San Felipe and celebrating our friend's Four-Oh were the destinations of the weekend. Our friends had visited the Latin Gardens under the previous owners last year, and were excited to re-visit as The Place to celebrate. The owners have changed, but talented and award winning chef, Jesus was still manning the stove.
Jesus and his lovely 'boss' (wife) Steph have transformed the eating outdoor-only patio space into a lush garden, where Jesus uses all of the bounty for his cooking. From fresh limes for the margaritas, to assorted herbs for his creations, when entering you immediately feel as if you've been transported into a friend's personal backyard.
Jesus continues to put his personal touch on everything, from being the main waiter to the Chief Mixologist. It was behind the bar that he regaled us with stories and many more drinks, all made with fresh ingredients. Even the sweet and sour mix for the margaritas was home-made.
Since our group is accustomed to dining together, and enjoy much of the same tastes, (and the absence of menus since it was the 2nd day open) we decided to put ourselves in Jesus' hands.
We started out with a fresh ceviche and chips. The tangy chopped fish was mounded on a platter, ample enough to share among the four of us. Jesus had a particularly intriguing shrimp entree, which we all wanted to try, so we implored Jesus to make an appetizer size portion for us. The plump, fresh shrimp were marinated in oyster sauce, with enough ginger to give it a punch. Carmelized on the outside, our mouths were rewarded with a firm, perfectly cooked morsel of perfection.
While waiting for our salads, Jesus brought over magical bundles of bread. Presliced, abundant with a melted concoction of olive oil and butter, in between each slice there were sprinklings of fresh rosemary, all wrapped in individual portions in parchment. Atkins be damned, we nearly arm wrestled for the last delicious mini-loaf.
The salad course was beautifully presented on oversized plates, undressed, with the homemade dressing of our choice in either unusual shot glasses, or miniature bowls. Again, a great touch.
Our mains were all varied. From the lamp chops that were perfectly done, fresh yellowtail with Jesus' own mango sauce, and a pork chop marinated in balsamic then finished with a glaze of fig concentrate.
In spite of our being stuffed, who could resist Boss Stephanie's special chocolate cake for our Honoree. A decadent (but not heavy) rich chocolate cake, with a hint of ancho chile to make your mouth 'sparkle' (as our companion and Jesus agreed). Jesus was excited to have made his first batch of ice cream, and brought over a large scoop of freshly made strawberry ice cream eagerly passed around the table, that garnered oohs and ahhs.
The hospitality of Jesus and Stephanie is evident everywhere. From yards of chiffon billowing in the breeze like a scene out of 'Arabian Nights' in honor of our special Honoree, to the fresh cut flowers gracing every table, you feel like you are a special guest in Jesus' and Stephanie's home. If the food weren't amazing enough, Jesus' stories, exuberance, love of cooking and dedication to getting it right, and making the guest happy, should ensure many happy dining memories for years to come.