Sterling Smith in the kitchen at high-style Greek restaurant Neméa in Mamaroneck.
Asking me to choose the best meal I have ever had is like asking me to choose my favorite spice. As food is clearly a priority for me, I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful meals over the years. On the short list is every meal I have had at Eleven Madison Park. I was so inspired after my first time that I asked to be a stagiaire (“apprentice”) there on my day off. Also on the short list is Morimoto in Philadelphia. Not only was I blown away by the unbelievable, inspired chef’s tasting menu, but, as an added perk, I had the honor of meeting one of my heroes, Chef Morimoto. To round out the list was the personalized menu I requested at Jean Georges—a 10-course tasting menu paired with amazing wines, capped off with a question for my now wife: “Will you marry me?”
Although the list above may seem obvious, my number-one favorite meal occurred in a significantly more humble setting. While attending my sister’s wedding on Isla Mujeres (a small island off the coast of Cancun), my wife and I decided to take a ride through the countryside, away from the touristy beaches. While driving on an unassuming, pothole-riddled road, we passed a tiny, yellow house with a chalkboard that read “Coma Aquí”—lunch here. To be honest, we did not give the place a second thought as we kept exploring. Given the main road was one big loop, we passed it again on our way back to town. This time, as my hunger was growing, I noticed a gentleman walking up to the small house with a bowl full of what looked like live shrimp. This was enough to pique my attention, and I suggested we stop for a quick bite and a nice, cold cerveza.
Wow. Three hours and several beers later, I think we’d tried almost everything on the menu. The food, although simple, was spectacular. The standouts were the ceviche—grilled shrimp with tomatoes and cilantro; and a pescado tikin-xic—that is, achiote-marinated grilled whole fish. We stuck mostly to the unbelievable fresh seafood, although we did thoroughly enjoy kick-butt barbecue pork. In short, maybe because it was unexpected, this palapa-style Mexican café will forever stand out in my mind for the beautiful, fresh, simple, and balanced oceanic flavors.