Beyond Los Arcos, and just as the highway was about to bend into the mountains and leave all semblance of Puerto Vallarta behind, our taxi driver turned onto a bumpy road and headed down a steep slope into a sleepy, dusty Mexican village. “Is this right?” my brother-in-law Jason asked.
“I think so,” I replied, but what did I know? I’d never been here before. I had just stared at the map long enough beforehand to know it felt right.
Near a pretty little beach, our cabbie stopped by a covered concrete slab where gringos were knocking back beers. My wife and I, along with Jason and his wife Ali, gathered our things, paid, and then stumbled around looking for a sign to the Ocean Grill, our accessed-by-boat destination for the afternoon. A man emerged, a waiter — it seemed — and signaled for us to have a seat at a table upon the concrete slab. “Yes, Ocean Grill. You want something?” This appeared to be where we waited.
We barely had time to settle in and pull back a sip of our icy Coronas before a large dingy sped up toward the dock. “Ocean Grill!” the waited called. So we chugged what we could and paid and boarded the simple yet sturdy shuttle boat.
For Hailey and I, this was our escape. We were spending a quick six days in Puerto Vallarta with our young daughters, Hailey’s parents, and Jason and Ali, and this was our night of freedom. The girls were back at the resort in town with their grandparents, no doubt splashing like dolphins in the kiddie pool. We were getting splashed ourselves, by a light spray from the waves splitting on the bow of the dingy. To enjoy a ride like this without fear of a little one falling overboard … that alone was paradise for me.
From Boca de Tomatlan, we headed out into a small bay lined with palms, dense rainforest and mansions, then wrapped around a rocky point where our palapa-cum-restaurant awaited over the water. Tucked into the cove between a ghostly forest, gray rocks and lapping waves of aquamarine was a sliver of beach, and floating about 100 feet off the restaurant deck was a square, manmade island with a lounge chair and phony palm trees.
This was Ocean Grill, and we were having the final meal service of the day, in the blazing heat of 3pm.
We were soon seated for an extraordinary meal. Fresh ceviche, guacamole and chips, and lime-cucumber margaritas got us started. The briny, fruity and bright flavors mixed with that dreamy over-the-water view, making the whole experience feel like a Mexican fantasy. Soon, our main courses arrived. Three of us ordered the same thing: red snapper with plantains, tropical salsa and a delicious lime-butter-chile de arbol sauce.
There is something about these flavors — particularly the crispness of lime — and that warm, humid air of the Pacific Coast of Mexico that just feels like a perfect marriage.
Afterward, Jason took a dip in the ocean and swam out to the island while the rest of us watched colorful reef fish nibbling by the rocks in the crystal-clear water below.
But after Jason returned and we headed to the beach for the last 30 minutes of our stay (the boat would be returning at 5pm sharp), we hit a snag.
One disconcerting thing about Ocean Grill is the owner’s Great Dane, a seemingly horse-sized dog who wanders among the tables, sniffing the air and bothering the tables. During dinner, he stayed away from us, but at the beach, he reappeared, and for whatever reason, opted to climb all over me, and then Jason, going so far as to nip at Jason’s forearm. It seemed to be a mixture of play and territorial behavior, and given his enormous, menacing size, he pretty much tarnished an otherwise amazing experience.
That perfect beach (pictured above) we had been ogling over throughout dinner? Yeah, we pretty much set foot on it for two minutes before Marmaduke decided to gnaw on Jason.
And so it was with mixed feelings that we boarded the boat and returned to Boca de Tomatlan.
Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes, with a caveat. Great food, unmatched ambiance, a really pleasant experience to and from the restaurant. But would I return? As long as that Great Dane resides there, probably not.