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Date Night #5b - Belmonte and Yum Yum

After receiving an overwhelming response to our cliff-hanger ending of Date Night #5, where we vowed to see George and Mikaela at their new restaurant Belmonte, we're posting this follow-up to let everyone know how it turned out. OK, so maybe it wasn't an overwhelming response, but we did get some questions and we want to be respectful to the wants of our readers. OK... so maybe we didn't get some questions, but Jenny A was rather demanding when she asked about what happened... so there you go. (Thanks, Jenny!)

A few nights after our lovely evening at Oh Lala!, we ventured to Belmonte, which is just a block in-land from the 5th Avenue shops on Playa del Carmen. We were a little worried about showing up on a Friday night without reservations, but had been assured that the new place was still getting its legs, and it wouldn't be a problem. Lo and behold, the advice panned out!

It helped that we arrived a little early for the downtown Playa dinner crowd, about 7pm, so there were plenty of tables available. Full disclosure... we didn't get any pictures of the place when we arrived, so the picture to the left is courtesy of Senor Google. Belmonte is a much bigger establishment than Oh Lala, and the design is very chic. It was clear from the moment we walked in that they had invested quite a bit of time and money into their new venture, and we liked what we saw! The ambiance is elegant yet inviting; a place where you could just as easily go for a fancy night out as for a casual get-together with friends. There were two large tables already seated - one with a group of women from the U.S. (celebrating a birthday) and the other with a mix of Mexican nationals who appeared to be business colleagues. The dynamics of each were distinctly different (one very festive and boisterous, and the other more subdued and refined), but both seemed to thoroughly enjoy their experience.

At the end of the restaurant was a big window that prominently displayed the kitchen staff, and we couldn't quite figure out whether they were for our viewing pleasure or vice versa. Either way, it was a nice aspect of the restaurant. The guys on the staff all had cute navy blue Portuguese flat cap hats, crisp white shirts, thin ties, and big kitchen aprons. Our waiter was Luis, and he was very attentive and eager to please. He started us off with some home made chorizo popovers, which were actually much milder than we expected. It only had a hint of the sausage flavor, and was surprisingly delicate. It was served with a black olive tapenade and an herb butter. Delish!

As we noshed on the popovers, George walked by our table and gave us the "I'm pretty sure I know you guys" look, and stopped over to say hello. It didn't take long for him to remember us from our Oh Lala visits, and we chatted for quite awhile about his new ventures - both Belmonte and Yum Yum, next door. It's been a long journey for George and Mikaela, one they've carefully planned since they first set up shop with that tiny little restaurant we stumbled into so many years ago. We asked about Mikaela, and George excitedly shared the news that she has been home resting as she is expecting their first baby boy, George Junior! We were thrilled to hear it and could hardly contain our excitement for both of them. He went on to explain that the restaurant's menu is based on Mikaela's grandfather's recipes from Portugal, and showed us an old photo of him proudly displayed behind the bar. It's really special how they've managed to tap into the personal experiences that have shaped their passion for food, and apply their talents to extend the richness of those experiences to everyone who walks through their doors. Bravo, George and Mikaela!

Before we knew it, Luis was bringing us the trio of croquettes we had ordered - shrimp, cod, and chorizo - and George went back to busying himself with the restaurant. The appetizers were delicious, although a bit too fishy for David's tastes. Shortly after polishing off the croquettes, we moved on to the main courses, a Portuguese seafood rice dish for me, and a rack of lamb in wine reduction for David. My dish was decidedly Portuguese, featuring a generous array of mussels, clams, shrimp, and octopus piled on a bed of rice drenched in a savory Portuguese sauce. David's dish was more traditionally French, with a beautiful rack of lamb in a decadent wine sauce, surrounded by the creamiest mashed potatoes on the planet. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals, which were rich in flavor and beautifully presented!

As we were savoring our meals, a bit of culinary drama unfolded at the birthday table, when the wait staff unveiled three platters of salted sea bass. These whole fish were encased in a hard shell of rock salt, which upon presentation to the table, were ceremoniously doused in alcohol and lit on fire. With flaming dishes before them, the servers carefully broke apart the salt shells by gently hammering them with knife and fork, revealing beautifully steamed whole fish within, which they gently filleted and divided into perfect portions for their delighted diners. There were plenty of oohs and ahs as the performance played out, and the table seemed genuinely thrilled about the entire experience.

Note to self: definitely need to go back to Belmonte for the salted sea bass!

Back to our dining experience... we had not planned on having dessert there, but couldn't resist the homemade caramel gelato and the lusciously creamy custard tart. The gelato had a deep, rich caramel flavor that was truly sinful. It was just two very small scoops, each adorned with a few popped kernels of bright gold caramel popcorn, served on a plate sprinkled with cookie crumbles. It was just the right balance of flavors and textures to satisfy your sweet tooth and tantalize your taste buds. We would go back there just for that! The custard tart was very good as well, but honestly, the caramel gelato stole the show!

The dessert was the final touch that really capped off the meal for us, and we vowed that we will definitely return to Belmonte! Five stars in our book! After saying our goodbyes to Luis (our server, who also happens to be the person in the picture above, tending to the flaming sea bass) and to George (along with a wealth of good wishes to him and Mikaela for the new baby and the new restaurants), we headed back to the resort - thoroughly satisfied, and thrilled that we found yet another new fave to add to our short list!

Post Script: A few days later, we completed the trifecta by going to Yum Yum, the other George & Mikaela restaurant that's next door to Belmonte. To be honest, while we loved the service and enjoyed the atmosphere, the food just didn't seem to stack up against the other two restaurants. We're not sure exactly why this was the case, especially since one of our dishes was panang curry, which is absolutely fabulous at Oh Lala, but something was lacking. It just didn't quite have the bold flavors we expected. This was our second time at Yum Yum, as we had gone there for a late lunch last year as well, and we came away with the same feeling each time. No disrespect to George and Mikaela, but this one could use a little more culinary excitement! Nonetheless, we're glad we made it to all three restaurants, and we will be certain to return to all three again. Until then... hasta luego y buen provecho!

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