Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Adventures in Panama, Part 2

The beach, amazing food and the New York Yankees, oh my! Welcome to Part 2 of Chris's amazing Panamanian Adventure! Grab a yummy snack, something to drink, put your feet up and enjoy!


After our tour with Ismael, we drove back to the City and met up with our friends for dinner. We chose a place in Casco Viejo called Mostaza's (Mustard's) that was recommended to us. It was a wonderful choice. We had red wine, a beautiful bread basket, stuffed chicken breast (spinach and cheese), pork medallions in a red wine sauce, steak with a butter sauce, and a "spicy" (not at all) Peruvian chicken dish. All delicious. A perfect meal to bid our co-travelers good-bye, as they were leaving the next morning. "S" and I were still going strong, so we hit up Cedros again for a daiquiri, then finished off the evening with a few beers at the Red Lion Pub. Great outdoor seating on a main square in Casco Viejo. Really an awesome place.

Pipa's Beach
On Thursday, we woke early, said good-bye to our friends, and jumped in our rental car to hit the beach. After about a 2 hour drive we arrived at Santa Clara, a nice beachfront
community where the Decamerones Resort is located. If you drive through the resort (restaurants, a casino, condos, and a golf course), you then pass through a little fishing community and keep on driving. When the road ends, you're there. Heaven. Or Pipa's, as it's commonly known. A little beach shack about 20 yards from the water, which has a beautiful black and white sand beach, a couple of resident dogs, two outstanding chef/bar tenders, refreshing drinks, and out-of-this-world food. I went with the shrimp cocktail, which was nice and spicy, with the shrimp mixed into the sauce and patacones on the side, of course. "S" went with the fried fish, which came with the THE BEST coconut rice ever. We asked and were told how to cook both. We haven't tried to recreate them yet, but we should...soon. We enjoyed an awesome, relaxing day at the beach, then returned to the City.

"S" had read of a restaurant that he wanted to try, so that's what we did for dinner. Kind of. Honestly, the cab driver couldn't find the place, so we had him drop us off where it "should" have been, and we walked. And walked. And stumbled upon another cool place instead, "Finca del Mar" (Farm of the Sea.) We snagged a seat outside and were happy. We had some Pisco Sours, a bottle of White Wine, some good garlic bread, and then "S" went for a grilled fish platter (no eyeballs this time!), which was served with plantain cakes (they were sweet, with pineapple mixed in - my Inspiration for my Slap Ya Mama Patacones.) I chose a phenomenal pasta pasta with a creamy tomato sauce and chopped sausage. As in a link of grilled sausage, diced up and added to the perfect spaghetti. Yet another dish to recreate. After our amazing dinner we again ended up at the rooftop bar at Tantalo. Great drinks, great people, great times. What more could you ask?

We took it easy Friday, eventually jumped in the rental car again and headed back to the Amador Causeway for lunch. Drove around, just looking. We ended up at "Leno's y Carbon", which is kind of a local chain (actually, it's a Colombian chain), similar to a Chili's, but cooler - WAY cooler - and on the water. We started with an appetizer of "Nachos" (pretty much out of curiosity.) It turned out to be a base of refried beans with chips placed on top. The chips were drizzled with melted cheese, and the sour cream, guacamole, and pico were served on
Lobster Tails
the side. Not bad, but different. Then "S" went for the lobster tails in a citrus-butter sauce with asparagus and green peppercorns (he won this one!), while I decided to sample the mixed grill fajitas. What can I say? I'm a Texan and wanted to try the local interpretation of a hometown favorite. The result? Very thin, small tortillas (which I liked a lot), bell peppers, onions, and a mix of chicken/beef. This was the only beef that I ate while there (beef is not of great quality in Panama, as it is almost all imported.) They also used a citrus marinade of sorts and absolutely no spices like we would use at home. It was very good, yet different. I'm glad that I tried it, but I honestly think that our version is much, much better!

As this was our last day of vacation, we decided that we wanted to have a special, fancy dinner for just the two of us. During the afternoon we hopped into our car and drove over to scout out Trump Ocean Club, the Panamanian version of Donald Trump's Trump Towers. It's a really beautiful place, right on the water. There are condos and a hotel, a casino, shopping, multiple restaurants, an awesome pool area, a private dock and yacht basin, and so much more. We walked around, took some pics, and stopped in at a few of the restaurants in order to check out their menus and have a drink. We noticed that an area near the pool was being set up for an event. We were thinking that it was for a very high-dollar wedding. Beautiful views, floral arrangements, a huge buffet table. We were "shooed away" when we got too close! Okay, no big deal. So, we made reservations at Barcelona, one of the restaurants, for that evening and went back to the hotel to rest, refresh, and clean up.

