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Here's Where to Go for Wow-Factor On-Resort Dining

Here's Where to Go for Wow-Factor On-Resort Dining

Here's Where to Go for Wow-Factor On-Resort Dining

Here's Where to Go for Wow-Factor On-Resort Dining

The dining options have come a long way at all-inclusive resorts and beachy destination. Gone are the basic buffet spreads; most have been replaced by show kitchens and international bonanzas. Good-bye tourist-driven restaurants with *interesting* pseudo-American takes; hello to chef-driven cuisine with a sense of place. Gourmet à la carte restaurants have become an expectation for luxury properties in Mexico, Dominican Republic, and other all-inclusive hot spots and across the board, including beach towns and cities, menus that proudly use local ingredients, organic products, regional recipes, and traditional preparations, crafted by expert hands, have become reasons to choose one vacation spot over another.

While the standard for excellence has been immensely elevated, some on- (or near-!) resort restaurants have gone even farther beyond that high bar. For foodies on the move, these are some of the most jaw-dropping, eye-popping, sensory-overloaded dining experiences you can have while in your favorite sun-and-sand resort destinations.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya: Cocina de Autor

Commonly noted in international circles as “author’s cuisine,” this style of imaginative, whimsical, and often mind-bending cooking tends to feature advanced techniques such as molecular gastronomy. But as AAA Five Diamond-awarded Cocina de Autor explains it, it’s “cooking with thoughts; eating with feelings.”

Nahúm Velasco, who trained at the Ambrosia Culinary Center and has cooked at La Taberna del Alabardero and Adoc on Madrid, leads the kitchen at this highly lauded restaurant, bringing to the literal table playful dishes like Foie on the Crop, an intriguing mix of foie gras, corn and green tomato; Rocky Fish, the fresh catch of the day accompanied by seaweed, truffle, and black olives; and unique takes on honey. The latter is a particular passion of his, as he also leads honey tastings featuring different flavors and textures from around the world in a culinary activity that also introduces them to stingless Meliponary bees and homemade mead made with raw honey.

Best of all, though, at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Cocina de Autor is included no additional charges levied! However, lucky for visitors staying nearby, the public is permitted to make reservations for this incredible experience.

Fun Fact: Cocina de Autor isn’t the only included AAA multi-Diamond restaurant on site. Piaf, the French restaurant helmed by Chef Mario Soto, Frida, the resort’s fine dining Mexican restaurant, and Asian-focused Sen Lin, are all three AAA Four Diamond-rated and included!

Azul Beach Riviera Cancun: Le Chique Restaurant

Another AAA Five Diamond-awarded chef’s table restaurant serving upscale avant garde Mexican-inspired cuisine, this on-site restaurant offers a full dozen courses that are presented inventively (read: science for the win! And molecular gastronomy for the wow!) with the intention of telling a unique story. For example, your margarita will come in the form of a small ball that you’ll simply pop in your mouth. Their take on a Caesar salad is one presented in a book, and they might serve a crispy venison tzic/dzic, a shredded meat dish from the Yucatan. An optional sommelier-directed wine pairing of vintages from around the world makes the experience dreamt up by Chef Jonatán Gómez Luna – a cutting-edge modernist and culinary showman – complete.

While the property itself is family-friendly, Le Chique Restaurant is strictly for adults only (sorry, kids!) and is ranked 17th for best restaurant across all of Latin America on TripAdvisor and listed as one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022 for The World’s 50 Best list, which means seats are in high demand. Make your required reservations Tuesdays through Saturdays for 6 – 10 PM, and take part at a discounted rate when staying at the resort. For non-guests of Azul Beach Riviera Cancun, the cost is $150 per person.

All-Inclusive Hard Rock Hotels: Awaken Your Senses

They say you eat with your eyes first and you taste best with your nose … but have you ever also eaten with your ears, too? It figures that it’s this music-oriented brand that came up with a way to do so, something you can only experience at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, and Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos.

Awaken Your Senses is a multi-sensory gastronomic performance that uses a surround sound system in addition to high-resolution video projection, an interactive touch table, scent synchronization, and augmented reality to fully immerse every single one of your senses into the eating experience. The menu is exclusively curated to create a seven-course multi-dimensional meal with a selection of dishes designed to complement everything else going on around the diner. Reports have it that the Angus Beef Rib, slow-cooked for eight hours and served on a potato cloud, is outstanding.

Limited to 12 people for each of the two or three available 90-minute seatings (depending on location), it’s an intimate journey into the joys of eating. Seats sell for $150 per person at the Punta Cana and Riviera Maya locations, and $175 for adults and $100 for children in Los Cabos.  Reservations may be made by your travel advisor through the brand’s Vacation Planners.

