While I’ve been to Mexico several times and have eaten cultural cuisine on every trip that extended beyond your classical Mexican cuisine, oddly, the opportunities over the years never led me down to Cancun.
I have always found this surprising given that it’s such a frequently visited Mexican tourist destination. Shortly after Thanksgiving and in time for my birthday, we were invited down to one of Palace Resorts’ Moon Palace resorts in Cancun (they also have one in Jamaica btw), so I finally had the opportunity to eat, drink, play and explore in a hot spot so well known by American travelers.
The Moon Palace properties are all inclusive, which makes it an easy choice for families traveling together. If you have kids in tow, it’s great to have a buffet and/or a 24 hour eatery, which is what makes some cruise line offerings that cater to families a great option as well.
Cultural Cuisine at Moon Palace Cancun
I am one of those travelers who connects food with travel and am always on the look out for great cultural cuisine regardless of whether it’s a business trip, a social one or simply a R&R getaway. Let’s take a look at some of the cultural cuisine offerings at Moon Palace Cancun as I think you’ll be surprised by the culinary diversity all under one roof.
If you’re a French food lover, you’ll be thrilled to learn that Moon Palace Cancun has a French restaurant, which is where we opted to kick off our first winter getaway. After all, we landed on my birthday so Anthony decided that the French would likely offer some of our favorite dishes and we always love to practice our French.
Since they had classic French onion soup on the menu, we had to try it. Lighter appetizer options included a Duck and Pear salad, Salmon with avocado puree and lumpfish roe, and Steak Tartare, which I ordered.
Also on the list was a Beef Tenderloin with palm hearts and beet sorbet, and a Shrimp bisque (on the heavy side, but oh so divine) and L’escargot, but served with mushrooms in a puff pastry. In hindsight, I wished I had given the pastry a try. There was also a warm sweetbread salad served with a walnut vinaigrette, prawns in phillo and orange emulsion and seared scallops with black polenta.
Although we knew we were going to hit the Moon Palace steakhouse at The Grand before our departure, we had to try the Grilled steak from Le Chateau, which they serve with a sweet and sour currant sauce: think filet mignon cooked perfectly (medium rare) which we paired with a French Cabernet Sauvignon. We also shared the Roasted duck which they served with a sweet potato puree, which was quite frankly, my favorite savory ‘taste‘ of the evening.
Let’s face it — the French make the best desserts and at Le Chateau, they didn’t disappoint. Paired with a 2015 La Moleta Bobal Cab, we ordered the Creme Brulee with apples (so so yum!) and a no-bake vanilla cheesecake with raspberry gelee and strawberry foam.
For those who don’t know what’s behind making a perfect creme brulee, let’s just say that it’s a lot of work to get it just right, from beaten egg yolks to creating a mixture that is just the perfect creamy consistency. And oh yeah, there’s plenty of white sugar.
Then, you need to watch the concoction like a hawk while stirring over low heat until it almost comes to boil. Once the mixture is just “perfect”, you then have to transfer it over to a double boiler and you can’t screw up with any of these steps.
BTW, all of this prep is necessary in advance before you even cook it in an oven, refrigerate it and then broil it with both white and brown sugar. And then you need to ‘set’ the custard again. The point is, when it’s done right, it’s absolutely exquisite.
I grew up baking so am a fan of the details and….the art of it. We even have a separate Instagram foodie feed @luxuryfoodies for those who want to follow along with our dining experiences in real time.
As for the rest of the desserts, they were equally divine.
Cusco for Peruvian Cuisine
Another cultural cuisine gem is their Peruvian restaurant Cusco, which is located along the beach to the far right of the property at the Grand. It is divided into a more casual section (with a buffet open for lunch) and a smaller section for finer dining. When we were there, they also had live music playing in the evening.
The sommelier popped his head in that evening and so we were set with a fabulous bottle of 2015 Casa Madero 3v Valle de Parras, a Mexican wine that totally surprised us. The bottle is 80% Tempranillo with the balance being a combo of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, that has been aged for 10-12 months in French oak.
While Mexican wine may not be winning regular awards on the global stage, I think we’ll start to see more gems coming out in the future. Apparently the Casse Grande Syrah from Casa Madero just won an award recently.
With so many ceviches on the menu, how could we resist? We tried two ceviche options and what they refer to as Tiraditos, which is a Peruvian dish made with thin fish slices, served with a cold, tart and spicy sauce.
