oysters and arugula



Burritos at Medusa Grill & Bar, Sayulita

After a day of reading and resting, which had been somewhat imposed by rain that had persisted through the night into the day, we were ready for outdoor activity and adventure.  Well-sunscreened and armed with a big bottle of water, we set off with a loose plan to head for the northern end of Sayulita’s main beach, which appeared to be fairly deserted.

As we passed the last of the beach chair and umbrella set-ups, supplied by the ocean-front restaurants, we were joined in our walk by two dogs.  They jumped and played with one another, often ending up under foot or banging into one of us as we walked along.  They were oblivious to the fact that we were not interested in their companionship and unmoved by our shouts of “Go! Go!”

Though they’re welcome to sleep beneath our beach chairs, and Dr. S even went so far as to share our bottled water with one such lounging pooch, no one would mistake us for dog-lovers.

The homes along this stretch of beach,  a mix of large villas with landscaped lawns and gated condo complexes in palm-tree shaded lots, were quite different from “our” part of town.  Eventually, these gave way to jungle, and we found ourselves on empty beach headed toward an outcropping of rocks.  We suspected that if we could make our way over or around these rocks, we’d find Playa Las Cuevas, a tiny horseshoe-shaped beach favored by those seeking a little privacy.  Forceful waves crashed up against the rocks, and though we could see sand as each wave receded, I was inclined to go over the rocks rather than try to scoot around in between waves.  As I surveyed my options for descent, Dr. S appeared to offer a hand down, having made his way around between waves without problem.

We now found ourselves on a small crescent-shaped beach, backed by steep rocky cliffs rising to the jungle.  There was no way to move further north, as the rocks at that end jutted out into deep water and offered no easy way over.   The cliffs would provide some shade until the sun moved higher in the sky, so we spread out our towels, pulled out our books, and appreciated the sound and sight of nothing but the ocean and diving pelicans.  A review of our reference information convinced us that this little patch of beach was not, in fact, Las Cuevas, but we were more than content nonetheless.

A few hours passed, the sun discovered us, and we decided it was time to begin thinking about lunch.  We also decided that we would try to find the “jungle road” for our return to Sayulita.  Following an arroyo away from the ocean, and into the jungle, we soon hit a path and made the leap of faith that this was the jungle road and that a right turn would bring us back to Sayulita.  It was along this walk that we became acquainted with the ubiquitous land crab.  After some initial uneasiness at the sight of them, we quickly realized that they were as happy to avoid us as we them.  The dried palm leaves on both sides of the path crackled and popped as the crabs ran for cover at our approach.

The path ran up hill and down,

finally meeting up with a cobblestone road beside a large home.

We followed the road into a part of Sayulita we were unfamiliar with, passing the elementary school, and eventually arrived at the Medusa Grill & Bar.  With its palm frond thatched roof, open walls, and promise of food and cold drinks, it was a welcome sight.

The sign on the door showed the hours to be 1 – 10 p.m.  It was now 1:30, and we could see the proprietress busy in the kitchen, but the restaurant was empty and had the air of being not quite open.

“¿Está abierto? “

“Sí, en cinco minutos.”

Tuckered out from the hike in the midday heat, sweaty and hungry, we sat down at a table beside a large fan.
View from our table
Medusa's interior

A toddler, apparently the son of the owner, came over and gave us a big grin of welcome.  A young woman, perhaps his older sister, brought us menus and took a drink order.  It was the frostiest cerveza we had had so far.  A little bit later arrived a shrimp burrito for me, and a fish burrito for Dr. S.

