Showing posts with label Grand Velas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grand Velas. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Farewell to the Grand Velas Rivera Maya

It seemed like we had just arrived in Riviera Maya, but it was time for the group farewell dinner and yet another example of Five Diamond food and service was chosen at Grand Velas. We were having dinner at Frida, and Chef Daniel Garcia Gomez had prepared a special meal for us at this modern Mexican restaurant.

We started with some Margaritas. I had become quite fond of the mango ones and this one was very good, except for the salt on the rim. Salt may work for a plain Margarita, but not a fruit one. Our first course was a delicious Goat Cheese in a Pumpkin Seed Crust with Agave Honey Dressing and Amaranth Croutons, followed by a Poblano Pepper Cream Soup with Crisp Pork Skin, Corn and Panela Cheese, very tasty, but a bit too spicy for me.

The third course was a Sea Bass in Yellow Mole Sauce with Cilantro Rice and Green Beans. My fellow diners raved about the fish while I enjoyed the rice and vegetables. The main dish was Rack of Lamb with a Bread and Oregano Crust in a Birria Lamb Broth Reduction with Caramelized Onions and Radishes, which was tender and tasty. Dessert was quite unusual, but I really liked it – Mexican Chocolate Mousse with Mole Poblano Cream, Amaranth and Pumpkin Seed Tile Served with Caramel Rum Sauce. I’ve never had such a hot (and I’m not talking about the temperature) dessert, but I have to say it worked.
I met with Jennifer Hamer for breakfast at Azul, a Gran Velas restaurant I had yet to go to. It was another delicious egg white omelet for me, presented beautifully with beans and fried cheese. It also came with a delicious bread basket full of goodies that I was glad I discovered on the final day rather than the first one (though this trip certainly had no shortage of goodies to eat).

The Grand Velas Spa was the largest I’ve ever seen. The complex is over 89,000 square feet and has 40 different suites, including five couples suites that are bigger (and have more amenities) than most hotel rooms. The “Experience Pool” area includes a heated pool, “Volcano Geyser,” sensory foot walkway, “Cascade Falls,” water bubble beds and a circular neck jet. The spa also has a sauna, steam room, clay room, whirlpool, ice room and polar pool. I was also impressed with a full elevator for those unable to use stairs.

In addition to standard treatments, they offer seven packages that they call “Journeys through the World,” which include unique treatments such as a Diamond Sublime Experience and a Gotu Kola and Oat Firming Body Envelopment. I also saw for the first time anywhere the Garra Rufa Fish Pedicure. These are the (toothless) fish who gently clean your dead and hardened skin while you relax.

The only thing I didn’t like about the spa was the fact that I never had a chance to use it, but my spa time was coming soon. I said goodbye to my fellow writers and to Grand Velas, but I was certainly not leaving Mexico, or even Riviera Maya. I still had a few more days to go. I was heading to Secrets Maroma, where I would stay for the next few days, while also exploring its sister resorts.  And, maybe, I’d even get to enjoy the beautiful beach a bit before I head home!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tequila to Tequila in Riviera Maya

I came to Riviera Maya for a food, wine and tequila tour, but we hadn’t gotten to the tequila. That all changed on the third day as we finished our Tulum tour with a tequila tasting at Hacienda Tres Rios Resort.

The Food and Beverage Manager of Hacienda Tres Rios, Oscar Orbe Quiroz, led our tasting seminar. It wasn’t just something he did for us, but a course the resort’s guests get to take each week. I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had for any spirit. He explained the basics about tequila being made from the blue agave plant grown in Jailisco, and the difference between the kinds of tequila – white, silver, resposado, anejo and aged.

We started with Don Julio White, a sweet and mild spirit. Next, it was 1800 Silver, with a hint of color and a touch of green apple in the taste.  The Sausa Reposado showed caramel and vanilla from the toasted barrels and the Sausa Tequila Anejo had the taste of both wood and aging, making it almost like Scotch Whisky. As someone who tends to favor the white spirits the first was my favorite, but I certainly appreciated the complexity of the reposado tequila.