Our waiter insisted we try the Shrimp chupe, and so we did. While of course, they speak Spanish in Peru, they have some of their own special words for some things, including food. As noted above, they call an avocado Palta and Chupe comes from the Spanish word “chupar” which essentially means to ‘sip.’
The Shrimp chupe is worth a call out on the cultural cuisine list because of how they make it and its over-the-top ending — let’s just say that I couldn’t stop ‘sipping’ it. The chupe is made with one shrimp, one poached egg, little pieces of potato, Panela cheese, and a cream sauce made from white wine, crab and Habanero chili. Wow, right?
Another favorite that evening was the Salmon Tiraditos, which we explained above. These seared salmon pieces were served with palta (avocado) and a huacatay sauce, which combines aromatic herbs from the Andes.
Entree choices were so varied that it was hard to make a decision, but given that we had the Casa Madero 3v open, we opted for the Duck and yuca from northern Peru and the Lomo saltado with fried potatoes, rice and choclo (corn), which is apparently a local favorite as well. The lomo saltado is a beef dish with oyster sauce, spring onions and what they refer to as ‘soft fries.’ It was oh so divine!
Ready for dessert yet? Oddly enough, they offered something we didn’t try but I thought was such a bizarre combo that I have to mention it: chocolate, bread and olive oil. While definitely intriguing, we went for their dairy based sweets instead, which I have a hard time digesting in the states largely because of what’s been happening to our cows over the last two decades. Not the case in Mexico.
How about this cream of corn concoction which they serve with pine nuts, Peruvian corn and dulce de leche? There is so much wow in this dish.
Next up was their infamous Suspiro Limeño, which is essentially translated as “sigh from Lima.” Gotta love it! This scrumptious milk custard dish, made with egg yolk, meringue, condensed milk and port wine, was to die-for and was polished off in less than ten minutes. BTW, I’m known as a very slow eater too and it takes us a few hours to enjoy our meal, probably because of how many years I lived in Europe.
Two thumbs up! Because the restaurant was a little further away from the main buildings and lobby area, there were few people dining, which equated to ‘extra’ primo service as a result.
Mexican Los Caporales offers Mexican food à la carte and because it wasn’t open for lunch, we didn’t have a chance to try their fare since our evenings were already booked with other cultural cuisine picks.
For example, consider wild beet salad with goat cheese as a primo, followed by Duck Carnitas in a red mole sauce. They also offered black onions as a start with xcatic mayo, Black Torilla Soup, a Cenote Civiche with corn and oregano, and something they refer to as Field Aguachile, which is Nopal, pork belly and dried peppers powder.
If that isn’t unusual enough for you, how about a name like Rain Tamal? You’d order it for the name alone right? It is made with Huitlacoche and young corn. They also make a delicious Burnt Salad from Ensenada, which is created with cauliflower, romanesco, cotija cheese and tossed in a honey vinaigrette.
Mains included exquisite dishes like Rib Cap with ‘ashes’ sauce, avocado and nopales, Field Lamb with Cocoa, dried pepper powder and pasilla jelly and Piglet (yes, really), which is served with beans, spicy chorizo and avocado.
Want something more traditional? They offer a “Fish” catch of the day, and a Farm Chicken with green fava beans as well. The dish that I wanted to try the most however, was the Lime Soup Risotto. Although it was likely richer and heavier than I typically order, the roasted lime juice had me at hello, especially when paired with Dutch cheese and crispy guajillo pepper. Owe-y! It sounds amazing.
We loved our experience at JC Steakhouse, the steakhouse restaurant at The Grand, largely because the steak was so so tender and perfectly cooked and because the sommelier set us up with another fabulous Mexican wine.
I regress. Before we dive into steak and red wine, first…let’s get you excited by their Smoked Beet salad with fresh charred carrots, watercress, roasted almonds, and goat cheese. Who can pass that up?
For appetizers, they also offer hot crab cakes, fried calamari, smoked short rib tacos, beef roulade, black pepper crust bacon (yes really), grilled zucchini and goat cheese Carpaccio, Prosciutto with wrapped mozzarella, Tuna Tartar, Beef Tartar and Beef Carpaccio.
