Food Musings

A Winnipeg blog about the joy of preparing food for loved ones and the shared joy that travel & dining brings to life.

Chilito by Ruben, 2018 Isla Mujeres

March21

You may have heard of Ruben because of his generous heart and “Rueben’s Kids” -his charity on the island (more about this later) or you may know him for Ruben’s his little restaurant in Centro that has been putting out fabulous food since 2016. When you meet him, it is unlikely you will forget him for his exuberance for feeding people, taking care of islanders and life itself.

My sisters and I are cooks with three different styles. I am a “resourceful” cook (using leftovers and making recipe substitutions), Sister#3 is a trained cooked and is familiar with French culinary terms and techniques. Sister #2 is a decadent cook. She prepares food that tastes so good-adding extra cheese and sauce and her secret ingredient-butter! Ruben cooks just like Sister #2. His creations are all beautiful and carefully prepared but if he can elevate the taste with cheese, sauce or butter, he does and does so lavishly.

chilito1

Case in point: Ruben’s guacamole at Chilito’s was amazing. It had something extra that I couldn’t put my finger on-lime juice, garlic or crème fraiche? The guessing did not dissuade us. We made short work of the guacamole while we sipped frosty cold beer, red and white wine.

chilito2

The soup course was sublime. Ruben suggested we guess its ingredients and we weren’t even close. He wouldn’t share his secret proportions but he did tell us that it was a magical combination of spinach, zucchini and pablano chilies. The tastes were complex and yet beautifully melded. We decided we could all have returned the next day, just to indulge in that soup again.

chilito4

Both R & M chose entrees of grouper in sweet tamarind sauces which they loved. I selected garlic grouper which was sparkling fresh and terrific.

chilito3

Husband D chose the steak and langostino. Ruben apologised that they were out of filet and substituted a rib eye. Since D and I grew up in the steakhouse business, we know that a rib eye because of its proximity to the bone and increased marbling is a far tastier steak. When grilled properly (which this was) it can be just as tender as a filet. The sweet langostino was also beautifully prepared but just to be extra confident about the taste; Ruben had smeared herb butter over both.

The food was plentiful and so delicious that we all finished our plates and could not consider another morsel. But as we lingered over our beverages and chatted with Ruben, space was magically created and all of a sudden, two desserts and four forks appeared before us.

chilito5

chilito6

While my companions scooped up the flan which they thought was great, I indulged in bites of the petite slice of chocolate cake that I requested. But I had to put my fork down and surrender. Delicious as it was, I was done.

Further to Ruben’s charity news…while Ruben’s in Centro supports Ruben’s Kids, Chilito’s will support the seniors of the island. Ruben enthusiastically spoke of raising funds for wheelchairs and walkers. This is what makes Ruben so special and his restaurants places that you love to return to. In spite of his personal issues, he continues to love islanders and travellers alike with his excellent fare and he knows that at the end of the day it is giving back that makes this world go round.

PS Anybody know what a chilito is?

Kath’s quote: “I believe that we all have a responsibility to give back. No one becomes successful without lots of hard work, support from others, and a little luck. Giving back creates a virtuous cycle that makes everyone more successful”.-Ron Conway

IMG_0215

Love never fails.

 

 

 

 

posted under Isla Mujeres | 1 Comment »

Breakfast at Limon-Isla Mujeres 2018

March20

Today being March 20, 2018 you have very little time left to experience Limon for breakfast. But fear not, Sergio indicates that they will serve breakfast again in the fall. In the mean time, it will likely be no surprise to Limon fans, that breakfast was absolute perfection.

sergio1

Since there were four of us and we have known each other for decades, we were comfortable sharing and tasting each others’ food. I had selected the Eggs Benedict Limon Style. One was closer to a traditional style and the other with smoked salmon was a decadent diversion from classic fare. Both started with English muffins and a healthy base of sautéed spinach. The “traditional” version then was stacked with salami, Italian sausage and roasted ham infused with rosemary and garlic. I could have simply had a slice of that ham with a poached egg and would have been content. Both poached eggs were fresh and perfectly prepared and the hollandaise sauce on both was absolutely sublime. The second one was stacked with silky slices of smoked salmon. Tasting one version and then having a bite of the second was the perfect combination. Even though I swore that I would never be able to eat the entire plate, eat it I did! There is no room for petite appetites when you are visiting Limon.

