A week or two ago, the Casual Restaurant Critic had the opportunity to visit, along with his better half and another happy couple, Villa Italia after a long hiatus. The first visit to Villa Italia many moons ago resulted in a poor rating for the Villa, when the staff was beyond indifferent and the food was, as the kids here say these days, “equis” which means it was just whatever.
On this occasion, there was an actual hostess and the group had the pleasure of having a friendly, proficient waiter. The restaurant itself has undergone several renovations, featuring a semi-enclosed area near the street and large additional rooms in the back. Villa Italia has had staying power over the many years it has been on the Merida restaurant scene, and all this renovation proves the point.
The waiter suggested to the Critic that he try one of the daily specials, which was rabbit. Since one can’t eat rabbit in Merida every day, the Critic decided against the pasta winking at him from the menu opted for the bunny. Seasoned, grilled and served with real vegetables and some grilled potatoes, it was a little on the dry side but very flavorful and something different for a change. Others in the party had salads and pastas, all of which looked and (according to them) tasted very good. Presentation was good; perhaps the table was a little small for 4 people.
While there was really nothing to write off as positively negative (!) and the Critic and Party enjoyed the experience, Villa Italia remains in a strange kind of gastronomic limbo in that it is not so unbelievably good that it’s worth raving about, nor is it so absolutely awful that it is worth trashing. Perhaps another visit is in order to try the pastas.
Take it or leave it. From one to five, the Villa gets, from this Critic, a 3.
If there is one thing the Critic likes, it is his Yucatecan food. And so, along with his better half, he visited once again the Yucatecan La Tradicion, where chef David Cetina whips up authentic and non-pretentious cuisine from Yucatecan family recipes.
As in the last visit, the food this time around was absolutely wonderful; scrumptious queso relleno, hearty lomitos de valladolid, classic papadzules and crispy/chewy well seasoned longaniza. The Critic cannot find a flaw with the food.
The excellent service, such a rarity in Merida, was friendly, efficient and fast.
In fact, the only miniscule detail in detriment to the restaurant’s rating, were the saucers (think cups and saucers) placed on the table as side dishes, but this is so common that the Critic has almost given up on this niggling detail.
The Casual Restaurant Critic maintains La Tradicion at a solid 4.5 out of 5.
Last week, Critic and some guests had a late (3:30pm) lunch at the Flamingos seafood restaurant, located on the malecón in Progreso.
The restaurant, a large room with an open kitchen and a view to the Gulf of Mexico was packed with locals, a lot of them sporting nametags which seemed to indicate that they were with some sort of convention or at least on company business. The Critic mentions this only to give the reader a better picture of what was happening, since the service was rushed and slow at the same time, if you get the idea. Rushed in that the waiter almost bounced while taking the order and slow in that it took him forever to get there in the first place.
The Critic’s group heartily approved the frozen margaritas and piña coladas and ordered several to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke. Apparently it wasn’t. Along with the drinks came the requisite mini-servings of botana (snacks) which accompany every round of drinks in every restaurant on the Yucatan coast. At Flamingos, these were the hard corn chips, refried beans, ceviche, sikil-pak (pumpkin seed, roast tomato, cilantro paste for dipping) and fresh cut jicama strips with lemon squeezed on top and a dash of chile powder.
As for food, the Critic had a small ‘back to life’ mixed seafood cocktail, which was good but by no means an OMG moment; the rest of the group had San Francisco shrimp, featuring melted cheese on top – which by the looks of the clean plates were delicious – and Shrimp in Normanda’ sauce, which was a white sauce, again with melted cheese as well as onions, bacon and other goodies in addition to the shrimp. Both plates were served with white rice and some steamed vegetables of the local variety. `
Only one person in the party had room for the desserts and ordered bananas flambé; one banana, split down the middle and served in its skin, flamed in liquors but not at the table which was a little bit dissappointing since some sort of show was expected but then it was just brought out. Maybe at night, when the setting is a little more laid back, they actually flame them tableside? The Critic doubts it since this requires a little more training in the waiter department and some sort of little cart and other utensils that were nowhere in sight.
Overall impression? Ehh. Nothing particularly wonderful. On a scale of 1-5, this is a middle of the road 3.