A visitor to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, best known for the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza and the bustling beach resort of Cancun, could describe many aspects of the region with superlatives but you wouldn’t expect the food experience to be one of them. The most Xtreme adventure parks within a few square miles - yes. The biggest hotel entrances and hotel properties you’ve ever seen - yes. The most timeshare sales people you’ve ever seen - yes. The warmest and clearest ocean water you’ve ever stepped foot in - yes. But the best food you’ve ever eaten at a resort or anywhere, for that matter? I wouldn’t have guessed it but - yes! Even the traditional Mayan food we ate on our Eco-Adventure Tour was arguably fabulous. So where to begin to share this gastronomic binge of epic proportions?
How about with a little background. My husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary this summer, but our celebration trip would also serve as our family vacation. After traversing all over Europe two summers ago and hiking the Canadian Rockies last summer, we wanted to just lay on the beach for this vacation. Hawaii would have been an obvious choice - we love the laid-back feel of the islands and the warm aloha of its people. But we've been there multiple times.
We wanted to broaden our horizons, try something new. We considered the Caribbean but the prices were really high. So based on a recommendation of a friend who had recently visited, we considered the Caribbean side of Mexico near Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula. All-inclusive resorts are very popular there but that term usually strikes fear in the hearts of foodies and those who enjoy peace and solitude. "All-inclusive" is usually synonymous with mediocre food and swarms of people all fighting for the poolside lounge chairs at 6AM. This visual would just not suffice for our 20th anniversary trip. My friend assured me this 1.5 year old all-inclusive resort known as the Grand Velas (http://rivieramaya.grandvelas.com/) was different. My thorough reading of all reviews on Trip Advisor backed up her claim. And the price for the 8 nights ocean front in a huge room was nearly half of what our trip to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean would have cost us (thanks in large part to my new favorite travel agent - Linda Macchi from Peak Travel [email protected]). And that is how we ended up booking what turned out to be the culinary adventure of our lives.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I reminded my family that all the food and drink was included no matter where we ate in the hotel, including room service! But the concept just didn’t sink in. Even the “honor” bar in the room was included. When we arrived, the kids looked inside the oval shaped cabinet that doubled as a holder for the flat screen TV, but were afraid to take anything until I assured them it was ok. Out came the Mexican version of Lays - Sabritas, plantain chips, Ferrero Rocher chocolates and of course, the bottle of Don Julio Reposada Tequila with the fresh cut limes and salt.
The kids grabbed a Powerade and a Starbucks Frappucino and we toasted our arrival. Then we had to make the difficult decision of where to eat the first night. We chose the Italian restaurant Lucca and then took a dip in our personal plunge pool on the balcony.
Despite the luxurious reception in our room, my husband still didn’t believe the food at dinner would be included or that it would be glorious. First glance at the menu at Lucca and the prices seemed outrageous until we remembered they were quoted in Pesos :-). But it didn’t matter - you could order three of the lobster appetizers if you really wanted to and it wouldn't change our price. But we didn’t. We vowed to only order what we thought we could eat. No buffet-type gorging on my watch.
So with the encouragement of our waiter, we ordered a couple of salads, an appetizer, a soup and our main courses - still not knowing what to expect. Each dish was presented like a work of art on the plate and tasted as beautiful as it looked. When they served, it was orchestrated so each person at the table received their food at the same time. In addition, there was an amuse-bouche course (in French: literally mouth amuser; a small bite of something to get your palate excited about what is to come).
A visual tour of our first OMG! Yummy meal at Restaurant Lucca, The Grand Velas, Riviera Maya:
Even with our high standards, having eaten in some of the best restaurants in California, we were highly impressed with the 5-star quality food and outstanding service we received this first evening. Was it possible this would get even better? More about our epic gastronomic adventures on the Yucatan Peninsula coming soon.
(Photos by Douglas and Gregory Lee)