2017 Noble Beach Prize Winner: Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico, Most Divine Dining

Even though our Noble Beach Prize category is dubbed “Most Diving Dining,” after we were finished dining at Le Chique at Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico by Karisma, we realized that “divine” did not do the experience justice. Nope, we needed a new word to describe it because our meal was that off-the-charts amazing.

But here’s an attempt to recount and recreate our bliss.

Dining at Le Chique is a multi-sensory event that is more like a performance than a traditional dinner, complete with waiters explaining every dish. Actually, each course has it’s own narration so it’s more like a Greek play with the speaker standing to the side describing the action, which in this case, is a crazy creative, modern fusion avant-garde display of gastronomy being presented in front of you, full of flourish and high drama. The whole thing is planned and choreographed down to the smallest, most intricate detail. It’s too bad that these photos we took don’t have aromas because you’d possibly be swooning. But with this Noble Beach Prize Winner, it’s not a surprise.

Chef Jonatan Gomez-Luna and his culinary team have won numerous awards, praise and accolades. In fact, Le Chique is not only a AAA Five Diamond Eatery, it was also voted Best Restaurant in Mexico by Travel + Leisure Mexico. Gomez-Luna and crew knock it out of the park with every dinner seating.

The most ironic thing about this experience is that Gomez-Luna more or less fell into being a chef. He actually wanted to be a drummer, but when he was in college, a friend asked him to help him with a cooking project, at which point he was smitten. He fell in love. In fact, his signature statement is “the kitchen takes me.” Soon afterwards, he began his professional cooking studies at the Ambrosía Culinary Center, then trained at El Celler de Can Roca, then in Spain at ElBulli restaurant. Upon returning, he ran into Jeroen Hanlo, Vice President of Operations for Food and Beverage Azul Resorts. Gomez-Luna begged him to taste his creations, but Hanlo eluded him. Finally, they met and Hanlo tasted his spectacular offerings. But it was in the taxi on the way home from his diner that Hanlo had his “a-ha” moment and decided that he wanted Gomez-Luna to be his chef. He flew him to the Riviera Maya, and the rest, as they say, is history.

(From left: David Black, Director of Sales Karisma Hotels & Resorts; Jonatan Gomez Luna, Chef; Dana Studebaker, Sr. Director of Marketing, CheapCaribbean.com.; Jeroen Hanlo, Vice President of Operations for Food and Beverage Karisma Hotels & Resorts.)

For any aspiring chef, it’s a fairy tale. And lucky for us, we got to share in his story during our twenty-something tasting extravaganza titled “A Story Named Mexico.” You can opt for premium liquor or fresh juice pairings with each luscious dish. We chose the booze.

Let’s dive in.

(Dining room, Le Chique, Azul Sensatori Mexico.)

To start, the dining room is sleek and chic. The art, the lighting, the aromas, the everything is stunning. There are intimate tables for four…

(Dining table for larger parties, Le Chique, Azul Sensatori Mexico.)

…or if you have a larger party, you can dine at tables for six. But we were seated…

(VIP dining room, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori, Mexico.)
(Inside view, VIP dining room, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

…in the VIP dining room, where we kicked things off with the ever-festive champagne, Taittinger Brut Reserve….

(Fish Rind + Huichol Emosion + Tangerine Margarita and the Corn + Mole Prieto, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

…accompanied by Fish Rind + Huichol Emosion + Tangerine Margarita (the white container in the pic with the orange balls on the top) and in the back, the Corn + Mole Prieto. What was instantly noticeable about this Noble Beach Prize Winner was the incredible aesthetic: the serving dishes were extensions of the cuisine, they had kind of a symbiotic relationship. For instance, the Fish Rinds sat on a white ceramic dish that mirrored the foam that topped the morsels. The tiny bites were crunchy on the bottom like a chip and the foam tickled your tongue for less than a nanosecond and mingled with the flavor of the rinds. The Tangerine Margarita was insane because the little balls exploded; your taste buds were bathed in the delish intoxicating tangerine margarita. The Corn + Mole Prieto was the piece de resistance: the little bags that sat atop corn in the white dish (the furthest away in the photo) were full of roasted peanuts and corn and were edible. Yes, we ate bags.  Touches like these contributed to making Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico one of our esteemed Noble Beach Prize Winners.

(Caesar Wrap, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

Next up, the remarkable Caesar. But we didn’t know what it was when it arrived. The wraps were cleverly disguised inside a book, that was then opened and voila, there they were. Our hair was blown back. We marveled for a few seconds, at which point, the waiters urged us not to be shy and dig in.

Following this inventive presentation came our palate cleanser.

(Pecan Saltillo, Le Chique, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

A mix of almonds, right? That would be a negative: this dish, the Pecan Saltillo, is comprised of darker brown almond-shaped items, which are actually chocolates that are resting on faux-almonds. All of this is artfully positioned on a log-like dish, as if the almonds just fell from their bush and onto this white piece of bark that happened to be nearby.

