Grand Velas’ ‘Best of Mexico’ Event Was Exactly as Advertised
Back in September, we previewed the upcoming “Best of Mexico” event taking place on Oct. 6 at the luxurious AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Much to our delight, the kind folks at Grand Velas invited us to come down and check it out in person.
Although the annual event officially lasted four nights between Oct. 5 and 9, the main event was the dinner on Oct. 6, which took place at one of the hotel’s onsite restaurants, Frida, an AAA Four Diamond eatery.
On hand to cook for the event were five chefs — Mikel Alonso, Ricardo de la Vega, Carlos Gaytán, Francisco Ruano, and Zahie Téllez — all of who boast accolades out the wazoo and lived up to every bit of hype that surrounded them leading up to the event. If you want to know more about any of these chefs, please check out our slideshow profiles here.
As we filed into Frida, it was already clear that this restaurant was something special. The lighting was low and romantic, the background noise was made up of only the soft sound of water gently falling and babbling in the decorative fountains (with no distracting music), and the seating was intimate and limited. They added a few chairs for this big event, but, as we found out the next night when we returned for a typical dinner (which was anything but typical), dining is limited to just over a dozen seatings per hour. Since Frida is only open for five hours per evening and each dinner takes approximately two hours, only about 60 lucky diners get to eat here each evening.
As we took our places, everyone eagerly looked at the empty plates in front of them and imagined the six courses and six drink pairings that would soon be delighting their senses.
First up was a dish by Frida’s own chef, Ricardo de la Vega. He prepared a mini quesadilla containing shredded beef oxtail and smoked Oaxaca cheese, which was dusted with morita chile — which is basically a smoked jalapeño. The result was a jet-black pouch of deliciousness that made its mark right from the first flavorful bite. Accompanying this dish was a duo of white and aged mezcal, the latter of which was served in a glass rimmed with granules of hibiscus and pineapple.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Up next was a black seafood ceviche accompanied by Mulatt — a dark craft beer from Mexico — courtesy of chef Zahie Téllez. Although the ceviche was wonderful, my favorite part was the beer, which had a rich, malty taste, despite having only 4 percent ABV. Until then, I had yet to be legitimately wowed by a beer from our neighbors South of the Border.
Carlos Gaytán then presented us with a dish consisting of seared scallops atop an huitlacoche-stuffed tamale, which was served with creamy poblano chile sauce and fennel. However, I was once again more focused on the beverage that accompanied it. This one was a deliciously satisfying pulque made with pistachio pearls and coriander seeds, served inside a coconut-like shell. Much to my delight, spoons were shunned when consuming this beverage, so diners instead lifted the shell directly to their lips to sip from it like it was the Holy Grail.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Mikel Alonso’s Mexican totoaba seafood dish with mussels and yellow mole (accompanied by Monte Xanic Viña Kristel sauvignon blanc from Valle de Guadalupe) was probably the favorite course of half of my tablemates, but I was blown away by Francisco Ruano’s mesquite beef tongue. If the idea of munching on this part of the cow is hard to swallow, don’t worry; it actually just tasted like an extremely tasty and tender piece of steak, making it easy to enjoy. In fact, the only hard part was figuring out a way to compliment Francisco on the dish. Walking up to him the next evening and saying, “Chef Ruano, I really enjoyed your tongue last night,” seemed like it would be… in bad taste, to say the least (and to add yet another pun to this conundrum). Even the delicious Monte Xanic syrah (aged for 12 months in a French oak barrel) wasn’t enough to smooth over this exchange.
De la Vega returned to finish the meal with a fabulous desert that was dubbed “Frida’s Sweet Side.” It was a sweet and creamy dessert sampling that was paired with an equally creamy mixed liquor shot for the perfect end to a perfect meal.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Once the plates were cleared, all of the chefs came out with every member of the kitchen staff for a round of applause that seemed to last for hours. A few short speeches were given and award plaques were handed out, but the last part was only symbolic. If the hotel was looking for the best way to properly recognize these incredibly accomplished chefs, they need not worry; the endless applause from a room full of satisfied food-lovers and culinary experts reflected the chefs’ achievements more than any piece of wood and metal ever could.