sergio2

Our friend M is not accustomed to eating sweet offerings at breakfast but could not resist Sergio’s blitzes. The tender crepes were stuffed with both ricotta and mascarpone cheeses then surrounded by blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. The final touch was a ladle of red berry coulis. My forkful sparkled and was delightfully light. Everyone agreed and would have loved to have shared the dish as an evening’s dessert.

sergio3

This enormous platter was D’s choice. Called an English-style fry up, the platter was laden with (starting at 12 o’clock and moving clock wise): sautéed Portobello mushroom strips, crispy bacon, sausage, grilled tomatoes, a log stack of sweet potato fries and more bacon. Holding court in the middle were two perfectly fried eggs on a piece of toast. D too was surprised by his own appetite and ate every morsel.

sergio4

Our friend R selected the soufflé omelet. Now R is a guy who knows his food. He is an expert at the barbeque and I have watched him painstakingly take 20 minutes and stir scrambled eggs for six. R was the perfect person to order Sergio’s soufflé. Sergio explained to us that it took him many tries to perfect this dish. R knew this to be true and appreciated the effort. In my mind, both men know that food=love. That is why both are so exacting in their craft.

In case you didn’t know, a soufflé is a baked egg-based dish which originated in early eighteenth century France. It is made by combining egg yolks and beaten egg whites. The word soufflé is the past participle of the French verb souffler which means “to breathe” or “to puff”. Depending upon the timing of combining the eggs, the egg yolks may get tough or the entire creation may deflate or fall. Sergio’s dish was perfection and R knew it. He loved the touches of bacon-wrapped asparagus and sautéed mushrooms but it was the egg casserole that he ate with admiration and reverence.

The courtyard setting at Sergio’s is perfect under white twinkle lights in the evening, but just as lovely in the bright sunshine. Limon’s staff are always top notch and overall the breakfast experience was a microcosm of the evening one-perfect setting, perfect service and perfect food (made with love).

Kath’s quote: “Cooking is great, love is grand, but souffles fall and lovers come and go. But you can always depend on a book!”-Claudia Christian

IMG_0220

Love never fails.

 

posted under Isla Mujeres | 1 Comment »

Chaya and Cacao-Isla Mujeres 2018

March19

We met Chaya and Cacao’s owner Lori many years ago at Mango and subsequently at Lola Valentina’s. We know that she has exceptional skills in culinary artististy-that is to pair foods that enhance and elevate each other. The offerings from her new kitchen are no exception.

Chaya1

Lori puts her money where her (our) mouths are, posting the Mission Statement for Chaya and Cacao right at the front entrance.

Sister #3 and I began our evening at a cozy outdoor table. I had past it many times on my walk to the beach. It is no surprise that Lori’s turquoise decorating accents would draw my eye. In truth I loved everything about the restaurant including the wooden fish hanging in the front window. I purchased three of my own when I visited Madera Food + Art later in the week. This elegant cocktail was absolutely thirst quenching and delicious but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called. I do know that it was one of C + C’s weekly specials so it may or may not be available when you make a visit.

chaya4

The menu, like the cocktail, changes weekly in order to capitalize on fresh local ingredients. I was also impressed with Lori’s little touches such as serving course ground pepper and a Himalayan sea salt in the manner above.

chaya3

Even though I am not a vegetarian, I love vegetables tremendously, especially unusual ones like artichokes, eggplant and hearts of palm. Turns out Chaya and Cacao had both of the latter on that week’s menu. We started with this lovely twist on eggplant parmigiana. Enormous disks of eggplant were first coated in panko flakes, fried and then topped with plantain. The sweet starchiness of the plantain complemented the eggplant perfectly.

chaya5

Next up were delectable cakes made with hearts of palm. They were garnished and served with veggies and greens and this became our heavenly salad course.

