The Story of Gonzalo Guerrero

For those of you who enjoy a good yarn, and think like me that there is much in the history of the Yucatan that deserves a Coppola or better yet, Christopher Nolan treatment on the big screen, I would like to suggest a look at Gonzalo Guerrero.

Here’s a guy who is all old-school Spanish in the 1500’s and comes over to the so-called new world and, on a boat trip along the coast in a big old sailing ship and boom – the boat hits a reef and capsizes – leaving Guerrero and about 12 or 13 of his pals in a life boat, or perhaps clinging to a piece of timber, on which they reach the shore. Maybe they land photogenically on a sandy beach, or perhaps have to claw their way through twisted, mosquito and croc infested mangroves to land. I’ll leave that scene up to Christopher. Perhaps Emmanuel Lubezki can make it appropriately stunning, as this is the lead-up to the first interaction between the Mayans and the Europeans.

The Mayans meet them and, having somewhat of an appetite, promptly eat most of the survivors, keeping two of them alive for later. Dessert, perhaps? In any case, imagine the culture shock of these catholic Spaniards, meeting brown skinned natives painted in fearsome colors and speaking what surely to them must have seemed utter gibberish. A ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ moment, to be sure.

To summarize the rest of the tale, Gonzalo Guerrero goes native, adopting local hair styles and perforations and leading his new friends in battle against his former countrymen when they inevitably return with more ships in their thirst for golden treasures. His pal Aguilar, who is famous only thanks to his being a counterpart to Guerrero and who kept his Catholic faith and beliefs throughout and runs back to the arms of the Spanish crown at the first opportunity, is soon forgotten by the scribes of history. Gonzalo Guerrero, on the other hand is immortalized forever and is dubbed the ‘padre del mestizaje‘ or the father of all modern Mexicans, who have the blood of native Mexicans and Europeans coursing through their cholesterol-addled veins.

Is this a great idea for a movie or WHAT? Enough with scouring the archives and garbage bins at Marvel Comics. THIS could be a real blockbuster, folks!

 

Casual Restaurant Critic at Los Frailes, Comida Yucateca en Conkal

Outside terrace

Many people have recommended the Critic visit Los Frailes, a pretty Yucatecan restaurant located in the village of Conkal, somewhat off the highway between Merida and Progreso.

With the always charming Better Half and on this occasion accompanied by members of the Vergara family (Sofia’s long lost Atlanta relatives) the Critic sampled the cuisine in the name of research and for the benefit of his 21 readers.

Upon arriving, an unsmiling, perhaps apprehensive, person of the male persuasion awaited to welcome the group with the question “Have you been here before?” said not as a welcoming comment but rather as a prelude to the next sentence which was “it’s that we don’t accept credit cards”.

OK, good to know and nice to see you as well.

The restaurant has an outdoor terrace and a small-ish interior which features air conditioned and enough hard surfaces to ensure a high level of noise which is always unpleasant and as the weather was conducive to outdoor dining, a table on the terrace was chosen.

Service was adequate and the ambiance pleasant. The food, which is traditional Yucatecan cuisine, is varied and offers all manner of classics as well as some the Critic hadn’t heard of before like the niños envueltos which are stuffed cabbage rolls that one can suppose look like children wrapped in green blankets, if those children were then covered with some sort of sauce.

The photos will show that each of the food items is very attractively and artfully presented but in the Critic’s never humble opinion the taste of these pretty morsels was somewhat lacking. Better-tasting Yucatecan food has been enjoyed at the Principe Tutul Xiu in Mani or Kinich in Izamal. Even the uneven Chaya Maya in downtown Merida has better-tasting food. Not to say it was awful – it wasn’t. It just wasn’t great.

Sikil Pak was a little on the sour side, and runnier than the Critic would like.

Sikil Pak was a little on the sour side, and runnier than the Critic would like.

Brazo de Reina, artfully presented.

Brazo de Reina, artfully presented.

Empanadas

Empanadas

Tortitas: fried corn masa and chaya bits

Tortitas: fried corn masa and chaya bits

Holoches. More fried masa covered in beans.

