All posts by WilliamLawson

About WilliamLawson

Canadian Ex-Pat who has lived in the Yucatan for 20-plus years now. Occasionally neurotic, observant and trying to document everything I see.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Kraken

Remember the movie with Liam Neeson about the Kraken? The Critic is sure it was a fantastic movie with plenty of Oscar potential but for some reason he never had the opportunity to see it. Of course the Critic is being somewhat sarcastic in his appreciation of the movie’s merits.

Kraken the restaurant, on the other hand, would definitely be an Oscar contender if there was a category for best local seafood.

Chef Eduardo Estrella and his crew have created a restaurant that looks like your average seafood place from the outside, but when you talk to him and try his food, you will quickly realize that he is in another league entirely. He and his family are from Isla Arena, Campeche and if you dear reader know anything about gastronomy on the Yucatan peninsula, you know that the best recipes and most amazing cooks come from the neighboring state of Campeche; Eduardo is one of these people. Not only does he come by his skills naturally, he also formally trained in the US and applied the techniques he learned there, to the abundant local ingredients he can get here.

Chef Eduardo Estrella (middle) and his hard working team

All the seafood is fresh, and brought directly from Isla Arena. He will not purchase frozen seafood from the many suppliers who have stopped by to offer their products – and you can tell when you taste the food.

The Critic and the always amazing Better Half visited Kraken for lunch and it was probably the best seafood either have had in a long while. For starters, the menu was set aside as chef Eduardo suggested that he would prepare a series of plates for the table so as to be able to sample as many different flavors and textures as possible.

First up was a mixed ceviche tostada. Tiny ria (think Lagartos or Celestun) shrimp, literally bursting with flavor, unlike the flavorless shrimp one so often gets in a cocktail or ceviche these days, mixed with fish and octopus. This was glorious.

Next, aguachile in both red (shrimp) and green (fish) styles, with both items marinated in a lemony and very spicy broth, full of flavour. Notice that the dishes are beautiful to look at as well; presentation is top notch.

The third dish was a shrimp broth (caldo de camaron) full of flavor and some larger shrimp along with assorted minced veggies chopped in for texture.

Two plates arrived next, both octopus. The charred octopus is the Kraken octopus and the other was del Capitan. The Critic is not a huge fan of octopus since it is so often poorly prepared and impossible to eat unless you are a cat. These two samplings were perfect.

Then, what was probably the favorite dish of the meal, shrimp wrapped in bacon and cooked to crisp, on a lake of home-made tamarind sauce that was out of this world. The kind of sauce you want to stick your fingers in and get the last drops off the plate. And, something original and unseen in many restaurants, perfectly cooked vegetables on the side. Who does green beans in Merida?? And a black rice cooked in octopus ink. Amazing!

At this point the Better Half and Critic both were thinking that this couldn’t go on much longer as it would be sheer gluttony but there was one more plate to come: a pasta dish, with a cream sauce and fresh crab, baked over with parmesan and panko. This too, proved to be fantastic and was finished to the last noodle, much to the dismay of the ever-expanding waistlines.

Obviously there was absolutely no room whatsoever to even think about a dessert!

The room is casual; there are two televisions with music videos and a Kraken mural on one wall. The service is laid back but friendly. But the food! It is absolutely worth the drive, for drive you must to this location in Caucel, just past the periferico about a kilometer from the Walmart. The restaurant is located in Plaza Boulevard, behind Lapa Lapa which is what you will see first when you are arriving at your destination.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic Slumming at KFC

With all the culinary options out there, why the hell would anyone go to KFC you might ask. Well, a lot of people do, at least at the one located on the Avenida Itzaes, next door to the Merida’s hospital for the clase acomodada, the Clinica Merida. There was a lineup on this particular day when the Critic made the fatal mistake/decision to stop for lunch.

Interestingly with all the fuss about obesity in Mexico and junk food and the like, the closest restaurants to the hospital, where they must be dealing with a lot of obesity related illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems etc., are Burger King and KFC. And both are packed with folks in regular clothes as well as several mestizas with hipiles, which seems to indicate that this is the informal ‘waiting room’ for family members of patients at the nearby hospital where the cafeteria is probably an overpriced disgusting and depressing option. Just guessing of course.

