Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Casual Restaurant Critic Has Breakfast – A Puro Pan / Merci

In the company of the charming and always gastronomically adventurous Better Half, the Casual Restaurant Critic mustered up the strength to shower, get dressed and go out for breakfast on this fine Easter Sunday morning. Two restaurants were visited, in the interest of coming up with some new options for the 11 constant readers of this column and to take advantage of a lazy Sunday (and the fact that the Critic was freshly showered)

A Puro Pan

This is a new restaurant, in yet another small shopping plaza, this one called “Luxury Plaza” on that stretch of northern Merida road that starts at the “pocito” roundabout and ends where CityCenter meets the periferico. It never ceases to amaze the Critic at how many shopping plazas there are along these few kilometers – at last count there were more than 20, of varying styles, sizes and all sporting the same L shape so popular among Merida plazas. It is also amazing that all these luxury and exclusive and VIP places still have clientele; there are so many offerings for this tiny market segment.

A Puro Pan is all about bread, hence it’s name. Freshly baked bread and plenty of sandwich options are on the menu and for breakfast, some egg items as well. The Critic chose the Spanish baguette on Parmesan bread while the Better Half ordered Eggs Benedict.

Now you can’t go wrong with jamon serrano (unless you are unlucky enough to order it at the Viejo Molino – ugh) and so here, the Spanish baguette was just fine, a smallish baguette-like bread with plenty of jamon, some inexpensive local cheese. Nothing to write home about and the accompanying salad – some lettuce of varying styles possibly of the pre-washed plastic bag variety – showed signs of browning around some of the leaves and so was a little less than appetizing and the Critic did not finish his vegetables.

The Eggs Benedict however, were about as Benedict-y as the Caesar salad is Caesar-y at Trotters. In other words, not really Eggs Benedict. Eggs were baked in what appeared to be little muffin cups; not poached. Accompanied by some breakfast potatoes and atop something that looked like an English muffin and some salmon, there was no evidence of any hollandaise sauce lurking under, among or on top of the eggs, so not sure what the restaurant is trying to do with this menu item. It is not unattractively presented but, call it Puro Pan Eggs or something else, por favor.

Service was extremely nice and attentive. The room itself is dark, with low lighting which is fine for mornings when the Critic is less than presentable and doesn’t want to be in the harsh glare of the lights. Air conditioning was minimal and the place was cool but on the edge of a little warm, if you know how that feels.

After breakfast there, Better Half suggested checking out another new spot called Merci.

Merci – HomeMade Food

photo 3 photo 1

Merci is located in the San Angelo shopping (more luxury of course) plaza, which is near the soon-to-be-finished San Angelo condos, yet another housing development in northern Merida defining itself as – yawn – exclusive, and located parallel to the periferico in the area between City Center and Sodzil.

It is a bright, airy restaurant with a decidedly French feel, not only because the waiter is indeed French but also because the Yucatecan chef studied in France and has come home to feed her fellow Meridanos. By this time, the Critic didn’t mind the bright airiness of the place and was delighted to see French Press coffee on the menu.

Indeed, the freshly pressed coffee is very tasty and served with tiny ceramic cups that are too cute. A bread basket was ordered and it contains what appears to be a scone, a pain au chocolat and a little muffin. Served with tiny bowls of butter and jam and all very good. The pain au chocolat is not flaky and light, but heavier, denser and delicious. Very buttery.

The kitchen is in plain view, the tables are close together European style and the overall impression is that this is a place worth re-visiting, to try some of the other breakfast offerings which range from homemade banana pancakes and oeufs any style to granola and more. Prices seem very reasonable and the air conditioning is perfect.

Final verdict for breakfast? Merci, hands down. The Critic will be back.

6 Cool Places to Escape the Heat in Merida

Damn it's hot!

Damn it’s hot!

At this time of the year, the hottest season in the Yucatan with temperatures in the high 90’s and low 100’s (fahrenheit) there are brush fires everywhere and the city of Merida, with all it’s concrete and asphalt, is an inferno.

Real health issues can result from extended exposure to this kind of oppressive heat and so, in the interest of assisting visitors and locals alike, I am presenting a list of my favorite places to cool off in (and around) Merida.

Please, if you have favorite places, let me know to include them in this list for others to enjoy.

1. The Vegetable and Fruit Refrigerated Room at Costco

Costco is air conditioned and that is all fine and good, but if you are really wanting to cool off, I suggest you go to the patio furniture area, pick out a nice lounge chair and carry it into the vegetable and fruit cooler at the back of the store, where temperatures hover just above the freezing mark. A good 10 minutes in there and your body temperature will be restored and your brain will contract back into the available space in your cranium, relieving you of your heat-headache.

2. OXXO Convenience Stores

The thing about OXXO convenience stores is that they are located everywhere in Merida (except south of 63 street as it seems that the people down that way do NOT fit into the OXXO demographic) and they are all air conditioned and most even have a small table and chair setup where you can enjoy something from the large selection of processed junk food available. Take your time; there is no apparent set amount of time you can stay there. If you are feeling considerate, you can give up your spot to the next overheated Meridano or turista waiting to cool off.

