It was my first night in Mexico (my very first night and very first time), and after a long day of travel and finally catching up with two of my very good friends with ample red wine, it was time for a good dinner. I was excited to be in my great friend’s home town of Merida, in the Yucatan region of our southerly neighbor. It was going to be an adventure, and on top of that a food adventure, because my friend is a huge foodie as well. When we were “studying” in London, we often indulged in food and grew closer for it. So now it was time for him to show us around his stomping grounds, and dictate what we were eating. I was beyond thrilled.
This first night, after the sun was completely set, and it was getting later and cooler, he brought us to a nice, rather large restaurant called La Recova, a self titled Argentinean steak house with Yucatan accents and additions. It was late so the place was emptying, but gave us room to speak in English and ask the waiter and our native friend a zillion questions.
My friend basically knew what we should and were going to eat before we stepped into the restaurant (this was a recurring theme throughout my trip… loved it). Because of his foodie nature and the relative smallness of Merida and its food scene (though evolving and changing), he was super familiar with the menu and what was enjoyable.
For starters we had …
Queso fondido This was a little pot of hot melted cheese, topped with large rounds of fatty chorizo. The cheese was hot and salty, which mimicked the flavors of the meat. It was a heavy combination, but was delicious with the tortillas that it was served with. The ratio of cheese to meat was a little overwhelming though, far too much cheese for the few charred rounds of the sausage.
Carnitas atun This heaping appetizer was a play on the carnitas of the area that is usually made with pork, which is cooked till soft and stringy and then almost friend again. The tuna was prepared in a similar way, and served with tortillas to make little tacos. I was not completely convinced with this appetizer, it was kind of dry and greasy to me at the same time, but adding some of the spicy and flavorful sauces left at the table improved the experience.
Tostaditas de atun This was by far my favorite appetizer. It was a delicate pile of tuna tartar and a small smear of guacamole, placed on a bite sized crunchy chip. The zing of lime made the raw fish sing, and that same flavor was echoed in the guacamole, creating a brightness that contrasted the crunchy and smooth textures of the bite. The thin sliver of red onion added another texture as well as a bite. Each element was absolutely delicious and exciting, and they were all harmonious in making each bite near perfection.
For mains we indulged in…
The mains to me were less interesting than the appetizers; their flavor profiles were duller, delicious, but not as dynamic.
We had a steak, cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the cut of meat was lean but just fatty enough to eat without being uncomfortable. The seasoning too protected us from steak dry mouth, and it was juicy, but not extreme. The little (but just enough) piece of meat came with a flounce of garnishes, which I completely ignored. The plate was about the steak, its seasoning and its precision in preparation.
The other main that the three of us shared was an adobo octopus. This generous portion of octopus came with some gently roasted cherry tomatoes and some cooked and seasoned rounds of white potatoes. Once again, I paid little to no attention to the side items on the plate, though the tomatoes ushered in some tang and acidity to counter the smooth, buttery and meaty texture of the octopus, and the potato kind of served as a base to even the decadence of the octopus. Sometimes texture can get between enjoying octopus and not, but this was prepared perfectly, as it lost its gummy feeling but took on the consistency of meat. The spices morphed the seafood into something more terrestrial, just like how it was cooked transformed the octopus to a more meaty realm. The adobe was spicy and dynamic, but also added lovely color and intrigue.
Only room for one dessert…
It was late, we were excited and practically full, but there is always room for more. After hearing the few dessert options, twice (once in Spanish, and once with a loose English translation), we landed on a dulce de leche fondant. We had little idea what this would entail, but anything with sweetness and caramel, was bound to melt my heart.
When the dessert was placed on the table, practically right under my nose, I was mildly shocked. The plating was more imaginative and modern than any of the other more straight forward dishes. Our fondant dessert was comprised of a little cake dusted with powdered sugar, and busting at its seams with dulce de leche, a curious upright cookie ring, with a heavy scoop of ice cream nestled within, and a dancing design of chocolate and orange decoration.
On a whole, the dessert was delicious, sweet, textured, creamy, hot and cold, crunchy. The little cake was like a chocolate molten cake, only a caramelly cousin. The cake was moist and lovely and the dulce de leche on the inside was smooth, creamy and sweet but not strong. The melty texture of the ice cream and the cake insides played well together, while the crunchy cookie and cake were at odds but cooperated nicely. The only tastes that did not lend well to the rest of the dessert was the tangy bitter dark chocolate that was too close to a cloyingly sweet orange cream. The intense chocolate flavor was nice, breaking up the overall sweetness with a mature twist, while the orange was completely unnecessary and incongruent.
Dinner was a great time, great food, and a lovely time catching up. It was a great place to start off our food adventures in Mexico, though it was a fusion of the region and Argentinean elements. The service was great and patient, the décor warm and trendy, and the food delicious and lively.