Vancouver Sun restaurant columnist Mia Stainsby concluded a visit to Naples, Fla., with a hop over the Gulf of Mexico for some food.
Merida and Valladolid, Yucatan, “where many refrigerated Canadians nest” had “a couple of food experiences (that) stood out.”
After dining at Ku’uk in Merida and Ix Cat Ik in Valladolid, Stainsby filled an entire newspaper page with text and photos of her experiences.
At Ku’uk, “the food is high-concept and modernist yet steeped in Yucatecan traditions,” Stainsby observed. She wasn’t thrilled with the interior decor or the international tasting sampler (“Falafel isn’t so exciting to a Vancouverite”) but she liked the “pib”-cooked veggies of mini pumpkin (with seeds intact), sweet potato and yogurt.
Amberjack with a black recado sauce and garnishes of a black lacey crisp and dabs of avocado mousse, and another amberjack dish, topped with black garlic “caviar” and avocado chili soup, were also deemed successful.
For palate cleanser, a black persimmon sour orange and honey pudding arrived in a ceramic persimmon dish. A house-made bottle of Maya cola with black persimmon, herbal tea and lemongrass was “refreshing.”
“A perfect cube of tamal wrapped like a gift in banana leaf arrived on a clay hibachi-like cooker,” wrote Stainsby on the course that followed. “Unwrapped and plated, the server poured a pork liver sauce over it. I was more in love with the next course, a perfectly constructed cochinita (pork) pibil taco with a piece of pig-shaped crackling skin to adorn. So yummy!”
One dessert “looked like butterflies had landed.” A white cucumber paloma cocktail, worm salt, candied xcaita pumpkin, coconut, Edam cheese, lemon, orange were served. “A little glass of bougainvilla and honey concoction was heavenly.”
Another dessert was a “work of art:” a plaintain flan topped with bananas foster and white-chocolate crumble and a log of yogurt ice cream.
“The meal was imaginative and hugely labor intensive but most importantly, the chef keeps his eye on flavor,” she concluded. The check came in higher than a diner might be accustomed to in this city, but “the culinary artistry was worth it.”
In Valladolid, Ix Cat Ik was a more rustic experience.
In the outdoor seating area, two women sat in a hut by a comal, or griddle, heated by a wood fire expertly making tortillas.
“I watched as one grilled my order for an egg slipped between two tortillas before sending them to the kitchen for ixcatik chili and chaya toppings,” said Stainsby. “And good to know: there’s an open fire pit with red-hot embers from the day’s pibil-cooking, a pit one could easy walk into as I almost did. I didn’t see it until the owner pointed it out. A Vancouver Coastal Health inspector would have a heart attack.”
Cocktails included traditional herbs and greens that grow on the property.
Sopa de lima was “delicate and clean flavored” as was the egg-filled tortilla. Pork pibil was considered the best of many they’d tasted. And the owner was very hospitable “explaining his food and vision with every guest. I loved this place.”