3. Galeria Mall

At the Galeria mall, you can grab a bench seat in front of the ice rink (yes, I said ice rink) and watch the kids – and some adults – do their imitation of The Walking Dead on skates. Of course there are some really talented skaters out there along with the zombies which begs the question “how the hell did THAT happen?” Where did they learn and practice skating before this mall opened? Interesting.  After sitting there for a while you will notice your body cooling off and the desire to throw yourself on the ice naked will thankfully go away.

4. Altabrisa Mall

At the Altabrisa Mall, you can just hang out along with everybody else and their perro who is in from the heat. I mention this mall and not the Gran Plaza mall as it seems the Gran Plaza mall has air conditioning issues and so is not nearly as fresh and refreshing as Altabrisa is, the mall of the moment. There is a Starbucks and also a Haagen Dazs café if you are feeling the need to be seen spending an inordinate amount of money on a beverage.

5. Starbucks

Speaking of Starbucks, there are several of these around Merida now and are a somewhat more cozy option than the OXXO convenience store concept discussed above. It’s like being in someone’s (someone well off) living room: nice music, nice people, nice temperature and good coffee. You’ll spend money on your coffee but you will be guaranteed a good cup of coffee. To the people not from Merida – you know who you are – who whine that Starbucks is killing the local coffee culture, I laugh out loud at your ignorance of the crap we had to drink before Starbucks came to down.

6. The Casa Montejo Museum

If you are in dire need of a blast of ice all over your body and are on the main square, you can pay a visit, ostensibly to get a little culture, to the Casa de Montejo museum. Unless it’s a Monday, you will be able to visit the former home of one of the Franciscos de Montejo and while pretending to enjoy looking at furniture and wallpaper from the 1500’s and 1600’s, you can be sucking in icy cool air. That place is kept as cool as a Pappa’s Steakhouse meat locker and it feels great. Afterwards, pop across the square for a sherbet at the Sorbeteria Colon, where you can frost your insides with a creamy scoop of coconut ice cream.

Uxmal. What if?

rising is dangerous photo

Rising is dangerous. Really? Physically rising? Socially aspirational rising?

If you visit Uxmal on a regular basis, showing off this wonderful site to visitors and friends, you may perhaps have a few questions as I do. Criticizing is of course, bad and we wouldn’t want to affect anyone’s self-esteem or God forbid offend anyone, so let’s just ask some hypothetical “what if” questions:

  1. What if: When you arrived at Uxmal there was a welcoming smile at the ticket booth and not the burned out, Mr. Grumpy that currently received visitors who wait patiently in line?
  2. What if: The federal and state authorities were to make a leap of faith, move into the 21st century and trust modern computer and accounting software to divide the entry fee so that visitors could pay one ticket and not lineup for two separate tickets, sold side by side by two employees at two separate desks with two separate cash floats and to be punched by two separate employees at two separate ticket-punching stations? This archaic system works well for the government agencies involved, but is the purpose of Uxmal to benefit the government agencies and their accounting or is it to delight the visitor?
  3. What if: You could buy the ticket to enter Uxmal in less than 2 minutes? If there more than 4 people waiting, you can easily spend 10 minutes in the two lineups to get your two tickets from the two employees in the two windows.
  4. What if: If you did have to wait, you could do so in the shade? If larger groups are in line to buy their tickets, you will stand in the baking April sun thinking “is it really worth it?” while you feel trickles of sweat running down the small of your back. The employees are in the shade and so good for them. What about the visitors? Could they not at least have a canopy of some sort to stop them from literally burning? Would this not make their experience better?
  5. What if: You could choose the best guide and not the one whose turn it is? Some guides are better than others, some speak English better than others and some are better with children. But you can’t choose because there is a system in place that makes you take the next guide in line. Great for the guides – and I love them all – but is the visit to Uxmal about the guides having a fair distribution of clients, or is it about the visitor’s experience?
  6. What if: They actually hired someone who spoke English to translate the signs warning people of the dangers in climbing the ruins and respecting the structures? Signs like “not sit” and “rising is dangerous” are toe-curling embarrassments to those of us who live here and take away from the magnificence of Uxmal. Hiring someone’s cousin who speaks no English to translate the signs obviously benefited someone – wink, wink – but how does this impact the visitor’s experience?

What if the powers that be considered the visitors experience when they arrive in the Yucatan instead of spending millions of pesos on snazzy brochures and costly junkets to tourism fairs to promote the states attractions? Doesn’t magnificent Uxmal and all its grandeur deserve more than just to act as a cash cow for inefficient bureaucracies interested only in self-preservation? Ask yourself these “what if” questions on your next visit to Uxmal and think about how much better it could be. Is this the hospitality we want to show our guests when they arrive in the Yucatan? Yucatecans are famous for their hospitality. Is this really as good as we can be?