La Taverna Pizzeria and Risotteria

by Alex Bradley (Nov. 2015)
additions and photos by Paul Sánchez-Navarro

On a rainy Thursday afternoon, or any other time, this is an attractive place to have a delicious meal in Akumal. The newly renovated space at Plaza Ukana is nicely done, with a large palapa roof, wooden tables, and garden views on each side. The trek up the steps to the second floor is worth it, not only for the cool breeze and view, but mainly for the savory food.

I had already been impressed with their professionalism. First the manager, Alejandra Ruiz Perez, had contacted Sac-Be soon after they opened, inviting staff to sample their lunch menu. When informed that I would be in town during November, on November 2 Alejandra followed up to see when we would like to come for lunch.

This restaurant is part of the Lombardi "family" of "neighborhood restaurants." With several establishments in Dallas, as well as in Austin, Houston, Ft. Worth, Las Vegas and Laguna Beach, this group seems more like an empire than a family but still, don't think of this location as part of a chain. Each site is individualized.

Our waiter, Manuel, was very attentive, informative and helpful. He is from the Yucatan but has been living in the States, so this was a bit of a return home for him. Both Paul and I had preferences regarding ingredients, and we were asked about them before our food was prepared. We were served sparkling water, wonderful fresh-baked focaccia with pesto, and Paul's Akumal cocktail. I asked Manuel to choose small samples of wine for me to pair with various dishes.

First up was their avocado fries, breaded and served with lemon-cilantro aioli. With this Manuel brought me the Ikus Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. We were told that this is a very popular appetizer. While fine and innovative, and the breading and aioli were delectable, I probably wouldn't have it again since I don't particularly care for warm avocado. Paul liked it. There are other interesting salads and antipasti choices I'll try in the future.

Chef Leonetti & staff

Next was the fabulous Tagliolini gamberi e zucchini. This pasta is not angel hair, but it tasted as if it were made by angels. Rhapsodizing, I know, but I really liked it, and so did Paul. It was so fresh and delicate, and embraced the shrimp and zucchini in white wine sauce, which was also great for dipping the focaccia. With this I had Matua Pinot Noir from New Zealand, a complex and interesting choice, which I enjoyed.

At this point Paul remembered to take photos before we destroyed the pretty presentations with our eagerness to sample the cuisine.

The next dish we shared was boquinete prepared on their wood-burning grill, on a bed of grilled vegetables—eggplant, zucchini and red pepper—with roasted rosemary potatoes, adorned with grilled asparagus and tomato, and served with chimichurri. The fish was succulent and the vegetables were outstanding. Manuel provided a lovely, crisp Principato Pinot Grigio from Italy to accompany.

We had paced ourselves so, yes, we had room for desserts, which we did not want to share.

Paul had homemade passion fruit sorbet, perfectly sweet, tart and wonderfully fresh. He definitely recommends it. I had an inspired chocolate mousse, kissed with guajillo chili and topped with a passion fruit coulis, certainly large enough to share. Paul had an espresso while I started in on some tastes of cordials. I discovered I'm not a fan of grappa, liked the limoncello better, but then Goldilocks found her favorite with a frambroise, which was delightful with the mousse.

Executive Chef Leonardo Leonetti had come out to meet us earlier, and now joined us for some conversation. He is married to Alejandra, the manager, and they are both enthusiastic about their work, living in North Akumal, each other, and their dog.

We chatted about their backgrounds and experiences, and if I had written more notes and/or perhaps enjoyed fewer beverage samples, I might remember more details to share. Since I am staying nearby, I planned on visiting again to try other interesting items on their menu, and you should too.

Alberto Lombardi (L) & Executive Chef Leonetti

And, in fact, Paul and I returned three nights later to meet Mr. Alberto Lombardi himself, who was visiting for a few days. When asked how he first came to Akumal, he joked, "I got lost." Actually he has a vacation home nearby and wanted to eat the food he likes, without cooking it—what better way than to open his own place?

This night Paul had the special mixed salad, with red onion, nuts and mozzarella pearls, in a sweet vinaigrette; he said it was a great mix, light and very fresh. I had the every-Sunday special: porchetta served on a bed of those yummy, roasted vegetables with rosemary potatoes. For this meal, Manuel chose for me the Trivento Malbec from Argentina: fruity, a little spicy, and a good accompaniment to the pork. My only slight disappointment was I had been hoping to experience the focaccia again but, alas, none was served.

     Turtle decorations in men's room
Having left Forli, Italy, as a teenager, Mr. Lombardi worked his way across Europe, then joined Norwegian Cruise Lines. Eventually he wound up in Dallas, worked as the maître d' at the Fairmont Hotel, then opened his first restaurant in 1977. Married, with four children, at 67 he looks very fit, staying active visiting his many locations and playing tennis. In our interview it was clear that he has enjoyed personally setting up this restaurant, from choosing the wooden tables to the wall decorations. He said he also knows how to choose good people to employ, at all of his establishments—some of whom have stayed with him for decades—people who are sincere and care about the quality of their work.

We are fortunate that Mr. Lombardi has brought all of his personal tastes to Akumal.

Noon to 10 PM daily     Credit Cards Accepted     No Smoking     Facebook


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