Tag Archives: Casual Restaurant Critic

El Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca

The Critic and BH along with MiniCritic, enjoyed a solid, good, Yucatecan lunch on Sunday at the new-ish and already very popular Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca. (Note and hola to Jan Morgan: the information on where it is etc. is in the link which is the name)

First of all, this is a gigantic restaurant especially compared with the cramped quarters of the also popular Chaya Maya or others, probably because it is an old colonial-era home of one of the henequen barons from back in the day. So you have a huge interior open-air patio surrounded by terraces and rooms which make up the area for tables. Each of the rooms features a henequen (sisal) based theme that is still being completed and will be finished very soon.

In the back, there is a re-creation of a small Mayan “village” complete with the requisite kitchen structure where two or three mestiza women make hand-made tortillas. Other chozas feature information and displays on ingredients used in Yucatecan cooking. Explanations are in Spanish and English, and the Critic is happy to report that the translations are pretty good. Also in the back yard is the pib area, or cooking pit(s) where the food is cooked, in the traditional way of the Yucatecan pueblos. On this visit, the Critic arrived in time to see, along with a dozen or so other interested diners, the moment when the ‘relleno negro’ was pulled out of the pib, and samples were given out – delicious!

In addition to all this, there is a gift shop and a small museum-like display of artifacts and ingredients typically used in the preparation of Yucatecan food and it is evident that someone took their time to arrange and present all this in an attractive and professional manner.

The food was excellent. Well prepared and tasted as it should. BH enjoyed one of her favorite dishes, a Sunday Merida classic called puchero de tres carnes, MC and the Critic both had queso relleno, which is the standard (for the Critic) by which all Yucatecan restaurants are measured. This queso relleno, complete with capers, raisins and almonds is the real deal and is up there with the best of them. Brazo de reina and a small mucbilpollo or tamal were had as appetizers. The first was good, while the tamal was just OK and lacked the crispiness of the fresh-baked version.

Keep in mind that this is heavy food; very filling and you will need a siesta afterward. Don’t feel the need to try everything the first time you visit. You can come back. And don’t eat this at night, for crying out loud: Yucatecan food is a mid-day thing.

What really blew the Critics mind, however, especially after recent forays into various “fancy” restaurants and their indifferent or just plain inadequate service, was the service at the Museo. Santos arrived at the table to introduce himself and when offering drinks made a smooth, professional, sales pitch that convinced all three members of the Critics lunch group to try the house cocktail. Throughout the meal, Santos was not more than a hand-wave away, in spite of having several tables under his charge. There was no intrusiveness, no slinking up to the table, no mumbling and no arriving with the dishes and not knowing to whom they belonged. So, a big shout-out to Santos – keep it up!

The location will make this place very successful and if they keep up the quality of the food and service, this place should be around for a while. Enjoy the photos!

The least photogenic of any appetizer in the world, these are black beans (l) and sikil pak (r) along with tostadas. The sikil pak is excellent.

Shot of the museum part of the restaurant

Gift shop

Museum from the other side

A little pueblo in the back yard – your clue that you’re not somewhere else is the building poking out between the trees

One of the chozas and the display

Inside the choza: here we have an explanation of recado verde

There’s cooking going on right now, under there.

Pueblo in the foreground with a giant hotel in the background for context

A fizzy but not too sweet opener

Brazo de Reina I

Tamalito known as mucbilpolloI

Mucbilpollo II

Brazo de Reina II

Preparing to uncover the pib

The chef explains what is happening here

After carefully removing the earth, the laminated tin sheet is taken off the pit

With the tin sheet removed, this is what you see. Jabin leaves and branches aromatize the food

A treasure chest, waiting to be opened

Forget gold coins and trinkets. This treasure chest contains something much more memorable

Preparing a sample for those watching

Aguas frescas de chaya y ramon. Yes, ramon.

Puchero!

Queso Relleno!

The Casual Restaurant Critic – A Sake Experience at Irori

 

Irori at night

Thanks to the beloved Better Half and her connections, the Critic was able to join BH at the inauguration of the new Roberto Solis project Irori, a sushi bar to rival what Merida already has in that very popular segment.

 

This was not a restaurant visit in the normal sense of the word; there were lots of samples generously served by the restaurant along with sake and sake-based drinks, all of which was not only delicious but much appreciated. The restaurant has been open for a few months now, but this was the ‘official’ opening.

The restaurant is beautiful and is an offshoot of the original and highly successful Irori in Cancun. The sushi bar, in particular, is inviting – ie. you are not staring at the back of a refrigerated countertop fish container – and a real option for those who enjoy sitting there and talking to the chefs as opposed to a table. Chef Solis commented that he will be presenting omakase tasting menus in the near future which the Critic will happy to experience.

Good music, good food, a beautiful room and plenty of beautiful people made this a stand-out event.

Below is a selection of photos featuring some of the people attending, the food served and of course the restaurant itself.

