Bluewaters Island is rapidly becoming Dubai’s must-see lifestyle destination following the opening of the magnificent Caesars Palace Hotel and the pending arrival of Ain Dubai – the world’s largest ferris wheel – currently on track to begin rotating in summer 2020.
Beneath the shadow of the 210 meter tall fairground attraction lies a restaurant and retail complex that is defying expectations with its eclectic selection of licensed food and beverage concepts. The latest to open is Puerto 99, a split level venue focusing on modern Mexican cuisine.
First impressions are good as we enter into a warm and inviting space exemplified via high ceilings, Mexican textiles and sculpted jaguars. Greeted by a chirpy ‘Ola’ from the hostess, we are led up a narrow stairway past fluorescent portraits of Frida Kahlo and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to the restaurants second floor. Where a quaint al fresco terrace lies, overlooking to Arabian Gulf and the beach at JBR.
Ditching the vibrant colour scheme of the Mexican cantina in favour of earthen tones and an abundance of entwined rope, Puerto 99 resembles a modern hacienda replete with cultural trinkets. Each design element, including the colourful napkin rings, lava stone cups and woven light fittings have been hand-crafted by Mexican artists and transported to the UAE. Adding a layer of authenticity to the restaurant.
The food at Puerto 99 also exemplifies traditionalism with ingredients sourced from 19 of Mexico’s states to ensure a diverse flavour profile and originality to the dishes. With a menu divided into various sections (botanas, raw bar, tacos, Mezquite and large plates) diners should feel compelled to order one or two dishes from each to fully appreciate the sharing concept the restaurant promotes. As a staple of Mexican cuisine the guacamole (AED 75) provides a means to gauge the quality of the restaurant and although we missed the table-side theatrics of similar establishments, the creamy mixture made with Mexican Haas avocados and adorned with pomegranate seeds is a great start. Though the portion is admittedly more than enough for 4 people, we would’ve preferred a little more heat.
An iPad showcases attractive imagery and makes menu navigation simple, especially considering many of the dishes are unfamiliar to us. The cuisine is not the usual Tex-Mex so don’t expect burritos and nachos, instead guests can enjoy ceviche, tacos and an emphasis on seafood and steaks.
While ceviches have long been the focus of Peruvian cuisine, the dish of raw fish cured in citrus is a staple of many Latin American countries including Mexico and at Puerto 99 a number of options are offered. We really appreciate the ability to select a small or large portion for our mixed ceviche which combined octopus, shrimp and red snapper, with tomatoes, onion and sea salt. The resulting dish is bold and fresh with the lime providing acidity and balance to the seafood component.
We would suggest that the tacos are where Puerto 99’s real strength lies and seven fillings are available including grilled lobster, battered shrimp and stewed lamb. Things would be amiss if you didn’t order one (or two). The crispy pescadillas (AED 50) fill two crisp taco shells to the point of expulsion with freshly caught fish, Epazote and chopped pico de gallo salsa. Yet it’s the tacos de tuetano (AED 80) that really appealed, despite the somewhat obscure focal ingredient. Presenting two soft shell tacos stuffed with shredded short rib, alongside a bone cut lengthways. The exposed marrow needs to be scraped and then spread amongst caramelized onions and serrano chilli sat upon the light tortillas. Adding a robust flavour and slightly gelatinous texture to what has to be Puerto 99’s standout dish.
Admittedly the volcanes de carnitas de atun (AED 80) was a minor misstep for us. For the roasted tuna lacked the flavours we had come to expected but things are quickly redeemed with the coconut shrimp. Butterflied shrimp, deep fried and served upon a bed of sweet rice and drizzled with a buttery coconut sauce. Simple but effective, the dish makes for a nice alternative to the abundance of steaks on offer.
Saving room for dessert we cannot resist the warm Mexican churros (AED 55) which are generously dusted with sugar and arrive with a choice of three sauces – chocolate, raspberry and caramel – just perfect for dipping. The churros are delightfully crunchy and boast a crisp golden dough that despite being deep-fried, show no sign of oil retention. We also gravitate towards the Mole spiced lava cake (AED 50) that oozes a spiced chocolate sauce when pierced and thus concludes our meal with some added Latin flare.
A small bar makes for the ideal spot for a pre or post dinner drink and the mixed beverages which have been carefully crafted by in-house mixologist, Borja Doblado are truly impressive. Encapsulating bursts of flame, a juxtaposition in flavours and striking glassware. One quick glance at the restaurants Instagram account is enough to have you ordering the Sweet Roots or Popcorn Julep.
As Puerto 99 transcends from day into night, the venue truly comes alive with projections upon plates creating a dining experience filled with illusions and a live Mariachi band that ensures the venue is at full capacity on weekend evenings. Yet it’s Puerto 99’s focus on traditional Mexican dishes that take in the breath of the country from the Yucatan Peninsula to Chiuahua. While Greek food is currently dominating Dubai’s dining landscape, Puerto 99 has the potential to mark a similar turning point for Mexican cuisine by refining traditional street food and transporting it into a contemporary environment. Hispanic influences derive from more than just the cuisine and decor though and the majority of the staff hail from Mexico. This entrenched authenticity to the restaurant allows Puerto 99 to fill the void for quality Mexican cuisine left behind by the now shuttered Peyote in DIFC.
Out & About UAE were guests of Puerto 99. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.