I felt rather guilty for summoning a golf cart to collect me from my ocean view casita at Four Seasons Punta Mita. Although it was only a five minute walk down to the beachfront grill restaurant, Bahia by Richard Sandoval, I was running late after a luxurious spa treatment and I did not want to keep my dining partner, PR manager Aurora Castañeda, waiting. I arrived with only a minute to spare and Aurora and I were seated facing west across the La Cuevas beach and the Pacific Ocean, seats that would provide an optimal view of the slowly developing sunset.
Bahia is Spanish for ‘bay’ and, with the resort located on the northern tip of the Bahia de Banderas (’bay of flags’), the close relationship between the cuisine and the origin of the very local ingredients is clear. The Pacific’s rhythmic waves provide a soothing background to the restaurant’s lively Mexican music and the soft chatter of other diners. The furniture is sleek and comfortable, the design modern and tropical, with only a thatched palapa between diners and the sky and nothing at all to separate them from the sea…
We began with a rich and potent mezcal cocktail called ‘Chipotle’, with a little chilli kick and a complex smokiness from what was clearly a very fine mezcal. No wonder, since Four Seasons Punta Mita employ a sommelier who also holds the equivalent qualification as a tequila master, one who can guide you through the complex and interesting varieties of tequila and mescal. There are a lot of delicious cocktail creations on the menu (and off it) with which to experiment!
Every day, fishermen from Puerto Vallarta arrive at the beach with their bounty and this is served in the restaurant every night, among other dishes. The fact that the restaurant is right on the beach (no exaggeration, it is less than ten metres from the restaurant to the sea!) means that the seafood is as fresh as one will ever taste. Executive Chef Richard Sandoval, a renowned US chef with Mexican heritage, has created a menu that keeps the flavours simple and allows the wood burning grill to add a delicate charcoal edge to the seafood, as well as offering prime cuts of beef, pork and chicken. Combined with signature Latino-inspired and traditional sauces, Bahia is the perfect place to take advantage of food that is prepared with real passion and respect for the fresh ingredients.
Being unable to choose from a menu upon which so many items looked tempting, I asked Aurora to select some dishes that she felt would give me an idea of Bahia, with the one proviso that one dish would contain octopus, my fishy favourite.
We began with a trip of starters. There was a lightly spiced tuna tartare with watermelon and a piece of avocado tempura and a sashimi of two different varieties with ponzu sauce, wasabi, ginger and sriracha, featuring the ‘catch of the day’ – fish brought to the beach that morning! We also enjoyed a small dish of jicama ceviche rolls (jicama is a subtly flavoured root vegetable which, in this case, can be sliced thinly and used as a wrap), which were filled with crab and shrimp, topped with a colourful pepper salad and surrounded by a creamy aguachile sauce.
As a main course, Aurora ordered the tuna for herself, which was a good sized fillet, seared to perfection. For me, she recommended the local speciality, “Zarandeado” style pink snapper, marinated in achiote and citrus, served with avocado, chayote slaw, and flour tortillas. The snapper had been completely deboned, allowing it to be easily scooped into the tortillas, and the slightly spicy marinade had kept the flesh of the fish wonderfully moist. We also ordered octopus which was exquisitely tender, lightly chargrilled and, at Aurora’s request, came coated in both of the two signature marinades. One side was smothered in Cuban style garlic and citrus mojo, while the other was doused in spicy adobo, with smoked chillies, sesame, ginger and achiote. Both were, unsurprisingly, heavenly…
Our wine, suggested for us by Ezequiel, was a citrusy and bright white from Casa Madero, the most famous vineyard in northern Mexico and one that European sommeliers shouldn’t ignore! We went on to taste two different tequilas. The Don Julio 70 was a white tequila with a smoothness that is unusual in the younger varieties, while the Don Julio Añejo was creamy, complex and a little sweet.
The tequila master at Four Seasons Punta Mita was unfortunately unavailable during my stay, which meant I was unable to pick his brains about the different tequilas. Or perhaps fortunately, as the opportunity to prop up the bar and insist on trying the many, many varieties of tequila and mezcal held by the resort was denied me.
At this point the sunset began to attract the attention of the assembled diners and the lively chatter became hushed murmuring as everyone watched the sun melt redly into the horizon and sink beneath it. It remained only to compete the meal with dessert – and again Aurora selected for us, so that I might sample several of the options that Bahia offers.
On the platter was an enormous, juicy, chocolate coated strawberry, a hot apple crumble with ice cream that was as good as any I have had in the UK, and a slice of Diablo cake, a moist chocolate sponge layered with tangy passion fruit crème and topped with a colourful slice of candy beetroot. Mexico – the birthplace of chocolate – is not a place to leave a chocoholic unsupervised.
With the night closing in and the first few spots of rain falling, Four Seasons Punta Mita prepared for the precipitation that the evening often brings. Aurora and I parted ways and I retired to my room, just before the heavens opened and an electrical storm that lasted several hours lit up the sparkling ocean. The peaceful sunset and simply cooked, delicious seafood seemed a distant memory, but I knew that morning would bring the sunshine and another day of perfect hospitality at Four Seasons Punta Mita.