Talk about elevating the dining experience: Imagine being served a gourmet meal 150 feet up in the air? No, I’m not talking about a restaurant at the top of a skyscraper; I had the opportunity to join a group of 22 adventurous guests for Dinner in the Sky in Puerto Vallarta. We sat at tables and chairs floating in the open air like birds with a view of Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madre Mountains above the Casa Velas Resort golf course. In case you’re wondering what that’s like? I’d say, “Highly breathtaking.”
The evening began with a lavish cocktail party on the grounds of the resort featuring the sounds of a roaming mariachi band. Before the call to dinner, a reminder was issued to use the restroom facilities, as none are available in the sky. Then, we hopped aboard a golf cart and rode down a tiki torch lite path to a rectangular set of tables on a platform. The tables sat under a roof, and a large hook in the center of the roof connected it to a crane.
Staff buckled all the guests into seats similar to a thrill ride with safety straps running from our shoulders down to the waist and another harness between the legs. Our feet were comfortably situated on a footrest. Trust me; no one could fall out.
Chef Mikel Alfonso: Gachupa Star
For our gastronomic pleasure, the menu was created and prepared by Chef Mikel Alfonso, co-owner of Biko, a self-described ‘gachupa’ cuisine restaurant listed among the prestigious “San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants.” Gachupa is a fusion of Basque and Mexican culinary heritage. Chef Alonso served as Executive Chef of Tezka restaurant in Mexico City for eight years under Chef Juan Mari Arzak, renowned for his Three Michelin Star restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain.
Chef Alfonso began cooking food at an early age. On a visit to his grandparents, he learned to prepare traditional Basque recipes. His interest in food continued, but he chose to get a diploma in industrial chemical engineering. He paired that background with a comprehensive gastronomic study from Escuela de Cocina Luis Irizar, including oenology, bartending, nutrition, and other disciplines to become the culinary master he is today. Using his combined skills and knowledge, Chef Alfonso brought forth an innovative meal in the air serving his guests what I would term Nouvelle Cuisine.
Ascending to Dinner
After all the participants were seated, the Chef and two assistants made their way into the center of the rectangular table arrangement. They could move about between small refrigerators, heating units and counters, but were tethered in for safety.
Soon, wine was poured and the overhead lights were dimmed. Then, with the aid of some dramatic music, the table slowly rose higher and higher in the sky. When we reached the height of approximately 15 stories, the lights came back on, and we basked in the thrilling, higher-than-the-high-rise hotels, panoramic view. A few of the guests felt nervous, but no one complained.
As I reached for my napkin, it somehow slipped through a slight opening between the tables, and I watched it disappear into thin air below. Yikes, I was happy I did not drop a knife. I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable at this height, but the napkin disappearance was a bit unnerving.
Our first course had been sitting in front of us and now the covers were removed. Below rested an artistically arranged plate of luscious pate with shimmering dots of gold. This somewhat sinful indulgence slowly melted in my mouth with guilty pleasure.
Part way through the event we discovered that our chairs swiveled about 30 degrees to either side giving us even better views of the gorgeous bay and the hotels stretched along the coast. I felt like I was in an open helicopter on takeoff, yet there was no chopper noise and we simply hovered in place. At one point in the meal, the entire assemblage of tables slowly rotated about 180 degrees and then reversed back to our original positions.
Our three-course /paired wine meal continued with a fresh hunk of lobster that was juicy, soft and succulent. Between courses, Chef Alfonso spoke in both Spanish and English about the dishes and his philosophy of cooking. My favorite line of the night came when he said, “Without saliva, there is no taste; without surprise, there is no pleasure.”
The entrée was indeed a surprise, pieces of grilled quail swimming in what Chef called the “essence of the sea,” a green sauce with tapioca. I must admit this was my least favorite course. Perhaps it was the hue of green that caused my unease. Whatever, the quail was tasty and delicious.
Dessert was a two-staged treat with a pistachio gelato and ice cream, followed by a small gold ball filled with liquid chocolate that exploded in your mouth. Pow! Clearly, Chef created these chocolate balls using his chemical and food engineering knowledge.
The gala feast ended in slightly over an hour and we were lowered again in dimmed lighting. Those who imbibed the paired wine selections were relieved to find their way back to the restrooms.
I discovered that sky-high dining becomes a thrilling delight, and would rank it among those go-for-it, once in a lifetime opportunities. If you’re interested, you haven’t missed your chance. Puerto Vallarta has been chosen to host this popular and successful event again next year. Make plans to visit during the month of February 2018. — Story and photos by By Debi Lander, RFT Contributor