Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Chef's Table is tops at Royal Hideaway Playacar Las Ventanas (Riviera Maya,MX-3/24/12)

When I posted yesterday I got several responses asking why I was
writing on my HONEYMOON, as this is our first time away without Samuel
since he was one (and that was for one night!).
Well, fear not, Will is in the spa having a massage, so I have free
I normally would not write about dining spots in ALL-INCLUSIVE resorts
we visit, unless it is of special note.
Well, our night stay here in ROYAL HIDEAWAY PLAYACAR just seconds
south of the town of Playa del Carmen brought us to the luxurious and
beautifully appointed LAS VENTANAS Restaurant at the resort last
After a slightly too sweet Martini of Tequila and Cassis (a novel
combo) we were escorted past the tables and into the holy of holies:
the kitchen. Chef Eugenio Vallafana was our guide and it was a truly
special journey.
The designer here spared nothing creating THE CHEF's TABLE which is a
glass enclosed room (totally comfy and air conditioned) within the
kitchen itself, so we got to see everything but were not sweaty and
hot! There was even a closed-circuit flat screen TV on the wall in
case we wanted a closer view of the prep for each dish on the nearby
marble table which sat grandly in front of the entire spacious and
amazing kitchen. Chef explained this was one of the big pulls that
brought him to the Riviera Maya last year from the west coast and his
home states.

He spoke with us extensively about his background (we asked) as his
concept for the experience: all organic ingredients and local when
possible. Maitre D' Cesar Fonseca poured repeatedly from the bottle of
LUIGI COPPO BRUT an Italian dry sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir.
The bread came and we barely nibbled as we knew what was to come and
had to leave space.
The "Gourmet Appetizer" was really two with a "Silver" Sockeye
(Alaska) Salmon over a Edamame (dehydrated and rehydrated so it was
extra thick)Cream on one side and a Bay Scallop (local) with Masago in
Coconut Cream on the other.
We moved on to "Sensations" which it truly was: FOIE GRAS Ice-Cream
came in two forms-frozen and hot soup. These came of slivered CACTUS,
Xocolatl (Mexican white and dark chocolates) & Fig with dollops of
Tortilla Oil (which actually when tasted alone had a burnt dought
taste with olive oil). It was a fab sensation of flavors and we were
ready for the many roller coasters of sensations our mouths were to
experience all night.

Next came TOMATO FEST!! which was perhaps my favorite dish of the
evening. All local heirloom tomatoes from a peeled cherry to cherokee,
zebra, yellow, Roma and tomatillo in different forms were across
a,long rectangular plate. Heirloom Jelly was made by dehydrating the
tomatoes and was scattered with home made wild and white rice krispies
with dehydrated black olive for a salty touch. An almond foam was on
top of one tomato and edible pansies were scattered around not to
mention baby celery sprouts and a tad of sea salt. Need I say more?

We moved on to a Pallagrelo Bianco Fontanavigne white 2010 from
Campania which was an odd wine alone, but was perfect with the next

The "Moving" was Pacific Sea Bass (Mexico) over Braised Vegetables
with Jabugo Ham(Spain) and dried shaved Bonito...which when added back
to the moisture in the sauce causes the flakes to dance and wiggle
about. It was scary at first. Dehydrated Kumquats added a punch of
flavor and radish sprouts finished off the superb rich and oh so
divine fish.

The "Spoon" was Chef's version of the traditional Mexican Sopa Lima
(Lime Soup made with Chicken, Lime and Tortilla strips) but here was
based on a DUCK & LIME Soup with Smoked Duck Breast, Roasted Red Onion
& Red Pepper, Epazote, and dehydrated Tortilla Chip Powder. Dried
Chilis and Olive Oil were scattered around the bowl's edge if you
wanted to slide them in for extra spice.