Anyway, the Critic was driving along and suddenly had a hankering for some crispy KFC.

I don’t know if this is your case as well, my dear 18 readers, but the Critic has fond memories of Kentucky Fried Chicken – remember when the crust was tasty with just the right amount of spice and salt and crispiness, and the chicken inside cooked just right, not too dry and not pink either?

Well, it seems you can’t go back. The food ain’t what it used to be. And service sucked big time.

The cashier was a robot dressed in khakis and a polo shirt embroidered with the KFC logo.

Some sample snippets of conversation from the people ahead of the Critic in the lineup:

“Can I get 3 pieces?”

“Can’t do that. Chicken comes in 2, 4 and 6 pieces.”

“I just ordered two packages of 6 pieces each. Can I change that to the giant bucket with a dozen pieces etc.?”

“Nope. Already rang it into my cash register.”

“OK, I’ll have an orange soda.”

“We’re out of orange soda.”

YOU’RE OUT OF ORANGE SODA!

Someone picks up their tray and the large order of fries is strewn across said tray. No one seems to mind. One of the mestiza ladies asks where her chicken whatever is. The robot answers “you didn’t specify which chicken whatever you wanted” To his credit the robot does change the order for mestiza lady.

Anyway. Critic gets his order – the tray has a mountain of at least 20 small packets of chile, jam and ketchup – and goes to the table. Sits and bites into a piece of chicken which pops open and sprays table and Critic with hot oil. Well, it’s comforting to know that at least the chicken has been cooked recently, as he wipes oil off the various surfaces and items of clothing now permanently ruined.

But the chicken inside is rubbery, soft, like those horrible marinated arrachera steaks that have the consistency of ham, not actual meat. It’s flavorless too. And that crispy, perfectly seasoned crust? Not happening. highly unsatisfying, to say the least.

Ugh.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Shüteln

What a strange name, you might ask. Shüteln means “to shake” in German and perhaps the idea is that the strange and wonderful flavor combinations are created to shake up your taste buds?

But Shüteln is the most amazing ice cream shop. It’s owner has studied gastronomy and specialized his efforts in… ice cream. Really. Going as far as Argentina to find out what makes the best ice cream the best.

The Critic tried his ice cream for the first time at Las Yuyas, where they have the exclusive contract to sell papadzul ice cream. How the hell one can possibly turn this classic Yucatecan dish into an ice cream is beyond the Critics’ comprehension, but it really is the most amazing thing to experience this creamy, sweet, ice cold treat with hints of egg, pepita and even tomato.

And when the Critic visited Radio Station Pizza he was amazed to discover the ice cream shop right next door, which meant leaving room for dessert.

The papadzul ice cream was sampled yet again, along with a most amazingly refreshing red wine sherbet, a goat cheese and strawberry creation and almond-basil. Better Half had the cajeta as well. All of these were truly incredible and it was difficult to pick a ‘favorite’. As comedian Brian Regan would say “they’re all (both) favorites”.

Another winner. This place is also in Plaza Macao, on the Garcia Lavin avenue, between the pocito roundabout and City Center near the periferico. Their Facebook page is here.

Location info

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Radio Station Pizza

Radio Station Pizza

With Better Half (BH) and Cincinnati Girl Invited (CGI)  along for giggles, the Critic visited this brand new pizzeria which is owned by a distant family member.

((begin disclaimer)) If you – dear reader – are wondering what the policy is regarding the reviews of restaurants owned by friends or family, it is this: if the restaurant is crap the Critic will not mention it so as not offend sensibilities and cause massive discussions at Thanksgiving dinners. If it is good however, and worth a visit for the seventeen readers of this column, then the Critic will go ahead and write about it ((end disclaimer))

The view from out front

Back to the Radio Station. It is called Radio Station as the owner – let’s call him Rach for now – is a big fan of all things music. He plays in a band. Has regular jam sessions. Loves rock and has traveled extensively. And he loves pizza. So pizza and music = radio station pizza. Signature pizzas are named after rock songs and there are musical referencesthrough out the simple but functional locale.

