The week before last, my eating club went to Maya Cafe on Sutton in Maplewood. Although parking was somewhat of a pain, the restaurant is a gorgeous gem to behold. It has a wide storefront, with brightly colored walls and interesting, bold art. The casual feel is complemented by the staff, who were most accomodating, considering that we had reservations for 8 and 11 showed up! We began with the house salsa and chips. Even though tomatoes are far from being in season, the flavors that burst through this salsa/pico de gallo were exciting! Limey, vineary, with onion and black pepper. The chips were also great with not too much salt and served warm and obviously made in-house. Cocktails were also highly rated - the margs are made fresh and not too large. The wine selection was adequate - two whites and four reds. Sadly, we did not sample the the Sangria, which is house-made.
For appetizers, we shared calamari and guacamole. The calamari was both rings and tentacles (ew! that's just me), nicely breaded and fried, then covered in a criollo sauce that knocked my socks off. The result of the sauce is a softening of the breading and makes it just right for noshing. It was not spicy hot at all, but carried a lovely gentle salty flavor. Judging from how quickly they disappeared, everyone else liked them too. This is a very large serving. The guacamole was a disappointment - it was too slimy for my taste, and did not seem to be as fresh as the other items sampled. If you are a guac conosieur, ask if it was made that day before ordering it.
One eater ordered the black bean soup (with chorizo, onions and garlic) and said it was delicious. One ordered the special halibut cooked in banana leaves, which was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked, with a lively sauce. The stuffed beef filet, ordered by two Eaters was incredibly tender and had a smoky creamy inside - serrano ham and manchego cheese topped with a mushroom and manchego cream sauce, served over a bed of saffron rice and grilled asparagus. It well worth eating again. A word about the asparagus. The eaters who had it were very generous and almost everyone tasted it. It got RAVE reviews from everyone. The eaters who ordered the special of the evening, turkey empanadas, were disappointed. I was amazed that three people would try this dish, it sounded that unappetizing to me. The rojo sauce atop the empanadas was interesting, also smoky but not spicy, but the empanadas had too thick a dough, were a bit dry and seemed to be burnt. The turkey flavor was strong. The Eater who ordered the pork in jalopenos said it was too spicy for him that night but if he were in the mood for spicy, it would be great. The pork chunks were very tender and the gravy, seasoned in jalopenos, was a nice consistency. The pollo borracho (chicken in tequila sauce) was good, served on rice with green olives, tomato and caper. The flautas, 4 deep fried corn tortillas stuffed with chicken, served with beans and white rice, were well received, although the rice was on the dry side. The Eater said he would eat it again. The sangre de toro brisket (wine stewed beef), a regular menu item, was one of the best things I have ever eaten. It was a brisket cut, simmered in the oven at 250 for ten hours in an incredible bath. It was pliant and smooth and smoky and just the best darn thing ever. I had leftovers, brought them home, and they tasted even better the next day. I have been craving that dish since I ate it. It was served with rice and black beans, and a hominy-type corn side, both of which were delicious.
Servings are large at Maya. The service was perfect and the cook kindly shared some cooking advice. The tastes and textures at Maya are just a little different than what you might expect, in the very best way. Unusual food with some tame oldies for the non-foodie type. Even the people who did not like their food walked out saying they couldn't wait to come back and try something else. That is rare. Also, Maya is open for lunch and they offer a Cuban Sandwich!