Monthly Archives: December 2009

Dang Ren Chinese Food – Merida, Yucatan

The Critic thinks he has found possibly the worst Chinese food in Merida. It’s a little place called Dang Ren, located across from Costco on Calle 60 and the Critic was hungry while waiting for his vehicle to be serviced at nearby Radial Llantas and decided to get a little MSG fix.

There are plastic chairs and tables, of the Coca Cola variety in what used to be this house’ garage. The sign says something about ‘art in Chinese cuisine’ or something equally ambitious and slanderously incorrect. The food, in steam table recipients on a couple of plastic tables where one notes a complete lack of any steam, looks Chinese enough.

A Chinese man pops out of the house and asks if you want one guiso or two and if it’s to go or to eat here. The Critic says to eat here. The difference is that one gets a plastic fork. The styro container is the same. One guiso and rice today.

The Critic sits, sticks the fork in the rice and puts in his mouth. The undercooked ie hard rice is between lukewarm and cold. Ugh! The chicken? Same thing. If there is one thing the Critic hates it’s buffets and their lukewarm food. That’s where all the tourists in Cancun get sick.

A moment later, the entire 27 peso package was in the garbage at Costco, where the Critic picked up a turkey and cheese sandwich at their deli, which was much better.

This place is just gross.

Special Note for Owners of US-made Vehicles – El Pipis

Yours truly drives an Impala. This car is no longer imported into Mexico and so the models around are mostly 2000-2003, with a few 2004 versions kicking around. Why this is I can’t say, since Chevrolet is still offering the giant Suburban gas guzzlers and has just put the re-tooled Camaro on the Mexican market, complete with 8 cylinder options and the Impala is a nice roomy car perfect for families.

I digress.

The car in question is great, until the other night when the wheels started shimmying and evidently there was some sort of suspension/steering problem. This is not good. Took it to my trusty suspension people, Radial Llantas, across from Costco on 60 Norte, who were fortunately open on a Sunday. They had a look and pronounced the problem as being the drive axle. OK, says I, go ahead and fix it. Well, it’s Sunday and there are no parts places open today. Crap.

Monday rolls around and guess what? All the parts places they try do not have this part in stock. There IS a supplier in Monterrey who has the part; it’s 3500 pesos and they will send it in two weeks. TWO WEEKS. Meanwhile the car is to just sit there, limping on 3 wheels? After personally scouring the city myself, including a visit to the Chevrolet/GM dealership, where the same part costs $9500 pesos (!) I decide to put down a down payment and have Radial Llantas order the part from Monterrey. Graciela calls Monterrey, where they inform her that the part, which was in the inventory just the day before, is no longer there. It will take two weeks to a month to get it because they have to import it, it’s inventory time, end of year holidays etc etc. Unbelievable.

Cursing the unknown fellow in Monterrey and his family under my breath, I remember to call a friend who is in the car business. He makes a call and tells me he has located the part at Torres in Santiago. Drive there, with the broken part in the trunk to show them, and park. Walk in, and ask about the part in question; no, we don’t have it is the amused reply. You have got to be kidding says I. A friend just called… Call back my friend, who tells me the name of the person he spoke to and lo and behold he owns up to having talked to this friend on the phone; but as it turns out it is not the part he thought. The one I need is non-existent. He in turn makes a phone call, but this elusive part is not showing up anywhere.

I decide – ni modo – to head back to the Chevrolet dealership, resigned to paying almost $1000 USD for this part which will be here in 10 days at best. To my daughter, who accompanies me faithfully through this odyssey and rubs my shoulders when I get too tense, I say ‘wait and see, when we get there, he will have gone for lunch’.

Arriving at the Chevrolet dealership, we see the parts man is still working. I whip out my credit card.

Chispas‘ he remarks.

Chispas‘ is a bad thing. When you hear that you are going to get some bad news. Sure enough, it turns out that the cashier HAS GONE FOR LUNCH and won’t be back for a couple of hours.

I dejectedly accept a lunch invitation from my dear wife, who puts up with my neuroses. I can hardly taste the shrimp, I’m so pissed.

Later that afternoon, as I glumly peruse online catalogs in the USA looking for a part whose name I only know in Spanish and can find nothing that looks like it anywhere, I get an idea. I call a friend in Pennsylvania who knows all about cars and had a lucrative business importing minivans and pickups back when Hacienda (Mexicos’ version of the IRS) let vehicles over the age of 10 years into the country with a minimum of hassle. He tells me the name of the part in English and also gives me what is assuredly the TIP OF THE YEAR which will be of great interest to those who own a foreign or imported from the USA car.

