Monthly Archives: October 2010

La Taberna de los Frailes – A Valladolid Find!

Whilst visiting the monastery of San Bernadino in Valladolid yesterday, the Casual Restaurant Critic noticed a new (for the Critic anyway) restaurant directly in front of the parking lot of this often visited Valladolid attraction.

After touring the monastery and its multiple austere charms, the Critic and a guest had lunch at this restaurant, owned by a talented Valladolid woman who is also responsible for the upscale cafe on one corner of the city’s main plaza.

The restaurant is very attractive, with a low-tabled bar at the entrance, followed by a high-tabled bar area under a lush maracuya (passion fruit) vine and an elegantly appointed palapa restaurant in back with real tables and comfortable, cushioned chairs. One is struck immediately by the formal table setting in this casual atmosphere, complete with heavy silver and glassware, starched linen napkins wrapped in handmade napkin rings (made from the thorns of the henequen plant among other things) and tablecloths. No plastic Coca Cola tables here!

The food is fantastic – the Critic ordered the Relleno Negro plate while his guest had the Tsik which is usually made with venison but here is prepared with tender smoked pork and served in a lec (gourd) and is both refreshing and delicious.

Service is very attentive and gracious. While the waiter did not speak English, he was very receptive to some English terminology thrown his way, repeating each word carefully to memorize them.

As far as price goes, the total came to $300 pesos before tip, which included one margarita, a Coke and a bottle of water.

Highly recommended!

Private Postrecito Brunch

Chef Alejandra Ponce at El Postrecito recently hosted a private brunch for her chef-y friends and the Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better Half were fortunate enough to be invited. The company was great and the food, as usual, inspired and scrumptious!

Photos: fresh strawberries with mint leaves in a light syrup flavored with spices: crispy salmon cakes.

Casual Movie Critic – Cell 211

This is a Spanish movie (ie from Spain) that has been suggested as a winner for several movie categories and people are talking about it. I went to see it and was, again, among a small group of about 10 people in the Gran Plaza movie theater.

The movie itself has myriad online reviews ranging from ‘absolutely brilliant’ to ‘whatever’ and my opinion falls somewhere in the middle. Certainly it’s better than the other two movies reviewed earlier, but that is not much of a challenge, although some of the so-called twists in the plot were expected and predictable.

It was, however, enormous fun to hear the original Spanish dialogue – especially all the colorful swearing! – and often required some real concentration because they speak so fast! If you don’t speak Spanish that well, you will most assuredly get nothing from this movie; and there are no subtitles, English, Spanish or otherwise, to fall back on.

Watch the trailer here.

Asadero Grill, Gran Plaza

In the food court of the Gran Plaza, where the Critic found himself yesterday feeling hungry, there used to be a Subway sandwich shop, where the sandwiches were bland and the employees wore plastic gloves to protect themselves from germs as they handled both money, utensils and food with those same glove covered hands. But, RIP, Subway, because they just weren’t making enough money or the rent was too high or they ran out of plastic gloves or something; the thing is they closed and well, we shouldn’t beat a dead horse.

Why is the Critic even mentioning the sandwich shop? Because in it’s place, a new and exciting food option was opened to the public, something so novel that it deserves a mention here. Ladies and gentlemen, Asadero Grill is serving up tacos. Yes indeed, tacos; something the Gran Plaza hasn’t seen before if you leave out La Parrilla and Los Trompos who are there in the old section of the food court plus Sport Tortas and Tacos and Arrachera Grill (plus yet another taco place that opened just recently) across the way in the new section. In their efforts to provide more culinary diversity, the Gran Plaza folks have decided that since people are lining up for tacos when the mall is full, why not allow another taco restaurant to open?

The Critic is not going to get into the whole mall exclusivity thing which means about as much in Mexico as the constitution of many modern countries ie nothing, but concentrate on the usual, nit picking critiques he has become so well known (and loved) for.

