to be a similar type of meat-heavy restaurant with a  Jalisco theme.  (Jan. 16, 2011)

Notes:

Los Gallos has possibly the cleanest restrooms we have ever seen anywhere, always a good sign in a restaurant.

We missed our chance and walked right past the complimentary keg of tequila inside the entrance. Don’t be as foolish as we were.

More Reading:

Arrachera: What and When? (Rachel Laudan, A Historian’s Take on Food and Food Politics)



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