Hotel Maya shines where the Los Angeles River meets the Pacific Ocean.
A breeze was blowing in from the bay, the lights of downtown Long Beach were shimmering in the distance, outlines of palm trees were visible against the night sky and memories of thick 405 traffic melted faster than the ice in my cocktail. Fuego couldn’t have picked a better night to host a group of food writers, and some of Jesse Perez’s dishes even managed to match the spectacular setting.
San Francisco-based hotel chain Joie de Vivre launched the Hotel Maya to start the summer, injecting $20 million into the property to update the Coast Long Beach Hotel. There really isn’t that much waterfront dining in L.A., which makes the Maya stand out even more.
The hotel resides across a bridge from downtown Long Beach and has an oasis feel to it.
Patio diners also have clear views of the legendary Queen Mary.
L.A. based firm Arya designed both the hotel and Fuego, which features massive sliding glass doors, tiles imported from Mexico, a reclaimed wood wall and a spacious patio that’s open to the elements, except in the rare instances when elements actually arrive.
Executive Chef Jesse Perez developed a contemporary menu of “coastal Latin cuisine.” The Texas native previously cooked at Francesca’s at Sunset in San Antonio and Nava in Atlanta and considers Coyote Café’s Mark Miller a mentor.
Our Amuse Bouche consisted of a single tortilla chip topped with preserved lemon guacamole, blue crab and a tiny bit of heat from sliced jalapeño.
Chef Perez seems to be a believer in the rule of three, delivering multiple trios throughout the meal. He paired each ceviche with with a different chip, highlighted by supple octopus braised in red wine vinegar, black peppercorns and bay leaves. The chip: blue corn.
Chilean sea bass ceviche was nearly as successful, featuring tender sheets that were treated with jalapeños, red onions and standard lemon and lime juices, plus orange juice for added sweetness. The chip: classic corn.
The only ceviche that didn’t sing involved lobster that had been soaked in coconut milk with lime juice and jalapeño. Strands of red and white onion provided texture, but I prefer flavors that don’t overshadow lobster meat. For the same reason, so few lobster salad rolls deliver. The chip: plantain.
The top taste from our Soup Trio was clearly wild mushroom, an earthy soup featuring duck confit, porcini cream and six varieties of mushrooms: chanterelle, porcini, bluefoot, lobster, maitake and baby shiitake. Smoked tomato was like gazpacho, but too smoky. The skewer of sweet rock shrimp and tequila cream were nice touches though. Finally, roasted poblano was another winner, simply dabbed with grey-black huitlacoche cream.
Our Intermezzo involved a lip-puckering hibiscus paleta dusted with a spicy-sweet house-made spice blend: ancho, guajillo, coriander, cumin, brown sugar and salt.
The showstopper was undoubtedly vanilla butter poached lobster, which Perez had been working to perfect for the past five years. I don’t use the word “perfect” to describe food, but this dish was achingly close, featuring sweet Maine claw and tail meat, all supple and easily pluckable from the shell. The bowl also held a cilantro-spiked soft taco that looked like a Japanese hand roll and contained lobster knuckle meat. There was a pile of mashed boniato root – white sweet potato – topped with chorizo shavings. The broth: a ambrosia-like mix of saffron, coconut milk, vanilla bean and lobster stock.
After the meal, Perez revealed that the claw shell is thicker than the tail, so they don’t cook evenly. As a result, he removed the tail and knuckle and cooked them separately, finishing the meat in clarified butter. This explanation further enforced that this was a thoughtful dish.
The least successful trio involved lamb, though there was one highlight: a “barbacoa” tamale stained yellow with achiote, loaded with braised lamb and drizzled with spicy salsa borracha (drunken salsa). Barbacoa is traditionally old lamb that’s steamed in maguey leaves in a pit, so the name was a stretch, but the flavor was still strong. The other two components were less successful. The spice-rubbed chop was still off-puttingly bloody, barely cooked. The loin was wrapped with Serrano ham and paired with olive chimichurri, and though it tasted pretty good, the lamb flavor didn’t shine through.
We finished our gluttonous feast with a pyramid of rich, tangy goat cheese mousse, drizzled with orange-cajeta syrup that was topped with lemon-mango salsa and jammed with a single sweet potato chip. This was an excellent dessert. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough remaining stomach space to clean my plate.
Butter-poached lobster alone was worth the round-trip drive from L.A., and the setting was equally alluring. I could easily see making another escape to Long Beach’s outer reaches for another relaxing night by the bay. Pass the lobster.
January 25, 2010 at 9:17 AM
The food is ok, over priced. The service horrible. Little attention and waitresses have no skills they dont introduce when they come to table, they offer some bread and they never came, she did not have the courtesy to come back and tell us anything we had to asked her what happened?. They should hire more qualified people for a restaurant like this which is in such a good location.
October 17, 2009 at 9:16 AM
Service real slow. Food was over cooked. location is nice once you get there.
October 18, 2009 at 8:37 PM
Darcy, what did you order at Fuego? I’m sure people would be interested to learn more about your experience.
Tweets that mention Food GPS » Blog Archive » Fuego – Long Beach, CA - October 1, 2009 -- Topsy.com
October 8, 2009 at 10:49 AM
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by foodgps. foodgps said: Review of Fuego in Long Beach. Go for the butter poached lobster and views http://bit.ly/CWt7n […]
October 8, 2009 at 8:43 AM
Too bad Long Beach is a few area codes away. Looks wonderful. Having a mentor of Mark Miller is a realllly good thing – did he actually work at Coyote, or just uses him as mentor. Coyote Cafe is really good when in that area.
October 8, 2009 at 2:25 AM
looks like there’s some good cooking being done in LBC.
October 7, 2009 at 2:01 PM
Nice review and pics! I have family near Long Beach so it’s good to know I have this place as an option for when we dine out. The butter lobster and soup trio look very good.
And big congrats on your inclusion in LA Confidential!
October 7, 2009 at 4:04 PM
Thanks for the congrats. If you go to Fuego, the butter-poached lobster is absolutely un-skippable. The goat cheese mousse was also devastating.