Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Mayan Cafe' - More spice would be more than's badly needed

One of the greatest meals of my life was in Mexico. It was at an eco-park called Xcaret. And it was a buffet...yes...a buffet. I couldn't see behind the scenes but from what I tasted I imagined a dozen or so old ladies cooking the way they have for years.

This eco-park seemed to be like 6 Flags for locals, except for the fact that it didn't have one ride, or for that matter, even one attraction. It was an oasis of sorts. You could swim through an underground river, visit sea turtles in a hatchery, swim in one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen and eat some truly authentic Mexican food. It was so rich and so flavorful that the adjective delicious doesn't even begin to describe it.

Another very memorable and downright amazing "Mexican" meal was at a restaurant in Philly called Xochitl. They featured a special "indigenous" night and served things like grasshoppers, calf brains and frogs legs. It was flavorful, daring and nothing short of amazing.

Needless to say, I love food from the Mayan region...a lot. So when Nick suggested dinner at a place called the Mayan Cafe I was jazzed.

The website boasted fresh, local ingredients, which would be true to Mayan cuisine (not to mention something I love to see on menus). Looking good so far! We had to wait a week for a weekend reservation...must be good! The interior was quaint and inviting...reminded me of Mexico! Then came the Chile Relleno... cue sound effects:::: waa, waaa, waaaa

I could see right off the bat that the chef was using the freshest ingredients. The chile was filled with fresh corn, eggplant and squash. But there was one major didn't taste good! There was no breading on the chile and barely there cheese. The lack of breading resulted in a slimy, mushy texture. Ok, he still could save it if he stuffed it with cheese and seasoned the vegetables liberally. Yikes. It seems he didn't do either of those things. A true let down and unfortunately, a preview of what was to come.

Onto the next dish......

The hubby ordered the roast pork, Cochinita Pibil. It was roasted pork served in a achiote sauce with lima beans and a corn cake. Of all our dishes this one was probably the most flavorful, however, that's really not saying much.

The pork was alright, but certainly on the dry side. Perhaps he was trying to keep things healthy(which would fall right in line with the non-fried Relleno and lack of cheese) so he skimped on the pork fat during roasting. But why would anyone do that? Just serve a different cut of pork if you're not going to do it justice. The corn cake served as a nice bed for the pork and the lima beans were fine, but then again, how can you ruin lima beans. The hubby wasn't angry about his meal (he was almost angry about the relleno), but he mentioned that he had certainly eaten much better roast pork in his day.

I ordered the "mole of the day". I adore mole sauce. It can be made a million different ways, but one thing should always remain the and complex flavors. This mole, a "white mole", tasted of black pepper, and that's about all. It was bland, un-complex and runny.

The mole WAS, however, served on a lovely piece of local beef filet from a farm I've also purchased delicious meat from. It was cooked to perfection (honestly...really well cooked) and the portion was generous. I suppose I can see why he used so much black pepper in the white mole, as pepper and filet pair wonderfully, but I can't for the life of me see why he called it a mole. Perhaps next time he should just say "peppercorn sauce" and throw the whole idea of "Mayan" cooking out the window.

The most unusual thing about dinner was my side eggplant flan. Yup. You heard it here first folks...eggplant flan. I'm a very adventurous eater. I typically don't have problems with textures that most would find off-putting. That being said, even I thought this eggplant flan was a crazy invention. Not quite a custard, not quite a puree. It had the consistency of runny, then broken scrambled eggs. It had the flavor of eggplant, which was fine, but it pretty much only had the flavor of eggplant. If I had to guess I would say he got a good deal on some fresh eggplant and tried a dish he never tried before. Because honestly, had he tried this dish before, I would be shocked that he decided to serve it at his restaurant.

So to recap...I hate being harsh, but I refuse to be dishonest. I almost always end my reviews with "will I or won't I return?". This time I can honestly say I won't return(and that is rare). One weird dish or daring presentation can be chalked up to an adventurous chef. One technical mistake can be overlooked. Unfortunately, slimy peppers, broken eggplant flan and confusing dishes can't. The meat was cooked wonderfully and the ingredients were fresh, but it seems those two things aren't enough to carry the entire meal.

Mayan Cafe on Urbanspoon

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