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.

Merida, Yucatan, April 2020 and the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is the era of the coronavirus and we have survived March and arrived at April 2020 – finally – but the end is nowhere in sight. It’s my personal feeling that we here in Mexico are just getting started.

While the USA struggles to keep up with the ever-increasing number of people infected with the virus, and Italy and Spain still lead in number of deaths, Mexico is – thankfully – way down the list today of affected countries. This is temporary I suspect, and we will see an uptick shortly as the cases reported grow exponentially.

The reaction here has been mostly denial, at least at the federal level, for most of March. It seems that finally the message is sinking in, however, and the social distancing and washing your hands campaign is starting to take hold. At the state level, governor Mauricio Vila has earned praise for his pro-active reactions and actions, and all the bitching and moaning about the license plate renewal fee (another subject, for another day and now on hold) has quieted down. The state of Yucatan is way ahead of the federal government (think AMLO and his magical amulets) in accepting this new reality.

Traffic in the city of Merida and on the highways is light, very light and it would be a pleasure to drive anywhere if it wasn’t because of a world-wide pandemic. And if you had somewhere to go. Most stores are officially closed as of yesterday April 1st, with the exception of anything medical, food and fuel related. Restaurants are to-go only and Uber, Rappi and others are making money delivering food to shut-ins. Pedestrians too, are fewer than ever and the city’s various neighborhoods present quite an eerie sight.

There have been concerns on television and other media that the companies are not providing adequate protection (PPE) to their drivers and it does seem a bit risky to be in such close and constant contact with all kinds of people all over the city of Merida. On Mexican TV, you hear of nurses, doctors and support staff already worried about shortages of personal protection equipment in the public hospitals and we are just getting started. Not a promising start.

I am crossing my fingers (what else can I do) that our stomachs and immune systems here are less sensitive than those of our neighbors to the north, and that the stifling heat of April and May will make that virus think twice about setting up shop here.

Stay tuned. And stay home. Stay healthy.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Carnes Concepción – Temozón

“In the town of Temozón
you will find Carnes Concepción…”

This was going to be a rhyme as those two words seemed to make sense in that context, but the Critic will continue as normal since poetic inspiration is at a virus-infused low point at the moment.

A search on this blog revealed that the Critic has never written about Carnes Concepción, one of several smoked meat options on the highway to Ek Balam or Rio Lagartos when coming from Valladolid.

A must-stop for lunch, the smoked meat (pretty well all pork) and longaniza is justifiably famous and mouth-wateringly delicious. If only the Critic wasn’t socially distancing himself at the moment he might take advantage of this lull in his regular activities to drive over and eat something.

Why Carnes Concepción in particular? On one occasion the Critic forgot his phone there and did not realize it until he was in Valladolid. When he raced back to the restaurant, the kind ladies had found and kept the phone for him. This has earned them the Critic’s undying loyalty and anytime he is in the area with guests, a stop at Carnes Concepcion for lunch is a must.

On the occasion that these photos were taken – a Monday – there was frijol con puerco (pork and beans) to be savored. When you go, order the mixed platter which has everything on it and take whatever you can’t eat home. Smoked pork or longaniza is great chopped into your scrambled breakfast huevos the next day!

Some serious smoking going on back here

Smoked pork close-up

The garnishes/complements for the Frijol con Puerco

That’s smoked pork in there.

Longaniza – the smoked sausage Temozon is famous for

.

 

What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

Arte Helado! Lemon Pie ice cream. Yum.

Here’s the Casual Restaurant Critic’s – their Pay de Limon is most amazing!

Arte Helado Campestre

A Re-Visit to Merci

Merci on a Sunday is guaranteed to feature a wait and sure enough, when the Critic and his Better Half arrived this past Sunday to have breakfast, several people were parked on the bench outside the door. Dalia – next door and on the Critics list based on Better Half’s recommendation – was the backup plan and it was evident that tables were available there.

Nevertheless, a table for two was not a problem and Critic and Better were seated upon arrival. Brunch is available on Sundays from 8:30 to 4:00 and features breakfast items as well as more lunch-y options.

The Critic opted for chilaquiles, served up here with a sunny-side-up egg, a longaniza tomato sauce, avocado, some cheese, and fresh radish garnish. And a smattering of shredded chicken to round out the caloric intake. Better Half ordered what appears to be a sort of Croque sandwich which, she assured the Critic, was delicious. Coffee (latté) was great, as was the almond and pepita croissant and home-made papaya jam.

Recommended? You bet.

