really unique," she gushed on the phone a few weeks ago, "you will
If I had a dollar for every time a friend described a resort, a restaurant, a
menu as "unique" ...well, let's just say I would be a wealthy woman. Of
course it's "unique", I thought. No resort, restaurant or menu
concept is exactly like any other. What she was trying to express to me was
that this place was special, somehow better than anything we had seen before.
Rob and I were planning to celebrate our seven year "Mexi-versary"
and struggling to find just the right place to spend a special evening, just
the two of us. We wanted to try something new and fabulous and after living on
the Riviera Maya for seven years, that has become a tall order for us to fill.
My friend was eager to recommend her new favorite dining experience at a newly renovated
resort close to Playa del Carmen, so we followed her lead and reserved our spot
for the special Chef's Table Dining Experience at The Tides Riviera Maya.
investigating real estate in Xcalacoco, Rob and I came upon this property a few
years back, before Viceroy Hotel Group
took over operations. At that time, it was a small exclusive eco-resort called
Ikal del Mar. It was quaint and rustic and set a beautiful stretch of beach on
the Mexican Caribbean just north of Playa del Carmen. We were both curious to
see what changes the new ownership had brought, so when we were offered a
guided tour of the property, we jumped at the chance.
arrived an hour before dinner and were greeted in the grand new foyer. We
refreshed ourselves with chilled, moist face cloths and tropical welcome drinks
beneath a spectacular spiral chandelier specially designed for the space. After
proper introductions and a brief review of some of the improvements, both
completed and still in the works, we headed down a path and disappeared into
the lush green Caribbean jungle. As the sun dipped below the trees and dusk
began to envelope us, we wound our way through groves of banana trees and
coconut palms, across small footbridges and past waterfalls. Rounding a bend in
the trail, suddenly we were met by a warm, earthy cloud of "copal", an aromatic resin burned in
many traditional rites and ceremonies and a scent that is unmistakably Mayan.
Before us, shrouded in the haze and clad all in white, stood a Shaman. He
welcomed us and performed a customary cleansing ritual to rid us of any
negative energy or malevolent spirits that may have latched onto us in the
course of our day-to-day lives.
there, we toured the Wayak Spa,
a warm, serene, womb-like space where you can fully unburden yourself and leave
the cares of the world behind. The candle lit whirlpool tubs were intensely
inviting, the gauze draped massage room (with two tables to accommodate a
romantic experience for couples) positively dream-like. In addition to
traditional massage therapies, the resort also offers the use of the "temazcal", a sweat lodge used by
the Maya for centuries for medicinal and spiritual healing.
One of the most
interesting and unusual treatments is an open air massage done with warm
organic honey harvested from "sting-less" Mayan bees kept right on
the property. The therapeutic process culminates in a refreshing
"rainstorm" shower with water drawn from the crystal clear cenotes
that run beneath the jungle. If treating your skin with honey and cenote water
is not luxurious enough, the resort boasts its own "soap concierge"
charged with helping each guest select just the right handcrafted natural soap
to use during their stay.
on our path toward the sea, we wandered down jungle paths now illuminated with
candles, a blanket of stars glimmering through breaks in the canopy of trees.
and there, the path would split, branching off into the darkness toward the
private villas that dot the property. When the renovations are complete, the
resort will have 41 villas in total, each with a private patio, plunge pool and
outdoor shower. Two of the newest villas will be set oceanfront and offer
guests the highest level of amenities and VIP services. What struck me as we
went along was the level of privacy that the layout and design of the resort
afforded its guests. As we walked, there was a sense that the suites were there
in the jungle surrounding us. You could see lights glowing through the dense
foliage but you could not fully make out the source. Keeping in mind The Tides
"Dine Anywhere, Anytime"
policy, guests could spend an entire week in luxurious seclusion, never leaving
the confines of the villa! This is a place where one can completely and utterly
our jungle path opened up revealing an elegant pool area. A series of
lagoon-shaped infinity pools spread out toward the beach, surrounded by dining
tables and loungers and lit by hanging rattan lanterns and torches. From the
pool we could see the lofted dining room for La Marea, an elegant ocean-view restaurant with a "Mayaterranean" menu concept, a
fusion of Mexican and Mediterranean cuisines. Below, the newly finished Library
Lounge with its overstuffed armchairs and sofas was being stocked with books
and wired with high speed internet, creating a warm and inviting place to sit
and read and enjoy a glass of wine on the occasional rainy afternoon. The
resort boutique was still in the works and craftsmen were putting the finishing
touches on the new brick pizza oven at the oceanfront Coral Grill. Beyond that, the last lights of the sunset danced
across the waters of the Caribbean. I couldn't have imagined a more romantic
setting for our special evening.
bid goodbye to our guide and settled in at a cozy poolside table for two with
nothing, save a few palm trees, between us and the sea. All around us luminaria cast their warm glow creating islands of light in the darkness.
