Tulum – Hotel Mi Amor, Unico restaurant, and Cucumber, Jicama and Orange Salad
One of the new hotels in the eco chic Tulum scene is hotel Mi Amor. It is part of a group of four Tulum hotels by the Colibri Hotel Collection that includes the Hotel Mezzanine, El Pez and the famed La Zebra, all situated on the Tulum white sand and turquoise water stretch of beach.
We have driven past the Mi Amor on the way to the Mezzanine a couple of times while it was still under construction, and I was immediately attracted to the clean and crisp architecture, simple lines and airy feel. Finally when we drove by again, it appeared the hotel was in operation. Then the usual scene: slam on the breaks, park the car and go over to check it out on the spur of the moment.
We walked up the open steps to the lobby and suddenly my senses abandoned their defences. The view was breathtaking. From the open air lobby you look over the glass structure housing the beautiful bar and restaurant and your eyes wander through and past this scene onto the waves of the magnificent and colourful Caribbean sea, it’s waves crushing into the rocks below. The sights, sounds and fragrances were intoxicating. “Close you eyes and your spirit start to soar, and you’ll live like you have never lived before”, at least while you stay here.
As we caught our breath after the initial experience, the friendly reception staff in their chic uniforms invited us to enjoy a lunch at the restaurant and we settled happily at a table for two overlooking the cliffs and the sea. I looked at the menu and knew we were in for a treat.
Unico, the restaurant at Mi Amo, is run by uber talented NYC Chef Brian Sernatinger. Chef Sernatinger graduated at the top of his class at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan and then worked at the famed Gramercy Tavern in NY. To further develop his knowledge and sense of cuisine he travelled to Spain and spent 6 years there working in Seville (no wonder I loved his food, Seville was the highlight of a recent extended stay in Spain). He later returned and opened Unico restaurant in Tulum that has since moved and merged with the Mi Amor Hotel operation. I have dined there a number of times now, having gone back for both breakfasts and lunches and I can report that the food is a perfect combination of flavours and textures representing a fusion of local foods and ingredients with cosmopolitan flair and an authentic yet sophisticated style.
The hotel manager, Remo from Nicaragua, who lives in Tulum now and runs the hotel together with his wife (“Mi Amor (my love) means you need two people”says Remo) offered to show me around the facility and I was delighted to be taken on a short tour. We walked into sea-front room on the second floor. The room was decorated zen-like style with dark wood, white linen, rain shower and simple chic ambiance. Beach bag, towels, Nespresso machine and hair dryers were part of the package (they are not always available in Tulum hotels). The big attraction of the ocean front rooms (for me) was the patio. I could sit on that spacious, shaded patio in those comfortable chairs for hours listening to the sound of the waves and losing myself to the colourful scene spread in front of me. The only break I would need is to sample the fabulous food next door.
The pool at Mi Amore runs beside the restaurant and is beautifully incorporated into the architecture, merging form and function seamlessly. The hotel is perched on a cliff above the Caribbean sea so no one can walk in front of the hotel distracting and interfering with your privacy. The Tulum sandy beach is nearby and another small bay is adjacent to the hotel and available for guest to use (clothing optional, their website says). No one was on that beach when we were visiting.
Tulum hotels are off the grid, powered by generators, solar power and water conservation program. While the Mi Amor may be more on the chic then the eco side of the scale, it is quite remarkable to have such a comfortable and chic operation in this location.
Now to the food. One of the items we had at the restaurant was a traditional cucumber and jicama salad, prepared and served so beautifully with a modern, sophisticated touch. Cucumber and jicama combination is typical Mayan food known as ensalada xek (pronounced shek) that loosely translated means a mixed salad. I have been ordering it at restaurants and making it in my vacation kitchen on the Mayan Riviera quite often, with little variations each time. Traditionally the salad has jicama, cucumber and sour orange with a sprinkling of salt, chile pepper and a twist of lime. The salad at Unico had feta cheese crumbled on top.
Of course I went home and made a version of the salad with the ingredients i had on hand. i did not have the sour orange so used regular Mexican oranges instead and the result was lovely. I think you can use the cucumber-jicama combination as a base for many other ingredients. Mango definitely comes to mind. For the dressing I squeezed the juice of the oranges I used over the salad and added some lime juice for an extra note of acidity. A little salt, chopped cilantro and pickled red onions finished the dish. It was definitely a winner so I am sharing it with you.
Here is the recipe, enjoy.
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
1/2 jicama, sliced into matchsticks
1 small carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
2 oranges (sour orange to be authentic), cut into segments without the skin
Juice of 1 lime
A handful cilantro, chopped
Red chile flakes
1/2 cup crumbled feta or queso fresco
Pickled red onion (recipe below)
Peel the cucumber but leave a little of the peel for added colour. Cut the cucumber in half and remove seeds, scraping it with a spoon or a knife. Cut the seeded cucumber into chunks.
Wash the jicama and cut of the bottom and top ends. Sit the jicama on a flat end and cut the peel off with a knife following the contour of the vegetable. Slice into half, then into thin slices. Stack the slices and cut into thin strips.
Wash and peel the carrot then continue peeling with a vgetable peeler into thins ribbons. Stack the ribbons, a couple at a time, and cut into fine matchsticks.
Combine all vegetables in a bowl.
Cut the orange into segments over a bowl to catch all juice. Squeeze the remaining flesh to extract all the juice. Add the juice and orange segments to the cucumber and jicama in the bowl.
Add the lime juice and salt to taste and toss together. Let marinate a few minutes.
Spoon the salad onto individual plates or serving platter.
Scatter feta cheese on top.
sprinkle with cilantro and pepper flakes if using.
Spoon pickled onion on top in the center.
Pour remaining dressing from the bowl over each of the salads.
Sweet and tangy pickled red onion:
1 red onion, halved vertically and sliced horizontally into semi circles
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Pour boling water over the sliced onion and steep for 10 minutes. Drain well.
Bring orange juice, vinegar and sugar to a boil, then pour over the drained onion.
Let marinate in the fridge for a few hours before serving.