It was worth the drama to celebrate Stacey's birthday in Cabo, which culminated in a "piñata" that read Felicidades.
It was a straight shot on newly completed Highway 19 from Rancho Pescadero to Cabo San Lucas for my wife’s 40th birthday celebration at Manta, the modern Mexican restaurant with Japanese and Peruvian flourishes from vaunted chef Enrique Olvera. We’d driven that route before and expected a relaxing 43-mile drive through the mountains. Three small problems: I forgot to fill up our rental car’s gas tank, we had no cell phone reception, and I spoke minimal Spanish, which would pose a real challenge if we ran out of gas. I was hoping our dinner would be memorable, but the experience soon centered on a white-knuckle drive through the pitch-black night. Somehow, despite my questionable planning, we scaled repeated mountain passes and coasted into a gas station below the final incline, coasting to the pump on fumes.
By the time we reached The Cape, an ultra-modern Thompson property located past a guard gate at the end of a cul-de-sac, I had a sheepish look and was grateful I didn’t submarine my wife’s landmark birthday. The glass-fronted restaurant overlooks Cabo’s rock formations and a palm-lined, illuminated beach. We sat at a wood-rimmed white table, immediately ordered a cocktail, our highway anxiety disappeared, and we managed to enjoy our standout dinner.
The name manta refers to manta rays, which swim in nearby waters, and to the Spanish word for canvas, symbolizing creative freedom. Olvera’s culinary team offers a four-course tasting menu for $55, which is very reasonably priced, but we opted for an a la carte celebration.
Cocktails cost $11-13 and sounded interesting, but neither Stacey nor I enjoyed Chiltepin ($11) chiltepin pepper infused tequila, grapefruit grilled juice, celery and fennel syrup, epazote infused punt e mes. The flavors didn’t coalesce over the large rock.
Our amuse bouche consisted of a crispy rice cracker garnished with avocado, serrano and cilantro, served with a cool, refreshing Poblano cucumber sauce shot glass.
Almeja Chocolata con Yuzu, Soya y Habanero (132 pesos ~ $9) featured firm chocolate clam with tangy yuzu, habanero soy, diced cucumber, and avocado on the half-shell.
Chile Relleno de Camaron en Salsa Verde (238 pesos ~ $14) was on the mild side, practically spa food, featuring shrimp and salsa verde stuffed chiles that the house green salsa boosted.
Tomato a la Plancha, Chocolata den Escabeche, Salicornia (272 pesos ~ $16) was a bold salad with bright acidity that combined grilled tomato, pickled chocolata clam and fresh chocolate clam, and naturally briny sea asparagus.
Ensalada Cactus, Limon Pitaya, Verdolagas ($12) showcased cactus’s range, plating firm sliced paddles with red and green pitaya (cactus fruit) and purslane, another hearty succulent.
Pollo Organico Frito con Ensalada y Salsa de Ajonjoli-Tamarindo (320 pesos ~ $19) was a fun play on karaage featuring organic chicken marinated in sake, garlic and ginger, breaded in panko, deep-fried and served with tamarind sesame sauce and mixed greens dressed with tangy vinaigrette.
Carne para Tacos (330 pesos ~ $20) was a fun, interactive surf & turf teaming rosy ribeye with smoked oyster dip, cilantro marinated onions, and house-made corn tortillas.
Our intermezzo featured an earthy red bean gelatin rectangle garnished with pecans, caramelized peanuts and shaved cocoa.
Raspado de Jamaica y Betabel con Helado de Yogurt (102 pesos ~ $6) was an inspired hibiscus and beet shaved ice paired with tangy yogurt ice cream.
Manta provided a memorable birthday experience, and my wife and I were in better spirits on the ride back to Rancho.