Monthly Archives: January 2011

Travel Warning – British Columbia, Canada

The Mexican Tourism Counter-Propaganda Council is advising travelers from this country to avoid travel to Canada and British Columbia in particular due to the increasing risk of physical harm and possible death from overly aggressive police forces in the province.

Arbitrary beatings, kicking and assault on defenseless victims by the so-called keepers of the peace have left a rather negative impression on tourists coming to this once-peaceful country. Among recent cases is that of British Columbia resident Jeremy Packer was ordered out of his truck and repeatedly punched as he tried to exit the vehicle, for no apparent reason.

And who can forget Robert Dziekanski, who, in a state of addled confusion at Vancouver airport was tasered to death by Vancouver police.

In light of this increasing incidence of violence reported (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/01/21/bc-excessive-force-police-gordon.html) along with abuse by “cowboy” police officers, the MTCPC is recommending potential travelers to this violence-torn region of Canada reevaluate all travel to that country, until the situation returns to normal and/or stability is restored.

Toks Restaurant

So you were wondering what that fancy building next to Office Depot in Altabrisa was going to be? A casino perhaps? No, it is a new restaurant of the DF variety and the Critic had a chance to visit the place the other day and see what all the Tok was about.

Bad pun.

Toks, whose logo comes with a clover leaf which clears everything up regarding the origin of this ridiculous sounding name (doesn’t it?) is like an upscale Vips; a Mexico City kinda place with overheight ceilings and really fancy finishes throughout. There’re carpets and polished stone floors and wood and God knows what else, as well as a menu that could have been written by Tolstoy – this thing is huge and comes in at about 7 pounds, without the ‘specials’ section featuring hot coffees and teas.

But it is comfortable and the staff is very friendly.

The Critic had some mole enchiladas which were just fine and the Better Half had some sort of giant quesadilla thing which made an impressive entrance. Hopefully this review will not suffer the same formatting problems as the previous post and some photos can be added shortly.

Toks is a great place to go if you have nothing better to do and feel like having Vips food in fancy surroundings which might convince a less sophisticated version of yourself that you are experiencing fine dining.

La Taberna de los Frailes – A Second Visit

On a trip to Cancun and back yesterday, the Critic and his Better Half had enough time to stop for a ‘nice’ restaurant lunch as opposed to the usual (but always delicious and eminently satisfying) Doña Tere at the toll highway isla near Valladolid.

This time, the Critic veered off the highway and landed – after some meandering among the twisting yet bewitching back streets of Valladolid – at the Taberna de los Frailes restaurant, reviewed previously by the Critic. Yesterdays visit was as good, if not better, than the first one.

The menu is a real mix of things innovative and things Yucatecan and things both innovative and Yucatecan. Think Thing One and Thing Two. No, on second thought, don’t.

For example, the Critic ordered a Valladolid Temptation appetizer. What the hell is that you ask? It is two slices of grilled watermelon with a thick, gooey semi-melted (molten?) slab of panela cheese in between. Served with a little fruit sauce dip and grilled tomatos and a sprig of lettuce
bathed in balsamic vinegar, it was completely out of the ordinary and quite delicious not to mention unexpected. Is this Valladolid? A glimpse at the crumbling stone wall of the monastery across the tiny street confirms that yes, it is.

Then there were the nachos. Thankfully ordering only this one other appetizer the Critic, who is not shy about finishing his plate, could not finish these nachos. Arriving on a very hot plate the size of a small indoor swimming pool, the nachos featured tostadas that were thin and crispy, not the thick and crunchy ones usually found here. The cheese was apparently cheddar but the Critic can’t be sure but what was innovative about these nachos is that they were made with Longaniza de Valladolid, the citys famous smoked sausage, and served with a small dish of chopped pickled onions along with the usual jalapeno peppers. Again, please be aware that the size of this platter is on the huge size and the contents will feed a small village the size of Xcunya without much
difficulty.

Better Half ordered a lime soup and Dzotobichay aka Brazo de Reina which is a Yucatecan treat that must be tried at least once during any visit to this part of the world. The tomato salsa on top was fresh and very tasty. Again, the portion was quite large.

Service, from the same waiter as on the last visit, was courteous and friendly. Prices were reasonable, in the Critics humble opinion.

Hey Dad, there’s a spider on your back…

Reading Claudette Elizondos account on FaceBook of how her backyard was invaded recently by a host of locusts, known locally as langostas, I was reminded of the time I came home with my daughters and, after parking in the garage, unlocking the door and walking into the kitchen, daughter 1 casually announced “Hey Dad, there’s a spider on your back”.

“So swipe it off” I reply, equally casual, making a swiping movement in the air to demonstrate the technique.