Someone mentioned that the nachos were good, and since the Critic has tried the nachos at Los Trompos, this seemed like a good place to start. A combo, featuring those nachos along with a refillable refresco and a mini styro bowl of frijoles charros (a bean soup for the unenlightened) will run you $64 pesos or about 5 dollars USD. You get 300 grams of meat; either bistek (beef) pastor (marinated fatty pork) chicken and something else. You can combine two meats if you like. The Critic ordered pastor and bistek, got a plastic cup and a number and waited a few minutes for the order to come up.

Once the Critic had his tray, with the salsas and the onions and the lime wedges and the soup and the nachos and the plastic cup and the cutlery and the napkins, he sat down to enjoy this giant Mexican lunch.

The thing that strikes you about Asadero is that it seems like an exact copy of Los Trompos, a well known and very successful operation that has restaurants in strategic locations around town and in the malls.  Asadero has everything on their menu that Trompos has, including pizzas and stuffed baked potatoes. All the tacos and combos are there as well. The thing is, their prices are lower and this is bringing in the crowds, apparently.

Back to the nachos. These are the deep fried thick corn chips favored here, bathed in a rather earthy tasting black bean sauce, with a tasteless melted cheese, and covered in meat; chunks of bistek on one side, strips of pastor on the other. Somewhere in between is guacamole, along with some tomato slices and pickled jalapeno pepper slices. In other words, an exact copy of Los Trompos nachos, down to the placement of the tomato slices in the corners of the rectangular plastic plate!

Comparing the two, the Critic would say the Trompos version is a little tastier; the pastor meat and the refried brown beans are more flavorful. But the cheese is tasteless in either version and the salsas, which should be good, thick and zesty in a taqueria, are always disappointingly watery and bland.

Both make excessive use of disposable plastic and Styrofoam – their plastic cutlery is identical and useless for cutting or picking up a chunk of meat – and it is truly phenomenal the amount of garbage generated by not only the taco places, but all the restaurants in the food courts. Perhaps that will be something for another article in the future.

On a scale of Wow to Ew, this one rates Whatever.

Oktoberfest with the Rommels

As the kids would say, the Rommels “Oktoberfest” was, es tut mir leid, nada que ver.

The parking lot ambiance. The Corona plastic cups, Coca Cola tables and chairs (gratis, woo-hoo), just alright food, a low fi sound system aka grabadorcita playing tinny German party music and a 9:30 PM closing time (strictly and unceremoniously enforced) were a sharp contrast to the over the top effort made over at the BierHaus by lederhosen-clad Jürgen.

The Critic endured this little soiree thanks to the insistence of his paisano dentist buddy who thought it was fantastic because it was so cheap. Cheap, yes, definitely. Fantastic? Hardly.

Luigis for Breakfast

A friend whom the Critic shall call Lincoln told him about this place where he goes for breakfast regularly; a breakfast that is tasty, hot and most importantly (the Critic suspects this to be the case) cheap.

It’s called Luigi’s but before you get all excited, the place is about as Italian as a Ticul-made pump. There is a fellow there by the name of Luigi, but he is Yucatecan and his place somehow lacks the glamor of, say, a Milan eatery. In fact, this place is a hole in the wall practically on the corner of 56 and 43 streets, identifiable by the official Coca Cola colors and hand-written menus on construction paper taped unceremoniously to the walls.

The tables and chairs are also Coca Cola, but the ambience, such as it is, is very neighborly and friendly with everyone commenting ‘buenos dias’ and ‘provecho’ as they pass your table. There are some food pictures below, the first is of ‘huevos a la Mexicana’ and the second of the giant bread basket. The accompanying refried beans are terrific and there is no coffee, just Coca Cola.

Total for two people having full egg breakfast? 58 pesos, or about 5 dollars. Can’t beat that.

GoGreen – Merida Eats Healthy

Again the Critic finds himself in the Gran Plaza mall and the Critic is hungry but has absolutely no desire to subject his digestive tract to:

  • the calorie-laden punishment of those nachos
  • reheated calorie-laden deep fried KFC chicken that might or might not actually be reheated
  • calorie-laden Dominos pizza (how do t hey survive in that mall?)
  • calorie-laden Burger King items that Michael Pollan insists are not really ‘food’
  • sushi of dubious quality that might actually kill you

What to do? How about GoGreen?