The tasting finished with a lesson on making (and tasting) Sagrita, a Mexican mixer that is made of orange, lime and tomato juices; salt, pepper, soy sauce, worschestire sauce and Tabasco. It is not mixed with the tequila, but drank after it. Before we left we got to sample an expensive, aged tequila, Herradura Seleccion Suprema, full of sweetness and oak, and smooth as can be.

After we toured the Tres Rios Resort, which is on a 326-acre nature park, we headed back to Grand Velas Riviera Maya for some work time before dinner. It was a quiet dinner for myself and three of the other writers, David Hammond, Kristine Hanson and Anna Cavaliere, at Piaf, a wonderful French restaurant at Gran Velas Riviera Maya.  Chef Michel Mustiere’s presentation was beautiful throughout, but the Crème Tricolore was magnificent. It was a trio of soups – Pumpkin, Pea and Tomato – in one bowl, divided in thirds. The chef suggested I try each individually, then tasting a mixing by swirling from the middle, where there was Mushroom Duxelle Crocant Scented with Thyme Blossoms! I don’t use the word magnificent often to refer to food, but this certainly was.

After I got a  good night’s sleep, I walked to the main resort to check out the buffet breakfast for the first time. I enjoyed the display of every kind of fruit imaginable, with some yogurt and a croissant.  I spent the morning writing and organizing my photos while most of the group was at Xcaret. I also had an hour at the infinity pool, looking out at the beach and enjoying the quiet before the Riviera Maya Tourism van picked myself and the rest of the group up to go to The Tides, a  nearby resort that’s about to have a huge expansion.

I should clarify that statement as “huge” is not an appropriate description of this boutique property that will only have 41 villas when renovations are complete. I met up with the group for a tequila and ceviche tasting. It was a bit more informal than the one the previous day, with a focus more on eating (for those of us not allergic to seafood). I heard the ceviche was excellent and I enjoyed the Caprese Salad with Pesto and the Macacita (rolled tortilla filled with cheese) with Caramel Sauce. Marcos, The Tides’ restaurant supervisor who teaches these classes to hotel guests, also introduced us to a Green Sangrita, which I highly recommend. This drink is made from green tomato and pineapple juices; chili sauce and salt.  It was a perfect combination of sweet and salty to highlight the tequila.

Fortunately, we had a few hours before we were to eat again because there was a big meal planned for the whole group. It was our farewell dinner at Grand Velas' Frida, before most of the writers would head home and I would be off to Secrets Maroma.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pyramids and Restaurants in Tulum

It was another day in Riviera Maya with lots more food (and drinks) to try. We were heading to Tulum for the food tour, but first we were going to see the only archaeological site on the Caribbean Sea.

We were leaving Grand Velas Riviera Maya fairly early to go to Tulum, so I ordered breakfast from room service. The Banana Nut Pancakes were one of the items on the 24 hour room service menu (included in the all-inclusive plan) and they arrived quickly. The ride was about an hour and I was rather surprised when we arrived at the mix of old and new with trams leading to pyramids, and Mayan dancers next to a shopping mall. When we got nearer to the sea, though, it was clear that what we were looking at was closer to the ancient than the modern.

This site is one of the last of the cities built and inhabited by the Mayans.  It’s hard to imagine that this one time fortress was consider a modern city hundreds of years ago and even more amazing how well it still stood up. We toured the pyramids for awhile before we were given some time to explore on our own. Since my back was still an issue that was keeping me from doing much climbing, I went straight to the beach instead of climbing the pyramid to get the view from the top. Either way, it was still beautiful, with ancient ruins in front of the blue water.

There was nothing ancient about the meal we had when we left the site. Piedra Escondido is the exact place you want to be in Mexico – eating delicious food, drinking wine, and looking at the stunning beach right in front of you.

The guacamole was wonderful, the Bean Dip highlighting pumpkin seeds and the Portobello Avocado Taco just spicy enough. It went well with a glass of 2009 Casclecca Seleccionada, a mix of Chardonnay and Viognier. The chef, Sergio, brought out some lobster tacos and mussels, and then went around to make sure those of us who were allergic also had our own treat. For me, it was Breaded Goat Cheese in a Honey Sauce, which was delicious – especially with the light and fruity Vinos Domeca Grenache Rose.

