Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort
A breakfast fruit platter at Bistro
Croquettes at Cocina de Autor Restaurant
5th Avenue as seen from terrace of La casa Del Agua Restaurant
Marinated short rib
Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, Spa & Nature Park
Having not been in Mexico for 31 years I wasn’t certain as to what to expect. I was blown away when I emerged from the van and climbed the stairs to the luxurious all-inclusive Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort, a member of the prestigious group “The Leading Hotels of the World”. Located on the Maya Riviera, it is just 35 minutes from the Cancun International Airport and five minutes from Playa del Carmen. www.grandvelas.com.
After being wowed by the splendor of blue sea and sky and white sand, my first floor suite opened up to the splendor of the beach. For relaxation, when one isn’t taking advantage of the infinity pool and its swim-up bar, you can pamper yourself with a leisurely soak in the Jacuzzi bathtub using Molton Brown products, an inviting shower, or dream pleasant dreams in the huge and ultra-comfortable bed draped with luxurious linen.
Other amenities include: 24 hr. butler concierge service; pool and beach concierge; breakfast, lunch and dinner a la carte or buffet at Bistro, Azul and Chaka Restaurants as well as a la carfte dinners at the resort’s other restaurants; 24 hour suite service, domestic and international premium brands, parking lot and valet parking, taxes and tips.
A plethora of options await the visitor when it comes to satisfying one’s appetites. A fully stocked in-room mini bar, the Bistro bar, room service, poolside snacks, and dinner at the resort’s highly acclaimed “Cocina de Autor Restaurant”. The executive chef who has twelve years experience, two of them at the restaurant, uses his life experiences and surroundings for inspiration and describes his cooking style as ‘different’. Suffice to say our meal, that included prosciutto croquettes and bacon in balsamic sauce, mint tuna, mango flower, green celery sea bass, and veal cooked for 36 hours, was absolutely delectable. Argentinian, Californian and Spanish wines accompanied the main meal, while a perfect Portuguese Tawny port was served with the unusual dessert of olive oil and banana - a combination that tastes better than it sounds.
Other dining establishmnents at the resort are: “Piaf” (fine art of French cuisine); “Frida” (Mexican fare); “Lucca” (Italian-Mediterranean dishes of seafood, gourmet meats and homemade pastas); and Sen Lin Restaurant & bar (northeast and southwest Asian cooking).
PLAYA DEL CARMEN - Mexican Caribbean
Our culinary tour extended beyond the borders of the resort as we travelled to the renowned Playa del Carmen to taste the gourmet delights at a number of their eateries
La Casa del Agua Restaurant
The second floor of this restaurant affords a wonderful view of 5th Avenue below, along with a welcome breeze and a European menu with nuances of Caribbean flavour. Our introduction to their international menu, prepared by Chef Miguel Luna, began with Goat cheese pannacotta, with apple and onion chutney, balsamic vinegar and arugula and sun-dried tomatoes. The roasted scallop marinated in citrus juice, breaded fried and served over risotto champagne, cilantro and cheese and parsley was a delight for the senses. As delicious, was the short rib marinated in black beer, wine and cooked for 10 hours that was accompanied with mashed potatoes. The wine list features 260 different labels from 12 countries, including Mexico, U.S., South Africa, Italy, Australia, France, Chile and Argentina. From Baja California we were poured a 2006 Casa Madero - Casa Grande Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, which was married with Cocinetta Ravioli, filled with a pork mixture covered with leaves and cooked and topped off with a traditional black been sauce.
Mi Pueblo Cocina Mexicana
Typical Mexican fare can be had at this locale, from tacos and salsa to fried cheese, and tortilla with shrimp salad topped with mango slices or Pechuga Tres Quesos (stuffed breast chicken filled with spinach, topped with chipotle sauce and dipped in a three-cheese sauce. This is a perfect locale to satisfy your hunger pangs and to people watch.