As for the wine, we stuck with Mexican wine as it’s much harder to find it in the states. While the 2015 Casa Madero 3v red we had at Cusco was our favorite, a great second choice is the 2016 Monte Xanic Cabernet Sauvignon, which is 100% Cab.
One of the things that didn’t make it as scrumptious as the Casa Madero is that it wasn’t barreled long enough (only around six months). That said, this Valle de Guadalupe from Baja was a great choice for our steak dinners.
The steaks were utterly divine and we both indulged because it was the last night of our trip. While I was dying to get the Braised Short Rib which they slowly cook with coffee and ancho pepper, we went for the Flat Iron Steak and the Chef’s Cut Rib Eye, which both came with grilled corn on the cob.
You can get sides of veggies and potatoes as well as your choice of sauces: Mustard a l’ancienne, red wine, green peppercorns, mushrooms, jus de boeuf, and Bernaise. While I’m not a tater gal and try to avoid carbs as much as possible, Anthony said their mashed potatoes with roasted garlic was heavenly. They also have truffled mashed potatoes as well as an option with crispy bacon.
The Asian influenced restaurant on-site is a modern bistro on the ground floor/the lobby at The Grand.
What we loved most about this eatery was its ambiance. While I’m not typically a fan of tres modern decor, I loved the funky and sassy bar area where you can also dine in front of the blazing stoves. We opted for this because it’s fun to watch the chefs at work.
I fell in love with their chicken and mushroom soup. Albeit about as simple as it gets, it was so tasty, I was thinking about it the next day.
Some of the cold starters include seared scallops with oba and ume (so much wow in this one), seared wagyu with ginger and truffled wasabi, spice tuna, ikura salmon and yuzu kosho octopus, fish Carpaccio with yuzu kosho and pink peppercorns and seared tuna slices with ponzu.
We tried the salmon with wild mushrooms as well as a couple of their other specialties, like sea bass with sweet miso and their wafu barbeque pork belly, which was to die for! I wished I had ‘room’ to try their smoked duck with figs, which sounded so divine or for example, their lamb with a herb sauce.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that they offer American wagyu on a hot plate — it comes raw and you cook it yourself, which is done in just a couple of minutes. It’s a fun experience, especially if you’re there as a group.
Lastly, I should point out their Jade Rolls, which range from octopus with cream cheese and tempura shrimp to soft shell crab with avocado and spring onion.
Our favorite picks go to what they refer to as Ebi Furai (shrimp, avocado, cucumber, cream cheese, kanikama, tempura and eel sauce), Sakura (salmon, cucumber, avocado, cambray onion, manchego cheese — yes, really) and their hisui (tuna, panko flakes, chipotle and tobiko). They were all freshly prepared and delicious.
Originally from Chiba, Japan, Jade chef Teruo Yamamoto kicked off his career at renowned Suntuty restaurants in Tokyo, Mexico and USA and so, he has plenty of experience with Asian cuisine.
Other worthy things to note are its unique drinks, such as Mango and Lichi sake (sans alcohol), Plum Dew, Kgkapy which is an infusion of herbs and five fruits, Lichi martinis and other fun choices.
Habibi for Lebanese Food
There are several interesting things about Habibi, the restaurant dedicated to Lebanese food at The Grand. First, Habibi’s chef Ignacio Rosiles Zavariz hails from Veracruz and the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico. So, while he isn’t from nor was he trained in Lebanese or Middle Eastern cuisine, he apparently always had a ‘taste for it.’
The second wonderful thing about the restaurant is the ambiance. Take a look – how fun right?
They offered several fun drinks that are unique to the region. For example, there’s a drink on the menu called Jellab, which essentially means “welcome”, and is a blend of tamarind pulp, date pulp and rose syrup.
There’s also an Arabian Lemonade which is made from whole lemons, peppermint and to the point of frappe.
They also have some interesting digestive drinks, such as Arak, which is an aniseed, distilled and colorless alcoholic beverage, produced in the Mediterranean.
Coffee lovers will love Arabian coffee, especially if you like it rich and dark. A typical way of brewing coffee in the United Arab Emirates, the coffee is prepared with spices such as saffron or cardamom, resulting in a bitter and spicy drink, with a slightly green tint.
Below, a peak into the kitchen, which I snapped on our way to being seated at our table.
They had belly dancers floating throughout the restaurant on the evening we were there, which was incredibly festive.
