Bakerlicious is All About the Delicious Baked Goods. And Sometimes Other Tasty Morsels That are Offered on a Bakers Menu.
By: Jonty Rees
Chez Céline certainly looks the part of a delightful French cafe, and the international clientele reflects that.
Photos by Bernardo Flores
Let’s face it, the French know how to eat. From the cool, rainy north to the sunny beaches of the Côte d'Azur, from the vineyards of the Loire valley to the towering Alps, the food and hospitality are consistently excellent. There are ways of doing things in French cooking that are very specific - crusty baguettes are just this way, flaky croissants just that way, and that’s how it is. The recipes have been perfected, and every Frenchman knows if what he’s eating is up to snuff. But we’re not in France, we’re on the Caribbean coast of Mexico where the climate and availability of ingredients can make it tough to achieve that kind of perfection. Is Chez Céline, at the North end of Playa del Carmens 5th Ave district, up to the task?
Arriving just before noon on a busy Playa day, we were happy to find plenty of outdoor tables on a shady, pedestrian-friendly sidewalk. Chez Céline certainly looks the part of a delightful French cafe, and the international clientele reflected that. The wonderful aromas of freshly brewed coffee and baking bread told us it was time to dive into the menu, and given the time of day, we opted for a mix of brunch and light lunch items. A true test for any French boulangerie is a classic Quiche Lorraine, and ours did not disappoint. The crust was great, with just the right mix of crunch and crumble, and the egg, cheese and bacon filling was creamy and flavorful. It was a good-sized slab, well over an inch thick, and came with a fresh mixed salad on the side with a zesty mustard seed vinaigrette. At around 100 pesos, depending on the quiche variety, it made a terrific early lunch. We were off to a good start.
QUICHE LA YUMMY
Our next entree item was outstanding. Chez Céline offers some variations on the theme of the Croque-Monsieur, the French version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, including one with mushrooms, one with three kinds of cheese and one with smoked salmon. Our need for brunch led us to the Croque-Madame though - the Monsieur with a fried egg on top. This sandwich was wonderful - thick slices of fresh baked white bread grilled with quality smoked ham, melted cheese, and bechamel sauce, covered in melted grated cheese, and topped with an egg, sunny side up. Another side salad completed a perfect brunch plate. My childhood in Europe saw me sample many Croques Monsieur, but this was the best by far. Bravo!
Leaving no stone unturned in our test of the Frenchness of this particular Patisserie/Boulangerie, we turned our attention to the fresh baguettes and enticing selection of pastries and desserts winking at us from behind their glass cases. The basic baguette was really good, crusty on the outside, light and chewy on the inside. With the genuine imported french butter, you could easily imagine yourself sitting at a Paris sidewalk cafe. Céline, the owner, tells us that it is very difficult to achieve that perfect crust in Quintana Roo because of the heat and high humidity. To overcome the problem, Chez Céline has built a fully enclosed, glass-walled bakery inside the restaurant. It’s climate-controlled and allows the crispy crust of the baguettes to shine through. In this humidity, I don’t imagine they stay that way for more than a few hours, but they’ll be eaten long before that, so there’s no cause for concern. An added bonus of the glass-enclosed bakery is that it lets customers observe the cooking process in real-time, and the restaurant to show off their gleaming ovens. It’s an impressive operation, and the main, large oven used for baguettes was ocean-freighted all the way from France. That is dedication to the cause!
But who are kidding? We’re in a French Patisserie, (the pastry part, a Boulangerie serves mostly bread), and we want to eat dessert. In true French style, the pastries are arranged in rows in glass cases to tempt the customer. They are undeniably beautiful, perfect little tarts and choux pastry eclairs, flaky slices with fresh whipped cream, whimsical peaks of crisp meringue. We responsibly limited ourselves to just four pastries, a strawberry Tarte aux Fraises, a Maracuya Chocolate tart, a chocolate almond croissant, and of course a fresh cream chocolate eclair. Our strawberry tart was lovely - sliced fresh strawberries under a light glaze, on a bed of crème pâtissière (custard, kinda), in a perfect shortcrust pastry cup. It was a great combo of sweet crème, slightly tart strawberries and the sweet and salty crust. The Maracuya Chocolate tart followed the same template but substituted a velvety Maracuya (aka passion fruit) flavored chocolate icing for the strawberries. Surprisingly, the icing had a sharp bite to it, and it ran the strawberry tart a very close second for me. Chocoholics feel free to disagree.
STRAWBERRIES ARE MY FRIENDS
DIET FOOD CLEARLY
We saved the most traditional French pastries for last - the croissant and the éclair. Our chocolate almond croissant sported melt-in-the-mouth buttery flaky pastry, rich chocolate filling and a sprinkling of crunchy almonds. Another winner, in the classic French mold, but perhaps overshadowed by the delicious chocolate éclair. I could do some damage with these choux pastry torpedoes, filled with fresh, whipped cream and topped with a generous smear of shiny chocolate icing. All the pastries were a delight with a large, rich cappuccino, brewed from organic beans from Chiapas and Oaxaca, but I have to award the gold medal to the éclair. Perhaps another nod to my fast receding childhood? They were always my favorites.
I really enjoyed our time at Chez Céline, it’s a place I could eat at on a regular basis. The prices are reasonable at around 100 pesos for a light plate or 200 for a full dinner plate, the food is made with care from high-quality ingredients, and you can watch it being made. They offer a good selection of cocktails, beers, and wines by the glass or the bottle, (served only with food), and even have a Mimosa on the menu to make that brunch official. There are plenty of exciting restaurants from all over the world along the Riviera Maya, but sometimes it’s nice to take a walk down memory lane and chow down on some traditional old-world French cuisine.
Chez Céline Av 5ta, Calle 34 Nte Esquina, Solidaridad, 77710 Playa del Carmen
Phone +52 984 803 3480
Hours 7:30 am to 11:00 pm every day, except New Years Day
Tulum Eats Magazine is published 12 times a year, unless we decide to go on prolonged vacations. You can find the print magazine at select locations throughout the Riviera Maya, and in some East Coast establishments, where we will randomly place, during selective times. The website will be updated monthly, with selected materials that may or may not be the same as the print version. Look for us soon, in other states of Mexico.