Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Starbucks (Montejo)

You all know and love (or hate) Starbucks so there is not going to be much new here for you, dear reader.

After a morning visit for coffee at the Montejo location, the Critic has noticed however, that the Merida Starbucks, no matter if it is the Gran Plaza, Montejo, Altabrisa or Chapur location, are all really slooooooooooow in getting those coffees out.  Also, it would be nice if they looked up and acknowledged your presence as you came in, like they do in OXXO – have you noticed that?

The Critic won’t comment here on the Starbucks bashers who proclaim that Starbucks is killing the local coffee culture since this is so ridiculous that it doesn’t warrant more than a passing mention. There was NO coffee culture in Merida before Kukis by Maru and later, Italian Coffee started offering real espresso and capuccino. Before all that, there was Nescafé if you were lucky and a melamine plastic cup of hot water. Powdered milk was offered along with the instant if you wanted café con leche. Also, there was Mario in Plaza Fiesta selling what he called a capuccino, which was hot Carnation evaporated milk with some hot coffee mixed up in a blender and topped with ground tree bark posing as cinnamon.

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So if that is what Starbucks has killed, ¡¡que bueno!!

The Critic is very happy that Starbucks has arrived in Merida, thank you very much, as apparently are thousands of Merida residents who are fine with adopting the whole Starbucks culture.

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits SOMA. In Chelem.

shameless borrowed from their Facebook page

A quick internet search for SOMA will result in websites for lingerie, drugs, a record company and a magazine, among others but to find SOMA the restaurant you will have to go to Chelem. Yes, Chelem, right here in the Yucatan.

The Casual Restaurant Critic had heard about this restaurant from some food-loving NYC refugees who now make their home in Chuburna and so, in the company of his lovely Better Half visited SOMA after a day of lying around the beach in Chuburna.

Located discretely in Chelem, just a block or two from the TacoMaya and Bullpen restaurants behind the baseball field towards town (how is THAT for an almost address-like description) the SOMA restaurant is one of those really weird experiences, very similar to when the Casual Restaurant Critic first found real Thai food in the tiny village of Baca, about 40 minutes outside of Merida. “What the hell is this!” thought the Critic while relishing a curry; “this is the best Thai food I have had in a long time and it’s in BACA?”

This same feeling came back last night, when the Critic and Better Half received a bread basket with crunchy/chewy real bread, heated and served with a pat of fresh butter in a colorful little dish, followed by the appetizers.

Appetizer one was a salad – what a miserably sparse word for the work of art that appeared on the plate. An assortment of lettuce(s), some baby/cherry tomatoes, a touch of cheese and a rasher of pork belly fried bacon-crisp on top not only looked beautiful but each mouthful was an experience.  Appetizer two was grits. Now, to a former Canadian who is not accustomed to such delicacies, the thought of grits was less than appealing, especially after having seen pans of unappetizing-looking grits in Houston restaurant buffets , but thanks to the mention of this particular appie by a certain New Yorker, the Critic said what the hell. And these are not bland, gunky grits. They come with a sprinkle of smoky chorizo and a quintet of perfectly grilled shrimp lying suggestively on top of those grits. The combination is remarkable as the  creamy texture below combine with the chorizo and the shrimp. Thumbs up for the grits!

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that's pork on that there salad

The Critic and Better Half looked at each other and thought – are we in CHELEM?

The main courses were as good or better than the appetizers. Better Half ordered a grilled chicken which, when ordered anywhere else could have been a dry lump of white meat, charred to the point of dried boredom, was instead perfectly seasoned, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and accompanied by a little pot of home made macaroni and cheese, which would make Kraft blush in embarrassment. The Critic ordered the fish (esmedregal en español) filet, perfectly cooked atop steamed fresh asparagus and served with crunchy baby potato halves. Scrumptious.

