Saturday, March 1, 2008

Yucka

Posted By on Sat, Mar 1, 2008 at 12:24 AM

It’s not often you get the chance to reflect on one of the worst meals you’ve ever had in the Croissant City. Allow me to spare anyone else the experience.

Having worked in a handful of the city’s finer restaurants for four years, perhaps I should’ve known better than to visit Mayas Restaurant & Bar (located on a restaurant-starved strip of Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District) within its first few months of existence. That said, I’m not sure any amount of repetition will cure what ails the fledgling Latin American eatery.

Mayas’ first impressions certainly don’t presage an impending culinary disaster. The shotgun space is clad in eclectic, if somewhat kitschy, decorations: native masks, natural wood and colorful art. The tables are dressed in crisp linens and the flatware feels substantial. Our server couldn’t have been sweeter. And then the food came.

A delicious-sounding appetizer sampler that promised tastes of the restaurant’s signature frito starters — spring rolls, croquetas, soft-shell crab, tostones, et al. — more closely resembled an assortment of freezer-burned relics. (Imagine shelling out $16 for a fossilized Hot Pocket and a year-old box of Jeno's pizza rolls.) They were served with a trio of unidentified dipping ramekins, and while I’m no saucier, I’ll take a stab: Chinese-takeout duck, garlicky vinaigrette and coagulated ranch. As in Hidden Valley.

Despite this flubbed handshake, we were still optimistically onboard awaiting our entrée selections. After all, how can you screw up ropa vieja and paella? Here’s one way: boil your shredded beef until it takes on the texture of the old clothes for which it was named and bog down your butter-drenched arroz with bulk-rate seafood — wedding shrimp, chewy mussels and shriveled clams — that smells like a wetsuit left out in the sun. Then charge $45 for them. (To Mayas' credit, they removed the largely untouched latter from the check.)

We quickly paid the bill and left, in the process forsaking flan and pastel de tres leches, a personal kryptonite. A mile up the road, La Divina’s tongue-numbing gelato beckoned louder.  

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