The next stop was quite different. El Tabano is all about the environment and even has its own compost and recycling. Suzanna greeted us and told us about the mix of Spanish and Mexican, as the couple who owns this restaurant represent both. We also had the opportunity to bring in yet another culture as we were told that the owner of La Mande was coming over to start us with some Italian Food, which would go well with the 2009 Monte Xanic Chenin Columbard, a bit like a pinot Grigio with hints of green apple and lemon.

We enjoyed the selection of pizzas that came around, with a wonderful crust and lots of cheese. It was great with the salad of carrot, spinach, apple cheese and carrots. I thought the Eggplant Parmesan could have used more cheese (must be the Italian in me). We didn’t even have a chance to finish any of it, though, before the Red Chicken with Rice came out. That had a nice kick to it  and filled us up. We were glad to hear that we were done with actual food for awhile, but it was time for dessert!

It was good to get into the car and have some digestion time before we arrived at Le Bistro. I think we all walked in thinking that we couldn’t possibly eat anymore. Then, we sat outside and dishes of Chocolate River and Cream Puffs with Gelato came out! Everything was covered with fudge and we just had to sample away! The cappuccinos came out to aid with digestion and we all walked away swearing that we could possibly eat again. Of course, that was not the truth because it was our jobs and we still had more work to do. Fortunately, there would be a break for us before we would head to Hacienda Tres Rios for a tequila tasting and back to Grand Velas Resort in Riviera Maya for a late dinner.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eating Our Way Through Playa del Carmen, Part 2

It was a day worthy of two columns as I continue with the second part of our eating tour of Playa del Carmen.

In the first half of the day, we had some great food (and drinks), but it just continued to get better as Riviera Maya Tourism selected a great range of Mexican and Mayan eateries for us to try. It was also nice to get the chance to walk around Playa del Carmen, a suburb of Riviera Maya which offers beautiful beaches, hotels, shopping and (obviously) tons of places to eat.

Luna Maya Restaurant is upstairs and appears to overlook the entire city.  The selection here is gourmet, with a cross between Mayan and Mexican. They got our attention immediately by cooling us off with anise soaked cold towels and a fruit juice drink. This restaurant, which just opened in December, was a bit more formal than the others and the service was first class. It appeared that we had a 1-1 ratio between servers and patrons.  A Mango Tequila (mango, tequila and Green Curacao) quickly appeared before us and then the food soon joined it.

Our first course was a Duck Salad with baby lettuce and orange vinaigrette. It was flavorful, but the duck was served carpaccio style and I am not a fan of raw meat. It was fine with me to skip something on a day full of gluttony and I wouldn’t have to wait long for more to appear – along with a fruity 2009 Casa Madero (cabernet sauvignon, merlot and tempranillo). From the Pork in a Bag to Lamb Wrap to the Beef in a Jar, we had an unbelievable meal. Everything was full of rich flavors, without too much overwhelming spice.  We all ate more than we shoulds, and had a hard time having more than a few bites of desserts – warm, fresh Churros with Chocolate Sauce!

It wasn’t long enough to get hungry again until we arrived at La Cueva Del Chango. Fortunately, they gave us a few minutes to relax with some yummy Mango Margaritas before bringing out the food. Then we feasted on Habernero Cream Soup, a perfect Guacamole and the best Fried Cheese I had yet in Mexico. I was happy to digest while those not allergic tasted some Grouper and Tuna (giving it the thumbs up).  I was also a fan of the décor here, very casual and a great place to hang with friends  -- with lots of those Mango Margaritas!

Our next stop was actually at Hotel La Palapas, an adorable boutique property with only 76 rooms. I had a Mexican-style Chicken Cordon Bleu, made the same as the French, but with a green sauce that gave it more of a local flavor. I really enjoyed the creativity in the dish. My fellow writers also raved about the Shrimp, also served with just an accent of Mexican rather than a typical Mexican dish.

