Starwood Hotels: Los Cabos

De Cortez Grill
De Cortez Grill

“Breathe in!” shouts our guide, David Alba of Cabo Adventures, puffing his chest up with a long, deep breath. “Breathe out!” he exclaims, blowing out a stream of air as he holds up a shot of amber-colored anejo tequila, aged in oak barrels for two years. “This is the part of my job that is most difficult,” he jokes.

Alba vigorously shakes the bottle, asking, “Do you see the tiny air bubbles? If they are still here after 45 seconds, that tells you the tequila does not contain impurities.” Sure enough, the bubbles are still floating after 90 seconds, and the tequila is smooth and dangerously drinkable. To complete our research, we also taste the Gusano Rojo mezcal from Oaxaca, which has a strong smoky flavor that lingers even after a squirt of lime.

“Never bite or suck the lime; it creates bitterness,” offers Alba. “Only squeeze the juice into your mouth.”

On this particular trip to Cabo with Starwood Resorts, I was eminently impressed with the level of sophistication revolving around the local food, spirits, wine, art and design.

Our group had worked up a thirst following an interactive nature trek through the desert outback here at the southern tip of Baja, followed by a camel ride on the beach. Tequila is paired best with traditional Mexican fare, and we dive into a hearty lunch of regional Baja dishes including handmade, stone-ground tortillas. Cabo’s plentiful nopal cactus is the main ingredient for a fresh, succulent salad—ensalada de nopal—which has a mild, green bean flavor and consistency, and goes well in the scrambled egg dish, huevos con nopal. The hit of the afternoon is machaca de pescado, shredded smoked fish in a lightly spiced tomato base.

But Los Cabos offers far more than just tacos and tequila. At the 270-room Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort, new executive chef Manuel De Luca incorporates aspects of French, Japanese, Argentinian and Mexican cuisine into the resort’s four restaurants. The classic colonial-style resort with 18,000 sf of function space is located along the beach several miles from the main tourist district of Cabo San Lucas.

For our introductory dinner, I’m welcomed into a darkened conference hall as details of each course are displayed in lighting on the black tablecloth in front of me, projected down from above. All is dark, except for a spotlight on each plate, creating a dramatic effect that put the focus on the cuisine. The high-concept, well-executed food deserves the attention.

The meal starts with a foie gras terrine accompanied by confit figs and gingerbread, followed by braised lobster cannelloni with champagne foam. These are paired, I’m pleasantly astonished, with excellent, complex Mexican wine like the crisp green apple sauvignon blanc from Roganto winery. I mistake it for Californian, but its true terroir is the Baja wine region near Ensenada.

In fact, many of Mexico’s finer wines hail from this region, known as Guadalupe Valley. In the cellar at Pitahayas restaurant, I test two L.A. Cetto wines: an elegant Sierra Blanca sauvignon blanc with fruit and tropical flavors and a lean and oaky Reserva Privada chardonnay. Also, a Kerubiel blend from the Adobe Guadalupe winery is a delight with pleasant blackberry and clove notes.

After ascending into the golden light of early evening, we walk through the expansive pool lounge to the other end of the resort and dinner at the De Cortez Grill & Restaurant. The meal is a foodie’s dream, highlighted by the second course of orange risotto atop golden brie cheese, steamed salmon in dill essence, stuffed squid and winkle soufflé, topped with red crustacean butter.

The next day, I move a few miles up the coast to the iconic and stunning 243-room Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos, offering 11,900 sf of function space. Host to celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Michael Jordan, the Westin is a star in its own right. Designed by famed Mexican architect Javier Sordo Madaleno, the shape of the resort mimics the famous natural stone arch just offshore from Cabo San Lucas, with earth tones and bright pastels that match the colors of the area’s landscape.

From there, I take a short ride to the old town of San Jose del Cabo with the DMC, Terramar Destinations. It offers a charming and relaxed alternative to the party scene of Cabo San Lucas. Stopping first on the outskirts, I walk the grounds of the Wirikuta Desert Botanical Garden, an elaborate cactus garden and group event facility. Home to over 1,500 desert plants from around the world, the spacious gardens include three massive stone and garden pyramids topped by a palapa.

Continuing on to San Jose del Cabo, we drive through narrow streets past 300-year old colonial buildings. What were once homes are now galleries running along an alleyway of shops displaying large canvases of brightly rendered folk art, elaborate ceramics, finely wrought silver jewelry and colorful handicrafts. Check out Galeria Corsica’s contempo paintings, sculpture and installations from top Mexican artists, purchased by celebs such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Sylvester Stallone for their homes here.

For dinner, La Panga Antigua caters to groups with award-winning chef/co-owner Jacobo Turquie’s delicacies. We dine on a grilled chicken in dark, rich mole sauce in a centuries-old courtyard redolent with tropical plants and hanging lanterns. As a fitting end, we salute each other with a jigger of smooth anejo tequila.