Medusa burrito

The Medusa menu mentions their use of organic vegetables and fresh-caught local fish. Dr. S’s burrito, for example, would normally include marlin, but the owner told us that no marlin had come in yet today.  Mahi mahi was the substitute.  A lightly-dressed salad of greens, avocado, tomato and sprouts accompanied our burritos, along with crisp and properly salted french fries, which had clearly been fried in a clean batch of oil.  The burritos were stuffed with our respective grilled seafoods and rice, and served with a sweet and faintly hot mango habanero salsa.  There was also a little crock of what we at first thought to be some sort of homemade ketchup.  We liked it very much and found our fries to be an excellent vehicle for its consumption.  I asked the owner what it was.  Tamarind sauce.  Ah!  And the ingredients?  Her reply, as translated by Dr. S,

“Tamarind, honey, garlic, and a lot of me.”

As we finished our cervezas, enjoying the breeze from the fan, and the pleasure of simply sitting in the shade after an active morning, bellies full and nowhere to be, the owner brought over a small silver bowl of fresh strawberries, topped with a spoonful of crema and a sprinkling of raw sugar.

Strawberries at Medusa

When we finally achieved sufficient motivation to head back for some more hard time at the beach, I tried to figure out how we might work a Medusa dinner into our remaining days in Sayulita.  But, alas, it was Wednesday and we had a mere three dinners left but now more than 5 contenders.   And as it turned out, another Medusa experience was not to be.  But here’s what I like to say about that – – next time!

Whatever the Chef Suggests

I’ve been getting to know a new city and her environs, and our relationship is off to a very good start.  Philadelphia feeds me well and always seems to have something new to share.  She’s introduced me to the yarn store Loop in Center City (where only the fact that my companion was double-parked outside the door kept me from lingering long and spending wildly);

the boutiques of Chestnut Hill (where unique Christmas or Hanukkah presents can be found in an afternoon);

the Barnes (in its original home);

and Fante’s Kitchen Wares shop in the Italian Market neighborhood, where one can pick up an indispensable countertop butter keeper.

I’ve discovered the pleasures of people watching in Rittenhouse Square while eating a sandwich from Di Bruno Brothers; making one’s own margaritas at Lolita; and waiting in a tiny townhouse foyer for the chance to enjoy a bargain-priced, pre-symphony Italian dinner at La Viola.  I’ve brunched at LeBus in Manayunk and Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat in Northern Liberties.

And while all of this has been awfully delightful, what I discovered recently was that Philadelphia had been holding a little bit back.  Perhaps she just wanted to be sure I wasn’t a fair-weather friend.   I can understand this.  Because Vetri is simply not a restaurant to be shared with a casual acquaintance.

To begin with, it’s the sort of place that requires a degree of forethought if you wish to dine here on a Saturday evening.  Two months of forethought, in fact.  (Given that sort of advance planning, you may feel justified in buying a new pair of shoes for the occasion.)

It’s also the sort of place where, upon arriving, you will be greeted in the townhouse foyer by a young man who may apologize that your table is not quite ready, but a glass of Prosecco will be offered to ease your wait, while your anticipation increases.

The dining room holds only 35 guests and a pre-fixe tasting menu is served.  A seasonal menu, written in the hand of the chef, Marc Vetri, is given to each diner, showing the array of dishes from which the kitchen will select your dinner.  If there is something you simply must have or absolutely can’t have, you let the waiter know and the kitchen will respond accordingly.  While several of us made one request – it’s difficult to pass up soft shell crab – we left the remainder of the evening in the chef’s hands.

Starting things off was a plate of assaggi – little bites – including vegetable crostini, foie gras on brioche, and homemade salami.

Next came the soft shell crab, seated on a small mound of fregola and slivered green beans, for those of us who had expressed an interest in it.   Though we were more than content, the one member of our table who had gone entirely “chef’s choice” received the sweet onion crepe with white truffle as his first course.  When he closed his eyes to more completely experience his second bite, I knew I wouldn’t be making any requests the next time (should there be a next time) I found myself in this dining room.  At this point, there was a bottle of 2009 Parusso, Langhe, Nebbiolo on the table, along with a glass of 2007 Falesco “Ferentano” Roscetto.

Third course –  almond tortellini with truffle sauce, rigatoni alla bolognese with chard, and spinach gnocchi with brown butter.