While every dish was superb, there were five star standouts such as
the LOBSTER YUCATAN STYLE. Sadly the lobster was a bit dry in some
sections, but not overdone or bad really, but the prep was blow your
mind with an ACHIOTE Chili Sauce with Garlic, Orange & Orange Peel as
well as a Cirtrus Butter of Orange, Tangerine, Grapefruit & Lime.
There were two tiny SEA ASPARAGUS on the side with a tad of sea salt
that were indeed the highlight of the dish. It was a novelty to eat
these tasty morcels and we had trouble trying to figure out exactly
what they were as well.

TEQUILA TEST!! was a 1/2 way through the meal palate cleanser of Royal
Hideaway's own Reposado Tequila Lime Sorbet with a Stick on the side
to lick on coated with Caramel & Salt. As if one item was night enough
there was an Air-Infused Frozen Flaxseed which passed as a
Deconstucted Maragarita....I can't explain this one at all.

We moved to TEROLDEGO FORADORI 2008 form Alto Adige (also in Italy)
and this light red was specifically paired with the "Hen House" a Wild
Baby Rock Cornish Hen With a divine MOLE that was presented to the
table as a cedar, mesquite, cinnamon & cilantro smoke wafted out from
under the glass domes removed at the same time.

KOBE BEEF Tenderloin was cooked perfectly and served with YUCCA Root
Puree, Vanilla, Fresh Shaved Black Truffles and Black Truffle Cream.
On the side were white and green asparagus with a Black Truffle Paste.
Small Honeydew Leaves were added for variation and they were "hairy"
and fruity but quite the sensation in the mouth.

We had switched to the Dolcetto di DOGLIANI from Cursalet 2209 in
Piemonte which was a nice partner to the mild and tasty beef.

The cheese course consisted of TILSIT (Switzerland) cheese with
Pistachio Sponge that was dipped in an Agave Honey and White Wine
Syrup. I have a note that says Macadamia Fluff...was it with this
course or the next?
The next dessert was Pineapple Chip Roasted with Pineapple Soup, Star
Anise Flan, Dill Gel over Fennel. Now you folks know I am not a
licorice boy and while this was not my favorite dessert, it was
fascinating and tasty and I left not a bite behind.

Soon the entire pastry staff rolled in a huge sculpture that blew our
minds. It had Mayan figures in a temple-like structure made of all
different kinds of chocolates....filtering out from the sides were
levels of different goodies:
Olive Oil Gelee, Fig Paper stuffed with Goat Cheese (oh my), Passion-
Fruit White Chocolates (my favorite) and something else with Bailey's.
We gobbled as much as we could as we tasted a not to great Red Dessert
wine (sorry the name was not on the list I got), but then (as in
Hansel & Gretel) the witch came out and told us that our 4-1/2 hour
journey was over.

In case you are interested, I book the Royal Hideaway regularly and
can surely assist you in getting a reservation at this amazing table
when you use Frosch Travel (our clients get lots of extra goodies as

EL PIRATA es el mejor ceviche del mundo(3-24-12)Playa del Carmen, Mexico

We stopped in town today for ceviche on the recommendation of the
hostess at one of the restaurants here at the hotel in he Rivera Maya
in Mexico and found a gold mine.
EL PIRATA is a dump of sorts with cute colorful wall murals, blue
plastic tablecloths, a men's room with no toilet seat but the best
ceviche on earth. Perhaps the other dishes we saw such as the fish
tacos and whole crispy fish were also as good, but we oly snacked on
he CEVICHE MIXTO of octopus, fish, shrimp, conch, tomato onion, lime
and cilantro that was mixed to perfection and served with tasty nacho
chips made fresh.
The guacamole was nice, but we added hot suace for a bit of flavor.
Stick to any fish dish here and you have to be happy.
EL PIRATA is located on Calle 40 Norte on the block between Avenida 5
and Avenida 10 (yes the streets are numbered by 5's) and is teeny but
not hard to find if you can count the streets just a mile or so north
of the center of Playa del Carmen.

doin' the delicious at DINO's in DC (3-20-12)