Two café lattés and the day’s agua de naranja con mango

Le croissant

L’autre pain whose name the Critic cannot recall. But it was flaky and deliciously warm and with some butter… yum

The chilaquiles rojos

Le sandwich d’oeuf

Customer Service Tales

In a short span of two days, I had three memorable customer service experiences which I think are typical of Merida, a city not known for its outstanding customer service whether it’s retail or restaurant. Perhaps some of you have had similar experiences? Read on.

The Dry Cleaners

Pre-wedding (not mine, one I had been invited to)  and I had some shirts to clean so I stopped at a previously unknown-to-me dry cleaning operation at the Uptown shopping mall. I stopped there because I rarely if ever visit the dry cleaners and so my criteria for selecting one is if I see it on the side of the road or not. This one was there, with a parking spot to boot, so I stopped.

In I went, holding my two items of clothing and standing behind a woman who was in the process of leaving her clothing. No one looked up or acknowledged my presence in any way. The space was small, so the young woman behind the counter knew I was there, I was sure, and the other lady who was wandering around behind the counter unsmilingly definitely looked my way at some point before quickly looking away without so much as a growl.

I was there for a while, while the counter lady and the customer lady negotiated what was cleanable and what was not. I was growing increasingly impatient as one does when one is ignored, but finally, after what seemed like a Pleistocene length of time, customer lady departed leaving me face to face with counter lady. She looked up and then at my shirts.

Digame?” she asked, finally acknowledging my presence.

¿Digame? What is she? A Venezuelan phone operator?

I asked her if she had any idea of what it felt like to be invisible. Her response came in the form of a bovine stare and silence.

“It would have been nice if at least you had said hello when I came in” I remarked.

Es que estaba atendiendo a la señora

Of course, I hadn’t noticed. Silly me. And imagine the effort and coordination it would have taken to continue attending one client and saying hello to another! I ask too much. There wasn’t much more to say so I left my shirts, took my receipt and left.

Thank you, Tintorerias MAX. Never again. Well, one more time, to pick up the shirts.

The Camera Store

It had been almost a week since I left my Canon camera to be repaired and maintained. When I went to pick it up, the person behind the counter informed me that unfortunately, it was not ready.

I was more than a little mortified since it was my daughter’s wedding and I kind of needed to have the camera that night, but I held it together as best I could.

“Is there nothing that can be done? I had hoped it would be ready for tonight. It’s my daughters wedding you see.”

Déjame hacer una llamada” the employee said and went into the back room.

Although I have been coming to this place for many, many years now and know the owner quite well. I could understand that things were what they were and if it wasn’t ready, it wasn’t ready.

Le vamos a prestar una cámara” I was told when the employee emerged, smiling, from the back room.

Once I picked up my jaw from the floor, I thanked her profusely and signed the receipt for 20,000 pesos of camera that they were lending me in order for me to be able to take photos at my daughters wedding. Who does that anymore? I was impressed, big time.

You have my business for life, Victor and Digicentro.

Home Depot Stop

I have 10 minutes to run in and buy a faucet, a simple garden-type faucet, as there is one at the house which is not closing properly and so, water is running all the time, which means the pump comes on all the time… but I digress.

10 minutes.

I rush in, only to find that the aisle that has the faucets is closed, as a forklift is working in the next aisle over. There is an employee standing next to that little fence they put up.

“Can I just rush in and get this faucet?” I ask, showing him the one I had brought from home.

No, porque están trabajando al lado” replies the employee.

I point to another customer, in that very same aisle, looking for something.

“What about him – does he have magic powers or something?”

No, de hecho le estamos esperando para trabajar.

OK, while you work/wait could you perhaps pop in and get me one of these? You know where they are, it’ll only take a minute.

He does. Comes back with several models.

Tengo este que es cromado pero es de medio, el suyo es de tres cuartos. Tiene que comprar un adaptador. Y tenemos este otro de tres cuartos que no necesita nada.”

I don’t like the 3/4 inch one because it looks like a gas valve shutoff thing. OK. I am ready to buy the adaptor and the half-inch version, in chrome.

Miraculously, the forklift stops working in the next aisle and I am able to enter this one to peruse the faucet offerings. I quickly find exactly what I am looking for and am in the cashier line-up, not before showing the employee what it was I had been looking for. He shrugged and said “Oh” and that was that.

Home Depot, no worries and as the Terminator said, I’ll be back.

 

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, the latest entry into the expensive and hipster steak restaurant category has the distinctive pedigree of being owned by the same folks that own and presumably operate 130 degrees, where the Critic once had the most expensive meal ever in Merida, is now open in what used to be the Tony Roma’s restaurant spot, near the periférico and across the road from City Center (Walmart). Whether or not this opening caused the demise of the Gloria Cantinera directly in front remains – at the time of this writing and to the author of said writing – a mystery.