Executive Chef Jetzabel Rojas came out to greet us personally and explain how
the tasting menu would proceed. She was so gracious and enthusiastic about her cuisine;
we couldn't help but be excited ourselves! The Chef's Table Experience at The
Tides features seven signature dishes, each expertly paired with a premier
Mexican wine. The courses are served at a relaxed pace and at no time did we
feel rushed or pressured to finish off our generous servings of wine. Our
bi-lingual sommelier was very knowledgeable about the wine pairings and was
able to tell us about each of the producers, the growing region and the
varietals. He was delighted to discover that Rob and I have attended numerous
wine tastings featuring Mexican wines and could fully appreciate the quality of
the wines that had been thoughtfully selected from the resort's 500 bottle wine
began our dining experience with a selection of warm homemade rolls and a
flavorful compound butter whipped with cream cheese. From there, we savored a
delicate tuna tartar drizzled with olive oil made by Santa Tomas and served atop a crisp pita chip. This was paired with
a bright sparkling wine from Freixenet.
Braised short-rib tortellini followed in an unctuous gravy-like sauce served
with Rogata Sauvignon Blanc from Baja
Sur, an unusual wine that tasted more like a viogner than a traditional sauv.
blanc but matched well with the tuna. Next, a fresh green salad was served with
a more conventional citrusy Sauvignon Blanc
from Casa Madero. A rich roasted
"Indio" tomato soup was brought out, matched with Casa Madero's "V", a slightly
sweet blush wine made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes left on the skin just
long enough to impart a bit of color. The boquinete, pan seared and finished in
the oven, came next, moist and crispy all at once, seasoned on the skin side
only and served with a savory cilantro sauce and the tiniest pattypan squash I
have ever seen. This too was successfully paired with the Casa Madero "V". From crispy fish, we moved on to the
duck, two medallions of medium rare breast meat with perfectly rendered crispy
skin served atop a delicate cauliflower puree. A dollop of warm pumpkin mousse
and white corn with fresh farmers cheese were offered on the side. The wine
pairing for this was the Viña
Doña Dolores Crianza, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Freixenet. All the while, servers slipped quietly in and out of the
darkness, adjusting table settings, decanting bottles, replacing wine glasses,
serving and clearing plate after plate of the Chef Jetzabel's culinary
creations. Each dish was beautifully presented and delicately seasoned with
nuances demonstrating an unusual maturity from such a young Chef.
our desserts were placed before us. We were surprised to discover a soft ancho
chile filled with guava paste placed on a swath of sweetened pasillo chile
sauce. This was served with a scoop of house-made caramel ice cream and a
generous pouring of Xtabentún,
a liqueur made from honey and anise and produced exclusively in the Yucatán.
The juxtaposition of sweet and spicy was heavenly, a master artist's
palette of flavors and colors, the perfect end to a magnificent dining
been quite a while since Rob and I have come across a place that we both could
really rave about, a place that offers a dining experience we enjoy so
thoroughly that we found ourselves eager to return to. When you find yourself
torn between wanting to invite all your friends and wanting to keep it a well-guarded
secret, you know you are onto something special. The food was honest and
restrained and free from any gimmicks or trendy cooking trickery. The plates
were well balanced, the flavors were pronounced without hitting you over the
head with any one element. The service was smooth and unobtrusive and the
plan to return to The Tides in the near future to partake in the cooking
classes at the Casita Maya. For
another special evening, perhaps our upcoming wedding anniversary, we will
reserve the palapa on the pier for a private dining experience orchestrated by
Chef Jetzabel. Maybe, one day soon, we will be able to take a break in the action
and completely immerse ourselves in luxury, taking advantage of all the
amenities and services that The Tides has to offer. Until then, we will happily
recommend The Tides to our friends and customers, not just as a culinary
destination but also as an exclusive, luxurious resort option for their next
stay on the Riviera Maya.