Friday, February 5, 2010

Mayas: Alimento de dioses

When it comes to Latin American cuisine, I am woefully ignorant.  My sister, Mina, is a huge fan of Brazilian food and culture: She practices Capoeira, teaches Samba, performs in the Rio Carnival, speaks fluent Spanish and owns (but can’t really play) a berimbau. She has managed to teach me a few recipes featuring palm oil and Jasmine rice, but ultimately, I have not delved too deeply into the preparation of these aromatic delicacies.

When the restaurant I had chosen for last night was mysteriously closed, John and I decided to try Mayas Restaurant on Magazine Street, a newish eatery that touts “Latin fusion cuisine.” I immediately wished my sister was readily available to offer advice on what to order! This is my 23rd cheat, and I am down 49 pounds.  Only one more pound to go until I have lost the weight I gained last week, and then I will be back on track.

Perhaps it is just our luck, but I’ve been noticing that almost every time John and I dine out on Thursday nights, the restaurants we visit are practically barren of life.  I’m forced to ask myself some very serious questions. Have I missed something essential in the local dining scene?  Do people not eat out on Thursdays?  Are people avoiding me on purpose?  Do I smell funny?  If anyone can clue me in on this phenomenon, I would be eternally grateful.

Regardless, Mayas was fairly empty when we stepped in from the rain at around 7:30p.m.  Mentally chalking it up to the nasty weather, I ignored the lack of patrons as we were immediately seated at a comfortable two-top.  Like all things New Orleans, I love the local architecture and Mayas was no exception. The high ceilings adorned with pressed tin and the deep and chocolate-red color of the walls (didn’t the Mayans invent chocolate?) affected the feelings of warmth, luxury and romance.

After browsing the menu and hearing the specials from our server, the choices were almost dizzying, but we finally narrowed them down. We quickly placed our order before we could change our minds again.  We started with one of the suggested specials that our waiter dubbed a “Crab, Mango, and Avocado Stack.”

Larger than expected, this miraculous concoction not only defied gravity, but was incredibly fresh, sweet and spicy all at the same time. The “stack” alternated large pieces of shrimp, chilled lump crab meat, sliced avocado and a house-made salsa featuring mangoes, red onions, more avocado and tomatoes diced into minuscule cubes.  A house-made sauce of chilies and mango provided the sweet heat that tied the entire dish together.  We had also ordered the Jamaican Tostones that turned out to be excellent edible shovels for the seafood on the other plate.

I have had sweet fried plantains before, but these tostones were starchier, almost like a potato, and my curiosity drove me to look up how tostones are prepared once I got home.  In case you’re curious, too, you take thick slices of green or unripe plantains, fry them for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden in color, remove and then pat to remove excess oil.  Afterwards, you pound them flat with a utensil called a "tostonera," or any kitchen utensil that has a large enough flat surface. The plantains are then fried once again until they are crisp and golden brown.  These particular tostones were spiced with jerk seasoning and served with sweet coconut milk sauce, spicy chili sauce and their homemade salsa.  See?  I’m learning!

Although John and I were a bit full after the appetizers, we still couldn’t help looking forward to our entrees and honestly, who could blame us?  John’s dish arrived first, Lechon-Roasted Pork which had been marinated overnight in bitter orange, pineapple juice, beer and garlic mojo sauce served over black beans and rice. The pork was amazingly tender, so much so that it melted in our mouths leaving behind an ambrosial, salty tang on the tongue.

Helpless to resist, I had to choose the Chilean Sea Bass (a.k.a. Patagonian Toothfish).  I know I’ve said I try to eat this fish sparingly, but when I see it on a menu, served with avocado, chilled lump crab meat, grilled shrimp and asparagus, I just can’t help myself!  The spicy coconut cream sauce was delectable with the sea bass, and I just can’t bring myself to regret ordering it.

To the surprise of our server, we requested the dessert menu and quickly selected the Tres Leches cake and two Cuban coffees.  I’m sure he thought our appetites were bottomless by this point, but he seemed willing to humor us.  A Tres Leches cake, in case you were wondering, is a thick butter cake that has been soaked in three types of milk; condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream.  Mayas rendition of this classic dessert was absolutely scrumptious.

By the time we strolled out of the restaurant, the rain had pretty much stopped, and the evening air was cool and refreshing.  It seemed that last night, the fates looked kindly upon us when forcing us from our original decision to a restaurant we had barely considered.  I keep thinking about Mina and how much she would have loved dining there, too.  Do you think I could convince her to visit me from California if I offered to treat her to dinner at Mayas?

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