Who travels to Mexico to eat Italian food? Not me. How about Moroccan, or upscale contemporary ex-New York chef driven cuisine? Not what you dream of when planning a trip filled with sun-warmed guacamole and fish tacos? Me neither.[twocol_one]I’m one of those people who likes genuine, authentic, simple Mexican meals when I go to my favorite vacation spot. My motto is simple: if the place doubles as someone’s home, nobody there speaks English and/or the only diners are locals, I’m in. I have a few other rules I typically follow in Mexico too: the less it costs, the better it tastes. And, most importantly: food carts rule!
All warnings about the water used, the skin of the vegetables and the fruit go out the window. I don’t care (and I’ve also never suffered the consequences). The food I’ve had on the sides of the road from carts and eaten on plastic chairs with makeshift tables are some of the most memorable meals I have ever eaten. Take the corn in a cup on the side of the road in Sayulita: I have thought about this snack and tried to recreate it many times. The jicima and cucumber in a bag with chili powder and lime juice I was not afraid to devour on the streets of Todos Santos? My mouth is watering just imagining it.
So when planning my trip recent to Tulum, primarily to eat of course, I imagined roadside taco stands, food carts filled with all sorts of exotic treats and non-gringo “restaurants.” What I found instead was quite shocking: worldly hotels offering sophisticated fair and European-influenced cuisine using regional ingredients.
There was Posada Margherita where I ate a creamy coconut gelato with a homemade ice cream cone on a lounge chair by the beach. A nice selection of wine accompanied dinner, which was served next to a large wood oven where they produced an amazing selection of bread and treats like tomato faccacia.
Probably most surprising was Las Estrellas. I randomly stumbled upon this interesting jewel during a search of beach side options. It looked a little odd on a Mexican beach but it was beautiful with soft lights, hushed voices and glowing from the mosaic glass decorations. Here I was served homemade hummus and bread before an authentic tangine of fish and shrimp in Moroccan spices and couscous came out. A charming waiter explained the Middle Eastern heritage and welcomed me in the traditional humble fashion.
And finally, there was Hartwood – a place I scouted out prior to my trip and knew I wanted to try. Like so many planned meals before, this place didn’t disappoint and lived up to the hype. An inventive New York-trained chef served the sophisticated food in a surprisingly chic setting. The drinks were fresh and interesting – I had two of the most delicious mandarin margaritas served in mason jars. After a skillet of whole roasted fish with radishes and chaya came out, he wandered over to see if I enjoyed the amberjack, a fish he rarely gets in. I did very much so he shared the recipe with me:
Whole Roasted Fish
Clean the fish. Score it to the bones and stuff the cavity with tangerine and basil. Place it on top of garlic and cover with tangerine rosemary oil (which he makes). Place it all in a cast iron skillet and add sliced sweet onions and cherry tomatoes. Splash with white wine and more oil. Cook for ten minutes in a high heat (700-degrees) wood-burning oven. Constantly baste the fish but try not to move it. His tips for cooking it to the right doneness? “It’s hard. Trial and error.”[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]