GoGreen just opened their Gran Plaza mall location about two-four weeks ago (they have a store on Montejo, near the Burger King fountain, which is a landmark a Yucatecan will understand, as its real name has long ago been forgotten) and it presents a fresh, healthier option to all those tacos in the food court. Come to think of it, they should rename the food court to “Tacos… Y Algo Mas” … a common and popular name choice in Merida because it covers your main selling point but leaves the door open to other stuff as well.

The Critic ordered the Buffalo Salad, which has barbecue shredded chicken, celery, lettuce of course, carrots, all tossed with a ranch dressing. The small salad, picture below, costs $61 pesos, or about 5 dollars at today’s exchange rate. Some people will recoil in horror at this price “SESENTA pesos” they will exclaim, covering their mouth with their hand as if the salad was going to jump in it and then they would be obligated to pay, “estan LOCOS”. This is the usual reaction to a price that is somewhat beyond the norm for a product that obviously is of better quality than the norm.

In any case, the salad was cold, fresh and attractively presented. GoGreen is an excellent mall choice for everyone tired of the same old fast food franchises and all those tacos.

Casual Movie Critic – The Expendables (Including The Movie)

Another film in theaters now here in sunny Merida.

When I was younger, I always thought it would be great to have all the action movie guys together in one movie. When I was younger.

Now that it has finally happened, the result is so bad as to be unwatchable. Unless you are one of those people who say ‘I paid to sit here and I am damn well going to stay here until the bitter end’, you will probably get up about 1/3 of the way through to just plain leave the theater.

I suspect that the fact that Sylvester Stallone directed, and I use the term loosely and generously, this rotten piece of celluloid, as well as receiving writing credit for it, is the reason it is so very very crappy. From the ridiculous gratuitous violence and the Rambo style shootouts where the good guys hit everyone and the bad guys can’t aim to the cartoonish and cliche South American dictator and his minions who speak Spanish with an American accent to the ‘beautiful’ latina heroine who single-handedly leads the oppressed villagers, to the ancient (how old ARE these actors now??) Stallone, Willis, Lundgren et al acting like they are in their 20’s, The Expendables is so stupidly bad on so many levels that it is difficult to process.

Unfortunately it is not funny bad, where you could at least laugh uproariously at the screen, but bad bad, where you just sit numbly until your brain explodes and you have to leave.

This movie is entirely expendable. Do not waste your money, time or neurons on this one. It is truly the worst movie I have been in the presence of in a long, long time.

Casual Movie Critic – Wall Street 2, Money Never Sleeps (But You Will)

Once again, the Better Half is away and I have decided to see what’s going on at Meridas movie theaters.

Among the movies that are new in theaters in Merida this week is this Oliver Stone film that revisits Wall Street and Gordon Gecko played once again by Michael Douglas. As usual, regular movie critiques have already been written about this movie so I will spare you the details and give you my short opinion.

The film, IMHO, falls into the “nothing to write home about” category and to me just sort of plods along in a predictable way until the two hours or so are up. Nothing really surprising, the acting is fine but certainly not inspired and personally I found the financial shenanigans as cancer references slightly disturbing in light of Michael Douglas’ being diagnosed as having the disease. I suspect the film was completed before anyone knew he had it? Shia Lebeouf is more or less believable and the girlfriend character as well but I could not really sympathize with their situation at any point in the film. Not even the usually great Susan Sarandon had any spark in this movie. Oliver Stone himself is in there as a Wall Street dude and that Sheen guy from the last film pops in as well.

The fact that this is not a particularly exciting movie was reflected in the attendance at the giant Sala 6 of the the Gran Plaza movie theater, which contained an audience comprised of exactly 4 other people besides yours truly. I expect this movie will be taken out of Merida circulation within less than a week to be replaced with something a little more crowd pleasing.

Go see it if there is nothing better on and you are desperate for air conditioning on a hot afternoon. Otherwise, stick to a good telenovela on TV. Or better yet, have a nap.