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December 6, 2009

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Fusion puts 'Mex' at new level

IT has been just over a year since former darling of the Shanghai

restaurant scene Brad Turley opened his fusion-inspired Mexican eatery Maya.

Since then the restaurant has gained a loyal following drawn to the warm, stylish ambience and authentic Mexican dishes, which are a rare find in Shanghai.

Mexican in this city is known for its Tex-Mex atrocities: soggy nachos, grey, lifeless enchiladas and other sad offerings that owe more to a quick zap in a microwave than they do to careful preparation.

This year, Turley left Shanghai to open another venture in Colorado and recently coming on board to help steer the Maya ship has been fellow American chef Sean Jorgensen.

With a cooking background from San Diego, Jorgensen has experience in Mexican cuisine and during his four and a half years in Shanghai has headed up a number of kitchens, including at The Factory and the Mansion Hotel.

Jorgensen arrived at Maya in October and has been working with Turley, who has briefly returned to Shanghai, on a range of dishes for a new menu set to start next week.

While they have kept the dishes that made Maya a popular dining destination, they are set to bolster the mains with a range of winter warmers, including a variety of enchiladas and a lamb shank.

Jorgensen said they will also add a few different types of fish mains.

While a sneak peak of the mains wasn't on the cards this week, there was a chance to try one of Maya's new appetizers, a rare seared tuna tostadas.

Resting on a dollop of its vibrant green, fresh guacamole, the tostadas were crowned with a rare piece of Japanese sushi grade tuna and finished with a striking coriander pesto and mango salsa.

In keeping with the winter-themed menu revamp, Jorgensen will also add some new soups, which includes a hearty truffle corn chowder that was topped with a dash of pungent oil and also contained diced ham and seafood to make for a substantive winter warmer.

Jorgensen says he wants to emphasize not just Maya's Mexican cuisine on the new menu but also showcase a broader Latino-style food across a range of its new dishes.

"We want to keep the dishes authentic but also ensure that our food doesn't become one dimensional," he says.

The mains were two of their classic favorites, a stone bowl slow cooked "Maya Casserola" (145 yuan/US$21.23) and its Churrasco Estilo Argentino (180 yuan), a tender roast beef dish with chilli roasted potatoes and garlic olive oil.

Both were substantive dishes, with the casserola consisting of baked prawns chorizo and chicken with a quesadilla crust and topped with a dollop of sour cream.

The beef avoided any overt fiddling and was a simple rustic dish that let the tender rib cut of meat do the talking.

Desserts range from 48 yuan for creamy rice pudding with a tamarind fruit salad to 95 yuan for a sample of four of their desserts.

We opted for the Churros - a Spanish style of donut that gets its name from the shape which is similar to the horns of the Churro breed of sheep common to the Spanish grasslands of Castile.

Partnered with three sauces - strawberry, chocolate and fresh cream - the cinnamon and sugar dusted Churros were an unctuous, finger licking finish to the evening meal.

Maya's menu can be tackled a number of different ways with its dimly lit, sleek lounge ideal for enjoying a drink and its range of tacos and ceviches.

Those looking for something more substantial can get a range of hearty, authentic offerings from this consistent performer.

Maya is open for dinner and also brunch on the weekends.


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