Established in 1996, visitors can order appetizers as well as salads, soups, and sandwiches and this locale. Their signature dish, fried cheese in green salsa, is ideal for those who enjoy something with a ‘bit of a kick’. Their extensive menu encompasses Thai menu items and typical Mexican cuisine such as tacos, fajitas and enchiladas.
Located at 5th Ave. and Calle 30, Ah Cacao makes dark chocolates with 70% organic cacao in various formats, among which are melt-in-your-mouth fudge and made-to-order mocha frappe. Truly a great place to visit and sip your favourite hot or cold beverage. www.ahcacao.com.
Cacao began in the area more than 2500 years ago when the Romans passed on the information on this staple to the Mayans, later taken over by the Aztecs when the Mayans disappeared. This establishment is committed to keeping alive the history of cacao which, in its natural format is actually white, only becoming brown after undergoing the roasting process.
Historically, only the kings and elite had access to this product and legend has it that Montazuma consumed large quantities of this drink [note that it was customary for the Mayans to add chili pepper to the drink]. Later, cocoa jumped continents when it was taken from the Americas to Europe and when it arrived in Poland it was produced as a hard substance, and not just as a drink as it was in Mexico.
Today, Mexico accounts for only 1% of the world’s production of cocoa. Cocoa is known for its antioxidant qualities, ability to relieve stress, and its natural anti-depressant effectiveness.
Offering gourmet Mexican cuisine, this restaurant opened in December 2010 and has already garnered a loyal following, especially for its seafood. The beautifully appointed second floor has sections separated drapes to provide privacy and intimacy. A mango tequila was the perfect precursor for the paper-thin duck that was married with the Casa Madero Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Tempranillo wine. Their Torta, pulled pork in tomato sauce, is eaten with plastic gloves - a messy but delicious fare.
The menu is changed every six months according to the seasons. Dinner only is offered at this locale, which is closed on Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org
La Cueva Del Chango
With humble beginnings as a kitchen with only 3-4 tables serving enchaladas, after 11 years this location now boasts 25 tables and such tempting dishes as Habenero cream soup, guacamole, and tuna tartare.
Hotel Las Palapas offers individual villas for couples and family stays, and gorgeous beachfront exposure. The restaurant rounds out the experience by offering savoury dishes such as hicken cordon bleu, shrimp mignon and Vera Cruz style fish can be savoured at this resort’s restaurant.
Yaxche (pronounced yack-chay)
Specializing in serving Mayan cuisine in an environment that blends ancient and cosmopolitan elements, this restaurant is committed to using authentic local and special productions along with Mayan cooking techniques and ingredients to create original dishes that also appeal to European and North American palates. The food groups can be described as Maya authentic (prepared tradionally as the Tamale Chaya); Yucatecan specialties (created during the conquest of Mexico); and Maya-fusion (blending of ancient and contemporary flavours, i.e. Shrimp Ixel). Their tasting menu is filling and offers a way to sample a variety of their typical dishes.
Mezcal Tasting at Ruffino
Mezcal is made from the heart of the maguey plant grown in Mexico, where this smoky-flavoured beverage is drunk ‘straight’. Though not as popular as Tequila, made from the blue agave, the product is exported mainly to Japan and the U.S. Even though the name ‘mezcal’ closely resembles ‘mescaline’, the drink does not contain that or other psychedelic substances. If you’re into authentic Mezcal made with 100% Agave, make your way to Ruffino, located along 5th Avenue.
TULUM – where yesterday meets today
What today is known as Tulum (meaning ‘wall’) was once called ‘Zama’ by the ancient Mayans. Its ancient pass was built according to Mayan standards, while the fortress was constructed to imitate the Acropolis. Tulum is protected on three sides by a fortified wall, while the fourth side faces the Caribbean. Do make time to visit this intriguing archaeological site and, while you’re at it, be sure to bring a bathing suit as there is a lovely beach where you can test the waters.
|Interesting trivia about Tulum: leaves used for roofs didn’t leak for 30 years (better than guarantees we get today!); the treebark is used to produce paper and books; 59 types of orchids can be found in Tulum; the Xacche tree is the ‘pure life tree’; the wood is ‘chic let’, meaning mouth-chew (puts a new meaning on chewing gum!).