I think we all felt bad at Yaxche, our final stop.  We were all so looking forward to this Mayan restaurant and the wine pairing dinner, but we just couldn’t find room to eat much more! We tried to work up an appetite with a glass of Sala Vive, a Mexican sparkling wine. The Tortilla with Chaya (a vegetable similar to spinach) was cheesy and worth a bite. We were then offered a glass of V. from Casa Madero, a cabernet sauvignon rose that could have been fruitier, but I really liked the 2009 Santo Thomas Valley Viognier, especially with the Grilled Pork.

We apologized to our hosts that we couldn’t possibly eat any more before heading to our final stop of the night, Rufino Mezcalaria in Playa del Carmen.  Just like Champagne is only champagne if it comes from that region, it’s only tequila if it was produced in Jalisco, but the blue agave plant can produce a similar spirit if it’s grown someplace else. Mezcal is best known as the one with the worm in it. That’s only one type, though. We got to sample a selection of mezcal at Rufino.

It was all from the Imperial brand and I have to say I was not thrilled with their straight stuff, but if you are looking for something sweet and tropical while on the beach in Riviera Maya, definitely pick up some of the Imperial Coconut. You don’t even need to add anything to it, just throw it over ice. It definitely sealed my food and drink consumption for the day and the only thing that was left was shower and sleep because another full day was coming in Tulum.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Eating Our Way Through Playa del Carmen, Part 1

My blogs almost always follow me for a day, but I don’t usually have a day where I’m going to eight restaurants. That was the planned schedule for our first full day in Riviera Maya's – eight restaurants in Playa del Carmen.

We actually started the day with some free time. I met up with the PR rep to learn more about Grand Velas Riviera Maya, an AAA Five Diamond resort. We were staying in the Adults Only Grand Class section, but it turns out that the main resort has quite a family following and even more restaurants. I was fine with the delicious breakfast we had at the Bistro, with my Egg White Omelet with Spinach and Tomatoes, Hash Browns, Beans and Pineapple. All served by two attentive waiters as we overlooked the Caribbean Sea!

I had a short chance to look a bit more at the water as I took an hour to lie by the infinity pool before getting ready for the Playa del Carmen food tour. The first restaurant, La Casa del Agua, was up a long flight of stairs and I’m still not climbing because of my back. I heard from my colleagues that the food and drinks were delicious. I spent the time with Amber, our host from Riviera Maya's PR agency, and bought a great hat to help block out some of the strong Mexico sun. We then waited for the rest of the group at our next stop, Mi Pueblo.

We were served a Mexican feast of Chips & Salsa, Quesadillas, Tostadas and Cochala. Everything at this restaurant (which has only been open for six months) was delicious and we wanted to stay and finish it, but we had to get to Tropical, where there was a Fondue Cheese waiting for us in a large bowl. It was a bit sweet and a bit spicy, very good overall. We also ate an excellent Chicken & Mushrooms dish, which had been wrapped in a pineapple leaf to bring out more flavor from the chicken. It was hard to leave on any food on the plate, but we had more places to go and food to eat.

The sun was getting stronger and we had a bit of a distance to our next stop, so we hopped in our air conditioned Riviera Maya Tourism van and headed to the newer section of Playa del Carmen. It was hear that we would take a “food” break and focus on dessert. Ah Cacao Chocolate Café was founded in 2004 and is definitely my kind of place. I have never met something in chocolate I didn’t like and since my job for the day (fortunately not every day) was to taste, I had no problem with being here.

We learned about how chocolate is such an important part of this culture as it goes back to the ancient Mayans. The Mayans are still a big part of the Yucatan Peninsula, especially in this area. We also listened to how the chocolate comes from the cacao bean and how the Mayans (and Mexicans) often add chili to their chocolate. And then, we started our tasting from the bitter to the sweet. First it was unsweetened chocolate with almonds before we moved to a perfectly dark chocolate and Tejati, a drink that is a spicy hot chocolate. After I had the most delicious chocolate milk I’ve ever had, someone brought out a small serving of a perfect Mocha Frappe!

It was fortunate that we had some time to walk around Playa del Carmen a bit before our next food stop (which would not be or last). Although this is not the end of the day, I am going to stop here. I don’t think I can possibly do these places justice in one column, so forgive me if I make you wait a bit to continue the end of my day. Use this time to grab some Mexican food (with a chocolate dessert, of course)!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hola, Riviera Maya!

