What happens when one of the most artful, acclaimed restaurants in the world plops their famed culinary experiences into the middle of a jungle? Bliss on earth, obviously. Noma, Chef Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen-based gem, popped up for just a short time in Tulum, Mexico recently and, although it was controversially expensive, reservations at one of their exotic tables was one of the most coveted tickets of the year.
L.A. foodies and co-owners of one of our favorite beach-side dining rooms, Chez Tex, Jesse “Tex” Feldman and Hayley M. Feldman are fortunate to have been able to visit both locations – Copenhagen and Tulum – and we asked Hayley to share her food diary with us. Since we’re hooked on the Chez Tex’s artful Cali-French cuisine, we knew we could trust this savvy couple to tell us the kind of delicious details we were looking for…
At nine months pregnant, I arose on a cool, December morning. I strategically organized my computer, my iPad and my husband’s laptop like the holy trifecta before me; prepared to secure a coveted dinner reservation. It had been nearly two years since our first experience at Noma in Copenhagen and now I was vying to dine again with one of the world’s greatest chefs. In California, it was all going down at 7 a.m.
There is something to be said about the journey to Denmark’s most famous restaurant. The sheer remoteness of it all; the preposterousness of flying to a country simply for one fantastic meal. I remember descending into a dense fog in December of 2014. I had never even been to Scandinavia before. My husband and I dined there (along with 12 other strangers at a communal table) to celebrate my 30th birthday. It was the most enlightening dining experience of my life. In Copenhagen, our fellow diners were from Stockholm, Hong Kong, and New York. I remember feeling cheated to discover that two of the guests were also from Los Angeles. The point being, that a large part of the Noma appeal, is traveling a great distance to experience something wonderful.
This time, the setting was different. A seven-week pop-up in the jungle of Tulum would cater to approximately 7,000 guests from around the world.
THE FOOD: Noma Tulum may be the most Instagrammed food in recent years. Hoping to preserve the element of surprise, I avoided photos like the plague. Once it was my turn to dine, I snapped every last dish in all shades of light. The meal in Tulum opened your palate with each turn of the plate. Heat played an omnipresent role throughout (the starkest contrast from Copenhagen). Glorious, strange fruits and flowers adorned nearly every plate. Similar to Copenhagen (and true to Mr. Redzepi’s calling card), you were expected to eat bugs. The ants in Copenhagen topped a bit of beef and exploded with a citrus flavor in your mouth. The ant eggs (“Mexican Caviar”) on a tostada in Mexico were reminiscent of something more earthen and nutty.
THE DESIGN: The environment was just as relevant as the food, in both restaurants. There was no forgetting that you were in the jungle, in Tulum. Sand covered the floors, because, you’re outside. Tropical trees shrouded you from the vantage point of other guests. Citronella candles capped each table so that you weren’t eaten alive by mosquitos. By the end of the meal, you certainly felt like kicking your shoes off. Although both restaurants were “informally fancy.” Copenhagen felt chic and official. Housed in an industrial building by the water; elegant, moody colors were disrupted with the texture of lambskin throws. In Tulum, it felt like we were joining the Noma crew on vacation; and in some ways, we probably were.
THE EXPERIENCE: When I checked in at Noma Tulum, an Australian man named James greeted me. He remembered me from Copenhagen, two years prior. This is the sort of attention to detail that Noma is adept at creating, wherever they roam.
Overall, comparing the two is like drawing similarities between two siblings. They may have the same parents, but their underpinning makes them unique. Mr. Redzepi and the Noma team have respected the individuality of Tulum and Copenhagen, while finding inspiration to share with us all in return.