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High-End Mexican Restaurant Opens in Miami Beach

Dana Nigro
Posted: October 25, 1999

There are no bean burritos or chicken fajitas on the menu, no pinatas adorning the walls and no mariachi music playing endlessly in the background. At Mayya, a fine-dining Mexican restaurant that opened in Miami Beach's Albion Hotel on Oct. 11, the focus is on haute cuisine, with innovative twists on regional dishes from throughout Mexico.

Mayya is the lastest creation of Miami restaurateur Efrain Veiga, the Cuban-American who founded Yuca in Coral Gables, which with its upscale reinventions of traditional Latin American dishes brought what became known as "nuevo latino" cuisine to the United States. (He recently sold the restaurant, which is now in Miami Beach, to his partner.) Veiga's fellow investors in Mayya include Billy Bean, a former major-league baseball player, and Cristina Saralegui, the superstar Latin TV talk-show host.

The restaurant's executive chef, Mexican-born Guillermo Tellez, 36, spent more than nine years at the famed Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, working his way up from a line chef in 1989 to chef de cuisine. After specializing in highly refined French-inspired cuisine for so long, he was ready to return to his roots. While dining at Yuca in 1997, Tellez met Veiga, who shared his dream of opening a serious Mexican restaurant. Tellez left Trotter's last fall to work on the new venture.

"After working for Charlie for so many years and learning about excellence and striving for perfection, I wanted to do something with Mexican food and bring it to a level that it hasn't experienced here before," said Tellez. "My goal is to elevate Mexican cuisine to the level of a Michelin three-star restaurant."

Beginning with the decor, the two-story restaurant avoids the typical Mexican cliches. A cluster of sandblasted trees adorn the entrance, while inside, chrome, concrete, terrazzo and stainless steel are the major elements in a design inspired by Rene Magritte, the Belgian surrealist painter. "When you walk in the door of this place, you won't know it's a Mexican restaurant until you start ordering," says Tellez. "The only ethnic thing in this place should be me."

Mayya's formal dining room seats 140 and will have daily prix fixe menus for $85, along with a la carte dishes such as beef cheek lasagna with red onions and charred tomatillo sauce and baby squid relleno with braised oxtail, grilled zucchini and guajillo sauce. Appetizers range from $14 to $19, and entrees are priced from $34 to $39. There's also a chef's table for four in the kitchen, where a tasting menu is $125 per person.

For dessert, pastry chef Leslie Swager -- another Trotter alum -- creates exotic concoctions such as coffee flan with crispy phyllo and chocolate-covered coffee beans, "tres leches" cake with habanero syrup and carambola-lemon verbena sorbet.

A more relaxed cafe seats about 150 and serves what Tellez refers to as "typical street foods of Mexico," such as tacos and gorditas, as well as dishes such as free-range chicken in mole poblano and coriander-crusted salmon with pork tamale and beans. Prices range from $7 to $24. There are also traditional family-style meals of grilled steak or roasted pork, served with condiments, at $24 per pound.

"I wanted to start with some dishes that people are kind of used to seeing," commented Tellez. "Then I'm planning to change little by little," adding more exotic ingredients such as huitlacoche, a rare corn fungus that is considered a delicacy.

Mayya's 150-wine list is the creation of noted sommelier Larry Stone, currently with Rubicon in San Francisco, who also worked with Tellez at Trotter's. To match the spicy Mexican food, the wine list is dominated by moderate-alcohol, low-tannin wines with soft fruit, such as Rieslings, Loire Valley whites, Beaujolais, Chinons and Sangioveses. There are a few bigger wines, such as Cabernet, and some rare collectibles, such as Chateau Lafleur 1995. Bottle prices start at $25, with the majority in the $30 to $40 range, while a few go for $150 and up.

Stone created an extensive by-the-glass program that, he says, "focuses specifically on the wines that are amenable to the food rather than the more popular wines." He added, "The staff has been thoroughly trained in how to match food and wine and which wines are most appealing with each of the dishes. A lot of time and effort went into explaining why these less-well-known wines are on the list and what their role is."

Mayya Restaurant
301 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, Fla. 33139
Tel: (305) 538-7878
Fax: (305) 538-7858
Dining room: Dinner, Wed.-Sat. 6-11 p.m.
Cafi: Daily, lunch, 12-4 p.m; dinner, 6-11p.m.

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