As the city’s much anticipated and eminently popular Restaurant Week(s) promotion came to an end this past Sunday, I realized that I had somehow skipped out on the festivities.
A long procession of “maybe tomorrow,” “okay, this weekend,” and “when I get paid” had culminated in this one final opportunity to get in on the culinary celebration, and so I knew I had to make my single choice count.
After browsing the possibilities for what seemed like the eleventieth time, I decided to go with the place I had heard friends mention the most: Warique Restaurant, stationed at Aquiles Serdán 280 in the heart of the downtown area.
The word “pupusa” had been trending topic of conversation in watering holes all around Centro including on that day, and so after hearing it one last time at the better local brewery, I drained my pitcher of IPA and set out to discover its hidden wonders.
The Vibes: I dig al fresco dining, there’s just something about eating outside in the right environment that enhances the experience. Walking into Warique led me on a path directly through the intimately lit main dining room into the cozy little courtyard area, where I found a good perch for people-watching as well as enjoying the considerable talents of the featured musician as he softly warbled a medley of classic hits.
This evening I was lucky enough to be attended to personally by owner Krys, a service which immediately highlighted his level of immersion in the dream he and his partner had created here in Puerto Vallarta. After suggesting the Pisco Sour, a South American specialty drink that is the nutmeg-crowned lovechild of a margarita and a whiskey sour, he was gracious enough to sit down with me and offer some insight into his vision as well.
“We just felt that the area needed more diversity in the culinary scene, there are enough Italian restaurants here, don’t you think?” He continued to converse even as he encouraged me to order with a waiting notepad…as a restaurateur, this was a man well-versed in managing chaos, so mere multitasking came easy. “We go out of our way to locally source the finest ingredients, it took us 4 months to find the right beef supplier!”
The note of frustration triggered by recounting of the supply snafu quickly faded away as he recalled a fonder memory: “Our dishes come from our heart to your table. The recipes here are mostly from my childhood, our Warique Torte is based on my mother’s specialty. She was never too happy about me using it…in fact, she visited the restaurant during a trip to PV last year and the first thing she said is, ‘okay, let’s have it…the cake, now.'”
A triumphant grin crossed his face as he finished the tale. “She tasted it and was quiet for a long time. Finally, she spoke again: ‘This is very painful for me to admit, but yours is better.'”
Poor Mama Krys, cut deep by buttercream insolence.
The Vices: The musical accompaniment was perfect for setting the scene, the smooth sounds of acoustic guitar filling the air as I watched other parties dive into their plates with gusto and approvingly discuss their choices.
Soon it was my turn, and a performance of “This Masquerade” was the entrance music for the famous pupusa, a savory beef and cheese filling disguised as a corn biscuit and colorfully adorned with garlands of tangy red cabbage. The topping salad added an intense brightness and zest to the simple street-style snack, transforming both its look and overall flavour.
The reputation that preceded the pupusa was well earned. I would eat them as a meal, it was only pretending to be an opening course.
Next up was “Ropa Vieja,” a timeless Cuban comfort food dish made with tender shredded flank steak and vegetables served along with rice and fried sweet plantains. I admit that one of these four priceless gold doubloons did not make it to print, but that serves as something of a review in itself.
The steak was surely worth the supply trip north toward Bucerias, melting away in mouthfuls of perfectly prepared rice with a flavourful flourish. A rendition of “Dust in the Wind” wafted around the outdoor eating area, and I paused to consider the finite nature of existence and the fact that one (hopefully distant) day I would no longer be able to indulge myself with such rich sensory experiences.
Like a pinch of salt in buttery caramel, the thoughts only brought the sweetness of the scene to the forefront.
Speaking of sweet treats, the obvious choice for dessert was the very cake Krys had used to defy his mother, the Warique Tort. This pillowy sponge cake was bedecked with handmade European buttercream, that storied harbinger of familial strife, before being soaked in rum punch, dusted with almonds and walnuts, and set before my waiting fork.
One taste and I could see why she was so upset.
Sweet without being saccharine, rich with varied texture, and decadent beyond a doubt, the cake was apparently reserved for very special occasions in years gone by.
However, this lucky lifetime allows us to consider dinner a very special occasion, representing our mastery of the natural world as well as the myriad skill sets that sends the materials of this Earth on the long journey from a heart to a table. As I reached the last few bites of dessert, I found myself eating slower and slower, subconsciously desiring to draw this moment out into eternity.
The soulful “Ain’t No Sunshine” as rendered by the guitarist was a fitting theme for the end of this experience, manifesting my sadness that it even had an end. Still, as even songwriter Bill Withers himself knew, the despair of loss was well worth the joy of discovery…nothing ends if it never begins in the first place, so it’s best to just enjoy the ride while you can.
The Verdict: With an outstanding combination of deliciously inspired fare and welcoming atmosphere, Warique Restaurant is sure to be a hit long after the last day of Restaurant Week. I even have an excuse to go back today (Thursday the 14th) in the form of an art exhibition to be held onsite…maybe I’ll catch you there.