#36 - Maito
June 1st, 2017
When Adele and I travel, one of our first pieces of research is the San Pellegrino’s Top 50 Restaurants site. If a restaurant is on the list, there’s a reason for it to be there. Whether a restaurant is #5 or #50 doesn’t really matter. The restaurant is On. The. List. And it gives us a place to start in a city.
Panama doesn’t have any restaurants on the Top 50 list. But on the Top 50 Latin America list, Panama’s entry is at #36. And we were going there for lunch.
Maito is located a bit off of one of the main drags in Panama. We spent most of our time in Casco Viejo, so we called an Uber after hiding in the Panama Canal museum during a rainstorm. We could have taken a train to a bus. Or we could have taken a bus. But I’m not great at busses. And it was $7 to Uber halfway across the city to the restaurant. It wasn’t really even a choice. We were running a little late due to wonky WiFi and our driver drove like a bat out of hell and got us to our noon reservation.
Now here's the thing. I was in charge of making the reservation. Maito’s website is all in Spanish. There isn’t even an American or British flag to translate the site into English. So I Google Translated my e-mail request for a reservation. And something was a bit lost in translation. In general, I do not translate well into other languages. I’m not sure if it’s my pattern of speech or choice of words. But something about the way I communicate confuses people whose second (or third or fourth) language is English. The reservation process was easy enough, but I wasn’t entirely sure what time we were supposed to show up.
We were traveling in the low season for tourism. I’m not totally sure if this held true for Maito, but when we arrived at 1215p, we were some of the first people to arrive. The front of house really began filling up at 1p. By that time, we were happily in the middle of our tasting menu.
Tasting menu, you say?? Oh yeah. It was almost not even a question. Though Adele and I did discuss this for a short minute. ("Are we??" "We are.") The tasting menu was $70 for an unknown number of courses. We ordered a reasonably priced bottle of red and we were on our way.
So here’s the thing. The server spoke nothing but Spanish. He didn’t even try to translate each dish into English. Why should he?? We were in his country. It's my fault for not knowing Spanish. Adele was able to get the gist of most of the dishes. She is pretty good with the language, but says she’s rusty on the food. I just put whatever was coming from the kitchen directly into my mouth. The explanations are probably going to be a bit light. And possibly slightly incorrect. Just focus on the pictures. That’s the important part. Even though the light was apparently a bit too bright for my iPhone.
Panamanian Chicken Soup
We started off nicely with the soup. It was just a broth, but wonderfully chickeny. We had no utensils for the start of this meal. Just pick up the bowl and drink. Great start.
Beef Tongue over Crispy "Cracker" with Tomato Foam
Adele reminded me we’d had beef tongue before. At the Black Hoof (I gotta get back there), we had a beef tongue and brioche dish. So when I announced “I haven’t had beef tongue before” at the restaurant, it was a damn lie. This dish was a bit harder to figure out how to eat. We still weren’t give utensils. This was definitely a pick-up with your fingers kind of thing. I think I ate it in two bites. I probably could have eaten it in one. Tomato foam, man. So cool.
At first, I thought this was an oyster and I got a little worried. Because we all know I can no longer consumeoysters due to their oysterness. But this was not an oyster. It was a scallop. This time, we were given a spoon to bring the slightly honey-mustardy “soup” as quickly as possible into our face. This was possibly my second favorite thing we ate this day. There was just a hit of onion and shrimp that made the mustard liquid over the top taste even better.
Heart of Palm over Cornbread
Oh, the pasta course!! No. No it isn’t. It’s the heart of palm. Which is…?? According to Wikipedia, it’s a veggie from the “inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees.” Sure it is. This particular heart of palm was draped over cornbread and covered in a sauce. It was fun. It tasted like pasta, but with a bit of a tang. Almost a pasta that had gone bad. But really it was good.
I'm not sure I'm explaining how great this actually was.
I'm not sure I'm explaining how great this actually was.
Black Rice Morcilla over Crispy Cracker
Black rice and blood?? I’m in. No, seriously. I am 100% down with this dish. Put a rice and blood combo on a cracker and then on a plate with bunnies?? Take all of my money!! Really, this one was great.
Side note, I want to take a moment to say that the plating game is strong at Maito. The plates are amazing. They’re gorgeous and whimsical and make the food pop. More than once, Adele remarked that these plates made her want to buy some new plates for home. She wasn’t alone. I was contemplating the exact same thing.
This was my everything. I don’t know what fish was in the dumpling. I didn’t care. The dumpling was crispy and the fish was wonderfully tasty. I may have stared at Adele’s plate for a few minutes to make sure she finished her whole dish. Dammit. She did.
Duck Cracklings with Chocolate Mole
I’m not entirely sure what all was in this one. The duck was crispy on top. We remembered there was chocolate mole. There may have been something else up in this dish, but I didn’t get that in the translation. This one was great, though. The mole and the cracklings were a nice pair.
Slow Roasted Pork in Panamanian Tortilla
Like the first course of soup, this seemed to be more of a traditional dish. The pork was amazing. The tortilla was great, but the pork was wonderful. I’d have been happy with a plate of just the pork.
Ceviche with Tiger Milk
Tiger milk, huh?? Yep. Tiger milk is the citrus marinade that is added to seafood to make ceviche. It’s the juice that isn’t absorbed and can be used as a hangover cure in some areas (alcohol is universal). We didn’t need a hangover cure. And the milk was a bit too citrusy for my taste. Everything else though was great.
White Fish with Smoked Seaweed
This dish was nice. Really, you’re not going to get too much more from me on this one. I don’t like white fish. I’m pretty sure it stems from my first Tasting Menu in Peru. But whatever. It looked gorgeous and I ate the whole thing.
Sigh. I do love a langoustine. I didn't entirely suck the head of the langoustine, but I did scoop everything I could out of it.
Cheese Ice Cream with Pineapple and Guava
There wasn’t an actual menu for the Tasting Menu. So we didn’t really know when the savory would end and the sweet would begin. It happened at this moment. And you read that right. Cheese ice cream. Oh, I enjoyed this. It was actual ice cream, but it had a sharpness of cheese that paired well with the dried pineapple and the guava fruit roll-ups. Plus, I'm obsessed with this picture.
Fruit Sorbet with Coffee Chocolate Crumbles
The sorbet was some kind of berry and was on top of chocolate crumbles with a hint of coffee. It was a perfect end to our meal. Cold and crisp, crunchy and chocolate.
|We were also given chocolate chip cookies.|
We rolled out of the restaurant around 3pm with a to-go bag of chocolate chip cookies. It was kind of fun to watch. While we were one of the first people to arrive, we were also one of the last ones to leave. We weren’t overly stuffed, which was a great sign. Everything was really wonderful here. The service was excellent. The wine was wonderful. The food was fantastic. I didn’t know much about Panamanian food before arriving into the country. And while this may not be traditional Panamanian food, it was a great introduction for us. Here’s the thing. I don’t know that there was anything we ate on this day that we would have ordered off of the menu. We might have just played it a little safe. But that’s what a Tasting Menu does. It forces you to submit to the whims of the chef. You’re going to get food you would never normally eat. And you’re going to love it all. Even the white fish.