One of our favorite dishes was their simple soups, which include small meatballs and rice in tomato broth, beef ravioli in yoghurt and mint broth and lentils and noodles. We tried the former two and my favorite was the ravioli because of it’s unique combination of flavors — it just popped!
There were plenty of interesting main courses as well, from Lebanese style meatloaf (which is made with bulgur wheat), Kousa Mahshi, which is beef and rice stuffed zucchini, classic chicken kebabs, lamb skewers, a Mixed Grill and a Lamb Fatteh.
We opted for the Chicken Fatteh, which they serve with chickpeas and mixed nuts with fried bread and yoghurt sauce, and Kafta Bil Saniyeh, which is Lebanese lamb meatballs in tomato sauce with potatoes. If there are meatballs on a menu, chances are pretty high that Anthony and I will order them.
Other call outs on the ‘hot mezze’ menu includes something they refer to as a Spinach Ftoyer (was so divine), Makanek which is homemade lamb sauce (lamb is big in Lebanon) and Cheese Sambousek.
If you’ve been to the region, you’ve likely tried vine or cabbage leaves which are stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice. They offered it here too btw, although we decided to go for some of the lesser known dishes we’ve never tried.
Desserts tend to be on the sweet side and include things like cookies, ice cream and baklava.
In Lebanese culture (as is the case throughout the Middle East), everything revolves around food and its importance is integral to the culture. Cultural cuisine from Lebanon shows up not just in the type of dishes but that all of their dishes are designed to be shared.
We paired our dishes with a Valle de Uco Malbec from Mendoza Argentina, a perfect pairing for the meat dishes we ordered. Oh so yum!
Tavola for Italian Cuisine
When you live around Italian culture as we do, it’s hard to pass up a homemade pasta or meatballs, even though we try to avoid complex carbs in our diet as much as possible.
The primary reason to come here is to try the pizza from their hot oven, which you can watch baking.
Pizza isn’t the only thing that they do at this Italian gem at The Grand and although wine is a great accompaniment to most Italian dishes, you can also explore some of their unique cocktails, like a Bellini, which combines prosseco and peach puree or their non-alcoholic Italian cream sodas, which they make with pineapple, strawberry, cream and soda.
Then, there’s Limoncello casero and something they refer to as Fernet, which is a bitter alcoholic beverage of the Amaro type made from various types of herbs (myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, oregano and saffron, among others).
The Sambuca Italiana they offer is a sweet and strong liqueur based on anise, typical of Italy and more specifically Latium. There’s a whole lotta wow with this drink.
The ambiance at this Italian gem on the lobby level at The Grand has a very open plan, so it’s light, airy and casual, a great spot to go if traveling with a kids.
They offer your classic Italian salads like Caprese and Romana as well as a long list of pizza combos. A few call outs go to the Lorenza which is made with Garlic and pepperoncino sautéed wild mushrooms with house tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, the Loreta, which includes grilled eggplant, provolone, sun dried tomato, parmesan shavings, fresh basil, with mozzarella and house tomato sauce and the Rosella, which consists of smoked salmon, capers, sour cream and fresh arugula.
Their pasta dishes were magical, from more simple dishes like Rigatoni Verona, which is served with grilled rosemary garlic chicken, mushrooms, baby onions and bacon, Fettuccine Venezia, which combines clams, calamari, shrimp and mussels with olive oil, pepperoncino and parsley, Ravioli Sardinia (goat cheese & mushrooms) and a couple of different Gnocchi dishes (with pesto and sundried tomato).
Desserts are heavenly here. How about some ever so rich caramel pudding — yum, right? Two thumbs up!
The Buffet @ The Grand
Just like most cruise lines have a grand buffet which is open nearly all hours of the day and night, the Moon Palace has its own version. While each ‘buffet’ on each of the three resort buildings (Sunrise, Nizuc and The Grand) all have their own hours, if you have kids in tow, its nice to have a buffet available for those odd hour hunger pangs, especially if in the mood for comfort food or desserts.
Let’s start with appetizers and entrees.
There’s no shortage of desserts either.
Are you a cocktail lover? They’ve got you covered as well with unlimited drinks at any of their outdoor or indoor bars, including their ever so fun swim-up bars, where we sampled Margaritas, Mango and Strawberry Daquaris, Mai Tai‘s and Pina Coladas.
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