France by the Beach at Cancun’s Le Basilic
Variety is the spice of travel — or at least it keeps travelers from being plagued by palate fatigue. There is only so much pad Thai one can eat in Bangkok, or pizza in Napoli, or bratwurst in Berlin. By mixing up cuisine and country, familiar flavors get reinterpreted into delicious new dishes. Case in point: my France-meets-Mexico meal at Le Basilic.
Located inside Cancun’s Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Resort, Le Basilic is the brainchild of Michelin-starred chef Henri Charvet. The Maître Cuisinier de France infuses local ingredients into classic French recipes, and the distinctive result has earned Le Basilic the AAA Five-Diamond Award — which only seven Mexican restaurants have — for 10 years in a row.
Based in Boulogne, a tiny Parisian suburb, chef Charvet visits Le Basilic throughout the year to bring France’s latest culinary trends to Cancun, and hired chef Enrique Yañez at the beginning of 2016 to run the day-to-day operations. Trained at Lyon’s Institut Paul Bocuse, the enthusiastic Mexican chef is the perfect person to helm the bicultural kitchen. Chef Yañez combines his love of regional ingredients — formed as a child visiting fish markets in Tamaulipas — with his mastery of French technique to uphold chef Charvet’s vision.
Being smack dab in vacationland allows Le Basilic to present fine dining without pretense. Like the suggested dress code of “resort elegant,” the ambiance is both refined and relaxed. A tuxedo-clad staff provides attentive service — unfolding diners’ napkins as they sit, and leaving no wine glass left unfilled — as a lively pianist plays pop songs and jazz standards.
Meals begin with a selection of freshly baked breads like olive, mushroom, and basil — a nod to the bistro’s name. The menu is a mix of seasonal and standard dishes, with the latter being so beloved that they’ve stayed on the menu since opening day. These classics include foie gras, mushroom, and truffle ravioli in duck emulsion, and also a unique “Mes Voyages” (“my travels”) salad that includes cumin chickpeas, avocado, fresh figs, cucumber, and chayote.
Seasonal plates also take a dip in Mexican flavors. Try the piquillo peppers stuffed with king crab and served on a raw fennel salad, or the local red snapper topped with basil foam and zucchini pearls, which illustrates the French technique imbued in every dish. Desserts show off French pastry prowess, like the dazzling nest of spun sugar surrounding the roast fig tart.
As is customary in French fine dining, Le Basilic offers complimentary surprises from the chef throughout the meal — such as an amuse-bouche of roast mushrooms and red snapper, a pre-dessert of exquisite passionfruit banana sorbet, or an after-dinner trio of truffle, panna cotta, and cream puff.
Le Basilic’s setting also embodies the food’s Franco-Mexican fusion. The black and white tiled floor evokes a French bistro, as windows look out upon the palm tree-lined patio, and colorful, Picasso-esque paintings by local artist Leon Alva decorate the walls. Watch Alva’s canvases come alive on Friday and Saturday nights, when he sets up an easel in the middle of the restaurant. Instead of dinner theater, it is dinner art (or maybe a bit of both), as guests witness Alva paint while they dine.
Le Basilic is open Monday through Saturday from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and is closed Sunday. Reservations are encouraged.