Monthly Archives: June 2010

Driving Instructions – Baca

So. You are all packed and ready to go on a trip to Baca.

OK, OK. You are not packed, you are just hungry and want to see if that Thai place you heard about was open. This is what you do:

Take the Periferico, that 4 lane beltway that stretches 42 kilometers around the formerly white city and serves as a racetrack for those kids lucky enough to have daddies that buy them a BMW for their 16th birthday (pobres, se lo ganaron) and drive until you see the exit marked Motul or Tizimin. This is where you will get off, and go in the direction of Motul.

Passing different turnoffs, you remain on this road, oblivious to the cars piling up behind you as you toodle along; let them pass, the shoulder is nice and wide and you can keep driving along it as the cars zoom past on their way to their respective destinations and destinies. What you are looking for is a highway sign in green marked ‘Mococha’. This is the name of a town, BTW. Once you see it, scoot over into your left hand lane and make that turn.

This new, smaller road will lead you to what once was the only highway, now a small country road. You turn right at the T and follow along until you reach the next town, which is: Baca. Slow down (as if you have choice: Baca, like all Yucatecan towns has its share of speed bump topes) and keep a sharp eye on your left for a large, large property that features large (giant, actually) flat rocks built standing up into the walls, which feature dabs of yellow paint that becomes increasingly more prevalent as you drive along. There is an entrance right off the main road, this is NOT the entrance to the restaurant area.

Keep driving until you reach the confluence of a small shrine to the Virgen, a Clinica run by the IMSS and and probably a tope. This is where you will turn left onto a gravel road (Virgin on your left, clinica on your right) which you will follow until it curves, which is where you will find a small gate, a gatekeeper and hopefully he will let you in to visit the restaurant.

Hopefully this helps those interested in visiting this place which seems to the Critic anyway, highly unusual. A place for real Thai food in Baca. Who would have thought…

Yet another Yucatan church - Baca, Yucatan

Thai food in Merida at last? No, but…

This past weekend was quite a culinary-intensive experience, with Friday night at Elio al Mare, Saturday night at Rosas y Xocolate and, in between, an extremely pleasant and totally unexpected surprise for lunch. Lovers of exotic food rejoice, because this is a good one.

It turns out that the Casual Restaurant Critics brother in law found out about a Thai restaurant in, of all places, Baca. The Critic knows this is hard to believe, but it is true, there is a place where one can eat real, authentic Thai food made by a Thai chef in the bustling town of Baca. Located on the grounds of a holistic health center, you will find yourself on a covered deck made entirely of bamboo. Look up, look around, everything including the roof, is made of bamboo. Only the tables and chairs are dark teak. There is no electric power as the place is on solar cells and therefore the restaurant portion, open on a limited basis to the public, is only accessible during daylight hours and only until 3 PM at that. And for those of you that like to take picture of your food (which includes the Critic) you will be out of luck as no cameras and no cell phones are allowed to be used on the site. Smoking of course is also forbidden.

BIL had ordered food beforehand and so, once the party of 11 was seated, real, freshly prepared Thai food started arriving at the table. First off, a ginger tea/lemonade combination that was deliciously refreshing. Then, the Critics favorite Thai soup:  ต้มข่าไก่.

OK that was unfair.

The soup is called, in English, Tom Kha Gai and the temperature, the flavors, the aroma were all exquisite. Next up, a small appetizer plate with a spring roll cut in half alongside a grilled satay chicken kabob. There was a plum sauce for dipping, as well as very spicy black sauce and some toasted garlic to add an additional kick to the dishes.

After the appetizers, plates for the center appeared with a rice noodle dish, a rice dish, chicken in a coconut milk curry sauce and finally shrimp with snow peas. The Critic couldn’t get enough of everything and hardly had room for dessert, which also arrived promptly at the table in the shape of creamy Arroz con Leche paired with chopped, fresh, tart mango chunks. Coffee, strong and black, was also available.

Interesting, this humble bamboo deck in the middle of the town of Baca, had better service than most of the restaurants in Merida. The service was prompt, attentive, and courteous. Most impressive of all was that for each course, the ladies at the table were served first, without exception, then the men. A small detail perhaps but nevertheless one that the so-called finer restaurants in the formerly white city have not been able to master.

Unfortunately, the Critic doesn’t know what the bill came to on this occasion, being as he was a guest, but whatever it is, it’s worth it. This is the real deal. Neither is there an address. Please contact the Critic directly for instructions on how to get there.

Rosas and Xocolate Revisted

On a very busy (restaurant-wise) weekend, the Casual Restaurant Critic and his lovely wife were invited along with the critical folks from Elio the night before to re-sample Rosas and Xocolate. The Critic uses the term re-sample because, of course, there was a previous visit – also on a Saturday night – resulting in a mixed review the first time around.