Clients w Rach, music and pizza lover (and pizza maker too)

You can also create your own pizza with plenty of ingredients to choose from. These, by the way, are quality ingredients. The cheese (along with the flour) comes from Italy via Mexico DF. Lomo canadiense (not the Critic’s the stuff you put on the pizza) is the real thing. Pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes. Rach is not going to Super Aki for his ingredients and when you bite into a slice of the pizza you created and that popped out of his brick oven in 3-5 minutes, you will see that this is what makes these pies taste great.

The crust is thin and if you want it cooked normally, it takes about 3 minutes. If you like it charred and crispier (highly recommended) it will be about 5 minutes.

While you wait you can enjoy the music and drink the home-made jamaica, infused with rosemary and brought to your table in glass bottles (no plastic!). No alcohol license just yet, it appears.

To give you an idea, the Critic, BH and CGI had two pizzas, which are ‘one-size-fits-all’ approx 8 inches or so across. Not too huge. Another pizza was ordered to take home to the MiniCritic, who had not come along on this particular outing, preferring to stay home  andhave the food brought to her as is befitting of the queen she is.

Almost ready for the oven

 

Some meat, gorgonzola, sun dried tomatoes on this one – note the extra crispy crust

parmigiano on top, tomato sauce, basic pizza

The Critic can recommend Radio Station Pizza without hesitation, family member or not.

And do save room for dessert – available right next door at Shüteln – which will be dealt with in a separate review.

Casual Restaurant Critic at El Globo

What is all the fuss about El Globo, the Critic wonders. And so, in he goes to see what’s there; at the Prolongacion Montejo location. There he is “greeted” by somewhat indifferent employees who look just a tad bored. Orders a cappuccino which is alright.

And the bread? Picked up 3 different pastries and only one was really edible; a thick, bready ‘chocolatin’ which is a poor imitation of a ‘pain au chocolate’ which is so, so much better at Petite Delice, where a French-trained pastry chef makes them flaky and perfectly.

Overall impression? Meh.

Don’t understand what the fuss is about. You can safely never go here and won’t be damaged for life.

Casual Restaurant Critic revisits Eureka

Eureka is probably one of the Critic’s favorite restaurants in Merida. It is the only place where instead of looking at the menu, he will just take the chef’s suggestions as he is always offering something new and interesting that he wants to try out. This is great since the Critic doesn’t order the same thing as always, a bad habit based on fear of the unknown and love for the dishes already tried and can expand his palate to other options that might not seem as appealing as the carbonara pasta.

A recent visit with the Better Half confirmed that the restaurant is still as good as ever.

Olives and that addictive warm bread

A special of the day/week: lobster tail with a cream sauce and fresh pasta

All seafood. The broth was outstanding

A new cheese had arrived, so chef Fabrizio offered to whip up a little something to try it out – amazing!

Casual Restaurant Critic re-visits Peruano

Just a quick update on this great Santa Lucia restaurant, in the heart of Merida – it’s still fabulous as of this writing. Don’t miss the ceviches – on this occasion we had two different tuna ceviches and one warm shrimp ceviche – and drink a Pisco Sour or two: refreshingly delicious but strong, so don’t be getting into your car after this!

Highly recommended!

Tuna ceviche I

Tuna ceviche II

Warm shrimp ceviche

Pisco Sour

Casual Restaurant Critic visits Las Yuyas

Every once in a while, my work, such as it is, requires me to visit restaurants that could be potentially incorporated into a tour offering. Such was the case today, with Las Yuyas, located in the Merida’s Jesus Carranza colonia.

Open since March of this year, they are cooking up traditional Yucatecan food with some original twists and presenting it in an attractive manner. My dear readers will agree that one of the most delicious and absolutely worst Yucatecan platillos to photograph is sikil pak, but the way chef Edwin prepares it here is a work of art. Very tasty too! Look:

Sikil Pak at Las Yuyas

All the dishes tried were excellent, from the queso relleno (my go-to dish when comparing Yucatecan restaurants) to lomitos de Valladolid to pipian de puerco. Also sampled were chayitas, taco de cochinita, relleno negro and escabeche, along with crema de brocoli and sopa de lima. Each was very well presented and perfectly seasoned. Tortillas were handmade and hot, and the tostadas for the sikil pak were fried just before being brought out to the table which made them extra hot and crispy. Nice touch.