June was destined to be Mexico month. I had already decided that I needed a break and was only doing one, one week trip. My inbox was flooded with invitations, but there was a definite pattern – more than half were for Mexico! There are a still quite a few places in that country that I’d like to get to so it was a difficult choice, until I found out that one had a focus on food, wine and tequila. The decision was made quickly after that and I welcomed the chance to visit Riviera Maya.

The day didn’t quite start the way I expected. I had an early morning flight and left the house at 4:00 am, only to be caught in a horrendous thunderstorm with lightening everywhere. I finally arrived at Bloomington Airport in time for my flight to Chicago, but the storm was heading there and the American Airlines rep told me there wouldn’t be any flights going out until the afternoon. Air Tran quickly accommodated me, albeit with a four hour layover in Atlanta. I did get to check out their business class and had mixed feelings. The lack of meals and entertainment (no movies, TV shows, etc.) wasn’t great, but I loved the option that they provided of Vitamin Water Zero (my favorite, Acai Berry) and Fuze (Mango, with or without vodka) and the multitude of snacks, many of which were healthy.

When I arrived in Cancun, I met up with my group and we got in the van for our trip to Riviera Maya. We were going to be staying together at the Grand Velas for four days, and then I was going off on my own for the next four to stay at Secrets Maroma. Grand Velas Riviera Maya is definitely grand, especially in the Grand Class section I was staying in. My suite was very big. The bathroom itself was the size of most hotel rooms, complete with Jacuzzi. The patio had some comfortable furniture, a small plunge pool and a view of the Caribbean Sea!

Since my flight was changed, I didn’t get to spend the day relaxing, but I did order tomato with goat cheese for a light, late lunch (24 hour rooms service is included here at no charge) and head into the Jacuzzi with a glass of wine. I also found my mini bar stocked with my very favorite candy bar, Peanut Butter Twix, a treat I never get at home. By the time I came out, I was rested and ready to join my fellow writers and our hosts from Riviera Maya Tourism.

We met in the Sky Bar for pre-dinner drinks. I enjoyed two of the hotel’s specialties: Habana Nights, Habana Rum, Midori, Guava and Coconut Cream; and Espresso Martini, Bailey’s, Frangelico, Kahlua and a splash of coffee. Both were very good, just sweet enough. Dinner was at one of the gourmet a la carte restaurants that the Five Diamond Gran Velas has, Cocina de Autor. The chef had received notes on all our allergies and preferences (and we had quite a few in this group) and had prepared individual menus for us.

Chef Xavier Pérez Stone surprised us with some delicious Picas, cheese balls and wraps with bacon and apricot. My next course was a tasty Quail with sunflower seeds, followed by a wonderful Wild Mushroom Soup, just the way I like it, flavorful but not salty. It was swerved with a Mexican sparkling wine I would definitely order again, Asi Pinelli, sweet and full of fruit. The main course was
Veal Cooked for 36 Hours at 150 degrees. I can’t say I’ve ever had a dish described like that, but it was good, as was the Tapioca Soup, an interesting mix of pineapple, bread and coconut milk. The Chocolate Out of Place looked like a plate of dirt, but it did not taste that way, and was accompanied by an incredible Ginger Ice Cream. I finished with some coffee with Sambuca Negro (my first try and definitely not my last) before heading to my room. It was a long day and the next promised to be even longer in Riviera Maya, as we explored the town and restaurants of Playa del Carmen.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Welcome to Riviera Maya!

No, I haven't been abducted by aliens or run off with a Mexican cabana boy! I've just been incredibly busy eating, tasting and checking out the sites in the Riviera Maya with the tourism board and some other really great writers.  Hold on just a little bit longer because there is lots to come.  I hope to have the first stories and photos up soon. I promise it will be worth the wait. From Playa Carman to Tulum, Grand Velas to Secrets Maroma, Mexican wine to chocolate, tequila to mezcal --  it's a most spirited trip!

My suite (with plunge pool) at Grand Velas Rivera Maya