‘Have you tried El Pipis?’ he asks.

El Pipis?’ I retort, laughing in that quiet hysterical way Inspector Clouseau’s superior officer does before going completely bonkers. ‘What the hell is El Pipis?!?!’

Turns out that El Pipis is a small parts shop, located directly behind the bleachers of the baseball park in the colonia Jesus Carranza, run by Carlos Mendoza and his Dad. They specialize in partes dificiles (it’s painted on their entrance) for gringo cars. In a first for this all-day adventure, Carlos takes one look at the part and says, yes, he can get it. It might take some time however. I grit my teeth and say, no hay problema. Yeah, he continues, usually we can get it the next day, but with year end and all, it might take 3 days. THREE DAYS??? I almost hug him, but since we’ve just met, I restrain myself.

He tells me to call him in the morning at 10 AM, when he has had a chance to make some phone calls. I leave full of hope and happy to have found El Pipis.

At 10 AM, I give him a call. He says they have not only found the part (used) but if I drop by and leave a deposit he will have it at 1:30 PM. In a stupor, I rush over and hand him 800 pesos. At 2 PM, I receive a text message that the part is in his store and I can come by and pick it up. I pay him another 700 pesos and I have the part in my hot little hands. Two hours later, back at Radial Llantas, I drive the Impala out of the garage and onto the street for a test drive.

Smooth as silk.

Words cannot describe the feeling of relief that washes over me as I thank destiny for leading me to El Pipis.

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El Pipis
Calle 31 No 456-C
Frente al Parque Jesus Carranza
999-926-6392 (regular phone)
999-239-8060 (cellular)
Carlos Mendoza

Mobs of People in the Malls

My least favorite activity is trying to negotiate – ie walk through – the mall during the December rush just prior to Christmas. Although there are several malls now available for Meridanos to escape their homes and ‘pasear’, it seems that each of them is as crowded as the next. Parking is nearly impossible and it takes 10-15 minutes of sitting in your car waiting for that family in the minivan with Campeche plates, waiting for that perfect spot at the entrance to the parking garage, thereby causing a huge lineup of honking, motor-revving motorists to accumulate behind them. They are of course, completely oblivious to the traffic behind them, as their main concern is getting that perfect parking spot and everyone else can wait.

Then, the actual walking through the mall, where entire 7-member families, licking whipped vegetable oil ice ‘cream’, amble slowly along, one beside the other, as one giant human line. Impossible to pass since they occupy the entire available floor space with their , they too are oblivious to people around them and are having a great time.

The Neurotic Foreigner loves the Christmas activity in the mall!

TelMex Still Sucks

Just a had an adrenaline moment with my online TelMex account. Since the sucky Servicio Postal Mexicano can not deliver your telephone bills (or IMSS statements for that matter if you are a business) on time, you ceck your calendar and see that it’s time to pay but of course you have no idea what you owe. Also, in case you don’t use the calendar option, TelMex calls its’ customers with a recorded message saying that you are important to them and you need to pay now.

So you go to TelMexs’ drive through window and pay there. Just give them your number and get the receipt. But say you have a business, and you need to have the actual bill. Or you are curious and want to see what charges, surcharges and extras they charged you this month. You consult your online account, where you can print out your telephone statements. Unless of course, your log in doesn’t work. Then you are screwed.
1. You try all your login password username combinations.
2. It sends you to the business page. You try there.
3. It sends you to the Mi TelMex page. You are then sent back to the business page. Return to 3

And so on. So you register again. With the new info, you try to log in again. It sends you back to 2

There is a button for online help. You click that and a human called Oswaldo answers you. What is your problem? Can’t log in. Call 1-800 bla bla bla. BIG help there, Oswaldo.

I hate monopolies.

Have a great day, all.

Doña Tere, Merida-Cancun Toll Highway

Last night, on the way back from Cancun, the Critic and guests stopped at Doña Teres’ eatery at the Isla de Servicios on the Cancun-Merida toll highway. If you haven’t had a chance to try their Yucatecan food, you should definitely put this place on your to-do list.