The sushi bar

Rolling up some sushi

A few words

Ribbon cutting I

Ribbon cutting II

 

The Casual Restaurant Critics visits Piñuela

The room

It’s a been on the list for a while, but Piñuela, in the heart of the ‘centro’ restaurant scene and in its high-visibility location on the corner of 60 and 57, has never been visited by the Critic.

Until last night. With the always charming and elegant Better Half, the Critic met up with some folks for dinner at this establishment, run by the folks who founded Ku’uk.

The room is pretty enough, but the Critic couldn’t decide if the feel was casual or formal or perhaps casual-formal? The food and settings look elegant, while the television screens showing a Fox Sports futbol match along with lively tropical music are reminiscent of a different ambiance altogether.

Everyone was happy with their meal; the catch of the day, short ribs, octopus and a steak. There was nothing over-the-top that made the Critic’s eyes pop out or achieve the coveted mouthgasm. The food was good, and the presentation of each dish attractive.

Where the restaurant really fell down, in the Critic’s opinion at least, was the service. There was no welcome or host, per se. Waiters and cooks wave you in and when a reservation is mentioned to the world-weary and clearly bored waiter, he simply nods and continues to wave his arm at the empty restaurant. ‘Sit wherever’ is the motto.

The menus are brought over, no drink orders are taken. After requesting it, the drink menu is brought to the table, the waiter leaves. The Critic at this point has had enough of the dragging-his-feet-I’m-so-bored waiter and asks another waiter to wait. Which he does. Critic has to call the second waiter over to get a drink order going. No sales pitch, no attempt to create interest in anything on the drink menu. He literally waits on Critic and BH, to make a decision that is. This second waiter is of the tail-between-the-legs-I’m-not-going-to-the-table-in-case-they-ask-me-something variety. He approaches the table – when called over of course – as an abused animal at the shelter might crawl towards you on his belly to get a pat on the head.

After dinner and the plates cleared, the Critic once again signals for the waiter, who is waiting in the wings, to come over and ask the table about wanting desserts. Which the waiter does and tells everyone what’s on the menu. No use asking which is his favorite, he might flinch. One of everything is ordered and soon our slinky second waiter arrives with the dessert selection. Is coffee offered? Nope.

The service was so distracting that it became a focus of the evening. With decent but nothing special food and this kind of attention, the Critic won’t be back any time soon, especially with so many better options now around in El Centro of Merida.

Food photos below.

Catch of the day

Pulp aka octopus

Shortribs, risotto

Steak

Marquesitas dessert

Creme Brulee

Chocolate cake

Cheesecake

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Tatemar, Cabo Norte

Tatemar, the latest restaurant from the masters that created the uber-popular Apoala, is in the new La Isla Mall, inside another upscale area known as Cabo Norte. There is a dearth of marine references lately that was only hinted at with the arrival of wind-themed Altabrisa . You have La Isla (the island) and now The Harbour or Via Montejo. All with artificial lakes and a definite Miami look. Very aspirational, to put it nicely.

But the Critic, as he so often does, digresses and spouts commentary on things not related to the restaurant in question.

When you arrive at Tatemar you may recognize a few faces from Apoala among the wait-staff, which will indicate to you that you’re in the right place, and not accidentally in the Brazilian rodizio next door which is always packed by the way.

The restaurant is of course, beautiful and situated in front of the ‘lake’ with what will soon be a condominium background, the setting is very pretty. One thing the developers of this mall and it’s water feature perhaps didn’t contemplate was that water attracts flies. There were some fruit flies buzzing around inside the restaurant to remind one that one was in the tropics – something to think about for both future water-themed mega projects and present-day restaurants where the last thing you want is for your diners to have to be swatting insects away from their pricey entree.

The Critic and his always charming Better Half arrived as a staff meeting was taking place so there was a momentary lull during which no one arrived at the table for any reason, least of all to take drink orders. No one minds sitting out a staff meeting, but throw a few peanuts and a drink to those waiting in the restaurant, would be the Critics suggestion.

Drinks to start: Mayahuel, a Critic favorite from Apoala and BH had the Mezcal Mule. Both were deliciously amazing and pretty to look at.

A selection of tostadas; tuna, shrimp and fish, to start and for the main dish, a pescado zarandeado, split open and cooked on the grill, the robalo (sea bass) was terrific and too big (sizes vary) to finish after the fishy tostadas.

While it’s not cheap, Tatemar is a great place for a fancy night out dinner away from El Centro.

The room (staff meeting underway)

Mezcal collection

Mezcal Mule (that’s a bit of real honeycomb)

The Mayahuel cocktail, with its signature smoking rosemary

Mezcal Mule close-up

Home made salsas verde y roja

Pescado zarandeado

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Kinich yet again

Kinich, in Izamal, is the bomb. Go have lunch there if you haven’t, for some of the best Yucatecan food on the peninsula, served by smiling young ladies in a beautiful thatched roof restaurant.

Smoky longaniza

Salbutes

Sikil pak

Queso Relleno

Relleno negro

Nance and coconut sherbet/ice cream. