Tag Archives: carne

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)

 

La Recova – Argentina Meets Montejo

La Recova is a new Argentinian restaurant on Mérida’s Prolongación de Montejo, smack dab in the middle of what the Casual Restaurant calls Taco Alley. You know, that part of street where you can find the taquerias El Cacique, Gabbos, Tacos PM, as well as the Yucatecan hold-outs in all their flourescent 75 watt tubular lighting splendor La Rosita and La Terracita Azul and where on a Friday or Saturday night when it’s not temporada time, you can’t find a parking space and traffic is crazy.

However, it is – at present – not temporada time for the Casual Restaurant Critic, since he cannot get away for 2 months just because the weather and tradition dictates it. Neither was it Friday or Saturday night and the destination was not tacos but to sample the new La Recova restaurant which looks quite modern and inviting from the outside in that new, taking-Merida-by-storm, minimalist way.

On this particular Saturday afternoon, the Critic was accompanied by the ever-lovely Better Half and of course the MiniCritic as well and although the mission was to reach Trotters for their Steak Au Poivre, it was decided – as La Recova appeared on the left – that you can’t really go wrong with Argentinian beef.

If you, dear reader aka querido lector are saying “shut the hell up and get on with it!” you will have to be patient because the CRC woke up this morning feeling all inspired to write something and this is the result.

There is valet parking available for those too lazy to look for a spot themselves or to walk the distance necessary once they have found that spot. Or it’s really busy and there really is not anywhere to park. Or you drive a pink Hummer and have to make an entrance.

But, on this Saturday afternoon with everyone at the beach working on their crowd management skills there was room nearby on Montejo and since the Critic as a rule does not employ the services of ‘valet parkings’ this time was no exception; it should be pointed out though that the guys at the valet parking stand actually acknowledged the presence of the Critic’s party which was a hopeful sign being as it was the very first contact with the restaurant.

The hostesses (there were two) dressed in black were welcoming and friendly and quickly showed us to our table. Air conditioning was cold and welcome since it was extremely hot outside.

Drinks were ordered; nothing exotic or alcoholic and the Critic quickly ordered grilled asparagus with Parmesan cheese and Fontina cheese, melted. There are two options for the Fontina appetizer; smoked and regular, the Critic had the regular. These were very good; the Critic thought the asparagus was a little bitter but the melted cheese, served on a tomato slice and topped with a sweet red pepper, was outstanding.

The steaks, which was the whole purpose of the venture were ordered. There is a selection of Argentinian cuts on the menu that is actually quite extensive and incomprehensible but the waiter does a fine job of explaining everything. The Better Half was concerned that the waiter emphasized that her selection of steak had a lot of grasa, but the Critic thought he was friendly and courteous about it and it was a good idea since one can imagine the typical diner getting his or her steak and then exclaiming ‘but it has FAT’ like fat in beef was a bad thing. What did the Better Half order: Tira de Asado. The Critc will attempt to upload photos from a new phone. The Critic had the Bife – the quintessential Argentinian cut – while the MiniCritic ordered a pasta, the raviolis stuffed with goat cheese.

So how was the food? The Tira de Asado, besides being so huge that it lounges self-confidently on the plate like Tony Soprano in a bathtub with a cigar and scotch, is in the Critic’s opinion a little chewy but that is the nature of that particular cut and there isn’t a whole lot to be done about it. The Better Half was in heaven as were the dogs back home when the bone arrived! The Bife was outstanding, extremely tender and cooked perfectly. Accompanying both steaks was a garnish consisting of a zucchini slice, grilled, topped with some mashed potato, a cherry tomato and a sprig of romero. The raviolis came in a large bowl, in a generous portion that would make the Trotters blush and the sauce was so very delectable that the Critic had to savour it to the last drop it after the MiniCritic had devoured her pasta.

In spite of better judgement, desserts were offered and two were chosen, all in the name of research for this blog. Tiramisu, a gigantic cheesy concoction (made with real mascarpone cheese, the party was informed) that would have easily fed an entire refugee camp in the Sudan; and Flan Napolitano. There are photos of these two desserts, hopefully you are seeing them and not reading this! The Tiramisu lacked ladyfingers which the Critic believes are part of the original recipe and was just toooooooo much. Mascarpone or no, the cheese was too cheesy and the party of three soon had their arteries screaming in protest and could not be brought to finish it. The Flan was excellent and received a warmer reception from the party’s cardiovascular systems. After dinner, the manager, whom the Critic knows, offered a dessert wine which was sweet, chilled and refreshing; much like a German Eiswein. Excellent.

Other notes: Service throughout is friendly (without being overly familiar – ie: Nectar where the waiter unfortunately feels the need to talk about how your business is coming along) and attentive (think Campay on those occasions when the waiter feels the need to prove his efficiency by pulling the plate from under your chopsticks as you pick up the last piece of sashimi).

Bread on the tables is warm and made in-house. Crisp white tablecloths throughout. Great air conditioning.

Large spaces set off by smaller spaces for groups and a great bar featuring a zillion types of alcoholic concoctions, a view of Montejo (the view is nothing to write home about but the Critic suspects that the idea is to be seen, rather than to see anything) and Mercer cigars as well as an ozone machine that sucks up the cigar smoke for those who just have to be there but are allergic to smoke… (hellooo?)

All in all, the Critic gives this place a solid 4.5. It could become a new all-time favorite!

Link: if you read Spanish, this will explain about Argentinian cuts of beef