Estero is a dynamic dining experience orchestrated by Virgilio Martinez

Estero, Chef Virgilio Martinez restaurant at La Casa de La Playa, photo by Cristine Struble
Estero, Chef Virgilio Martinez restaurant at La Casa de La Playa, photo by Cristine Struble /

When a wave crashes ashore, the salty seawater soaks the sand. As it leaves, little granules head out into the tide. The continual motion creates a sense of renewal, celebrates nourishment, and offers replenishment. Whether under the water or sprouting from the land, nature presents itself. When it is transformed in the kitchen and presented at the table, the flavors capture the journey that it has taken. At Estero, the new restaurant from celebrated Chef Virgilio Martinez, the sea joins the land to take the diners on a journey one movement at a time.

Estero, located at La Casa de La Playa, the boutique hotel from Xcaret Group, is the latest restaurant from Virgilio Martinez. While Chef Virgilio has captivated guests at Central in Peru and earned numerous accolades for that restaurant as well as Mil, nestled in the Andean landscape, his concepts are as much about inviting guests to explore food and culture as they are about blending indigenous ingredients with modern techniques.

Although Chef Virgilio has a deeply rooted connection to his Peruvian heritage, Estero is not about transporting guests to his homeland. In some ways, this restaurant is almost like a marriage between Peru and Mexico, celebrating the commonalities that unite the Latin American food world while allowing each unique characteristic to shine. At times, diners are pushed only to be comforted by the familiar. Just like the waves that wash ashore slightly beyond the restaurant’s walls, the ebb and flow of a carefully orchestrated dance makes for a memorable dining experience that will be remembered for a long time.

Estero restaurant at La Casa de la Playa by Virgilio Martinez
Estero, Chef Virgilio Martinez restaurant at La Casa de La Playa, photo by Cristine Struble /

For dinner at Estero, guests are invited to enjoy an eight-course tasting menu. Described as movements, there are times when the dishes are exuberant and others where the flavors are serene. While the local ingredients showcase Chef’s Virgilio’s commitment to biodiversity and willingness to educate diners, it is the combination of flavors that have people looking beyond a single component.

At the start of the meal, guests are offering a kombucha cocktail that awakens the palate. From there, the shrimp and corn movement excites with its vibrant colors. The delicate sweetness of the shrimp does not overshadow the native corn.

Then, guests wade deeper into the journey. The sea scallops and seaweed embrace the duality coming from the water. Sweet, briny, a luscious texture, and a few surprises build as the second movement plays out.

Estero scallops and seaweed movement at La Casa de la Playa
Scallops and Seaweed movement, photo by Cristine Struble /

As the diners step from the seas, the squash and its ten spices unearths more plays on contrasting flavors. The robust spices create a welcoming aroma, but it is the hidden pieces of pork belly surrounded by the creamy squash that unexpected. It keeps the diner engaged and wondering what will be revealed next.

While many diners appreciate unique ingredients, the fourth movement could challenge some diners. The tuna and ant eggs are a different take on a similar pairing tuna and egg pairing. This dish proves that seasoning can and does come from any ingredient. Choosing to see without preconceived notions allows diners to be more open to food conversations.

tuna with ant eggs at Estero by Virgilio Martinez at La Casa de la Playa
Tuna with ant eggs at Estero, photo by Cristine Struble /

The octopus dish, the fifth movement, shows how Chef Vergilio uses an ingredient in multiple ways. The dehydrated octopus’ flavor reaches out and entangles the tastebuds in the most enjoyable way. As the final fish forward dish, it takes diners to the depths, and they are delighted to soak in the moment.

For the final savory dish, the wagyu with caviar might be the most decadent dish. It is fulfilling and yet not overdone. The deft hand is on display with this dish.

To contrast the richness of the wagyu, the seventh movement, mango with Peruvian mint is the brightness diners crave. While the mint granita is zesty, it is appreciated as the meal is coming to a close.

For the final movement, the cacao, the chocolate offerings and tea are the sweet ending that will linger in the dreams. The last note is a celebration of the native ingredient and a homage to its many uses.

At Estero, the dining experience is impeccable. While Chef Virgilio crafted an expert menu, it is more than just perfectly plated food. From the wine pairings, with some Mexican wines featured, to the service, the La Casa de La Playa restaurant is a dining destination for both resort guests and others in the area via Open Table.

Estero translates to estuary in English, a place where freshwater and sea water combine. At Estero La Casa de La Playa, Chef Virgilio Martinez combines Mexican and Peruvian food and culture in a series of movements that celebrate gastronomy. The culinary experience ebbs, flows, and rises to envelope diners in an adventure that they will not soon forget.