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At this point, there was no going back and the Better Half and Critic decided that of the two dessert items on the menu… both had to be tried. The chocolate chip cookie is unbelievably perfect: crunchy and chewy and hot as in fresh baked right then and served with a little bowl of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream. The other option was a cheese-cake with cherries – in a glass! Delicious as well and washed down with a real cup of coffee and a cup of hot chai latte.

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As it was Saturday, the restaurant was full and there was live music to entertain diners – a guitarist accompanying a husky voiced woman singing romantic songs in a parse, jazzy style that made the evening perfect.

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So how was the service, you ask? Excellent. Lindy, the gracious owner personally looked after her guests with help from a pleasant young man and young lady while her husband/artist Alberto worked his magic in the kitchen.

There is no liquor license and yet, the other tables were enjoying glasses of wine from bottles that mysteriously appeared from knapsacks and coolers they had brought along.

Ladies and gentlemen of the readership, you must try this new restaurant, and pronto. You will not be disappointed! Highly recommended. Hours vary, please check with Lindy and the restaurant at their Facebook page (link here) and for those of you always moaning 🙂 about a lack of addresses, here you go:

SOMA Restaurant
Calle 17 No. 77A
Chelem Puerto
(at Yeyo’s Hotel)

Phone: 999-348-0985

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Tio Ricardo

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The TV. Perfect for sports events and not thinking about the service.

 

If you have lived in Merida for any length of time and have had the misfortune to have to listen to a local radio station, you may have heard the ads for this restaurant, which have not changed in the last 5 or more years, where two males with fake northern Mexico accents make the smooth transition from talking about how difficult life is to deciding to go to the Tio Ricardo restaurant, “un rincon de Monterrey en Merida

Yesterday the Critic and a supplier of shirts who we shall call Mr. Shirt went for lunch at this restaurant, located at the corner of 8 and 23 streets in Itzimná in the formerly white city. Not because life is particularly difficult but because Mr. Shirt thought that it would be a good place for lunch and that the guacamole there was the best in town.

The Critic hadn’t been at Tio Ricardo for at least 20 years and was surprised to hear it was still around. It was, although how they manage that is a mystery.

The tables and chairs are real (not plastic) which is always a plus in the Critics book, and the walls feature a lot of wood paneling and photographs in black and white of things from northern Mexico. The waiter who the Critic saw upon entering the place with Mr. Shirt was busily stuffing something into his mouth, half hidden behind a wall. The place is essentially a house, with the different rooms turned into dark, woody caves that would be ideal if you were planning on a secret meetup with someone and needed discretion, perhaps.

When the waiter – and here the term is used loosely to describe an individual who has the task of taking food orders and bringing them to clients tables – came and asked what would be the order. Mr. Shirt began by asking about a “package” for two people that had an assortment of meats and so on.

“We don’t do packages” was the curt reply from the unsmiling, unwelcoming and evidently uninterested individual brandishing his little notepad and pen.

Mr. Shirt, unfazed, continued “but I am pretty sure there was a parrillada (grilled platter) or something for two, no?”

Curt was equally unfazed. “No, we don’t have that” No mention of anything that might please his client or a suggestion perhaps. No additional information came out of his unsmiling mouth as he impatiently waited, pen poised at the ready over his notebook.

Finally, a pair of steaks were ordered, along with the entradas, apparently a “package” but for one person at a time. “What appetizers do you want to repeat?” asked Curt, since each steak plate came with two appetizers and there were only three on the menu – melted/baked cheese, guacamole, and grilled sausages. Since Mr. Shirt had mentioned the great guacamole, the Critic said “bring us two guacamoles” and Curt left without further comment.

Curt returned with the drinks and eventually the appetizers. The guacamole was good, served in the form of a block on a side plate like it had been prepared in a tub, refrigerated and then sliced off like a huge swath of green banana bread. The chips were crunchy and they have the giant flour tostadas that one could find in Monterrey restaurants. Tortillas too. The sausage was, in the Critics opinion, the cheap fatty kind and not great, while the melted/baked cheese was pretty tasty.

