1.19.2009

Compliments to the Chef

The original intention of our "Compliments to the Chef" series was to highlight the fantastic meals we've accrued throughout our dining experiences. Yes, it is a bit of a tease to review a restaurant so far away from the city of our home, nonetheless, we were so taken with this quaint little Cuban restaurant that we felt as though we would be doing a disservice to the entire staff were we to omit it from this section of the blog.

We discovered El Varadero based on a recommendation of a trusted local. We were told to go for the mojitos, and to stay for the food. I am often hesitant to explore the cuisine of different region than that in which I am traveling, but the fact of the matter is that here on Isla Mujeres, we are less than 100 miles from Cuba. Upon considering this fact briefly, the idea of looking for a Cuban restaurant on an island just off the coast of Mexico started to make sense.
Our journey to find El Varadero began a few miles away, in downtown Isla Mujeres. Originally we had considered taking a taxi to find the restaurant, until we discovered a small sidewalk that hugged the northeastern end of the island. We began walking, and were immediately taken with the colors of the buildings that were perched alongside the edge of the ocean, their tattered facades speaking volumes about storms come and gone. Mesmerized by these images, we continued walking until we found ourselves far out of town, perhaps less than halfway to our destination.
We walked for what felt like miles, with no street signs to guide us along our way, finding the restaurant became a game, the primary rule being that we weren’t allowed to ask anyone for directions. Finally we discovered a landmark that indicated that we were not far from the restaurant. Utilizing all of my spider-senses I was able to guide us the final half-mile or so to the restaurant.

The restaurant itself is actually to small wooden buildings that are connected by a 20 foot long sand and stone pathway. The first building houses the kitchen, and the second sits at the edge of Laguna Makax. From any of the six tables one can enjoy beautiful views of the lagoon, chock-full of fishing boats, seabirds, and mangrove forest. Adhering to the advice of our trusted local, we began our meal with a couple mojitos (which later followed by another round, followed again by a round of Cuba Libres).
The menu was simple, almost screaming to the diner "What, have you not noticed the dozens of fishing boats that surround us?!?" We were going to eat fish, the only real question which remained was how would we like to have it prepared. We opted to leave this decision up to our server, who explained to us that she preferred the house recipe for breaded fish. After the first round of mojitos, which by the way were nothing short of spectacular, really she could have suggested that the fish be dragged through sand, doused with stale beer, and dried in the sun, and I would have taken her word for it.

The perfect plate: breaded fish, sweet fried plantains, beans and rice, and salad

The fish was sea bass, and was prepared to perfection. The breading was thin but inexplicably crispy, spiced, and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, and succeeded in preserving the fish's natural juices during the cooking process. The end result was a dish that was deserving of high marks for its flavor, texture, and moisture, and with a little fresh lime juice squeezed on top, had us both wishing that our stomachs had room for seconds.

El Varadero
South end of Via Garrafon, overlooking Laguna Makax
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Tuesday thru Sunday: 11:00am-11:00pm

1 comment:

msaims said...

w. o. w.

i loved the story.