Holoches. More fried masa covered in beans.

Hmm.

Hmm.

Niños envueltos aka cabbage rolls.

Niños envueltos aka cabbage rolls.

Queso napolitano or flan for dessert.

Queso napolitano or flan for dessert.

 

Casual Restaurant Critic at Sushi Roll

What is it with the avalanche of sushi reviews! The Critic loves sushi, so no sushi place in Merida gets passed over without at least one visit form the cantankerous Critic and Sushi Roll, recommended to the Critic by the always delightful and insightful BeachWebGourmet power couple, is no exception.

Well the Critic and Better Half, accompanied on this occasion by MiniCritic and QuebecGuest, visited this new-ish sushi option located in the space formerly occupied by the defunct Sushi en Banda, which means sushi on little tracks that whizzed around the restaurant and not sushi in a gang in case you were wondering. In the Galeria aka Liverpool mall, directly above Chili’s and overlooking Merida’s only ice skating rink where you can watch the occasional hockey game or figure skaters practicing.

The welcome at Sushi Roll, a Mexican sushi restaurant chain, was cordial, and our hostess who turned out to also be our waitress, was the most pleasant person and extremely attentive to the point of almost overdoing it. At one point she took the time to stand behind each diner and fold the paper envelope the chopsticks came in into little chopstick stands.

What about the sushi you ask?

Well the Critic was less then impressed with the quality of the sushi. The rolls were colorful and nicely presented. The salmon skin roll was not salmon skin enough, with just a bit tucked into the rice which made each piece look like it had been smushed on top of a mosquito. Unagi (eel) was not warm, which is always a nice detail and was something that stood out at Hamachi and Miyabi. The nigiris were fine, but the Hamachi restaurant offered slightly larger fish portions and it was colder, which when dealing with fresh fish is a big plus, in the Critic’s never humble opinion. The specialty rolls all included the usual cream cheese which was omitted as per the tables request, but in general all were too sweet and tasted too much alike.

Overall, the service was superior to Miyabi (not a stretch) but about the same in terms of attentiveness to the needs of the table as Hamachi. The fish just tasted better, was colder (and warmer in the case of the eel) and portions were slightly more generous at Hamachi.

Prices were high, and it is probably going to be a while before the Critic goes back, unfortunately.

Enjoy the photos!

Calamari, tempura style, were fine.

Calamari, tempura style, were fine.

Lots of fruit on this one.

Lots of fruit on this one.

A little light on the eel.

A little light on the eel.

Sunset or sunrise roll

Sunset or sunrise roll

Eel and toasted almonds was less excellent than expected from the description

Eel and toasted almonds was less excellent than expected from the description

Biggest disappointment of the evening was the duck roll. Chewy, not crispy and kind of off-putting.

Biggest disappointment of the evening was the duck roll. Chewy, not crispy and kind of off-putting.

Hamachi Sushi. Yes, more Sushi.

The Critic is aware that for many people the thought of sushi in Merida is somewhat disconcerting. A lot of these people also think that Starbucks ruined the local coffee culture to which the Critic can only snort in derision at the mere idea of a coffee culture in Merida back in the days of melamine plastic cups served with hot water and a spoon alongside a jar of instant. Nescafé if you were lucky.

But the Critic digresses.

The newish sushi place Hamachi is Japanese owned and features a chef imported all the way from exotic Cancun for the express purpose of putting Miyabi on alert as they may soon be ousted from their premium spot on the list unless the latter becomes a little less complacent and makes an effort to be more professional when it comes to service.

The nigiri or sushi by the piece is scrumptious, with generous portions of fresh and cold fish on perfectly cooked rice. Cream cheese is notably less in your face in comparison with other Merida sushi restaurants and that is a relief. What little there is on the menu can be left out, at diners requests. The unagi is delectable, warmed and again, generous in portion size when ordered as a piece of sushi or as part of a sashimi platter.