When we returned in a taxi later on (a little early, as we wanted to have a drink at another bar before our dinner), we noticed that there were many media vans parked in front of Trump Ocean Club. We were assuming that the wedding we saw being set up must be a really big deal, and we were glad that we had dressed up! We took the elevator up to the floor where the restaurants were located, the elevator opened, we stepped out, and about 40 photographers turned and snapped our picture! It was a Media Heyday! We just kind of smiled and nodded, not sure what to think of it all (I was actually thinking, "OMG, glad I put on lipstick!")

Then I was curious enough to pull a sweet gentleman aside and ask him WHAT was going on. Seems that the NY Yankees and the Florida Marlins were playing exhibition games in Panama the next day and the Yankees were staying at Trump's property. And they were hosting a HUGE Meet and Greet that evening. Not a wedding, the Yankees! Okay, no biggie...

We were asked "who" we were, we told them that we were just normal folks on vacation who stumbled into all of this, and we were given one rule: NO PHOTOS ALLOWED! So, yes, I met some Yankees, I sat and had drinks with a couple of them. I can't name names, but they were people that you would know if you follow baseball. They were very sweet and down-to-earth, and they were pretty darn funny! And their wives/partners...stunning! Definitely a night that I will remember.

We started with a couple of very well done cocktails at Tejas, where we sat at the bar with some of the Yankees. It was kind of a surreal event as we aren't really fans, but we recognized these guys. And there were bodyguards in every corner. As in I went to the restroom, a bodyguard followed me (?!?) and waited outside of the door. I'm not sure what he thought I was going to do exactly, but I guess that's the price you pay for hobnobbing with the famous. Anyway...

We walked through the main lobby (and media circus) to get to Barcelona, the place that we had reserved for dinner. There were not many people there, so we were able to get a patio table. We sat outside, about 17 stories up, looking at the big city skyscrapers on one side, an ocean view on the other...magical. There was live music (a trio with a singer, very nice) and a very pretty garden/patio area. I must say that we saw many of our Yankee "friends" pass through, taking pictures and smoking cigars. I'm still just kind of unsure of what to make of the whole evening. We ended up with a bottle of wine, a couple of salads, some nice bread, a cheese plate, and then a charcuterie platter that came with bruschetta. We split a creme brûlée and a glass of dessert wine to finish it all off. A very nice ending to an awesome trip!

There was one last stop that we had to make before heading home the next day: The Hard
Night view of Panama City from
the Sky Bar at the Hard Rock
Rock's rooftop bar, Sky Bar. We had heard so many great things about this place. I believe that it was about 30 stories up, maybe more. So, we went, had a couple of drinks, took some fabulous pictures, and then declared ourselves "Old Fogies". The music was great, the drinks good as well, but we had a rental car to return and a flight to catch the next day.

Everything went smoothly the next morning, but airport security was insane! We were told that it was due to the Malaysian Jet that went down the week before. To travel back to the U.S., there were 3 separate (full) checkpoints. As in take off your shoes, turn on your laptop, you can't bring food/drink with you. We barely made our flight, as it took almost 3 hours to get to our gate. And we weren't even allowed to bring our unopened water or bag of chips on the plane with us (we had a receipt showing that we had just bought them.) Luckily, they let our coffee beans and other food-centric souvenirs through! The flight was uneventful, it was pouring rain when we arrived back in Houston and when we got home, the first thing that one of the pups did was to jump into the fish pond and swim around out of sheer happiness. Good thing that I love that little stinker. Doggie baths were NOT on the welcome home agenda! But, clean puppies and my own bed were, in the end, the best thing ever.

I had the most amazing time on my Central American vacation. Panama is a beautiful country full of beautiful people, amazing places, and such a rich history. I enjoyed every minute of my time there and hope to return in the future. If you are ever traveling in that direction, please don't hesitate to contact me with questions or for ideas. I hope that you've enjoyed reading about my adventures as much as I've enjoyed sharing them. Thanks for supporting 37 Cooks - and Happy Travels, wherever life may take you!


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