Cienfuegos (literal translation; a hundred fires) is a beautiful restaurant. Potentially award-winning interior design and details abound that make the space very photogenic indeed. If you pick up on some similarities between the newest Miyabi restaurants and this place, it is probably because the same architectural firm designed and executed this. CHECK THIS

Besides the great room, you want to hear a bit about the staff. The hostess was on her cellular when the twenty-something MiniCritic arrived, ignoring her at the door for some time as she finished up with her phone call. The Critic, being a 50-plus male, had no waiting at the door.

The Mini Critic and Better Half had arrived before the Critic and so when the Critic sat down, brought in by the hostess, he expected a waiter to pop by to see if he wanted a drink but alas, this was not to be. The Critic flagged down what turned out to be the waiter and asked if a drink order was possible. The waiter seemed a little upset and perfunctorily answered the questions without much in the way of friendliness. Throughout the lunch, the service was lacking and every time something was needed, Critic and Co had to flag someone down. At one point the Critic stepped outside for a phone call and when the waiter also stepped outside, there was not a flicker of recognition on the waiter’s face as they crossed paths.

Now it may seem petty and trivial to narrow in on these details but when you see how much money they have invested in the decoration and architecture, this lack of training by management is unforgivable in the Critics never humble opinion.

The food, including some XXX and a rather massive cowboy steak (it was the Critics birthday) was excellent and cooked to order as asked. There was a lost sales opportunity in that the waiter did not mention the sides that were available. These were on the menu, but the wait staff should – again in the Critics never humble opinion – reinforce these options and make the effort to get the sale.

The Moscow Mule was great and did pack a kick, as it should, but here, no one came around to ask if another drink was desired. Another missed sales opportunity.

In the appetizer department, the bone marrow topped with escamole or ant eggs (popular in Oaxaca) won the Most Exotic prize, while the pear carpaccio with goat cheese and other curious ingredients, took the award for most surprisingly delicious appetizer. The dry noodles were tasty but eat too much of this and you will not have room for your main course.

All in all, the restaurant is a beautiful place and is new, which means it is full of the young rich hipster and NiNi crown who have more money than you probably do and can afford such luxuries without having the neurotic demands that someone like the Critic manifests in his picky observations. The food is good, albeit expensive. The service, like so very many restaurants in the formerly white city, is not at all commensurate with the quality of the food and beverages and the decor. It seems that Merida restaurant owners are not too concerned with providing a quality experience in every aspect and frankly, the clientele apparently attaches precious little to the concept of being served decently.

Tal para cual.

Tuna, crusted with pistachio

Ceviche with fried calamar

Here you can see a little of what they have done with the ceiling. This is wood.

Another shot of the pistachio-crusted tuna

The cowboy steak, a bone-in rib eye cooked to perfection, no sides and no distractions

Cowboy meat and fat close-up.

Bone chunks (marrow inside) topped with escamole ie ant eggs. Really. Quite Decadent. (appetizer)

Fideo Seco, or Dry Noodles (appetizer)

Pear carpaccio (appetizer)

 

A Second Visit to Maya de Asia

The Critic loved that duck so when another opportunity arrived to go eat at Maya de Asia, well, he was all over that idea. This time with the MiniCritic and BetterHalf to better sample more dishes (besides the aforementioned duck) the late lunch early dinner was great.

With the first-date wow factor somewhat diminished, the Critic had time to notice other things besides the mostly spectacular food. The waiters are somewhat professional and friendly enough but they don’t seem, well, happy. Perhaps they get shat on a lot or they are practicing their all-black-uniform ‘cool’ thing, but they don’t seem to be having a particularly good time. Yes, it’s a job, but in a nice place with a great kitchen and whatnot, you would think a few more smiles would grace the faces of these servers.

The other thing the Critic took notice of was the weird bathrooms on the second level. The restaurant is so expansive and grandiose, that these mini bathrooms seem like an afterthought. It’s almost like – as Mini Critic pointed out – that perhaps the architect was so concentrated on creating an award-winning design and interior treatment that he or she forgot about the bathrooms and this was the only space left. Who knows.

Enjoy the photos and don’t let potentially sad wait staff or a climb to the bathroom put you off. Try this place and enjoy the experience, which is totally worth it.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Maya de Asia

The Casual Restaurant Critic was proud of the fact that he has been able to avoid entering the new Harbor mall, not being a fan of malls in general and malls in Merida to an even lesser degree. However, dinner at the relatively new (the mall did just open a short while ago after all) and quite spectacular Maya de Asia may mean that the Critic make his way into this labyrinth more often.

Try to forgive the planners the tiny, wormhole tunnel that is the confusing underground parking and find somewhere to park near an escalator. Maya de Asia is located on the first floor, near the Macaroons kiosk (these are amazing too by the way) and Forever 21. is it true that Forever 21 has closed stores and so is not as Forever as the name would imply?  The Critic digresses.

