Late last summer I had the delectable pleasure of spending a few days at the Valentin Imperial Maya, an all-inclusive, adult-only resort, located in Maya Riviera, Mexico (Playa del Carmen, Cancun), overlooking the Caribbean Sea. I frolicked for 4 days doing what I love to do: Eat, sip, talk, see new sights, meet new wonderful people, buy local artisan wares, and eat some more! This was my first visit to the area since childhood and it was special in so many ways.
Press trips can always be very intense, replete with unyielding itineraries where our host ensures we see everything the destination has to offer. This particular visit allowed us to go out on our own and really explore outside of what was planned. But, before we were able to wander off into the land of the Mayans, we had lovely dinners and visits to local and very haute tourists spots.
We kicked off our first night with a private dinner at L’Alsace, a French-inspired restaurant on the premises of the resort. L’Alsace, one of nine globally-themed restaurants offering a myriad of cuisines and styles, is the dining room you want to enjoy if you’re looking for a Mexican interpretation of post Napoleonic, French glamour aesthetic. Its amber colored marble staircase leading to the intimate upper level dining room, leaves you begging the fantasy of a young Lena Horne making a chic cameo.
We were seated in private dining area on the bottom level. Our menus highlighted the chef’s features and specialty’s– an interesting juxtaposition of classical French technique with local Mexican ingredients and flavors. Mixing French and Mexican styles is not the newest culinary trend as you may think. Prior to this trip, I spent 5 days eating in Cabo where one of the best meals I had was an al fresco midday lunch prepared by a Southern French chef dishing out historical Mexican dishes. I’ll recount that in that trip’s write-up. The point is the Franco-Mexican pairing is relatively new in the grand scheme of commercial buzz, but it’s a damn smart pairing.
And, dinner proved that. I opted for the stuffed chicken covered fois gras sauce. The chicken was super bland for my palate but the fois gras was reason enough to bear through it. The steamed vegetables on the side were also very blah and would have been better served with grilled asparagus or even roasted artichoke, two vegetables not very prevalent to Mexican cuisine. The lamb ragout seemed like a much more enticing option which I lusted over while my colleague devoured it.
Dessert was a luscious torta de chocolate which made up with my sub-par chicken dish. In fact, I think I ordered two and was a happy gal.
To top off my experience, I was invited into the kitchen to chat it up with Chef Fransisco Solorio, whom took time to show me on tape how things go down in their kitchen based on his inspiration and his commitment to his guests. Truthfully, I would not have minded trading in my lace dress and 5″ stilettos for some cute flats, jeans and tee to cook up with them. As you’ll see in the video below, the steaks and seafood coming off the parrilla were drool-worthy and had my comprades a bit jealous of my Spanish-speaking angle–which always garners me some edible perks!
The interview is done in Spanish, naturally, but I come in and translate when appropriate. Get a flavorful whiff if the food coming out of this Mexican kitchen.
(Writer and actor Robert Ellsworth, my friend and chef Canika and myself posing after dinner!)
This is my first of a two-part series I’ll share on all things Maya Riviera, a destination you should definitely consider booking for a historical view of pyramids, street food, great beaches, exclusive resorts and fine dining.
* Thanks to Dave Liske of Luna Pier Cook food blog for editing the video and Canika Wade for shooting in the hot kitchen!
VALENTIN IMPERIAL MAYA
Carretera Federal 307 Chetumal
77710 Playa del Carmen
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