chaya7

Lori mentioned that she had Thai stuck in her head that week and the next dish was her take on Tom Yum soup.  I loved the silky coconut based soup and the ribbons of cilantro. The dish also contained tofu, onion threads and crunchy bean sprouts. By this time both Sister #3 and I were getting full, so she packed up the soup so that we could share the lion fish entree that came next.

chaya8

Lori explained to us that Lionfish were posing a threat to Isla’s coral reefs. We were happy to do our share to consume the evasive species. We were delighted by the taste. Sister #3 thought that it tasted a lot like pickerel (aka wall-eye) that we fish and eat in Manitoba. Roasted veggies also adorned the wooden platter making the dish as beautiful to look at as it was to eat.

The island is fortunate that Lori has the tenacity and perseverance to stay living on the island. She loves locals and travellers alike, but cares deeply for the island itself.

Kath’s quote: “The biggest fish he ever caught were those that got away.”-Eugene Field

IMG_0186

Love never fails.

 

 

Capricci Pizza-Isla Mujeres 2018

March16

capricci1

Pizza is like hamburgers…everyone has a favourite place to go and will valiantly defend their preferences. On Isla Mujeres, I know that many people love Oscar’s and Mike’s and Angelo’s. I have never had pizza at Oscar’s or Mike’s but I adore the frutti di mare pizza at Angelo’s. Recently, I sampled Capricci’s Pizza & Sfizi on Hidalgo and were so very impressed. By the way, in case you were wondering what “sfizi” means; it is a “whimsical” word in Italian that sometimes denotes a treat or special section of a menu.

The owner of the Capricci is a first generation Italian. He is hands on in the kitchen, preparing his dough from scratch. He shared with us that his pizza creations were Neapolitan, meaning from the area surrounding the city of Naples. This makes them especially authentic because that is where pizza is said to have been invented. My husband D has visited the particular Neopolitan restaurant and although I cannot claim as much, I have been to Naples on a couple of occasions and know that the best pizzas are always the simplest but utilizing the finest ingredients.

The Capricci owner also shared his dough recipe with us…flour, extra virgin olive oil and semolina flour to finish. He did not reveal the proportions of the ingredients or the time that the dough is kneaded and rested. The latter is what makes a pizza, a pizza! It is the art and knowledge of working the dough that produces the desired results. By the by, his pizza crust is award-winning. He laments the loss of genuine pizza making in his homeland because of the influx of other nationalities and cultures who believe that their improvements make for a superior pizza. I commiserated with him: why try to fix perfection?

capricci2

We chose the Dolomite pizza, so named for the mountain range located in northeastern Italy. It was topped with hand-made Italian sausage, mushrooms, rosemary, mozzarella and Gouda cheese.  In addition, was a humble and yet surprising ingredient-cubed baked potatoes!

capricci4

The toppings melded together perfectly and the crust was divine-thin and crispy with hints of char achieved with a high quality pizza oven.

capricci3

When we heard that Capricci also has fresh pasta on the menu, we couldn’t resist. They have two Carbonaras  to choose from and although we intended to order the decadent one with cream, egg and bacon, we accidentally ordered the vegetarian version. We could tell that the noodles were excellent and that exceptional quality oils and Parmesan cheese was used, but we have to admit that carrot ribbons couldn’t take the place of bacon, especially Italian bacon.

Kath’s quote: “Your life is like a pizza. It could be round, it could be square. But you’ll enjoy it most of all when it’s something that you share.” ― Jim Benton

heart-shaped20pizza20shot

Love never fails.