Maya de Asia is a gorgeous room with an ample terrace overlooking the water feature and lit sign for The Harbor. You could imagine you were in Miami, which is the ultimate compliment for Yucatecan designers intent on re-creating exotic locales and discarding anything and everything that is from the Yucatan. However, and in an unexpected turn of events, in this restaurant Mayan and Yucatecan elements from the culinary world have been taken and slapped onto Asian food and the results, at least from a preliminary visit and in most cases, are quite spectacular. As in delicious.

The Critic, fan of all foods Asian, and his lovely Better Half had a Pad Thai, the Panang duck, a chaya humus and to make it complete, a Sikil Roll. The Pad Thai was fantastic, with surprising bits of what seemed like longaniza thrown in. The duck did not have anything Yucatecan in it that the Critic could immediately identify, but it is very possible and highly likely that there is a local ingredient mixed in there somewhere. The chaya mousse was excellent and the warm bread that accompanied the dip so very good. The Sikil Roll was a fat, cold, fresh roll with a solid fish, none of that awful cream cheese and a brown dollop of a rather liquid sikil pak (traditional local pumpkin seed dip) on each piece. This, to the Critic, seemed unnecessary and the flavor combination was nothing special. Fresh fish, rice and pumpkin seeds. It could also be that the Critic was absolutely stuffed by this point.

No room for desserts, coffees or other distractions. The place definitely warrants a second visit and there will be another post, very soon!

The ceiling decor. Can you tell what those wooden elements are?

Room, with a view of the kitchen to the left

The menu

Humus, featuring local superfood chaya

The absolutely spectacular duck

Pad Thai

Sikil Roll with its fish and its pumpkin seed dip on top

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Bistro Cultural

It was their anniversary, it was very busy and the Critic won’t pass judgement on the experience he had this morning with the Better Half and several other, local guests. Breakfast was long, leisurely (not for the two waitresses desperately working the entire restaurant inside and out) and the food delicious. Good coffee too.

The space is cozy and attractive and chef Yohann kind in his attention to his guests.

Some serious swinging music in the garden

Some serious swinging music in the garden Part II

The garden patio, full of happy eaters

Inside

View to the street, from the inside

Pretty flowers as centerpieces throughout

Creme brulee

Isla flotante

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Soberana Steakhouse

The discrete Soberana restaurant, tucked into the bottom of the Santa Lucia hotel, might be overlooked with all the more visible eateries in the Santa Lucia square across the street (60) but it shouldn’t be.

Chef Andrés Zapata has created a meat-lovers menu and even sells some of the rubs that have made him somewhat of a local legend in the local culinary scene. That and his personality which displays none of the dickiness of other more diva-like chefs, make him one of the most sought-after personalities when it comes to events featuring barbeque, grilling and the like.

On this visit, the Critic had been invited to sample the new menu and in the absence of a recuperating Better Half, the Critic invited a second critic to help try the new meat offerings.

Frijoles Puercos

The first item to grace the table was a small bowl of beans, cooked non stop and served with black corn chips. The thing that makes these beans decadent (they are called Frijoles Puercos) is that when cooking up meat in the kitchen, the pot is always on the back burner and chef Andrés throws in whatever meat juices are bubbling up and left over, resulting in extremely flavorful and deliciously fatty beans. Cholesterol warning in effect.

Chef Andrés taking a momento to crack a joke. This Critic has never seen Andrés in a bad mood, ever.

Rubs to take home

Soberana’s take on Mac & Cheese

The Critic let the chef decide, although anything off the menu was available to try. First up? The Mac and Cheese. It could use a tiny bit more cheese but the creaminess and the addition of caramelized “million dollar” bacon was amazing.

Smoky fish tacos on Panela cheese tortillas

The second appetizer was smoky fish tacos served on panela cheese “tortillas” Anyone familiar with dieting and panela cheese knows that this is a cheese-like substance, far removed from anything resembling tasty cheese. An interesting and probably healthy concept, but as far as flavor goes, eat the topping, skip the cheese.

Salsas

Main course – picaña steak, prepared tableside by the master grill chef himself.

For the main course, and to share, the picaña beef steak, cooked to perfection. The flavor of this cut was truly mouth watering and this is the steak the Critic highly recommends you order. Andrés will prepare it with it’s juices , at your table.

Preparing the Picaña

Delicious!

Prices are reasonable and this is a good alternative to mix things up a little in Santa Lucia. You can eat in the restaurant or enjoy a limited menu on the park itself, where there are some tables and chairs set up so you can have your conversation drowned out by the musical acts, if that is your thing.