The scallops (cooked) on the appetizer menu sound great but while the texture is fabulous, the flavor is to subtle and after a few pieces, it loses its appeal. Dip it in soya sauce for a little extra salt. An appetizer that consists of the cheeks of the robalo fish (fried, you basically get the head to pick at) was better than expected.

Service is superior to Miyabi (not hard to accomplish) and friendly. Prices are up there, but the quality of the fish and an interesting menu make Hamachi worth it.

Fish cheeks

Fish cheeks

Rolls

Rolls

Salmon, tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi

Salmon, tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi

Unagi

Unagi

What’s up, Apoala?

Better Half and the cantankerous Critic enjoyed their previous meal at the Oaxacan restaurant that everyone is raving about and that enjoys record crowds in its Santa Lucia location. In fact, reading a previous review, it’s almost embarrassing in its gushiness.

On this latest occasion, BH and the Critic had a table inside, as the appeal of the occasionally talented musicians, dancers and whatever else is going on in the plaza outside is somewhat limited and a good meal was the goal for the evening.

Unfortunately, everyone else did not seem to share this affinity for the inside tables and, while the Critic and Better Half were having their dinner, all the tables inside were moved one by one to the outside patio, leaving the Critics table alone in a large room, with no tables and no chairs. It gave off a distinct “hurry up and get the hell out as we need your table” feel to the evening and the Critic and BH obliged by leaving soon after.

puntoarq0

Take out all the tables but one and you get the idea.

While the food is still excellent and the Critic won’t hesitate to recommend the restaurant as a good option for downtown diners, this whole table thing was somewhat disconcerting if not downright rude in the Critics humble opinion.

Is there a protocol for restaurants in these situations?

The Casual Restaurant Critic revisits SOMA, now in Merida. Multiple mouthgasms result.

If you didn’t read the previous great reviews on SOMA you can have a look at them here and here.

SOMA, run by the talented Alberto and dulce Linde, is a restaurant that really stands out from Merida’s other restaurant offerings not just because of the food, which is truly extraordinary, but also the warm and fuzzy (and authentic) attention you get from the owners and staff alike.

The Critic won’t get into an entire review again, because it is just as good as ever and the new Merida location is a blessing to those who live in the formerly white city and are too lazy to trek out to Chelem (that location is closed by the way – sorry beach people).

On this occasion, Better Half and the Critic made it simple. Looking at the appetizers, it was decided to just order one of each. Six in total and each one better than the last. The grits with Spanish chorizo and sauteed shrimp were outstanding and Better Half raved about the calabaza soup, a creamy concoction bursting with squash flavor. The salad with real oysters and Spanish chorizo, the warm bread and butter, the ginger peach tea – everything was absolutely scrumptious.

This restaurant is heads and shoulders above what some of the more ‘famous’ restaurants in Merida are offering, no offense.

Directions to this restaurant (in a car) are below the photos. Note that there will be a Christmas Eve day serving as well as New Years Day brunch. What a perfect way to start 2015, ¿no creen?

Hush puppies!

Hush puppies!

Mac and cheese (and bacon, yum)

Mac and cheese (and bacon, yum)

Crispy oysters on a salad

Crispy oysters on a salad

Squash soup!

Squash soup!

Close-up of the salad

Close-up of the salad

Grits, SOMA style

Grits, SOMA style

The famous cookie w ice cream dessert

The famous cookie w ice cream dessert

Coming north from el centro along Montejo, turn left at the Burger King fountain and the silly underpass. Note: you need to get in your right lane to do the roundabout and make that left. Proceed to Calle 60, where you will turn right. At the calle 21 lights (car wash on your right), make a left, cross the train tracks and calle 60 and straight ahead on calle 21 for a block to where the trees are. SOMA is on your right.

Coming south on Montejo from the beaches, turn right on calle 21 (burnt out Parisina textile store and Waldo’s on your right) and proceed to the lights at calle 60. Go straight over the train tracks and 60 and then about a block down, where the trees are, is where SOMA is, on your right.