GASTRONOMICAL DELIGHTS IN TULUM
The Tulum area offers foodies many choices to tempt any tastebuds and, of course, the national treasure “tequila”.
A little off the beaten track, this hotel opened in 1994 and added the restaurant the following year. Chef Sergio Baranek creates such delicacies as caprese, tasty and spicy lobster tacos roll, both of which can be savoured after enjoying a Tequila/mandarin cocktail. Attentive service, fantastic food, and a glorious view of the private beach from the restaurant’s outdoor terrace, makes this a ‘jewel of a find’.
El Tabana - Restaurant Altamar
Conscious of the environment this ‘green’ restaurant utilizes solar panels and recycles everything from water, to compost, to furnishings. Even their production of bottled honey has a cork made from corn husk. Those employed at the restaurant take on various tasks -- for instance the bartender also acts as carpenter, composter, etc. Open for three years, it began humbly with four tables and open four nights a week. Our lunch consisted of a salad of peppers, beans, carrots, balsamic vinegar, honey, ciaia, cheese, red chicken, and a selection of pizzas provided by Fernando of “La Nave” restaurant in Tulum. We enjoyed a Monte Xanic 2009 Chenin, and a 2008 Celto Petit Syrah.
Panna e Cioccolato - Tulum Gelateria
For those of us who have an insatiable sweet tooth, a visit to this establishment is a must. You can choose a vanilla, chocolate, lemon or coconut gelato. But do as I did, and order a little of each. Why not? Plans are underway to open a bakery soon, and I look forward to returning so that I can sample those victuals as well.
Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, Spa & Nature Park
Touted as ‘the only environmentally responsible luxury resort that offers exclusive access to the Tres Rios Nature Park in the Riviera Maya”, this hotel is ideal for that special wedding or corporate meetings. It also offers visitors superb dining and stunning scenery.
Three years ago the resort began offering Tequila classes, which are free to hotel guest. Non-guests can also participate, but at a cost. Executive Chef, Oscar Orbe, guided us through a tasting of the Mexican treasure – tequila. The “Silver” is placed in a barrel for 15 days and proffers a slightly bitter yet smoother drink. The golden and elegant “Reposado” remains in the barrel for 2 months and favours the palate with toasty and vanilla notes. The “Aged Tequila” stays in the barrel for one year. The highlight was a sampling of a $400 bottle of Herr Tequilas, when we took great pleasure of its toasty caramel and buttery flavours. Oscar had us try taking a sip of sangrita, and a sip of Tequila. The Sangrita recipe follows, so that you can try it as well.
|Tequila can be made from 365 kinds of blue agave which can take 7-20 years to grow mainly in the Los Altos, Callisto, and Guanaquco regions. The leaves are cut and cooked for 36 hours at 350o to obtain sugar water, go through fermentation and get a clear liquid. The distillation process results in 70 o alcohol, while a second distillation brings down the content to 39 o. When placed in oak barrels, tequila gets the darker colour.
Mix the following ingredients, and keep in fridge for up to 3 days
Makes 1 litre:
400 ml orange juice
400 ml tomato juice
50 ml lemon juice
30 ml Grenadine syrup
20 ml Worcestershire sauce
Magi and Tabasco hot sauce (mixed up)
Salt and pepper to taste
This resort, currently undergoing renovations, boasts four different menus each week.
We were treated to Gazpacho and salads, served with a 100% Agave dry Milagro Tequila and to mellow the tequila a Green Sangrita comprising green tomatoes, lime, pineapple, salt and pepper. This variety is smoother, not as strong and a little on the sweet side. However, it was brought home to us that Tequila is not just a drink but also suitable accompaniment to food such as grouper, tuna, and shrimp. The Tequila Anejo (old) is perfect for before or after dinner.