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Restaurants & Bars

A Wish Come True: Queso Relleno at Chichen Itza

Dommy | May 29, 200702:06 PM     13

Despite the fact that we all LOVE to tease the transplants who come here crying about lack New York Bagels, Mission Burritos or Bufalo wings. We must admit, we all have our food wishlists. Things we miss from our travels, other homes, things we wish someone would just do a little better. In fact, if it wasn’t for people’s wishlists, these boards would not exisit…

For me, my wishlist is full of food of my childhood summers in the Yucatan. For years I made due with the take out at La Flor de Yucatan and kept an eye out for other Mexican restaurants for the occasional Cochinita Pibil dish, even Lebanese places for Kibis. Discovering Chichen Itza at Mercado la Paloma was a revelation, even when they just had their little stand, it was the only TRUE Yucatan restaurant I’ve been outside of Yucatan. My wishlist was shortened… but still, due to their size and the sheer enormity of the cuisine, they did not have it all…

And so this past weekend we found ourselves at the Science Center. I admit, I hadn’t been to Chichen Itza since they opened up their new place on 6th. I had hoped that perhaps the expanded menu at the restaurant might lead to an expanded menu at the stand. My wish came true… I was scouring the new menu when I let out a huge gasp… #1 on my wishlist was now proudly featured… Queso Relleno… I almost cried…

Queso Relleno is one of those TRULY Yucatecan dishes. Not only does it incorporate the history of the region, but it’s riches as well. In the late 19th century, the Yucatan was known through out the world for one thing… Rope. The finest rope in the world was made on Plantations near Merida. This brought seaman from all over the world… many of them stayed and settled there too… Among them were the Dutch… The dutch brought with them balls of Edam Cheese. They would hollow out the balls to at the sweet buttery cheese… and then give the shell to their Mayan servants. From those shells was born Queso Relleno. The ball is stuff entirely full of ground meat (At the time it would have been ground deer) and spices and then steamed in a cloth. Sauces were made from the meat, one red made of tomato, another white similar to a roux… and given the Mayan name, Kol…

Like many things, a peasant dish has now become one of special occasions. In all my travels in the Yucatan, I’ve only had it a handful of times. And each time was as memorable as the last. I was anxiously waiting for it to arrive hoping that if it captured even the most BASIC of flavors, I would be a happy woman. When it arrived… I cried again…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/71363164...

It was served with Tortillas. And I happily dug in. The cheese was indeed pure edam. Buttery and dense. Just slightly melty. The ground pork was amazingly spiced. The nuts and raisins did not distract, but added to the texture and overall taste. The tomato sauce has a nice heat that cut through it all. But the best part was that Kol. It was DEAD on. I closed my eyes and I was 10 years old and in Merida again. The genine can forget about the other two wishes… my first and most important wish has been granted…

P. decided to order the Cochinta. We also had hoped that with the coverage in the L.A. Times and the new restaurant that the flavor would have been amped up a bit. Sadly, it still was not at the level we hoped it would be. The meat was perfect… melty tender. The texture of the sauce, beautiful, almost stickey with how long it had been cooking with the meat. The recado spicing however was sadly quiet, nuanced, but it missed that PUNCH that you find at La Flor. The dish is BEAUTIFUL and the meat so wonderfully done, it is truly a heart break that the flavors don’t do it justice. We joked that it’s the reason why they now serve it with an Habanero. Really… if you can handle any spice… slice it up and lay it in the recado to get some more spice and flavor. It actually works WONDERS…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/71363164...

As we hope on our bikes to head home, I couldn’t help but be so thankful that we stopped by Chichen Itza. I’m so proud of them for being brave enough to start their own place. To open up a great restaurant and to make dishes that only a few people like me would have on their wishlists. But after reading this post, I do hope that now more of you have decided that a stop by Chichen Itza and the Queso Relleno is a must try on your wishlist…

--Dommy!

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