“It’s a big spider” replies my observant and not-to-be-ruffled daughter, who evidently has ice in her veins. “I don’t want to touch it” she adds. Daughter 2 looks on in disgust.

Now I am starting to wonder what the hell is crawling around on my back.

I take a spatula from that ceramic pot where we keep our utensils. “Here, use this” I say, handing it to her. She looks hesitant and I raise my voice. “Knock the spider off my back, OK?”

She takes a moment and then, in one swing, manages to dislodge what I can now see is a rather huge tarantula that lands on the kitchen floor with what I am sure is a thud, although it could have been my imagination firing away upon registering the size of the black hairy beast.

Without much ado, and thankful that here in Merida we don’t have that North American habit of removing our shoes upon entering our house, I quickly stomp on it and the spiders life comes to an abrupt, squishy end.

“Yuck” say my daughters.

I thank her and go off in search of a broom.

Bryans – The Newest Trotter Restaurant

Por fin, as they say around here, the Casual Restaurant Critic got his critical butt into a comfortable seat at Bryans, the latest and greatest in the Trotters chain here in sunny Merida.

For those of you unfamiliar with Trotters (no relation to Charlie in Chicago) the Trotters have several first-rate restaurants here in Merida; there’s Panchos downtown catering to the tourist crowd as well as those interested in picking up tourists who have overdone it on the excellent margaritas there; there’s La Tratto, an upscale and always popular trattoria located on the Prolongacion (del Paseo de) Montejo; the relatively new self-named Trotters, just down the street from the Burger King fountain (hey, that’s what it’s called around here) off Montejo which quickly became the benchmark for Merida restaurants trying to create the perfect dining room and now Bryans, which is even swankier than Trotters.

The menu at Bryans appears to be similar to that of Trotters, at least at first glance. There are some meats, some salads and some soups, as well as some desserts that all appear to be a continuation (or evolution) of items seen on the Trotters menu. The feel of the place? One certainly does not feel as if one is in Merida at least for a little while. There is an impeccable open kitchen, filled with industrious chefs and their helpers working away, polished stone and dark wood finishes throughout, enormous floor-to-ceiling open windows/doors, an upstairs wine attic visible from the dining area below, subdued lighting throughout and the huge terrace outside for those who enjoy a little nicotine with their dinner. Perhaps a little less formal than Trotters, but a whole lot more elegantly hip, this restaurant has to be seen to be believed and is filled nightly with Meridas beautiful people who know nothing of an economic crisis, thank you very much. The Critic, in spite of not being one of the beautiful people, was accompanied by his beautiful Better Half and so had an excuse for being there and visited Bryans at lunchtime, just before the rush.

Food ordered included a Parisian burger, medium rare and others in the party ordered the pork filet, which appeared to look more like a fat chop, served with a barbecue sauce. The smallish burger was very tasty and the Parisian part consisted of the sauteed mushrooms and onions on the meat and the small size of the platter turned out to be just right – not too much, not too little. The other members of the party commented that their pork was delicious. For desserts, the fantatic tiramisu cheesecake and a berry tart that the Better Half recalled as having been served to her warm on a previous visit. This time it was not warm, but straight out of the fridge. Coffee was excellent , aromatic nd fresh, individually made to order for each person.

The food, at least to this cantankerous Critic, although good, was not as mind blowing as he had expected. Unlike the recent meal at Hennessy’s, which blew the Critic away, this was fine, but nothing that the Critic would say exceeded expectations.

On a nit-picky note, the servers were friendly and plentiful, although large gaps appeared between their visits to the table and in spite of many of them just circling around, including supervisors. They could have been a little more attentive to the table at crucial moments, such as ordering desserts, refilling coffee, when it came time to ask for the bill, that sort of thing. Another detail which stood out in this immaculately beautiful dining room was the fact that the drinks were served not on a coaster with a funky design, but on a servilleta Lys, folded in half. One must assume that the printer is working frantically on those coasters as the limp wet napkin hardly does justice to the obvious care and attention paid to every other detail.

So, while the Critic would jump at the chance to return to Hennessy’s to sample more of their menu and enjoy a frosty Guiness, Bryans did not evoke that feeling. But go and visit the place yourself, and drink in the terrific ambience and then form your own opinion.

Things to look forward to as I age (can’t wait)

While this particular blog entry has absolutely nothing to do with Life in Merida from the Neurotic Foregners POV, the aging process is, nevertheless, a universal topic among members of my social circle and one with which I becoming increasingly familiar.

