Recently I was invited to attend the official launch for the 2012 Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival, to be held in Cancun next March. The event, four days of special celebrations and dozens of tasting opportunities, will honor chefs both in Mexico and abroad for their culinary accomplishments, centered around a tribute to Ferran Adriá, the world-famous godfather of molecular gastronomy at El Bullí in Spain.
But this night wouldn’t be about meeting Adriá (boo!), it was to introduce the New York press and blogging community to the richness of Mexican cuisine and, yes, tequila and wine (yay!) at Cafe Frida, known to me before that night as “the place next to the Shake Shack”. While most of the dishes offered to us this evening weren’t part of the chef’s standard repertoire, his skills were put on full display as we learned about the coming Festival from the organizers.
Of course, my first order of business was drink procurement. A couple of solid red wines graced the bar. This, a petite syrah, was full-bodied and rich, blackberries, a little tobacco and earthiness, a lovely start to the evening.
Small bites toured the cleared-out main dining area. The pastryish wafers barely kept the pulled chicken together, and, marinated in bitter orange this was a tiny package of flavor. Like a few hors d’oeuvres, this was accented by achiote. Lots of things at this event were laced with this ubiquitous Mexican condiment. It was even a little bit smoky, and it simply worked well.
Yeah, it was time for margaritas. These were heavy on the lime, though the tequila tried mightily to dominate. Quite strong, and delicious. The salt rim wasn’t just salt, but didn’t really lend anything major except the salt.
But why stop with two types of alcoholic beverages? The Cancun folk really know how to entertain the food and beverage community, and this sangria was created using not a poor red wine that needed fruit to make it palatable, but with a high-quality red. Sadly, this wasn’t from the Baja California region, a wine region I’m told is very much an up-and-coming area — and probably not priced out of whack yet, either.
The ghosts of our presenters detailed the events of next March via slideshow. Over fifty tastings, including beer, wine, alcohol, and celebratory dinners, including fine meals prepared by some of Mexico’s top chefs, stuff the schedule.
Then it was back to eating. The guacamole was served in the traditional molcajete and had arrived just prior to the presentation; I waited dutifully for my turn with the housemade corn tortilla chips. This guac was chunkier than I make (or prefer) but was wonderful, if not as “wet” as I’m used to seeing. It had plenty of flavor from the firm chunks of avocado, with a nice citrus dosing. I had but a few very good chips (almost as good as what I make, ha) before both bowls were emptied by the guests.
Here, the pork was slightly spicy, laced with achiote and accented by pickled onion. Deliciously simple.
A (quite dim) mini-chalupa, like many dishes just a little bit spicy, garnished with a mole sauce and shaved cotija, I believe. The chicken inside was fairly ordinary, but served mainly as a vehicle for the flavors grouping up outside.
And what better to end the evening’s drinking, than a frozen margarita? This one was bursting with lime flavor, and was plenty strong as well, but really, just a superb job by the bartender on these drinks. I’m pretty much sold on Cafe Frida now for my Mexican drinking.
A final bite, mini chocolate cakes, filled and topped with a dollop of mole, provided a classic combination, as mole is often made with chocolate in the first place and the rich cake wasn’t quite baked all the way through, giving it a little of a molten texture. A beautiful capper to the evening’s offerings.
A warm thank you to Cafe Frida and our other hosts, the 2012 Wine & Food Festival and the Mexican tourism board, for sharing this kickoff evening. I know I’d love my inaugural trip to Mexico to involve staying in Cancun and devouring all that the Festival has to offer!
Please note that the Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival and their PR provided everything on the evening to me without charge. I received no monetary compensation for this review, nor was I obliged in any way to post about this experience, positively or otherwise. This is my own opinion and I feel it was unbiased; you are free to take from this what you will.