March 31 marked four years and 20 Clandestina dinners hosted by brothers Antonio and Felipe Meneses, co-owners of Restaurante Angustino in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero.
After chef Felipe Meneses read about the formal affairs, which originated in San Francisco and then went on to London, England, and major cities in the United States, he decided it would be a success in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, too.
As his brother Antonio pointed out, it is their dream to make this part of Mexico a true gastronomical destination as well as the popular tourist destination it is today.
Each dinner has been hosted, as the name suggests, in a secret location. Guests arrive at the restaurant to enjoy a welcome cocktail before departing in prearranged vehicles to the location of the dinner. There they are wined and dined in the finest style for the entire evening.
The price is dependant on the location and menu, but guests can expect to pay between 2,000 and 2,700 pesos (US $100-$140) per person. The number of guests will vary between 20 and 60, making it truly exclusive as people vie for tickets at the once-a-month event during high season, December to April.
Past dinners have been held in locations such as the lighthouse at the tip of Las Gatas, a labor-intensive affair which required moving everything from tables, chairs and linens to food, flowers and guests on a dusty pathway.
Additional dinners were hosted at Zihuatanejo’s Archeological Museum and the infamous Patheon, that sits high on the hills of La Ropa beach. Still another used Ixtapa as a backdrop.
Depending on the menu, the brothers will often fly in special guest chefs from around Mexico to share their talents and expertise, and sometimes offer surprise entertainment for the evening.
At the museum Clandestina, for example, the young man sitting next to me rose half-way through dinner and did an amazing operatic version of Besame Mucho.
As I joined others on the patio at Angustino’s for what was to be the final Clandestina this season, I was as much in the dark as everyone else as to where the dinner was going to be held. Finally, when everyone had arrived, we departed in pre-arranged vehicles.
On the way I asked Antonio about the future of Clandestina dinners for the area. He explained that despite what might seem a hefty price tag, the dinners did not break even as a business for them, especially once all the expenses were factored in, such as airfare and accommodation for the visiting chefs, flowers, linens and, of course, the price of labour, food and wine.
So why do it?
The whole point is to build up awareness of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo gastronomically. Eventually, the brothers hope, other restaurants in the area with world-class chefs (and there are many) would choose to participate.
As Antonio’s car wound up the hills heading towards Playa la Ropa, I played a guessing game as to where the event would be held and discarded each guess as we passed it and began to climb. I knew there were several locations high above Las Gatas that would be suitable for a Clandestina, but we had passed all the places I thought it might be held.
Finally, we took a road I hadn’t even known existed and moments later we arrived.
The first thing that struck me was the incredible and breathtaking view of the beautiful Punta Garroba resort and condominiums. Far below I could make out the long linen-clad table which was, I learned, decorated by artist Miguel López Vázquez from Mexico City.
A beautiful staircase brought guests down to a stunning swimming pool on the manmade beach overlooking the surf and rocks below. The bar rested to the right where the staff worked to prep the plates for dinner.
And then it came time to eat.
As each creative as well as delicious dish was presented and paired with an appropriate wine, chef Felipe explained them. It was love at first bite — from the first course, a seafood bouillabaisse, followed by tortellini in squid ink, plus a fish dish, to a beef dish with hibiscus and peppers.
The last course, a confection of chocolate and pistachio created by Antonio Meneses’ wife chef Nori, was the perfect end to an amazing dinner.
The writer is a Canadian who has lived and worked in Mexico for many years.