(Foie + Gazpacho Moreliano, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

This next dish, Foie + Gazpacho Moreliano, was almost too pretty to eat. If you look closely, you’ll see this concoction (thick-with-spices-and-peppers soup) was topped with tiny flowers that were intricately placed, as if with tweezers. The crazier thing was that all the dishes were identical. It was beyond perfection. The minutiae of this Noble Beach Prize Winner was mind-boggling but we eased our addled minds with Pinot Gris, La Creme, 2015.

(Aged Ramonetti + Raspberries, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

Then…the Aged Ramonetti + Raspberries. Luscious and rich meets sweet and refreshing. It was almost like a dessert. Our mouths were very happy.

(Quail egg + Pipicha + Chicatana, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori, Mexico.)

The courses kept coming and for this one, we were glad we were feeling a bit relaxed. The offering: Quail egg + Pipicha + Chicatana. They were sitting upon charcoal, from which smoke was lightly billowing.  The middles were runny, but we washed it down with Benchbreak Chardonnay. Cambria, 2014.

(Marrow + Escamoles + Chichilo, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

What followed the quail eggs was Marrow + Escamoles + Chichilo. Note that the marrow was served oh-so appropriately in a small (clean and fake) bone. This food/serving duet was yet another one that wowed us. While the marrow itself was admittedly an acquired taste, we were so enthralled with the narrative and artistry of this Noble Beach Prize Winner, along with the remarkable sensations in our palate, we didn’t care.

(Chaya Leaf, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

This presentation, the Chaya leaf, was so small and delicate. One sneeze and it would shatter, but we loved it. It was served on a leaf (of course) and after one bite it disintegrated into a thousand tiny bits on our tongues.

Then came The Seafood Section with all its bells and whistles…

 

…starting with out centerpiece, this cauldron of dry ice hugged by seaweed. It was evocative and dramatic. The perfect appeteaser for what followed.

(Acocil Tostada, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

The first course of The Seafood Section was the Acocil Tostada. Acocil is a type of Mexican crayfish. The name acocil comes from the Nahuatl “cuitzilli,” meaning “crooked one of the water” or “squirms in the water.” As you can may or may not be able to see above, it was served on a tostada, that sat upon seaweed that was on top of a rock, as if were still a little fishy on the shore. The ecosystem of this Noble Beach Prize winning presentation was too wonderful.

(The Sea + Chileatole + Aguachile, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

But we weren’t out of the water yet. Next up: The Sea + Chileatole + Aguachile. Will you take a look at this? A miniature raw oyster on the half-shell ON TOP of another oyster filled with black and white pearls. It was a little bit sweet and a whole lot spectacular.

(Clam covered in squid ink with a hint of citrus flavor, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

Along with the oyster,  we enjoyed a clam covered in squid ink with a hint of citrus flavor. It sat over a simple glass of water like it was still at sea.

(Suckling Pig + Eggplant + Chirmole + Spicy Leaves, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

We moved out of the ocean and on to land with Suckling Pig + Eggplant + Chirmole + Spicy Leaves. One word: aah-mazing. It was just the right amount of spicy. This is the genius of a Noble Beach Prize winning chef.

 

Then came the big show. These guys appeared with their vat and smoking cauldron and made sorbet in front of us…

(Aguachile + Hamachi + Green Apple, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

…that they then poured in the middle of our Aguachile + Hamachi + Green Apple. It was other-worldly.

(Flowers Pot, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

Time for dessert, which might have been our favorite part of our Noble Beach Prize winning feast. It was a sugar-fest and then some. The Flowers Pot was a less cold sorbet that was citrusy and sweet and very refreshing.

But that was just the start.

(Mini ice cream cones: Edam (Bola) Cheese + Marquesita + Toffee, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

Mini ice creams cones that were simply scrumptious and adorable. Flavors included Edam (Bola) Cheese + Marquesita + Toffee. Mmmm, they were so creamy and sweet.

(Mini ice cream cone, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

And then…drum roll please…

(Kinder Surprise, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico.)

…the Kinder Surprise. And it was: we tapped the foil and BOOM, it exploded and a river of sweet chocolate sauce came flowing out of the big blob of chocolate. We toasted this spectacle with Moet & Chandon. Also available were the smaller chocolates, the Tazcalate, that were scattered in the white egg crate-ish dish.

Other things to know: you don’t have to stay at the resort to do the tasting menu, but after all we had to eat and drink, we were ready to walk a few steps to our rooms and collapse with happiness. Also, if you have a special diet and are gluten-free, that’s no biggie. Options for those with food allergies are also easily accommodated. This Noble Beach Prize Winner has it all covered. Finally, there is an extra cost for this 24-course tasting menu, but it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience you don’t want to miss.

If this epicurean extravaganza sounds like you, then you’ve got to call 1-800-915-3162 and let our Beachologists set you up with a getaway to our 2017 Noble Beach Prize Winner for Most Diving Dining, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Mexico, for this outta sight feast. Truth is, life is short. Time to taste it all.

Lisa Mitchell

I am a blogger for CheapCaribbean.com who is a travel junkie and addicted to the beach.

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