By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
There are some destinations that are worth visiting just because of their sheer spectacular natural scenery, and some destinations that are worth visiting because of the unrivaled attention and dining you can enjoy there.
The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort is both.
Located on a sequestered 1,500-acre private peninsula in the central eastern Mexican state of Nayarit, just 15 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, at the far north end of Banderas Bay, this exclusive seaside sanctuary is set in a secluded oasis of pristine alabaster beaches enveloped by verdant green tropical jungles.
Once the ceremonial site of the ancient Aztatlán culture – dating back more than 1,000 years – the Punta Mita isthmus is surrounded on three sides by 15 kilometers of crystalline aquamarine waters gently caressed by temperate sea breezes.
Punta de Mita, as the area is officially known, is endowed with a mild, tropical climate that never fluctuates more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
The St. Regis Punta Mita itself is the epitome of opulent privilege, boasting one of the most luxurious and indulgent spas in Mexico and the incomparable bespoke service that has become synonymous with the St. Regis label, plus access to two Jack Nicklaus signature golf courses and a 10-court tennis center nestled inside a lush palm grove.
But perhaps what most sets the sequestered 22-acre, 120-room resort hotel apart is its extraordinary dining, a remarkable selection of ambrosial, mostly locally-sourced gastronomy that showcases the abundant cornucopia of fresh regional ingredients elevated to the status of world-class haute cuisine by an expert team of gourmet chefs and specialized sous chefs under the meticulous supervision of master cuisinier Manuel Peruyero Rodríguez.
The St. Regis Punta Mita has eight separate restaurants, ranging from an eclectic Sea Breeze brasserie with dishes and flavors catering to virtually every taste and culinary inclination, from kosher to vegan, to the relaxed clipper charm of the Mita Mary Boat Bar and Bistro, which drops anchor daily along the beach with straight-from-the-sea ceviches and peppery fish tacos.
But the undisputed star of the hotel’s eatery options is its signature Carolina, the only recipient in Mexico outside of Quintana Roo of the highly coveted AAA Five Diamond Award and one of only seven restaurants nationwide to be bestowed with the prestigious rating.
Opened only for dinner (from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) and set inside an elegantly romantic open-air terrace overlooking the ocean, Carolina’s understated décor of black and white velvet with refined silver accents is reflective of its uniquely creative contemporary fare, crafted from local ingredients – including fresh fruits and vegetables from the hotel’s own nearby two-hectare organic farm – and incorporating the succulent cookery traditions and styles of the region.
Almost every ingredient used in Carolina’s tantalizing bill of fare comes from the area’s oceans, pastures or farmlands, and the entire menu is updated every six months to accommodate seasonal produce and new imaginative recipes.
Carolina offers a full range of appetizers, main courses, accompaniments and desserts, but the best way to appreciate chef Alejandro Miguel Soltero Rincón’s exceptional esculent genius is to opt for one of the restaurant’s two tasting menus, which are also revamped every six months.
As the region’s cool months of winter (if you can call 75 degrees F. winter) subside and the robustly fecund summer season begins, Soltero Rincón has just titivated Carolina’s roster of delicacies, and last week, the native Nayaritense came to Mexico City, along with the hotel’s executive chef Peruyero Rodríguez, to offer a select (and very appreciative) group of gastronomic journalists a sampling of his latest tasting menu at the St. Regis Mexico City’s J&G restaurant.
The six-course, five-wine epicurean journey began with a lightly charred tatamada kale sprinkled with powdered tuna roe and dotingly drenched in a pungent yellow lemon vinaigrette.
This tangibly tart appetizer was served with a delicious ruby-red 2017 Casa Madero rosé (all the wines served were Mexican) that was bursting with sweet red fruit tastes that contrasted perfectly with the acidic nature of the kale and mellowed its astringent tinge.
The next course was an equally delectable diced filet of beef braised in a tropical fruit and burnt avocado sauce and served on a paper-thin slice of cured papaya.
This open-taco extravaganza was accompanied by a delightful 2013 Rolù San Vicente blend of tempranillo, nebbiolo and syrah grapes that was infused with a perfumed bouquet of autumn undergrowth and violets with tempered tannins.
The musty manifold aromas of the wine accentuated the multilayered essences of the beef, making for a captivating cascade of flavors that generated a symphony of sapors in the mouth.
Next up was the seafood course, a plate of grilled lobster medallions in a creamy green pozole sauce with fried potato skins and black bean purée, an unexpected combination of one of Nayarit’s most iconic dishes (green pozole is usually a spicy stew of pork meat and hominy seasoned with tomatillos husk tomatoes, epazote wormseed, coriander, chilies and ground pumpkin seed) with the sea’s most prized crustacean.
This dish was paired with a jasmine-y Henry Lurton 2017 Chenin Blanc Centenario from Baja California’s fertile Valle de San Vicente, which graciously allowed the lobster and pozole to be the featured attraction.
The meat course was an ultra-tender, caramelized suckling pig shank escorted by grilled heirloom carrots in a sour orange sauce.
To accompany this melt-in-your-mouth gastronomic concoction, chefs Peruvero Rodríguez and Soltero Rincón offered up a pulpy 2014 Quinta Monasterio Tempranillo with an abundance of ripe red fruits, again a noble and stately wine that knew not to upstage the magnum opus.
Alas, all good things must eventually come to an end, and so it was with the Carolina tasting meal.
But anticipating the diners’ dismay at the close of their glorious gastronomic adventure, Soltero Rincón generously decided to offer double desserts, starting with a lighter-than-air coconut and smoked peanut sorbet bathed in mezcal, followed by a more hardy cheesecake foam with sugared baby corn and butter cookies in caramel ice cream.
These sweet dénouements were served with a nectary 2017 Monte Xanic Late Harvest Chenin Blanc that paired flawlessly, allowing the guests to linger over the meal’s grand finale.
Yes, there are destinations that merit visits just because of their breathtaking scenery, and others that beckon because of their amazing cuisine.
And the St. Regis Punta Mita is a sterling example of both.