I look forward to becoming technologically impaired; that decisive moment when I decide that whatever technology is ‘new’ and therefore incomprehensible to me and just dismiss it as ‘stupid’ is a moment that will inevitably come, especially given the grade of neurosis I already posess. The new ‘FaceBook’ of the future will seem to me to be an invasion of privacy and just ridiculous and I won’t be able to figure out what the hell it’s good for, if anything. I will refuse to engage in conversation with my offspring, who will attempt to convince me of the benefits of adopting the new technology, that I have nothing to fear, that it is a good way to see what the grandchildren are up to. My derision will be accompanied by much shaking of my grey-haired head and moving my right hand from an over the shoulder and near my right ear position to a below the waist position (with an open palm, facing downward). These two actions will be taken while walking away from the person I am supposedly having a conversation with.

I look forward to not comprehending the significance of the future version of the CC button on the future equivalent of emails. I will complain therefore, in my self-pitying way, that it is craaaazy that people cannot communicate with each other normally and that I don’t understand if I just sent an email to one person that all the others didn’t get the message. I will not see that adding another email address in the future equivalent of the “TO” field on an email is not really that difficult and that I don’t have to go out in the winter cold, chop down a tree, put up a satellite dish and install another computer to send several emails at once.

I also look forward to forgetting how to spell my offsprings or their significant others names. To me, it’s all the same and I won’t understand the fuss and how could that tiny triviality possibly be any indicator of the depth of my feelings for that person or the significant other in question. Why are they all so grumpy, I will ask myself.

I anticipate (and this is already happening) abhorring (is it one R or two?) social engagements where loud music and loud conversation at too-large tables result in me staring abjectly at the people across the table, with whom I am unable to communicate beyond the occasional raised eyebrow and shoulder movements resembling dejected shrugs. The volume will put me in a foul mood that only a hasty exit to a more quiet environment can remedy, thereby forfeiting my right, should I be in Merida, to the lukewarm catered meal served at midnight as a strategy to keep us old folks hostage beyond the time we would normally tolerate the assault on our nervous system.

I will cope with and accept the increasing limits that aging puts on my body, from the newly discovered impossibility of climbing on the roof to enter my home when I have forgotten the house key, to the pain in my finger joints when I try writing as a method of communication as opposed to a keyboard (which funnily enough produces no such irritation).

There are many more things I look forward to as I reach the ripe old age of a half-century, and many of those will be positive I am sure. But this morning, I felt compelled to write about some of the less-than-stellar moments that I can look forward to (and I haven’t even touched on the GI tract).

Happy 2011!

Hennessy’s Irish Pub – A New Years Eve Celebration

There is, in this increasingly competitive culinary environment that is the upscale restaurant scene in Merida, a new player in town and it is a stunner! Hennessy’s Irish Pub has moved into a stunning location designed by Henry Ponce the architect, on Meridas most important avenida under the gaze of the nearby Montejo clan statue, about a block from the equally sumptuous Rosas and Xocolate boutique hotel and restaurant, whose most recent claim to fame was Caroline Kennedy popping in for a discrete visit.

When you think Irish pub you think smoke, whisky and a good brawl. No brawls were in evidence at Hennessy’s however, when the Casual Restaurant Critic and his lovely Better Half, along with a new Casual Restaurant Crew, went there to celebrate New Years Eve. The crowd was decidedly upscale, and at least half or more were of the expatriate variety, coming out in all stripes to sip a Guinness and perhaps chat with the ‘impossibly handsome’ owner, one of two actually, who put this place together.

Also when Irish pubs come to mind, the last thing – on the Critics mind at least – is food. What is Irish pub food anyway? A sausage? Something featuring the Irish staple, the potato? No, this was something far, far better.

Appetizers included a spinach salad, fish cakes, an onion soup and the most amazing seafood chowder, red in color and thick with chunks of tender fish and other items plucked from an ocean near you. The main courses had by the table at which the Critic had the honor to sit, were two: the Panchetta and the lamb (or was it beef?) curry. While the curry was tasty and at apparently just the right volume in the spice department, the Panchetta was the hands-down winner. Crispy, fatty pork (how can you go wrong!) on a bed of something that resembled a mashed potato and apple concoction that provided a perfect, sweet without being cloying complement to the perfectly roast pork. And the portions were enormous!

For dessert, there was an amazingly thick cheesecake and a delicious apple strudel, served with vanilla ice cream.

Service was, as is the case at these type of events, adequate at best but always friendly and the ambience as well as the place itself, outstanding. Take your best friends and head over there tonight!!

Please enjoy the photos, provided by a member of the Casual Restaurant Critic Crew; aka Juan. Gracias Juan!

The Spinach Salad

Crispy Fish Cakes

The Seafood Chowder!

French Onion Soup

Pancheta! That's what it says on the menu BTW. Nevertheless, it is to die for. Honestly.

Curry! Was it lamb or beef? Can't recall - too much of that rose wine!