There is something gritty and delightful, even exciting, about eating from a professional kitchen that has been set up outside. Some of the most diverting meals I’ve had have been from stalls or carts that cook and serve right on the sidewalk, sometimes on the street itself.
It’s thrilling to find surprisingly gourmet fare sitting on rickety chairs all over the walkways of Asia, with the most memorable in Thailand: you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted the green-curry-coconut-chicken soup and the Pad Thai on the river-fronts of Bangkok.
Mexico, where it’s a birthright to live al fresco, dining on benches around an outdoor kitchen is taken for granted. Luckily, the possibilities of a tiny kitchen with a talented, un-frazzled chef appear close to limitless.
I happily surrender my appetite to Mariscos La Tia’s very svelte Chef Gabriel as he pivots around his tight space, whose nooks and crannies pour forth with a slew of quality ingredients, for the creation of a very fine cazuela (seafood soup) as well as a full roster of mariscos in all its Mexican incarnations.
He twirls around in a ballet of small steps and extravagant hand-movements. He grills, he chops, he poaches, he composes platters, as he heats up the broth for my soup, which he pours over springy, exactingly cooked shrimps, bay scallops and the tenderest octopus, garnishing the bowl with freshly scooped avocado, diced cucumber and onion; handing me my dinner with one hand while with the other flipping the sizzling filling of a shrimp quesadilla on the hot griddle.
I am muy contento as I not only get to slurp pure enjoyment but simultaneously to participate in Gabriel’s high-speed cooking-show as it continues unabated, leaving me enthralled. Coincidentally with my last sip of the cazuela, he seems to be on a lag. Rather than let him relax, I order an octopus burrito, that is dressed with cheese, tomato and onion, just to watch him some more.
Glad I did, because the burrito is as delicious in its own way as the soup.
MARISCOS LA TIA
Calle Honduras 215
5 de Deciembre, Puerto Vallarta
Byron is a memoirist, travel columnist, cookbook author, restaurant reviewer and novelist. He is currently working on his sixth novel which is tellingly entitled Puerto Vallarta, Mexico