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Yerbabuena, del Sisal in Valladolid

On a very recent visit to the Valladolid area, the Casual Restaurant Critic and the three ladies known as the Belle Groupe (it’s a southern thang) followed up on Casa de los Venados owner John Venator’s recommendation to try a restaurant he likes, called Yerba Buena.

A colorful facade

A colorful facade

Located across from the convent, this restaurant was previously unknown to the Critic and so, in the spirit of research and with the hungry Belle Groupe de acuerdo, this is where lunch was had.

Among all the pretty painted colonial facades across from the convent and right next to a video rental place (do video rentals still constitute a viable business option one wonders) was Yerba Buena. It’s even more colorful facade and interior, compared to the rest of the houses nearby, was a delight to behold.

The colorful entryway and restaurant

The colorful entryway and restaurant

A most accommodating young man, friendly as one can be, asked if the group would enjoy a table in the garden and there, several tables of Europeans were enjoying the sunny, cool day and zen-like atmosphere, surrounded by eclectic decorative items and a ton of jungly greenery.

It only got better.

The Critic was amazed at the level of kind, friendly attention and service and the freshness of the food. When asked about a menu item involving corn masa and maculan or hoja santa, the waiter promptly disappeared into the foliage and came back with a leaf of this plant on a plate, for the group to examine and sample.

Maculan, or hoja santa

Maculan, or hoja santa

The items had for lunch included smoked meat tacos (a standard for this area, where longaniza and smoked meat are a specialty), smoked meat in a Oaxacan mole sauce, a poblano chile stuffed with cheese and quesadillas. All were beautifully presented and very sabrosos. There are four salsas that are brought to the table: roasted tomato, xcatic and habanero. But it is the green tomatillo salsa that will blow the taste buds off your tongue. The Critic has never tasted a fresher salsa verde. Anywhere.

Prices were beyond reasonable and the entire staff was welcoming and friendly. Try their ginger honey drink!

Definitely a highlight of the trip to Valladolid and, along with the Taberna de los Frailes, one of the best restaurants sampled to date in this ever-more cosmopolitan city. highly recommended.The Belle Groupe and the Critic were all most impressed at this find!

More info on their Facebook page here.

Enjoy the photos!

Menu at the door

Menu at the door

Color everywhere

Color everywhere

Chips and salsas

Chips and salsas

Smoked pork tacos and fresh avocado

Smoked pork tacos and fresh avocado

There's smoked pork under that rich Oaxaca mole sauce

There’s smoked pork under that rich Oaxaca mole sauce

Chile poblano

Chile poblano

Quesadillas

Quesadillas

The fresh corn tortillas with maculan or hoja santa attached

The fresh corn tortillas with maculan or hoja santa attached

The maculan plants are the ones with the big leaves

The maculan plants are the ones with the big leaves

Eclectic ornaments in the garden

Eclectic ornaments in the garden

One happy chef, preparing a giant vegetarian burger

One happy chef, preparing a giant vegetarian burger

Hard at work

Hard at work

Chef number two

Chef number two

How often do you find a happy dishwasher and cooks assistant?

How often do you find a happy dishwasher and cooks assistant?

The view from the front door.

The view from the front door.

 

 

 

I’ll Pray for You

Finally it happened. The most condescending phrase that self-righteous Christians can lob at an unbeliever when they have no real argument, has been leveled at me.

Under a cloud photo on Facebook that someone shared where the cloud bears a resemblance to a flying something, the post raved about the glory of God and the sign that was this angel in the heavens over Buttville, USA.

I commented simply that it was, in fact, a cloud. The rebuttal was that some people have no faith which seemed silly since it was a photo of a cloud and it didn’t require faith to imagine it was a pterodactyl or an angel or whatever. When I replied that indeed, I did not enjoy that kind of ‘faith’, the patronizing phrase was thrown in my direction.

“I’ll pray for you.”

I looked it up as I was at a loss as to what to counter with and came across this fantastic little article. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

http://atheistexperience.blogspot.mx/2008/09/ill-pray-for-you.html

HSBC and their Deposit Machine. A Cautionary Tale.

