Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Straight Truth on Mayan Palace - The Restaurants

Dessert at Tramonto
The Straight Truth on Mayan Palace - The Restaurants
The restaurants and wait staff at Mayan Palace are great.

Gong - Gong is Asian Fusion and has a good mix of Japanese noodle dishes, sushi, and other “Asian” food. We ate a light dinner there on our first night and it was delicious. We had steamed edamame and some various maki rolls. The Tabasco roll is simply amazing. I would never have thought to wrap a roll in grilled plantain, but it was nothing short of amazing. There is a sommelier who serves both Gong and Tramonto and he did an outstanding job of recommending a red wine that would overpower the sushi (I wasn’t in the mood for sake and didn’t want to splurge for champagne on our first night). We ended the meal with a dessert of grilled bananas and gingered dark chocolate. YUM.

Creperia – Inside the market/gift shop, downstairs from Gong and Tramonto is a creperia. Most of the crepes are good. The Mexicana (salsa verde, roasted poblano peppers, pumpkin blossoms, etc) and the banana y nutella are out of this world! Don’t miss them.

Balche and Frida’s Mexican Grill – The outdoor cafĂ© by the pool is called Balche by day and Frida’s Mexican Grill by night. Our beach waiter served us everyday and the food is fine. It’s not amazing, but it’s not bad. The grilled fish sandwich is great. At night, when it turns into Fridas, that’s another story. At that point, they begin serving some of the best Mexican food you have ever had (and yes, I have had great authentic Mexican in Mexico and the US, including going to all of the Rick Bayless restaurants).  The Cochinita pibil is out of this world. It’s basically little chunks of pork shoulder, seasoned with achiote, wrapped in banana leaves, and roasted until it almost melts. The green chile sauce at Fridas is some of the best I have ever had as is the mole. My wife and I joked that the chef should offer a cooking class just to teach those two sauces. Other items not to miss are the tamale appetizer (four different types of tamales) and the tacos al pastor. If you get the The Cochinita pibil, consider pairing it with a Mexican red wine. We had a nebbiolo from the Guadalupe Valley that was really good. Fridas is closed on Thursday – I’m guessing to encourage people to do the “Mexican Feast” at Del Lago.

Tramonto – The Italian restaurant is also great. It was our favorite last time, and we saved it for our last night. Our biggest complaint of our trip is that we couldn’t go to every restaurant twice. We saved Tramonto for our actual anniversary and we had a great meal. Everything on the menu sounds amazing and it’s hard to narrow things down. The bruschetta is great. One thing we noticed all week long is that any time we had peppers (red, green, poblano, fresh, roasted, whatever) they had so much more flavor than the peppers we get at home (even more so than the fancy Whole Foods peppers). I don’t think words can really describe the meal we had. Our server was amazing, our wine (a Mexican Merlot) was amazing. Everything was perfect.

Coconut Curry Shrimp at Havana Moon
Havana Moon – They call Havana Moon a Cuban restaurant, but there isn’t a whole lot of Cuban food on the menu. We felt that Havana Moon was the weakest of the restaurants. My wife ordered the pad thai and it was just ok. I ordered the coconut curry shrimp and they were amazing – coconut fried shrimp with a great curry dipping sauce and an asian slaw on the side. Our dessert that night was also a let down. It was called the Coco Cubico (Coconut Cube). You’d think with a name like that you couldn’t lose, but it was bland and boring. Also, the tables and chair at Havana Moon are not very comfortable, the tables are low and the supports cut into your legs forcing you to sit at odd angles. However, the show was amazing – mostly just because it was crazy and we didn’t know there would be a show. Without much warning, a group of dancers busted in doing what could best be described as a seen from Eyes Wide Shut – scantily clad dancers with animal head costumes. Surreal!

Something Fish – The name of this one is escaping me, but tucked in the pool area in the Grand Mayan is a little cevicheria. We ate lunch there one day and had the fish tacos and the smoked marlin burrito. The fish tacos were pretty good. The marlin burrito would have been good if it didn’t have cheese. Then again, we might have blown our appetites on pina coladas and chips…

The Burger Custom Made – hidden in Luxe is a “hip burger joint” that’s all L.A. and South Beach inspired. We never ate there, but some of the burgers sounded pretty good. Next time…

Coconut - Freshly Cut from the Tree
None of the restaurants are “Mexico cheap.” The maki rolls at Gong are in the $8-15 range and entrees are probably $15-40. Crepes are $8-10 (but 3 for the price of 2 from 3:00-9:00). At Tramonto, Fridas, and Havana Moon entrees are $12-50. But that $50 at Tramonto will get you a Chateaubriand. I threatened all week to get it. But something about eating a pound of beef didn’t seem like what I wanted to do on my ten year wedding anniversary. I settled for a lighter dinner, the first cognac of my life, and a great evening.

So all of these things are great, but what really holds it altogether is the staff. The staff at Mayan Palace is friendly and professional. You couldn’t ask for better folks. From the housekeeping staff, to the bartenders, to the beach waiters, to the waiters in the restaurant everyone was friendly and welcoming.

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