Photo by Su-Jit Lin-DeSimone
It only makes sense that Mexican food shines in Mexico, and so I’ve saved Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s other AAA Four Diamond restaurant for the grand finale.
I always knew I really liked Mexican food, particularly that of Quintana Roo and the Yucatan Peninsula. One of the highlights of every visit there is gorging myself on the cochinita pibil, topped with pink pickled onions. Another is fresh guacamole, so silky and rich. Yet one more is right-off-the-coast seafood, succulent and bursting with sweetness. The list clearly goes on and on, making it no mystery as to why over three million visitors choose to eat and play in the Cancun region each year.
But my point is, what I thought I knew and enjoyed about Mexican food was merely the tip of the iceberg, which is what I realized after a transcendental meal at Frida at this resort. Let’s dig into why.
Frida (AAA Four Diamond)
I was told that the only thing that keeps this authentic, inventive Mexican restaurant from that last diamond is the fact that it’s a wee bit too accessible, which is great news for guests. They allow children at nearly all of their dining establishments, who are usually pretty well-behaved after a long day of play at the two gigantic, supervised kids clubs. But at this Frida Kahlo-inspired fine dining restaurant, it’s Chef Ricardo de la Vega who’s at play, with sauces painted onto plates in broad strokes and every course an explosion of the bright, earthy colors of Mexico.
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Having worked from Oaxaca to the Yucatan to Puebla, Vega’s menu concept both humbles and elevates cuisine from across the country. Old school are the practices of slow cooking, painstakingly hand-making elements of each dish from scratch, and eschewing shortcuts. New-school is the clever plating and combinations that made every dish a masterpiece.
The torta made of duck “carnitas;” green chili, corn, shrimp, and toasted epazote soup poured tableside; grouper crusted in crunchy crab meat with green mole sauce; adobo filet mignon with black bean and sausage risotto topped with smoked corn … these dish names don’t do the execution justice. So much fine detail goes into every element here, from the complex, layered mole sauces to the peanut candy powder and toasted corn in the jericalla dessert or papaya sauce and chili caramel on the sweet potato pie. Finish off with the regional tequila cream poured over ice, and you, like me, will find yourself forever ruined for what passes for Mexican food in the States.
Pro-Tip: Not staying at Grand Velas Riviera Maya? Not to worry — these restaurants are open to the public … if you can get in. Guest reservations are accommodated first, but it’s a great “entree” into the Grand Velas gourmet experience.