This time around, however, the experience was spectacular. The service marked one of those rare firsts – in Merida, anyway – and was probably the best the Critic has had to date, with the exception of the lunch had approximately 5 hours earlier which will be written about shortly.

Attention to every detail, attentive and non-intrusive, the waiters looking after the table were very professional indeed. Again, the owner stopped by to say hello and make sure that the table was well-looked after.

The food was glorious, in particular the fried octopus chicharra, the duck salad and the enormously fat and meaty pork rack had by the Critic. Everyone commented on how delicious their food was. Accompanied by Pellegrino sparkling water, a few fruit (lychee and apple) martinis and some choice red wine, the evening was pretty well a flawless dining experience.

The table was indoors and so the Critic was unable to confirm or not the presence of a cleaning lady in the bathrooms doing her thing (as commented on during the last visit).

Elio al Mare – Round Two

Last night the Casual Restaurant Critic revisited, in the company of some other critical foodies, the fabulous Elio al Mare restaurant near Progreso. If you read the previous review, you know that the Critic was blown away by the quality of the food at this beachfront Italian restaurant, especially the delicious pastas.

On this second occasion, there were a couple of things that stood out, one way or the other:

  • the off-menu Juanita shrimp were, as the photo suggested, scrumptious; succulent shrimp thick with tomato-y and cheesy goodness.
  • a fantastic risotto! The Critic is not a huge fan of risotto, but decided that Elio al Mare was the acid test to see if risotto was a good thing or just the mediocre pasty rice of yore; lo and behold this seafood risotto was extremely good!
  • on the not so great side, there was no welcoming sangria to be had and the service was a little on the slow side with a bit of waiting between courses and so on

Still, Elio al Mare is well worth the drive out from Merida to have a fantastic Italian dinner while watching the sunset.

The “Real Merida”

If there’s one thing that bothers me about idealistic folks coming to retire and/or live here semi-permanently, it’s those individuals that don’t visit northern Merida or go to a mall or eat at Carls Junior because it’s not, in their constrained and limited perception of what a modern Mexican city can be, the ‘real Merida’.

Maybe it’s because I have lived here for over 20 years and consider myself more local than foreign or maybe it’s because I am just a neurotic bastard, but this comment always manages to piss me off. It’s right up there with the ‘the children are so beautiful’ comment, which I have also had the pleasure of hearing on more than a dozen occasions and which also provokes from me the same, negative reaction. I feel like saying “of COURSE the children are beautiful – ALL children are beautiful, not just the brown ones that smile hopefully up at you, wealthy foreigner in shorts and sandals and flowery shirt.” It just seems so condescending, somehow.

Like the idea of a “real Merida.”

What is the real Merida? Are we (and I am speaking as a Yucatecan now) all supposed to run around in guayaberas and alpargatas and dance jaranas with trays of glasses on our adorable heads? Are we to eat only salbutes and panuchos and ‘typical’ food all week? The mistakenly romantic idea that in Merida time stands still and sushi, malls and Office Max are somehow contaminating someone’s vision of what the city should be is, again, condescending and frankly offensive.

I am motivated to write this little rant thanks to Beryl over at gorbman.com who just had a brush with the ‘real’ Merida; the Merida that most gringos don’t have to deal with and that, for the most part, lies just under the surface of the charming mess that is modern Mexico. You can read all about her brush with the ‘justice’ system in her fun account of what happened when she ran into Big Caesar (check out her photo to get a glimpse of Big Caesar)

Put your feet up, serve yourself a glass of typical cebada and enjoy a tale of one womans immersion into the ‘real’ Merida.

Remixto Brunch – Again

Apparently the Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better Half behaved themselves well enough to garner another invitation, this time to the second Remixto Brunch, once again graciously hosted by MexiChica and Casa Mexilio.

There is little to say that the Critic didn’t mention on the previous occasion, except that the heat/humidity was mercifully much more tolerable on this occasion, and the company that joined the Critic and Better Half was truly enjoyable. Oh, and the menu featured the terrific Lechon Benedict as well as a Henwich and Green Eggs and Ham.

In fact, one member of the group, who we shall call the YT Girl, took photos, a la the Critic, which are posted below!

If you have a chance, come to the next one!

Tacos ‘Luis Aqui’

For your next party, do like the locals do and hire a taquero!

The Better Half organized a taquiza, which means, for lack of a better term, a taco party and for that you need a taquero like this one: Don Luis A Gil who provides you with delicious taquitos of great homecooked Yucatecan food. In todays case: relleno negro and cochinita.

Highly recommended by the Critic not only for the quality of his food, but for his amazingly friendly and gracious service.