Fourth course – duck salad with apricots and chanterelles for some of us, rotelle with lobster and leek for others.

Fifth course – black bass with zucchini and peas for the women, Creekstone dry-aged ribeye with roasted pepper and celery salad for the men.  We drank a 2002 Le Macchiole, Paleo Rosso and 2009 Isole e Olena Chardonnay with these.  Cheese and dessert courses followed, and some 3 1/2 hours after we had arrived, we sat sipping coffee and discussing the possibility of recreating the meal from Babette’s Feast, so inspired were we by the pleasure of the meal we had just shared.

What’s next, Philadelphia?

Serendipity in DUMBO

After attending a concert there a good many years ago, this past Sunday I returned to Bargemusic, a chamber music venue located on, yes, a barge, moored just south of the Brooklyn Bridge.  We listened to Mahler, Mozart, and Brahms (the electrifying 4th movement of his Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor had us all on our feet, practically cheering – one audience member had actually shouted out a “Bravo” in the midst of the 4th movement), before heading back out into the August-like heat of the late afternoon to consider our options for the approaching evening.

Hmmm, what to do, where to go, most important – what to eat?  Atlantic Avenue for Middle Eastern food?  Park Slope for whatever we happened across?  Back over to Chinatown?  No, nothing doing.  Our parking spot was too good.  We were hot, and soon to be hungry (though we had quelled my threatening sea-sickness – yes, the barge does unfortunately do some rocking – at intermission with a shared bean and cheese quesadilla from the Calexico Mexican food cart), and it was feeling important to me that we find just the right place to complete our thus far very right day.  We walked, we looked at a couple of menus, and I pulled out my phone.

“Are you going to text Zabella?”  (He does pay attention, doesn’t he?)

“I am.  But she’s at the beach.  Don’t think she’s likely to be near her phone.”

Zabella is my work colleague, has lived in Brooklyn, and having many friends there, continues to know the territory.  I felt sure that if she responded, she would not lead us astray.

Me:  Hi – we’re in DUMBO – do you have any good recommendations for fun dinner place?

(almost instantaneously) Zabella:  Yes, Vinegar Hill House.  Have fun!!

A quick Google map search informed us that 72 Hudson Avenue was a mere 4ish blocks from where we were parked on Pearl Street.  We headed north on Water Street, away from the gourmet chocolate shops and onto blocks containing a renovated loft building here, a vacant warehouse there.   When we finally reached Hudson, it seemed quite possible that we had made a wrong turn.  Aside from a closed kosher butcher, there wasn’t another retail establishment to be seen.

“Look!  A couple!  Let’s see where they’re headed!”  Vinegar Hill House, as it turned out.

Plaster-exposed walls, cacti-filled shelves, filament-glowing light bulbs, carved wood tables in varying shapes, and a friendly, tall, blond, Brooklyn-cool hostess greeted us.  It was just 6 p.m. and approximately 5 tables were occupied.  We were seated quickly, and grinned at each other in self-congratulatory satisfaction.  A bottle of rosé was promptly ordered, and I relaxed in the comfort of knowing we had found just the right place.

First course:  Green Papaya Salad – matchstick pieces of green papaya, rainbow radish, cucumber, peanuts, cilantro, vinegar.  Perfection on a 95˚ day.

We opted for the two specials for our second course – walnut and hazelnut encrusted brook trout and a far-too-small plate (in its defense, it was an appetizer special) of homemade pappardelle with artichoke hearts, snails, and lemon.  A side dish of roasted asparagus under a blanket of melting Parmesan rounded things out.   I think I may safely say that there was not a happier pair in the restaurant, and by this time, the place was overflowing with under-35 Brooklyn folks.  They filled the tables, the bar, and the light-strung garden.  But we couldn’t give up our table just yet.  Despite a general disinclination toward desserts, my “very funny and very smart scientist” friend was swayed.  Salted caramel custard was ordered.  And consumed in its entirety.

Oh, Zabella – I KNEW we could count on  you!

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: