Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
And now for something completely different: Gourmet dining 150 feet in the air, on a platform open to the elements!
The air was balmy, the moon was full and the stars were twinkling their amusement that 22 people were celebrating a gourmet meal on an open grid platform located over the five-star, adults only, all-inclusive luxury resort Casa Velas in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Dinner in the Sky was being offered in Puerto Vallarta for a limited period of time -- having been traveling the world since 2006. It originated in Belgium when ‘Hakuna Matata’, the communications company specializing in gourmet delights, and ‘The Fun Group’, a company specializing in amusement park installations, got together with 22 young European Restaurant Owners and voila! Dinner in the Sky was born. It has been featured in over 45 countries and has flown over the sky of some of the most fabulous venues in the world such as the Strip of Las Vegas, the gardens of the King David Hotel, the Marina of Dubai, the hills of the Villa Borghese, the banks of the St. Lawrence River, the beach of Copacabana and Cape Town bay.
I had gone to Puerto Vallarta to enjoy the sun, the sea, the color and the joie de vivre of this vacation paradise on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Puerto Vallarta’s Banderas Bay is one of the largest and most beautiful natural bays in the world, along which is built the famous cement boardwalk called the Malecon, with its whimsical contemporary art sculptures for all to see and touch.
My guide Chilo (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I began at the Malecon’s north end at the spiral sculpture “Los Milenios” by Mathis Lidice that portrays life’s evolution. At the base are the waves and water that birthed life. As the eye proceeds up the spiral, Lidice represents in 1,000 year periods our species development – including a bow to man’s search for connection to the divine - until at the top there is a figure of a young woman releasing the dove of hope. Curiously, a real Frigate bird is usually perched atop the sculpted one also in hope of… spying a meal.
The sculptures were gifted to the people of Puerto Vallarta by donations from wealthy citizens and the local government, and in some cases, by the artists themselves. While many are memorable, I particularly enjoyed the romantic couple contemplating the future in “La Nostalgia” by Ramy Barquet (1984) and who would not be titillated by the circle of anthropomorphized sea creatures in “La Rotonda del Mar” by Alejandro Colunga. Each of the figures in the circle is actually a chair which the artist invites you to sit upon and discover all its fantastical elements.
Further along were sand sculptures created by enterprising locals to encourage contributions to support Puerto Vallarta’s budding artists.
Serendipitously we caught a performance of Papantla Flyers, a 1,500 year old religious ceremony to The God of the Sun. The ritual is kept alive by performing it for tourists, right on the beach. A 90 foot high pole with a 9 ft. platform at the top is secured in the sand. Four traditional costumed dancers representing the 4 directions and the four elements of air, earth, fire, and water, plus an Indian Priest with a flute and drum, climb the rungs of the pole. The Priest faces each direction and plays his flute and drum to the ‘God of the Sun’ to insure fertility and a good harvest for the people. When he concludes his prayers, the four dances thrust themselves backwards off the platform secured by ropes around their ankles. They ‘dance in the air’ making exactly 13 circles around the pole hanging up-side-down until they reach the ground. The number is significant as 13 times 4 equals 52, the time span of the pre-Hispanic cosmic cycle which ends when a new sun is born and life begins anew.
After a while we turned from the sea and walked inland towards what is referred to as the Cathedral of Guadalupe but, without a Bishop in attendance, it’s simply a local church. From there it is a steep walk up the hill to visit Casa Kimberly, the home - and now luxury hotel and one of the most popular restaurants in the village - of the most famous residents of Puerto Vallarta who actually put the village on the map.
We all are familiar with the story of John Huston falling in love with Puerto Vallarta and bringing the Hollywood elite here for filming “The Night of the Iguana” with Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner in 1963. Contrary to popular belief, fishing had not been the main livelihood in the village, actually it was salt… well, mining sea salt, to process the silver ore found in the hills. Due to the vicissitudes in the silver market, by the 20th century this now small, sparsely populated village was mostly home to alligators, iguanas and mosquitoes. Richard purchased Casa Kimberly for a hideaway where he and his inamorata Elizabeth Taylor could pursue their love affair, and the villa across the street for her and her entourage to maintain the propriety of not living together, since at that time both were married… but not to each other. The famous bridge that connects the two properties, allowing Richard to visit Elizabeth without crossing the street, was built by local architect Giullermo Wulff. Giullermo was largely responsible for convincing Huston to film in Puerto Vallarta which contributed to the area becoming a haven for artists.
Descending from the hills, we passed the open air artist’s market and the statue of John Huston with his dedication to actor Humphrey Bogart, and returned to the center of the town with its famous beaches and water activities, ending our walk on the south end of the Malecon at Los Arcos (The Arches) built for public performance art and other activities.
After touring the old town I returned to my elegant suite at Casa Velas for Dinner in the Sky. Since the platform had been set-up on the Casa Velas Resort grounds, it was a short walk to the site through beautifully manicured gardens and handsome individual villas.
The Casa Velas Conference Center was set-up for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and games of chance played for fun with play money until the appointed dinner reservation hour. Along with all the other guests I was driven by a decorated golf cart out to the platform and greeted by the professional staff. We were securely belted to a comfortable padded swivel leather chair attached to the platform at one end of the rectangular surface. Once all 22 guests were secured to their chairs, the platform smoothly lifted off the ground and into the air amidst shouts and cheers. Once up to our full height of 150 feet, I could not help but swivel my chair around dangling my legs over the edge like a hovering bird ready to take flight.
The dinner that evening was created by Xavier Pérez Stone, former “Best Chef in Mexico” and winner of the “Iron Chef 2014” and “Chef Canada in 2014”. Chef Xavi is currently the owner and chef of the restaurant Axiote, in Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico.
We began the festivities with a shot of tequila but I quickly switched off to wine, not being a fan of the agave drink. Drinks were plentiful and toasts were made by our jolly master of ceremonies tethered at the opposite end of the table from where I was seated.
The first course was the tasty but strange combination of “pork hands” in escabeche (marinade) with fish-skin-crunch and a garlic mayonnaise sauce. The second course was Foie Gras with crunchy Mexican corn and cream. Foie gras is one of my favorite dishes but unfortunately the delicate liver was not up to the crunchy corn and rich cream sauce and was disappointing.
Waiting for each course, presented an opportunity for selfies and photos of the surrounding city now lit up as darkness had fallen. I searched for the full moon but curiously it was no where to be found. Later I was told there was a lunar eclipse and perhaps had been hidden during our journey in the sky.
Third course of Ceviche with coconut, raw shrimp, cucumber, jicama, avocado and onion was more traditional and vastly more appealing. Because of the number of people having to be served all at once in a difficult cooking envivronment, the dishes were of necessity small plates and pre-cooked when possible. The forth course of baby pork in holly leaf with dimples of bean purée, habanero chili, pepper and Yucatan seasoning, was appreciated by my sky neighbors as typically hot Mexican fare.
The meal ended with a dessert of avocado ice cream with basil cream and tortilla crunch. The descent of the platform was as smooth as the ascent had been, without that elevator stomach drop, which we all appreciated after our lavish meal. The dinner is so popular there were 3 seatings and after the last one, fireworks are set-off to conclude the evening… literally with a bang. You can hire Dinner in the Sky for your own special event, wedding, anniversary, any celebration where you want to have a truly memorable experience.
© April 2017 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.