Dessert was caballeros pobres, better than the usual goop served at so many restaurants, and papadzul ice cream. This is made by a local ice cream artist and this restaurant is the only place in town where you can have this flavor. Reason enough to come and sample the wares.

The room is comfortable, chairs are a bit on the hard side, walls are all glass and the A/C is cold. Service was very friendly with a bit of a delay on the removal of dirty dishes but overall very attentive. Owner Mario stopped by for a chat and explained a little about what he is trying to do.

Recommended; a restaurant that deserves a visit. Enjoy the (iPhone) photos!

Little masa ball appetizers

Crema de brocoli

Sopa de lima

Nido de Yuyas – a large sampler plate of several items

Pipian

Lomitos de Valladolid

Queso relleno

Caballero pobre (dessert)

Caballero pobre II

Papadzul ice cream. Yes, papadzul – amazing!

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Pizza Rock, Las Vegas USA

A short visit to the “city of sin” which is such a silly term for the bleached and bland Vegas of plastic malls, outlets full of fake Chinese merchandise you don’t need and fountains of fake breasts bursting out of skimpy outfits in every direction, prompted the Critic to sample some new restaurants along with some perennial favorites.

One of the restaurants falling into the “new” category, at least for this Critic, was one of Vegas’ best pizza joints – Pizza Rock. They have a margherita pizza, Napolitano style and cooked in a 900 degree oven in seconds, approved by the folks in Naples, where it actually received a ‘best pizza’ recognition, no small feat. The Critic had one, luckily it was still available as they only make 73 per day. BetterHalf had a Sausage and Stout pizza with dough that incorporates stout beer (only 23 made each day) which to the Critics tastebuds was a little too sweet.  A Cuatro Carnes pizza for the MiniCritic and the Americano for the CanadianCritic.

The waiter informed the group that this was going to be a lot of food and was appropriately amazed when only two pieces of pizza were left after the feeding frenzy ended.

The pizzas are amazing. Don’t miss this place! There are no photos as the pizzas were devoured before the Critic had a chance to take a picture!

http://pizzarocklasvegas.com/_pages/pr-menu.html

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Chilakillers

Chilakillers. Chilaquiles. Get it? Clever name.

The Casual Restaurant Critic, accompanied by his darling Mini-Critic, visited this restaurant this past week thanks to several recommendations that said it was a great place for, well, chilaquiles. Mini-Critic loves her some chilaquiles.

The place is really pretty, amazingly so, on a non-descript stretch of 57 between 56 and 58 in the heart of Merida’s downtown, or as some of the expats call it – Centro. As in “I live in Centro, and you?”

You can see in the photos (below) that they have taken some time to create an original and attractive room, from furniture to ceiling and wall treatments. Treatments. This is beginning to sound like a pretentious architectural piece.

The service was of the shy, slither to your table variety, with one waiter and one what appeared to be an encargado at the cash register who did nothing to acknowledge the presence of the Critics and at one point, when the waiter was needed, who was taking dishes to the back, this person waited for the waiter to reappear and wave his hand in the Critics direction indicating that he was needed there. Perhaps he had a mobility issue and couldn’t leave the comfort of his cashier area. Who knows.

The food was good, but with one table and one order, they managed to screw it up – it is unclear if it was the waiter or the kitchen, but both orders of chilaquiles with castacan and chicken both arrived without the castacan or the chicken. After some digging to see if perhaps the meats had been hidden at the bottom of the bowls, the waiter was notified and he remedied the problem, taking the dishes back to the kitchen to have the order fixed.

The plates are deceptively small-ish, but the Critic suspects you might find it difficult to finish your order, as it seems to be an endless bowl situation. No matter how many spoonfuls you take out, it never gets smaller. At the end, there are soggy corn tortilla bits and while some like those, the Critic is not a huge fan. There could have been more cheese, more onions on them too.

Prices are very reasonable, the room is pretty and the drinks were good. Try the Limpiador smoothie. That’s smoothie, not smothie.

Service is really (WHAT IS IT WITH MERIDA??) the fatal blow to this otherwise interesting option for breakfast or lunch downtown. Again, as in so many Merida restaurants, the owners have spent good money on their location, their menu, their graphics and their concept and then leaving the most important part out – good, professional customer service.

Will the Critic go back? Probably not. But you go have some chilaquiles and make up your own mind.