Camino Riviera evokes well Tulum
“Le Taco”: fried sea bass tempura with squid ink topped with edible gold leaf
It’s a fish taco so long it’s wrapped in two corn tortillas, placed end to end. So blackened by squid ink tempura, you might never guess there’s impeccably cooked white fish inside. So high-end, it relies on an edible gold leaf topcoat to justify its $18 price tag. Nicknamed simply “The Taco”, this unusual specimen is one of the many talked-about dishes served by Riviera Paththe Tulum, Mexico-inspired restaurant that opened in Little Italy late last year.
Home to ancient Mayan ruins and one of the most beautiful white-sand coastlines in the world, Tulum has become a high-profile destination for cultural elites in New York and Los Angeles, the stomping ground of “digital nomads.” As a result, the place has developed its own distinct culture: a quasi-bohemian amalgamation of Spring Break, Instagram and Burning Man, characterized by wooded artwork, thatched roofs and unchecked daytime drinking.
Which isn’t to say it’s developed its own cuisine, but the steady stream of affluent and ambitious holidaymakers has attracted plenty of ambitious chefs and restaurateurs. World-renowned chef René Redzepi hosted a pop-up restaurant there in 2017 while his famed Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, was closed for renovations. If vacationers didn’t show up to spend big bucks at Tulum’s restaurants before then, they certainly have since. I would wager that diners in Tulum are on average willing to spend more on dinner than those in San Diegans.
A bamboo and macrame dining room and bar
In Tulum, this too often rhymes with pretension. For example, a much-loved restaurant I visited on my honeymoon in Tulum felt it could improve upon the humble corn tortilla chip by making it more like a matzo cracker, served with cheese mousse. avocado, $12 for three chips. You might get away with it when you know all the dinner guests tonight are going home on Monday.
In this regard, Camino Riviera is worth a visit. Though its perch — just below the southbound lanes of Highway 5 — shouldn’t be able to compete with the beach’s Caribbean vibe, a gorgeous interior decor that combines bamboo, macrame, and tropical plants nails it. atmosphere. Out back, a patio and dining bar feature tile and stonework, and also feel lifted from the courtyard of a Riviera Maya hotel.
The dining patio, with a second outdoor bar
Best of all, Camino Riviera has Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski, who has consistently proven himself to be one of the best in San Diego, whether it’s creating Michelin-acclaimed entrees for partner restaurant Camino, Kettner Exchange, or whip up the best donuts in town at its adjacent window counter, Devil’s. Dozen.
So this golden fish taco? Strip away the gold leaf and squid ink, and you’re left with an outstanding fried sea bass, fish taco. It’s ten bucks overpriced, and not as spicy as I’d prefer, but perfectly done.
Shell aguachile with squash blossoms and edible flowers
Of course, the conversation is the point. Much of the menu here straddles that interesting high-brow/low-brow line, as if looking for ways to make Mexican street food worth a festive second look. Another example is the $17 scallops aquachile, which breeds cheap shrimp, the staple of marisco trucks along with finer shellfish and edible flowers. Or the $16 pork quesabirria bao, a cheesy birria taco mix in the guise of a pork belly bao.
Even more interesting is the $16 gordita crunch. This one takes Taco Bell’s idea of combining a soft flatbread with the crunch of a hard corn tortilla, except with bao instead of the flatbread. It’s like a tostada stuck on a steamed bun, topped with salpicon, a Latin American blend of cold, shredded beef. In this case, the use of wagyu beef justifies the price, while the simple act of combining the culturally distinct flavors and textures of bao and tortilla ensures the dish finds success beyond its own novelty.
The “crispy gordita”, a crispy corn tostada stuck to the top of a steamed bun
Whether that’s a memorable 16 bucks may depend on your perspective. Think of these items in terms of Mexican fare, and – like “The Taco” – and that’s too much. Even in Tulum, you can leave the beach to find cheap and tasty taco shops. To me, Camino Riviera is more successful as a contemporary dining destination rather than an expensive Mexican restaurant. At least, that’s what I decided when I tried the $35 Sonoma Lamb Shoulder Barbacoa.
I was told the lamb is cooked over an oak flame, in a pan with its own juices and finished in a pan before serving. It is then served on banana leaves with corn tortillas, to make tacos with toppings of butter lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, onions and cilantro, as well as two types of creamy salsas. I dutifully started assembling a taco and ended up eating one before it dawned on me: this chilli-rubbed lamb is way too good a mess for a taco.
This well-done lamb shoulder barbacoa doesn’t need the taco fixins it’s served with.
It hurts to admit. In a casual barbacoa spot, tortillas and salsas would enhance the meal. Here they almost couldn’t keep up and detracted from a superbly cooked and seasoned shoulder of lamb.
For those who party in Tulum, its natural beauty is too often obscured by its own Instagrammable attributes. The Camino Riviera imitation of a restaurant in Tulum might follow this lead too closely. It’s way more expensive than the best Mexican food, but look beyond the style, and there’s food worth its weight in gold leaf.