Yes, we go to DINO's in Cleveland Park a lot and there is a reason for
that: we always have a great meal, great wine and a great time.
Last night four of us headed over without the kids for an adult night
out and sat down to some CICCHETTI (snacks) that were some of the best
UOVA alla DIAVOLA are deviled eggs, but this dish brings new meaning
to the term. Vaudovan Spice Deviled Eggs have Tuscan Pesto, Serigraph
Chile and Anchovy Aioli and will truly excite your palate and your
mind. Try them with a bottle of CECILIA "Zeta del Tucano" Vermentino
from the Island of Elba, Tuscany 2010. It is rich in fruit and
counters the small spices and strong flavors in the foods quite well.
FEGATINI or Tuscan Duck Liver Spread is not your grandma's chopped
liver but a spicier version that melts in your mouth.
Don't miss the creamy divine BURRATA (Pugliese Bufala Cheese shipped
in twice a week; owner/chef Dean Gold was the first to do this in DC)
with Kalamata Olive and Red Pepper Purees and Oven Roasted Tomatoes.

We moved onto a light red Valpolicella "Le Salette" 2009 from Corvina
that was nice with our salads:
DUCK SALAD is Crisp House Confit of Dr. Joe's Duck Leg & Thigh with
Orange, Lime & Anchovy Glaze, Arugula and Ginger Mostarda
it's lighter spring companion salad and just as tasty was the
FRUTTI DI MARE with Mussels, Clams (from Virginia), Grilled Rock
Shrimp, Squid, Bay & Sea Scallops with Arugula and a dressing of
Herbs, White Wine, Sour Cherry Tequila (an homage to cherry blossoms),
Lemon, Lime and Olio.

Did I mention the amazing dining deals at Dino's??
The 3 course dinner is $39 every night and includes:
1)Starter--either one appetizer, two cicchetti, a 1/2 order of pasta
or 2 cheeses
2)Main course or Pasta Main
3)Dessert or 2 cheeses
plus a glass of house infused "Cello" or Moscato
That's a DEAL!

We added a course for everyone to share of the BEET RISOTTO with
Gorgonzola Dolce, Hazelnuts and more. This is a superb dish to share
as an extra if you are super hungry. It is also a great veggie pasta
course as well!

Our main courses were DUCK BREAST, Dr. Joe's Jurgielewicz' Pekin Duck
Pan Seared with Leek & Black Cardamom Reduction and pan Fried Pressed
Gold Yukon Potatoes with local Scallion. It was moist and super and
SNAKEHEAD was wrapped with Prosciutto and served in a Saffron Mussel
Stew making it a novel fish to eat here in DC where it has truly
invaded and we need to eat it up!
The SOFT SHELL CRABS were the first of the season and not only are
they early, they are HUGE. Grilled plain with seasoning, Baby Greens
and a House Summer Tomato Essence on the side which was perfect for
dipping those crunchy crab legs in.

A gutsy spicy and cherried Vietti BARBERA d'ALBA 2009 "Tre Vigne" was
great with the dishes that paired well - even the crabs!

We all tried the RASPBERRY-WHITE TEA "cello" complimentary shot and
thought it a bit sweet.
Desserts were the ever-present and superb TIRAMISU, my Sorbetti which
are house made and called, "per Gli Adulti Soltanto"--for adults only.
HONEY TANGERINE & GIN (a tasty smooth and flavorful choice), PEACH &
BOURBON (my least favorite as I like bursts of flavor) and the fully
flavor bursting MEYER LEMON & RUM!
The home made GELATI however were the hit of the table.
Cinnamon would make anyone who dislikes cinnamon into a lover.
PISTACHIO brings new meaning to the nut with regard to fresh flavor,
and the
AGOSTINI CHOCOLATE was perhaps the best chocolate ice cream ever.

Our server Jimmy was a superb as always, making great suggestions and
spacing our meal perfectly.
Another star for DINO's!