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Tacos and beer aside, when your clients are looking for something special to dine on, Cancun’s best-kept secret may be its fine array of upscale restaurants. Consider its number of Four- and Five-Diamond restaurants alone.
What really surprised me during a recent trip was that progressive dinners are becoming fashionable, especially at Aqua Cancun, a new, high-end hotel.
A pre-dinner mezcal tasting took place at the bar. As smooth as tequila and made from the same agave plant, the spirits at hand were derived from a limited production in remote mountain villages in Oaxaca, the cradle of the mezcal tradition in Mexico. I was advised to “sip it, not shoot it.” The smoky-tinged liquor held overtones of spices and fruit as well.
There was another progressive dinner in store for me at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun and I was beginning to warm to the novelty of the idea. Laid out at three of its six restaurants, two of which have won Diamond awards from AAA, I started off with rice-encrusted sushi at The Sushi & Seafood Bar, a stylish eatery in minimalist decor. This was the preview to Fantino, a jazz supper club with a hand-painted ceiling and an outstanding Mediterranean menu. Dessert was the piece de resistance at Casitas on the beach. Mini-bites of decadent chocolate pineapple cake and other sweet concoctions ended the meal under a full moon and sweet al fresco cabana with the surf pounding just a few yards away.
With culinary tourism becoming a growing trend, those who would like to learn how to cook like an executive chef may consider The Ritz-Carlton’s new Culinary Center. Lighthearted chef de cuisine Rory Dunaway introduced his two-hour class with margarita preparation and a tasting. Next, he coached us in slicing, dicing and grilling. Afterward, we lunched on grilled meat, guacamole, pico de gallo and other fixings from the class and left with recipes to try at home. Tuscan, Thai and spa cuisines are taught in other classes.
Since debuting with the first thalassotherapy spa in Mexico, the Paraiso de la Bonita hotel has earned its stripes with fine dining, especially at the intimate La Canoa restaurant, which was next on the agenda. Gourmet Asian-Mexican designer cuisine using chili-tropical fruit sauces on fish and seafood is the specialty and this went down well with a few well-regarded labels from the wine cellar, which holds 300 different brands from around the world. And if you’re curious about Mexican wines, you can also order a tasting of several award-winning vintages before dinner.
So, whether you’re dining on the region’s fine cuisine or prefer the hands-on experience of making your own, your vacation to Cancun will be a delectable one.
Travelers with special diets get extra attention at the Paraiso de la Bonita, where the chef meets with them on arrival and plans out a daily menu for their stay. So, whether you’re a vegetarian, diabetic, keep Kosher or prefer lowfat and/or low-salt meals, you can stick to your normal routine and enjoy gourmet fare at the same time.
Another perk is the “waiting” course at La Canoa, served when the rest of the table orders an appetizer and you do not. A little something to nosh on is placed before you so as not to feel left out when your friends start their meals.
Paraiso de la Bonita www.paraisodelabonita.com
The Ritz-Carlton, Cancunwww.ritzcarlton.com
Tequila and Chipotle Marinade Skirt Steak Recipe
Chef Rory Dunaway, who leads classes at The Ritz-Carlton’s new $500,000 Culinary Center, creates recipes that are easily adapted to Mexican ingredients found in the U.S. and rewards students with his recipes once the class is over. Here’s one meal pleaser from his Grilling With Mexican Flair class:
Tequila and Chipotle Marinade Skirt Steak
1 piece canned chipotle chile in adobo (marinade)¼ cup lime juice½ cup Worcestershire sauce3 cloves garlic, chopped½ onion, chopped1 tablespoon cumin¼ cup vegetable oil1 tablespoon paprika1 cup tequila reposado
Mix all ingredients in a blender and keep refrigerated for 12 hours. Drain and marinate the beef for at least two hours and grill.
Scroll down to read a Web exclusive recipe from the Ritz Carlton Cancun