memorable meals: playa del carmen

I can count on one hand the number of truly great sit-down meals I’ve had in Mexico.  (Street food doesn’t count, natch.)  When it comes to what we call Continental dining, they just don’t get it.  (Even more bizarre, nobody but nobody thinks the native cuisine deserves to be elevated and treated with respect; it’s almost like Mexico is embarrassed by Mexican food in the presence of strangers.)  There’s an odd disconnect where quality local ingredients are paired and embellished in the most revolting ways at even some of the higher ends restaurants and hotels.   Think of freshly-made pasta topped with canned peas and coagulated cheese passing as a carbonara or sushi-grade fish cut against the grain and slathered in mayo and enough wasabi to choke a horse.  So it comes as a relief to share that  I discovered some impressive gastronomy coming out of the kitchen last week at Las Ventanas, the fine dining restaurant at Royal Hideaway Playacar in Playa del Carmen.

Florian & RaulUnder the guiding hand of Spaniard Raul Vaquerizo (r), who cut his teeth at La Saranda and Monastrel in Alicante, and sous chef Florian Durre, the chef’s table “experience” is a playground for molecular gastronomy, adventurous flavors, and a live video feed.

Chefs table view into kitchenThe concept of dining within the chef’s domain is not new, of course; however, a camera that zooms in to the plating area and beams the detailed feed to a television in the dining area is.  This is food as theater – all that’s missing is a running commentary:  “What on earth is chef Raul going to do with that huitlacoche foam?  Come back after the break to find out, diners!”

It can be distracting, if you let it.  But for the most part it’s an entertaining divertissement watching two sure hands layer a complex series of flavor profiles moments before you assemble them in your mouth.

Each chef’s table is sui generis, never to be repeated, and breaks down into six distinct courses.  Don’t let the interesting grammar and capitalization of the menu fool you – this kitchen knows what it’s doing when it comes to tickling the tastebuds.

Here’s the unexpurgated menu from last week:

Snacks Scallops with Mole and Coconut foam, Thigh and sweet potato emulsion, Foie and Olive Oil

Green Sensations Pickled lamb tenderloin, chips and salad

Movement Soft creamy risotto

Go on refreshing with Cold Cassis Water

The Land Confit Piglet, bread cylinder and apple, spice potato

Our dessert green tea soup with refreshing ginger and peach, black sesame crispy

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