The Good Life

The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun, Mexico

| By Gordon Mott | From Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

Even in the heat of the midday sun, the white, pearly sand beach on Cancún's shores doesn't scorch a sun-worshipper's feet. Stretching for nearly 14 miles from tip to tip, the narrow island--it seems like a big sandbar--off Mexico's Yucatan is simply one of the world's great beaches. Not only does the water seem to jump off a color swatch depicting the Caribbean's turquoise-blue hues, but the strip of sand is white, clean and uninterrupted, and because of some quirk of nature's chemistry, the sand doesn't burn--at least not very much.

Many visitors decry the architectural spoilage of one of nature's great creations. Hotels line the beach from one end to the other, and--just beyond the hotels and the dunes--a four-lane road is usually packed with scores of white taxis, buses and private cars. But if what you seek is something more than a remote island without phone, television, cars, people and other diversions, then Cancún may be one of the better resorts within half a day's travel of the United States. And, if you want the best hotel there, don't think twice--it's The Ritz-Carlton, Cancún.

The peach-pink structure has 369 rooms, all with ocean views. The hotel offers the same amenities as any top-rated hotel in the world: fitness center; a private club level with personal concierges; two large swimming pools; tennis courts; two formal restaurants; a café; a poolside grill; and an oceanview lounge that offers what is probably the world's most extensive collection of tequilas--it boasts over 120 different brands.

"Cancún needed a place like The Ritz-Carlton," says general manager H. Enrique Rivas. "You can get every wish, any pleasure." The Ritz-Carlton squelched a trend toward low-cost tour packages that filled the other hotels along the beach. Even today, most of the hotels provide a middle range of services. The price differential between the Ritz and the others averages more than $70 a day, in part thanks to the Ritz' daily rate of $295 in season, which by Caribbean standards is still quite reasonable.

But The Ritz-Carlton, Cancún, exceeds the company's standards when it comes to gastronomic and smoking pleasures. Thanks in part to Fantino maitre d' George Cairo and chef John Gray--both veterans of The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel--the hotel's top restaurants serve truly extraordinary food.

In Fantino, presided over each night by maitre d' Cairo in a white dinner jacket, Gray's rendition of northern Italian cooking is superb. A recent meal started with a duck prosciutto with truffles and oven-roasted artichokes, a smoked salmon and potato lasagna, an extraordinary risotto cooked in Chianti with porcini mushrooms and Asiago cheese, and an ossobuco braised in wine with thyme and sweet garlic. The hotel airfreights all the ingredients unavailable in Mexico, and Gray searches out produce from nearby farms. It was entirely possible to forget that this extravagant Italian meal took place in Mexico.

Gray isn't content with re-creating Italian dishes in a country where the regional cuisines are as unique as any in the world. In The Club Grill, Gray blends his classical training with Mexican ingredients. "I take the local ingredients," says Gray, "and try to do something totally different."

Try the grilled chicken with a red adobo sauce, the white-bean and lentil soup spiced with extremely fiery habañero chile, the baked boquinete (an ocean fish) cooked in banana leaves and achiote spices, a corn-meal polenta made with chipotle pepper, and an incredible risotto using the local corn-fungus mushroom called huitlacoche. He even does his own take on the famous "Like Water For Chocolate" dish of quail with rose petals and honey.

But the end of the meal at the Ritz can be just as spectacular. In The Grill Room, Samara, a beautiful young singer with a soft, soothing voice, sings until midnight. In the bar area, a standing humidor has a variety of sizes in the Cuban brands of Romeo y Julieta, San Luis Rey, Cohiba, Montecristo and Hoyo de Monterrey. Light up, soak up the sweet sounds of Samara and enjoy.

-- Gordon Mott

The Ritz-Carlton, Cancún
Retorno del Rey Lote 36 Zona Hotelera, Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Phone: (52) 98 85 0808; Fax: (52) 98 85 1045
Regular rooms, $295; suites start at $495, club level, $425-450, club level suite $695, presidential suite, $3,500


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