 

 

 

 

Javi’s Cantina, Isla Mujeres 2018

March14

javi2 javi3 javi4

Seven of us recently enjoyed a dinner at Javi’s Cantina. As we were assembling and ordering drinks, I took the opportunity to have a little poke around. The décor of Javi’s is understated, yet vibrant. I loved the murals as we made our way to the back patio in addition to touches of turquoise and another favourite-twinkle lights.

javi1

I had a little preview of the back patio when we visited Javi’s in 2017 and it was exciting to see how the hopes and dreams of Javi and his wife Marla were shaping up. If you have spent any time on the island, you likely know Javi or at least know of him from his years of evening gigs on Hidalgo. You will know that he is a great story teller and is passionate about everything he takes on. This tree, which is the focal point of the back terrace, once supported Javi’s childhood swing. The cantina stands on Javi’s family property. (Oh and he is wonderfully sentimental too).

javi14

He refers to the families’ tree and then tells the story of his grandfather taking him out fishing. The punch line of the story was “shut up and fish” put I will leave it to Javi to tell it to you. The catch of the day had just come in. Javi shared the freshness of the fish with his guests that evening along with recounting the effort it takes to fish in a sustainable manner on the island.

javi8

But ..to the food! Javi has made this asparagus dish famous on the island. When you mention Javi’s to Isla friends, they are likely to say “Have you tasted his tempura asparagus?” It is a unique signature dish served with crème fresh and is ever so tasty. Having grown up in the steakhouse business, wedge salads were not new to me. Javi’s version includes crunchy cucumbers and radishes which added a fresh taste. The peppery flavour from the radish offset the pungency of the blue cheese.

jav7

Down at the other end of the table, these enormous onion rungs were served along with chips and salsa (utilizing his Grandma’s unique recipe). At this point in the evening he shared another dream of one day having a Javi’s brand for his families’ sauces. Given the tastiness of the one we sampled, they would be an immediate hit!

javi9

If we had any doubt that this local guitar picking bundle of energy really knew his stuff, this appetizer that he created and asked us to sample, chased any doubts away. He had some ideas written on a paper napkin and the next thing we knew, this dish of beauty sat in front of us. Silky slices of yellow fin tuna were nestled between crunchy cucumber and lettuce. Also adorning the plate were surprizes of mint, chipotle dots and a sauce made of pineapple, ginger and red pepper. Black pepper completed the taste profile and we were absolutely awed by the dish. The dish was complex, yet fresh and clean tasting. Jav’s inventiveness puts him right up there with the island’s best trained chefs. Javi inquired what the rest of the table thought, as he was genuinely looking for feedback. Unfortunately, Sister #3 and I had to admit that we didn’t share it with the rest of the gang.

javi11

javi10

At the other end of the table oohs and aahs were declared as dishes of shrimp, chicken and fish arrived. The exclamations were for the colourful plate presentations, first tastes and overwhelmingly for the garlic mashed potatoes that were being shared around.

Javi and Marla

The power couple themselves.

In fact, Javi’s wife Marla was tucking into her own bowl just out of view of most customers. It was the first and only thing she had eaten that day. Even though this story has focused on Javi, do not discount Marla’s contribution to the success of Javi’s Cantina (and all their projects)! Marla brings the expertise and savvy to the businesses, which quite frankly a personality like Javi’s could not succeed without.

javi12

javi13

The lovely veggie swirls were a delightful touch but kind of camouflaged the items themselves (this is not a criticism just an observation that Javi and Marla may want to look at). Sister #3 and I shared fresh langostino. Caribbean “lobster” is a sister to the north Atlantic lobster that we enjoy in Canada. Both have unique and sweet tastes if prepared correctly. My first taste of langostino was many years ago in Varadero Cuba. The fish had been split and grilled over an open flame. Javi’s version was more than equal to that first taste, that is carefully tucked away with other mountain-top culinary memories.

javi15

Even though Sister #3 and I had shared our plates, we were more than satiated and then mention of Javi’s French toast bread pudding occurred. The pudding itself was rich and decadent, with the addition of whiskey sauce and praline bacon, the dessert inclusion, hit our dinner right out of the park!

I read recently read of someone saying that their dinner at Javi’s was “meh”. According to my restaurant and hospitality expertise and my years as a culinary writer, “meh” must be an abbreviation for mehgnificent!

Kath’s quote: “We may live without poetry, music and art; We may live without conscience, and live without heart; We may live without friends; we may live without books; But civilized man cannot live without cooks”.-Edward Bulwer-Lytton

IMG_5674

Love never fails.

 

posted under Isla Mujeres | 1 Comment »
« Older EntriesNewer Entries »