Yaxche Means Yucky in Mayan

Yaxche Means Yucky in Mayan

Our foodie friends recently booked a trip to Playa del Carmen. Both of us newly engaged (again congratulations) we wanted to take them to a nice restaurant to celebrate during their visit. I spent some time researching using the Taste of Playa website as a starting point. This website is a great resource that showcases some of the most creative chefs and restaurants in the Rivera Maya who have been or will be featured for the culinary event “Taste of Playa” in November. I looked up restaurants from the 2009 representatives and came across several that sparked my appetite. I narrowed down my research based on reviews as well as the restaurant’s website and menu.

The one restaurant that was most intriguing to me was Yaxche that featured a Mayan fusion influenced menu. How fascinating! Not only did this restaurant have the potential to satisfy my culinary desires it also was a way to tie my love of food with my fiancés interest in Mayan history (we have taken trips to several of the ruins located on Cozumel as well as Tulum and we are continuing our trek so see others). I looked up more reviews…Frommers, numerous blogs, tripadvisor etc., all indicating that this was a good place to dine. Yaxche it was (I feel like am saying Yahtzee!).

Upon arrival, we were quickly greeted and asked whether we wanted to dine downstairs or up. Though we had reservations (not initially about the restaurant), it was not necessary and we easily had the option to dine anywhere we wanted. We chose up. This 13-year-old restaurant recently expanded and updated their appearance. Now, centrally located in the hip-shopping plaza of Playa the restaurant oozes a contemporary vibe (which you would think fits in with their idea of presenting fusion dishes, I will explain more in detail later). Black and orange accents decorate the dining room and add to the overall sophistication of the restaurant’s atmosphere.

We recommend dining upstairs as you can people watch 5th Av., but maintain an intimate setting as you dine. Although, in order to keep things cool upstairs Yaxche has placed huge industrial size fans among the tables. Of course we were seated right next to one, which made you feel like you were in a wind tunnel having the aerodynamics of your body tested (I forewarn you, we were not “blown” away by our meal).

We kindly asked our waiter if we could move or turn the fan off. For some odd reason he never inquired about the pesky fan and furthermore he disappeared so we took the initiative to turn it off ourselves. As we perused the menu waiting for our drink order to be taken we were impressed with the variety of options the menu provided. The dinner menu has 9 sections and a drink menu. Yaxche also has a separate yet impressive wine menu divided by different regions and blends.

Yaxche has some unusual offerings with ingredients I have never seen: chaya, xcatic chili. To start I had the “House Original” Margarita Maya, which was a blended drink made of cucumber, chaya, sour orange and tequila with a salted-chili rim (sad to say this was my highlight of the meal). Followed by drinks we placed our appetizer order, which seemed to have been expedited as soon as the order was in (not a good first impression for the main meal to come as you sense nothing is made à la minute). My fiancé and I shared Papadzul; tortillas stuffed with boiled eggs covered in pumpkin seed sauce and epazote. The dish arrived to us with cold eggs and lukewarm sauce. The seasoning of the tortilla stuffing was non-existent, perhaps making the sauce shine more than in reality as it was the sauce that saved my stale bread that was served to me (Dear Yaxche, no offense, I assume you know as demonstrated by your overuse of fans, that Playa gets hot and humid, therefore you must account for this when serving bread with dinner). I was however amused with the compound butter and how it was served in a cornhusk, nice touch (feel bad for the guy who has to construct these).

The only high point of the appetizer was apparently my friend’s stuffed pepper that I didn’t get to taste. My other friend had ceviche and that was disappointing as it was way too acidic and you could not really taste the fish. Her comment on the dish was “kind of like limey guacamole???” I am not sure this was the impression the Chef wanted us to have. Oh well…on to dinner…

Our men ordered the same dish; Poc-Chuc a sizzling grilled pork steak, which they did deliver. The dish looked and tasted kind of like fajitas with marinated pork and black bean soup. Although for the price they could have easily gotten the same dish at a local tacqueria for 20 pesos. I had the Blackened Stuffed Turkey. Ok, let me be honest, I ordered the turkey dish because simply I have never seen “breast of turkey” on a menu. The only time I eat turkey is in the thinly sliced deli meat form on sandwiches or roasted/ deep fried (a great food memory of the south) for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mayan fusion, right? This dish had sooo much potential and one could have done so much with it. What arrived to me was a plate that was yes, clearly “blackened”. The stuffing? Was actually in meatball form (not stuffed) and the dish was way TOO salty. Don’t get me wrong, not all plates have to be vibrant and colorful, in fact one of the most beautiful dishes to me is squid ink pasta, delicate, sexy, delicious. And for my friend’s dish, well, she had fish which was served with an “ice-scream scoop” of dry tasteless mashed potatoes along with some “mirepoix” vegetables.

By the time dessert time rolled around we were too disappointed to even consider ordering it. In fact, we simply asked for the check which took a while to get. Once the checked arrived the waiter hovered over it with a flashlight. My fiancé noted “we got it”, we literally had to shoo the guy away so we could pay and leave a tip. In addition to the overbearing service (which I have found to be typical among many restaurants in Cozumel, most likely due to misunderstanding standard dining queues) Yaxche has a photographer that takes your picture during your meal and at the end of the meal presents you with the photo in a frame or cheesily printed on a small tequila bottle (I came to dinner not a theme park), he too hovered until we said no thank you several times.

What are all the reviews raving about? I did read a couple negative reviews, but there was an overwhelming amount of positive. In fact I quote one review; “During your Yaxche experience, you’ll most probably eat something you’ve never tried before and be happy you did”. Well I certainly tried some new things, but I was not happy. I apologize in advance if I have offended anyone. Perhaps I came in with too high of expectations, but this is my honest opinion of the meal I had. Yaxche may have been a stellar restaurant and it might still be, but as chefs, foodies, and regular diners we should expect a decent meal especially when the restaurant advertises itself the way it does. Regardless of our varying pallets, fusing Mayan traditional ingredients does not mean make it pedestrian. In my heart I still believe Playa is full of wonderful dining opportunities, from fast to fancy (for goodness sake, my pal Jacques Pepin visits at least once a year, there has to be a decent food scene).

Rating: (out of 5 toques)

Location: Avenida 5 & Calle 22, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Copyright © 2017 Cozumel Chef: Cooking & Food Tour Services in Cozumel, Mexico. Food photography by Emily Egge.