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Pan Asian in Puerto Vallarta

I doubt that many tourists think in an Asian cuisine direction while beaching in the sun—but then again, there isn’t that much of it available in Puerto Vallarta.

When introducing herself to readers in early 2019, the new SF Chronicle restaurant critic, Soleil Ho tells of having recently opened, with her mother, a small eatery in the hills above PV centered on Vietnamese and other Asian small plates: Bonito Kitchen. The name was chosen, according to Ho, “because it both means  ‘beautiful’ in Spanish, and is the name of one of the most important fish in Japanese cuisine.”

When we find ourselves on a short break from NorCal rain and gloomy cloud—to Puerto Vallarta—that April, naturally we have to check it out. A 15-minute cab ride up and over the top, Bonito is situated in the outlying Jardines de las Gaviotas neighborhood above the center of town, in a low nondescript building. There is seating for maybe 18 diners inside, and another 16 or so on an adjacent terrace covered in bougainvillea and trumpet vine. A sort of free standing shack at the corner of the terrace houses the bar.

There’s an extensive list of creative cocktails, mostly with a tropical and fruity bent—the maracuyá with passionfruit, and mi amigo with kiwi and elderflower. We elect a slightly dirty Tanqueray martini (the menu encourages specifying the level of dirt) and a mezcal mule, which comes properly in a hammered copper mug with copper straw. Offered in vodka, tequila, bourbon, and raicilla, a funky version of tequila (cheese and chocolate have been used to describe its nose), the mule combines very dry ginger beer with fresh ginger and lime, and is garnished with limes, ginger slices and mint. It’s happily not too sweet, tangy from ginger, with a smoke overlay from the mezcal.

The menu is bullseye for our favorite kind of eating…...a dozen and a half small plates; no mains. There are two kimchis: Napa cabbage, and pineapple, and spicy cucumber salad to lead the menu. We start with pot stickers—delicate dough, crisp bottomed, filled with pork and shrimp enhanced with ginger, garlic and scallion, and they are quite flavorful. The dipping sauce, just soy, could be improved with a bit of heat and mirin.

The pho dumplings are chicken and veg filled and come in a bowl of herb-strewn broth—also very tasty, if a bit less bold than the pot stickers.

The beverage list includes a brief wine section, craft Mexican beers, as well as a couple of the standards, and several sakes. We opt for a carafe of Junmai gingo sake, and a Colima lager to accompany the next courses.

Crispy fried chicken wings are glazed with soy and garlic, scattered with scallion tops and sesame seeds and come with an unctuous sweet-tangy dipping sauce that invites swiping each bite.

The chashu pork belly is obviously long cooked, falling apart tender in a dish of demi-glace and is perfectly accompanied by a triangle of sticky rice, grilled dark, its base in a swirl of sweet soy. Each combo bite of pork meat, belly fat and crispy rice melds harmoniously.

A short dessert list includes mango pudding, crème brûlée, matcha mochi donuts and house made ice cream. We opt for salted caramel ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce, and a shot of Bulliet bourbon on the side.

Other items that appeal, but for which we have no room, include Saigon egg rolls of chicken and vegetables, lemongrass chicken sate skewers with peanut sauce, and grilled mushrooms with miso butter. They have classic pho available only on Saturdays.

Madame Ho arrives late, telling us she just came from the ramen shop she’s opened across the road. She tells of her daughter opening Bonito Kitchen with her, and creating all the recipes, and then says “she left me, for the big restaurant critic job in the city”...she’s obviously proud. We ask if BK is doing well, which she affirms, but adding ”clearly not many tourists come due to location—we have had a few from the Bay Area that read about us in Soleil’s writing”. Then she reveals they may be about to open a small spot near the centro. “It will take some creativity,” she says “since there’s no kitchen!”

If you’re sunning in Vallarta, and like small plates and crave some creative Asian fare, take the 15-minute cab ride over the top through the tunnel to the burbs and Bonito Kitchen—you won’t regret it.......





Some photos courtesy Bonito Kitchen

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