The Pinnacle of al Fresco Dining at Mi Cocina

Media_httpgraphics8ny_cvugh

For our first night in Los Cabos, before the arrival of the rest of the clan, we headed to the site of one of the nicest hotels and reputably best restaurants in the small town of San Jose del Cabo for a wonderfully pleasant evening. This phot from The New York Times doesn't do the romance and charm of the place justice. Travel and Leisure wrote of Mi Cocina in November, 2003:

Chef Loïc Tenoux opened his first Mexican restaurant in Provence. That went over like a lead brioche. But at his restaurant at Casa Natalia, the brilliant chef has won an appreciative audience for his charred poblanos with crispy lamb and tequila-cured salmon. The courtyard lit by torches gets extra points, too, for its romantic ambiance.

The New York Times confirmed in April, 2005, that it's still going strong:

...perhaps the best sign of San José del Cabo's evolution from authentic Mexican village to discreet luxe getaway is the presence of Casa Natalia. The hotel, a sleekly contemporary enclave of palm trees, bougainvillea and chaise-lined pools, is just off the main square; or, in other words, nowhere near the beach. In the five years since it was built, by the expatriate European husband-and-wife team of Nathalie and Loïc Tenoux, it has gained a reputation as one of the loveliest hotels in Mexico. Its Mediterranean-Mexican restaurant, Mi Cocina, is considered the best in town, thanks in no small part to its romantic, fire-lit setting in the hotel courtyard.

On our arrival, we were greeted by the chic and culturally chameleonic Nathalie, a tall and charming woman dressed all in white, with long, flowing hair streaked with gray. She would return to our table, and others, for a quick check-in later in the meal. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Mi Cocina is a setting that could not exist almost anywhere else. After passing through the small but well-appointed lobby and passing the compact Bodeguita della Guerra bar in a matter of four paces, the eager diner is outside in a magical courtyard of fountains, tall palms, brightly flowering bougainvillea, and flickering firelight. There is not a single table indoors, nor one under cover. If it were to rain, as it does here only a handful of times a year, there would be no dining at Mi Cocina. The long courtyard holds three rows of tables, nicely spaced and overlooked by blooming balconies. The setting creates an intimacy and romance unusual of any place with more than a handful of tables. The specialty cocktails from the bar were surprisingly good and vividly colored. Not being much of a fan of Absolut, we both ordered aged tequila drinks, one with cointreau, cranberry juice, and lime and another with tangerine. Unusually, they had just the right hint of sweetness. The wine list here is victim of the same problem of most in Mexico: 100% tariffs on US and European wine imports. A 2003 Mexican Blanc de Blanc, Flor de Guadalupe from Chateau Camou in Ensenada at $7.50 a glass was unsophisticated, but completely drinkable and worth the experience. How often do you see Mexican wine?The food itself at Mi Cocina is impressive. The iron fish-shaped bread basked included a moist roll filled with savory onions that was fantastic, as well as a frittata-like darker bread filled with roasted peppers, herbs, and vegetables. The spice of the crispy lamb-stuffed poblano pepper with Oaxaca cheese was a little overpowering at first but got better with every bite. It was really a chili-cheese game, but the fresh crunch of the only lightly cooked pepper and the rich aftertaste of the lamb elevated this well above the level of your average chili relleno. An Italian tuna sashimi appetizer--really more of a fresh carpaccio--was equally good, with lime and slight bitterness of the arugula and scallions perfectly matched to card-thin tuna and rich green olive oil. The fresh local sea bass with asparagus and a beurre blanc sauce over silky mashed potatoes was moderately sized but over salted, though this too got better as our palates adjusted. Seafood risotto with shrimp, clams, and crayfish was excellent, with each grain of rice remaining distinct in the rich cheesy broth.Although I wouldn't give up proximity to the beach on my tropical vacation and am not sure how I would pass more than a few hours not at restaurants in San Jose del Cabo (though the crafs for sale here are much more appealing than the normal souvenir stand work) Nathalie and Loic do offer serious temptation in their charming little hotel with the infinitely appealing courtyard.Appropriate dress at Mi Cocina is elegant tropical, ranging from light slacks and a polo or skirt and a cute top to a tropical cocktail dress or even a comfortably worn summer suit. Dinner for two, with two appetizers and two entrees (all moderate but reasonable portions) plus three drinks was $135. Casa Natalia is just off the main square on the Northeast corner of San Jose at 4 Blvd. Mijares. 52-624/142-5100. Reservations recommended.