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Sea Change: Our Big Night Out at Elio Al Mare

It is possible for one meal to change everything. Yesterday I didn’t believe that a mythical Italian restaurant could possibly exist in Progreso. I didn’t believe in much of anything. Today I am a serious devotee of Elio Al Mare and plan to tell everyone I know to seek it out and experience the best Italian food this side of Playa del Carmen. I am altered on a molecular level. I feel sincerely better about my life because it is here. It happened just in time.

Elio himself serves as host, sommelier, waiter, and gracious dining room chef, alternately soaking up praise then insisting, in a grandfatherly sort of way, that you finish every morsel on your plate. Malcolm and I arrived to find a smiling Elio in an open kitchen, and a small dining room that is much warmer than most you’ll find on the beach. He bustled around setting up our table with decanters of oil, vinegar and towering pepper grinder and also brought us drinks, red wine in a big, beautiful bowl for me and a Johnny Walker black label for Malcolm. A touch so simple as a bowl of ice for a drink served neat was noted with pleasure.

As we are such cynical expats we were sure they could not provide every item on the menu. But, miraculously, everything we ordered appeared just as described. The ingredients are fresh and there is a loving attention to detail apparent in every dish. We started with a Caprese and an avocado with fresh mozarella salad. Both were as they should be, simple, minimal, salted, peppered and drizzled with extra virgen olive oil. These light plates went well with warm bread and shrimp and mushroom dips. We also ordered the filete pizziola, spinach ravioli, gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce, as well as more red wine, tiramisu, grappa, sambuca, and espresso.

The pasta is fresh and housemade and cooked al dente, with well-seasoned filling and your choice of white or red sauce; as it is a first course option the portion is perfect when you are doing a survey of the kitchen’s aptitude. The fish was white, flaky and mild, served in a rosemary scented broth and smothered in a chopped tomato salsa that was perfectly light and complementary. My plate of gnocchi was a creamy sea of garlicky goodness. The potato dumplings melted in the mouth, sensual and transcendent, like Tantric sex with Sting. Dessert was the very last order of creamy tiramisu that matched well with the syrapy sweetness of my digestive.

We sat and talked while the kitchen was being busied into hybernation mode. A crisp January breeze blew in from the ocean and it felt cozy to be inside with friends, enjoying gastronomic delights that seem to be known only to few. Elio has been in Yucatan for decades and speaks excellent Spanish with a mirthful Italian accent. His restaurant is located east of Progreso on the road to Chixchilub and is closed Monday and Tuesday for descanso. You owe it to yourself to try Elio Al Mare. Let me be very clear: this restaurant is not good for Progreso, Mexico; it would be a standout in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, or wherever else fine food is served. But lucky for us, it is here, quietly, modestly, unexpectedly serving fine Southern Italalian cuisine to anyone who dares venture there.

It’s a so delish a ev’rybody come copisha.

There Are 6 Responses So Far. »

  1. Corre, no camine!

  2. I loved your review, and I know I would adore this restaurant. Thank you for the wonderful description…I feel like I was there with you. But unfortunately it didn’t resolve my craving for gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce…one of my favorite dishes, and one that takes a really talented chef.

    If it wasn’t that I go to Mexico City pretty often, Mazatlan would be hard to take. I can count on one hand the restaurants where the chef has passion and pride…and talent, too.

    If the Merida Bloggers meetup happens, I want to go eat there, will you guys come, too?

  3. I loved your review of this restaurant. Do you happen to have a copy of the menu? We love Italian Food and I grew up in the Northeast so I am very familiar with it. We are coming down in March and can’t wait to try this restaurant. WE are so looking foward to a good Italian Meal while we are there.

  4. Unfortunately, as the menu is 90 pages long, we don’t have a copy. But take our word for it: you want to eat here.

  5. 90 pages long!!!! It will be a few wines or grappa’s and then by the time I decide I won’t remember my food!!!!!!!!!!LOL

  6. Hey Malcolm,

    I am from Ct and read you lived up there as well in New Haven. So I will take your word on this restaurant and would love to meet you guys when we get down there.


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