Breathless Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa®: Le Petit Chef

This pop-up at Spumante, the (usually) Italian restaurant, has built big buzz for “the world’s smallest chef.” This concept is one that’s truly unusual – it’s an interactive gourmet dining and immersive theater experience that unfolds over four courses, accompanied by upbeat music, vibrant lighting, interactive storytelling. A virtual “little chef” – the experience’s namesake – runs the entire show as a tabletop projection, and guests are able to interact with this French “chef” as he takes diners to different environments and entertains you there.

All of that sounds hard to compute; we know. That’s why we suggest you make a reservation with the concierge and just go. The two seatings, offered at 7 PM or 9 PM, are comparatively affordable at only $150 per couple. An occupancy max of just four people keeps it an intimate, special experience you won’t forget.

Meliá Paradisus: Sal’s Steak Cave

Diehard carnivores, rejoice! If you’re more wowed by something substantial than novel textures like foam and mists, then make your way to Paradisus Playa del Carmen or Paradisus La Perla for Sal’s Steak Cave. Why? Because while many steakhouses specialize in specific styles, such as Josper, Rodizio, Argentine, or American, Sal’s does it all. Best of all, for adults staying in Nikté and The Reserve room categories, one reservation per stay is complimentary, which means they can enjoy things like a one-kilo Australian tomahawk, oversized porterhouse, or even seafood like octopus with mojo rojo and Iberian pork loin.

On top of that, foodie guests should make sure to see what the flavor of the month is, per se, with the Epicure experience. This is a new offering that centers around rotating culinary themes such as Oaxacan cuisine, rare Mexican seafood, sustainability, and more, allowing chefs to educate guests on various topics in the industry and share their specialties over eight courses. The meal starts at $140 per person, but those who stay in The Reserve at Meliá Paradisus hotels get the added value of a private master class with the guest chef.

Impression Moxché by Secrets: Teodoro

This formal experience is another one full of daily surprises at a resort so special, it inspired an entirely new brand in the Inclusive Collection, part of Hyatt Hotels & Resorts . Teodoro Impression Moxché by Secrets offers a seven-course set menu using the most seasonal local and fine ingredients in ways that showcase regional and international cooking techniques. Wine pairings are provided with every course, and guests can enjoy an after-dinner aperitif on the terrace overlooking the ocean.

This experience is available on a complimentary basis once for every five-night stay or unlimited for guests who have reserved a Master Suite or above room category.

Zoëtry® Marigot Bay St. Lucia

Part of “The Art of Life®” is enjoying degustation with gusto … but also mindfully. That’s what makes the catch of the day sushi-making experience that much better, as guests are invited to participate in an of-the-moment dining activity using a fresh, whole fish caught from the Caribbean Sea that very same day. This event is complimentary for all guests of the boutique resort, which makes it worthwhile to spring for the En Suite Chef’s Table experience if you’re looking to do something extra special.

This exclusive, private offering is available to those staying in Master Suite Residences only, as the resort’s chef and culinary team will be using the full kitchens found in those room categories to prepare the cuisine. Options for dining in the comfort and luxury of the suite can be as unique as your preferences – the menus are customized to your taste and occasion.

Aruba: Koal and Senses

There aren’t a lot of all-inclusives on Aruba, but on such an accessible island with a great culinary culture, it’d be remiss not to leave the property to discover some of its brightest stars. If you choose two restaurants there to be wowed by, let them be Koal and Senses.

Koal is one of the newest experiences there, but its vintage setting in a historic monument building at Steenweg 19 in downtown Oranjestad makes it feel part of the fabric of the island. There, at 7:30 PM every weeknight, 16 guests at a time are invited to dine on a five-course dinner in an open kitchen helmed by Dutch-born Tom Rensen and Aruban-born chef Albert Raven, who has worked in premier kitchens in the Netherlands, Germany, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the U.S. before returning home. Every $125 meal opens with a round of complimentary sparkling wine; wine pairings for the remainder of the evening – a full experience that culminates in a 10 PM dessert – are available.

Senses offers a similar evening at Radisson Blu in Palm Beach … but for brunch as well as on weekday evenings! Formerly located at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, Chef Kelt Hugo Maat and Maitre d’ Bas Kruisselbrink continue to welcome 16 guests at a time to enjoy a chef’s table four-course brunch Monday through Friday, with optional wine pairings and wine or bubbly by the glass. Lunch and dinner at the modern-rustic island venue are à la carte.

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