It's been said many times that the only thing that is consistent in Playa del Carmen is inconsistency. I find that to be be true in so many aspects of life here, particularly in my dining experiences. As this weekend my husband celebrated his 40th birthday, our regular Friday night companions treated us to dinner at Negrosal, a chic downtown restaurant we have come to jokingly refer to as "the mistress". On those select occassions that we depart from our regular favorite eateries and get all dolled up for an indulgent evening at Negrosal, it always feels a bit like we're cheating. We have dined here on several occasions with various friends and customers and, without exception, our experiences have been very positive. On this special day, we were really looking forward to more of the same.

While I can't say that the meal, overall, was bad, it just didn't quite live up to our expectations based on past performance. The service, I will say, is friendly, prompt and professional. The waiters are knowledgable about the menu and really understand some of the finer points of service. That alone is hard to come by in Playa and the management is to be commended for it. This time it was the food that, almost across the board, failed to impress. The duck tacos, really more of a spring roll in presentation, were crisp and delicious but could have been filled with any meat as the flavor of duck did not show through. The seafood soup was flavorful and certainly generous in portion but much of the shellfish was overcooked at a bit rubbery. I chose the shrimp with a saffron champagne sauce, which I have enjoyed several times in the past. The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the lovely puff pastry cap was flaky and buttery as expected. Sdaly, the sauce, a variation on the classic beurre blanc, failed to shine in this dish. It was a bit loose and starting to break and just didn't have the wonderful flavor and silky texture that I have enjoyed in the past. In the realm of starters, the fresh spinach salad and the generous smoked salmon appetizer, both artfully served in carefully layered towers, were the real standout winners. 


Moving on to the main courses, three of our merry group chose the rack of lamb served with minted peas. At our regular Friday night venue, we quite often chose lamb and found the portion size here to be rather small in comparison to what we are generally served. While the meat was cooked perfectly, the heavy, overly herbaceous crust detracted from, rather than enhanced both the texture and the flavor of the lamb. While the lightly minted green bean accompaniment is well conceived, this evening, the beans were just too mature and overcooked. Kim, keeping on the seafood theme, selected the red snapper which, of all the dishes put before us, was the biggest disappointment. The presentation was completely sub-par, lacking any imagination and the fish itself was hard and dry. It went uneaten. I chose a menu item that I have enjoyed many times in the past, the seared duck brea st with raspberry sauce. My previous experiences taught me to order this sauce on the side, lest my duck be delivered drowning in sticky sweetness. Just a few drops are all that is necessary to enhance the flavor of this delicious dish. As always, the duck was seared to perfection, fork tender and not at all gamey. My only complaint? A slightly smaller portion size than I am accustomed to and a side of roasted potato that seemed to be nothing more than an after-thought. Based on the artistry displayed in many of the appetizers, I know they can do better and they should.

In conclusion, while I wasn't unhappy with our dining experience, I certainly wasn't impressed. I have had better meals at Negrosal in the past, so I know what the kitchen is capable of putting out. Certainly, the constant stream of different diners, visiting tourists who will only experience a meal Negrosal once or twice, will not be aware of or affected by the inconsistency. In the end, it will be the locals that will mark the success or failure of this and other restaurants in Playa del Carmen when high season is over and competition for tourists is fierce. The more expensive, finer dining establishments would be wise to court the local dollars by provided us with consistently good food, excellent service and good values.