The Critic and guests enjoyed tacos de cochinita, lechón, relleno negro and lomitos de Valladolid on hand-made corn tortillas. Everything was lip-smacking delicious.

The bill, including a café con leche and two cheese empanadas to go, came to a whopping 197 pesos.

This will be the high point of your trip on the toll highway which is otherwise mind-numbingly boring.

Feedback Please

The Casual Restaurant Critic needs some feedback here folks; it’s evident that someone is reading the charming reviews posted – note the live feed on the right hand side of the page – here but the Critic is getting no feedback and since there is no monetary reward for spewing forth unsolicited criticisms of Meridas’ culinary scene, such as it is, your feedback is what keeps the cantankerous Critic motivated.

Thank you.

iPhone Updates and iTunes Crashes (in Merida)

Did you like how I made the title into something related to the formerly white city?

I get SO frustrated (those who know me know my penchant for slamming things that don’t work against the nearest concrete wall) with my retarded iPhone and iTunes. Whenever I try to update my podcasts, music, photos or whatever, it will take me at least 3 or 4 attempts to get the damn thing to update. iTunes continually crashes or ‘hangs’ during the update, the iPhone gets disconnected magically without me laying a finger on it, that sort of thing.

Why, as I type this I have plugged in again my freakin’ iPhone, it gets recognized by the ‘puter but no iTunes starts up.

Do any of my ‘avid’ readers have a solution before I whip this thing into the cienega at Progreso on my next trip out?

All this is happening on a PC by the way, running Windows XP.

Ahh, life in Merida. 😉

Acitrón – Gourmet Mexican Cuisine, Merida, Yucatan

Last night, the Casual Restaurant Critic, Better Half and friends had dinner at one of Meridas’ newer ‘upscale’ restaurants, Acitrón.

The Critic had heard of the place and the wonderful food that the two chefs were preparing, and was expecting to be amazed. Unfortunately, the experience was underwhelming.

No doubt, the much commented-on Chaya Frita appetizer was terrific, a giant serving of chaya (a local plant always describe as a kind of spinach for lack of a better comparison) leaves, crispy, lemony and served with toasted bread and a tasty dip. Rolls are not warm, but the butter is seasoned and quite tasty.

The main dishes included Tequila Shrimp on a bed of coconut rice; the rice was fantastic with real live chunks of coconut but the shrimp, while large, had an aftertaste of frozen-ness if that is a word. They just didn’t seem that fresh. There was also the fusilli in squid ink with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese, which was very good. The Critic had the salmon which was slightly undercooked but not overly so. The sauce, possibly tamarind – but then the Critics’ memory is failing him – was sweet enough and complemented the fish nicely, as did the green rice which was delicious. In the Critics’ opinion, the food could have been hotter, as it seemed only luke warm.

The room itself is warm, minimalist and lit up in plenty of red, making it cozy and modern at the same time. There was a problem with the electricity perhaps, because the overhead halogen lighting was flickering on and off. Music was off when the party entered, but some tunes came on about 30 minutes into the dinner.

The big problem here, like the Critic mentions in the previous Sensei Sushi post, is the service. If you have creative chefs in the kitchen working wonders with exotic ingredients and creating delicious food, why in the hell can you not have someone out front handling the service so it is up to par with the food? The waiters are in the “just alright” category; however, they lack confidence when presenting themselves and describing the food, and in the case of the Critics’ table, the waiter could have benefited from a course in diction. His mumbling combined with the hesitant manner in which he described the food made it hard to understand what he was saying.

And while on the subject of Front of House, to serve a glass of Merlot ice cold was not to the Critic’s liking at all. This is to be expected in some Yucatecan homes where wine is still a novelty but in a restaurant like this? Almost a sin. As well, maybe it’s old fashioned but the Critic thinks it is a good idea to serve the ladies first. The mens’ drinks arrived at the table several minutes before the ladies’ drinks appeared. And when done, and the ladies are still eating, leave the men their plates so the women don’t feel pressured. Just a few humble suggestions from the cantankerous Critic.

The chefs are doing their thing in the kitchen and doing it well. With a few tweaks here and there, they could eventually give Nectar a run for their money. But whoever is looking after their front of house needs to find work elsewhere to make room for a professional who knows what service is about and can bring that part of the experience up to the level the chefs are trying to reach with their imaginative culinary creations.

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Check out photos of the restaurant on FaceBook