Don’t assume, as I did, that HSBC’s automatic deposit machine works.

Wanting to make a quick deposit, I arrived at the Gran Plaza HSBC branch and found it closed, so I thought I would make my first ever deposit at the machine that said ‘quick and easy’ just outside the locked gates of the bank.

Following the instructions, I typed in the amount I wanted to deposit and, having read at some point that the machine won’t give more than $50 pesos change, deposited a few large bills, leaving a difference of $20 pesos. Also, being my first time, I deposited each bill separately and then when the screen popped up asking if I want to deposit more, I added more. Total of three bills.

The final screen indicated that I had deposited an amount different from what I had initially indicated would be the amount. In answer to the machine’s question ‘continue or cancel’ I chose cancel.

WRONG ANSWER!

A big red error message flashed onto the screen, saying the machine was out of order! No money, no deposit, no nothing. Then, to my relief, a ‘receipt’ was printed indicating the error. Something, at least. One of the tellers, just inside, told me to call the service number to report the incident and I spent the next 27 minutes (really) on the cell phone, pushing this number and that, in answer to all the options given to me by the recorded messages I was having to navigate through.

Finally a person came on who asked me my account number and name. Why they ask for the account number I don’t understand, since the recorded message already had asked for that info. He then transferred me to a second person, who asked me for my name and account number. The second person then transferred me to a third person who I could not understand as he sounded like he had stuck the microphone of his headset inside his mouth and it was extremely distorted. When I basically talked over him to ask for a better connection this third person then transferred me to a fourth person, who asked me… you guessed it… name and account number.

At least she apologized and gave me a security questions exam, which I apparently failed as she told me I needed to go to my branch and make the complaint there, because she couldn’t open my account info, seeing that I had failed the test.

The next day, I went to the nice young lady at the entrance and gave her my info and explained the case. She entered all the info and waited. Then, the ‘system’ went down and so, she was unable to complete the filing of my ‘aclaración’. She said to leave my info and she would do it later, when the ‘system’, that mysterious robotic world that has a mind of its own, came back online.

At home, I received an email that said my complaint had been registered.

Two days later, a text message came in saying that my complaint had been resolved and that I needed to go to the branch to see what happened.

At the bank, I talked to one of the ‘executives’ who looked at the case number and did a lot of mouse clicking on her computer while I watched and then said that the case had not been registered for some reason and that I needed to re-enter the information and file another complaint. Same questions, and this time the system cooperated and the complaint was apparently accepted. “It won’t take long,” she said, “they will check your claim against the money they find in the deposit machine and if there is a discrepancy and the information you have provided is corroborated, we will deposit the money into your account.”

Holding my breath and crossing my fingers, but 4 days after the machine swallowed my money I still don’t know if it still exists or if HSBC has absconded with it.

Giant Burger and Best Service Ever.

The Casual Restaurant Critic has one beef (complaint) and it is this: service at restaurants and almost anywhere in Merida generally sucks. Of course there are individual exceptions; persons that have an innate ability to be welcoming, warm and and genuinely kind and are capable of making one feel welcome and taken care of. But at the institutional level, from the owner on down, where everyone in the organization is on the same page, this is rare to non-existent.

IMG_4324That is why it was such a surprise to find three different people at the same burger joint, called Angus in Las Americas, all acting in unison, one nicer than the other, and probably providing the Critic and BH with the best service had anywhere recently, including all the pretentious gringo franchises whose owners think that their fancy location and name will be enough and the higher end places that are slacking off in general. Not to mention all the others in the middle to lower end of the gastronomic spectrum.

One or more of the loyal readers of this column will ask about the location of this place, so here is a link to their Facebook page complete with photos, menu, phone number and address. Go try it for yourself and see if the service is as good as it was on this visit. In any case, the hamburger was amazingly good.

https://www.facebook.com/angryangus.lasmejoreshamburguesasangus?fref=ts

And too bad for Bella Roma as they open too late for the late afternoon “I’m starving feed me NOW” crowd.IMG_4323