Saturday, March 28, 2009 9:30 AM
John Gray's Place in Playa del Carmen
If I had to pick a favorite area within what is commonly considered "la zona turistica" in Playa del Carmen, I would easily choose Calle Corazon. Jam packed with culturally diverse boutiques, artists locales, restaurants and even a spa, the quaint triangle nestled between 10th Avenue, Calle 14 and La Quinta lures you in with its charms. Enormous trees that more than likely gave shelter to indigenous Maya centuries ago, now cool the cobbled streets of modern day Playa del Carmen, providing visitors with a respite from the scorching Caribbean sun. At night, their branches support a glittering web of lights, laid out like a starry sky above the heads of shoppers and diners. In 2004, this was the location John Gray chose for his next culinary endeavor on the Riviera Maya.
After proving his metal in the world class kitchens of the Ritz Carlton Group of hotels, John and George Cairo, friend and acclaimed maitre d', decided to combine their skills and passions and in 1998 opened Johnny Cairo's in Puerto Morelos. In 2001, John struck out on his own with John Gray's Kitchen back in his old familiar stomping ground in Puerto Morelos. Fans and foodies were more than happy to make the trip to enjoy John's creative take on new American cuisine made with bold flavors and fresh locally sourced ingredients. Quietly, Playa locals were chomping at the bit, hoping that the talented chef would perhaps duplicate his efforts further south. Fortunately, they didn't have long to wait. John brought his winning concept to Playa del Carmen, opening John Gray's Place in 2004. Tucked away in Calle Corazon and not so readily visible to the main flow of tourists on 5th Avenue, his chic new restaurant quickly became a locals' favorite and a place for those "in the know". Great, consistent food and word of mouth built John and his crew a huge customer base of resident regulars and return visitors. It was clear that he needed more space and so, this winter, he took over and reconfigured several neighboring storefronts, creating a spacious open restaurant and bar with plenty of room both inside and out to accommodate his avid followers. To date The John Gray Group now counts five venues in it's culinary arsenal. John Gray's Downtown in Cancun (June 2008), John Gray's Kitchen and La Suegra (Feb. 2008) in Puerto Morelos, the newly revamped John Gray's Place (Dec. 2008) and The Den at John Gray's Place (Feb. 2009), both in Playa del Carmen.
Large, well chilled cocktails and warm bread with pesto to start the evening.
From the appetizer selections, a spicy tuna roll sprinkled with sesame seeds and nori.
Freshly caught grouper with a black olive butter sauce.
Perfectly cooked, succulent lamb chops with a warm Caribbean slaw.
Pan seared duck b.reast with a chipotle tequila honey sauce over spiced sweet potato puree and haricots verts.
Roquefort encrusted pork tenderloin with crispy onions and creamed new potatoes.
Drawing influences from Mexico and around the world in each offering, John Gray and Executive Chef Karl Mayrhofler, boldly use their global experiences in each shining culinary creation. Their thoughtful interpretations of classic new American cuisine highlight fresh local fruits, chiles, honey and even tequila in an artful way, found only in world class kitchens. The wine list is well balanced by region, varietal and price point and it is clear that much thought and time has gone into the selection of each label. The wines are kept in an attractive glass vault in the dining room, temperature controlled to maintain the integrity of the wines.
We have had the pleasure of dining at John Gray's Place in Playa del Carmen on a number of occasions and each time, we have been very pleased with our experience. The menu is concise, each dish carefully conceived and executed to show the individual ingredients at their very best. The staff is friendly and attentive for the most part. Any small glitches in service that we have experienced have been quickly identified and rectified by the restaurant manager, who is among the best I have seen, in Playa and elsewhere. He is a constant blur of purposeful movement, seemingly in all places at all times, providing assistance to his service and bar staff in this consistently busy venue. If I have one complaint about John Gray's Place, it is the limited menu. While the dishes offered do change slightly from time to time, based on availability, for this local who has been in search of a new regular Friday date night restaurant, John Grays' doesn't provide the variety that will assure that each member of our group will find something that tempts them, week after week. For those of us who would make this a weekly pilgrimage, a list of specials, created nightly by the Executive Chef would add greatly to the appeal for regular diners.
Today, when he is not busy building his culinary empire, John spends his time in Puerto Morelos with his wife and children. Grateful to the country that has provided him with such wonderful opportunity, the young chef makes sure to give back to the community when the need arises, most recently providing two scholarships for a family in crisis due to illness, ensuring that the children are in a safe and nurturing place while the family recovers from this hardship. This is the kind of involvement that is so crucial in this community and we applaud their support and contributions. More importantly, we reward them with our business. If you visiting or living in Playa del Carmen and you have a special evening planned, John Gray's will not dissappoint. The atmosphere, the food and the service are all top notch. In conclusion this is one of the nicest dining experiences in all of the Riviera Maya, one that is not to be missed.
Dining Room/ Lunch: Monday - Saturday, 1:00p.m.- 5:00 p.m.
Bar Hours: Dinner: Monday - Saturday, 6:00 p.m.- 11:00 p.m.
Closed on Sundays
Price Range: Appetizers: $7 - $13
Entrees: $14 - $27
Credit Cards: Visa, American Express, Master Card
Reservations: Highly recommended - 52-984-803-3689