The steaks finally arrived, while Mr. Shirt and the Critic were treated to an episode of SmokeJumpers with Spanish dialogue on the large flat screen TV on the wall, being watched by another table and two waiters who occasionally glanced down at their cell phones to update their Facebook accounts or whatever they were doing. The steaks, one rib eye and one New York, can be ordered medium rare or medium, blue rare or tres cuartos but however you decide you want your meat done, it matters not and the steaks will be (and were) well done. OK. The Critic was not going to fight with Curt on this occasion, and especially not since Mr. Shirt had picked the restaurant. But, really?

Other things the Critic noticed included the fact that there were other waiters in the restaurant, none of whom seemed particularly pleased to be there and perhaps were only filling in time on a prison work release program. The men’s bathroom, thoughtfully and overwhelmingly perfumed with Pinol floor cleaner has no door, and there is no evident ventilation system so if you do have to eat here, I would suggest a table as far away from the mens’ room as possible, as the possibility of bathroom smell interfering with the enjoyment of your well done steak might be less than pleasant.

The Critic always enjoys a lousy restaurant and this one is not worth the time or the calories or the money – not much, the bill came to $250 pesos per person with a 10% tip and no alcohol – and there are SO many new and infinitely better options in Merida now. While the food is not horrible, the “service” certainly matches that description perfectly. How this place survives is one of those mysteries that Gordon Ramsey might enjoy.

You have been warned.

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On the plus side: real chairs.

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They are crunchy and that’s another positive.

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A chipped salsa bowl that should have been thrown out years ago.

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A guacamole brick. It is cold and tastes fresh.

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The melted cheese is a highlight.

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Skip these. Your arteries will thank you.

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Order it anyway you want. It will likely be well done.

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Puerta del Mar

At the time of the year corresponding to the visit of the Easter Bunny and all that hype, many locals like to enjoy a seafood meal at the beach. If you are not able to get all the way out to Progreso or Celestun or some of the other popular Easter break destinations, there are plenty of seafood options in the city of Merida to satisfy your craving for something shrimpy; one of these is Puerta del Mar, located almost across from the Bancarios sports center, somewhere between Plaza Fiesta and Altabrisa, on that bumpy stretch of avenue called Avenida Correa Rachó after a well know and loved PAN party mayor of Merida.

It is a modest-looking palapa and inside, it continues to perpetuate that impression with plastic chairs and tables and the obligatory television showing some inane sports event.

But, the beer is cold and the seafood is fresh tasting and comes from the kitchen quickly. A nice touch is a complementary tiny plate of mixed seafood ceviche placed on your table as you sip your drink and wait for your lunch. Service ranges from the “I couldn’t be bothered to welcoming you to the restaurant” to extremely efficient and fast once you are seated.

The dishes pictured below, are, in order of appearance:

1) Complementary seafood ceviche mini platter. Tasty, a little too lemony for the Critics taste, but fine when you are hungry. To be eaten with their excellent corn chips. It’s hard to screw up corn chips, but VIP’s manages on a regular basis so it is nice to have these be crispy crunchy, and not all limp and gross.

2) Chilpachole de Camaron – a spicy shrimp soup that the Critic absolutely adores. Unfortunately, this one is not great; the broth is far too reminiscent of tomato paste and lacks real flavor. Mildly spicy and plenty of fresh shrimp in there though.

3) Pan de Cazon – dogfish or shark meat cooked in a tomato mixture and then served between layers of corn tortillas and black refried beans. Covered with more tomato sauce and that garnish is NOT a little bell pepper, it is an habanero and so don’t just scoop it up and toss it in your mouth. A Yucatan classic (or is it really a Campeche classic?) and the Critic thinks the version served at Colonos in the Colonia Mexico is better. Still, not bad.

4) Seafood Stuffed Shrimp –  Yes, that is what the menu said. Each of the shrimp is cut and stuffed with a minced seafood mixture that is borderline inedible. To make matters worse, the shrimp are bathed in a mysterious cream sauce that is both tasteless and yet somehow rather nauseating. Not recommended.

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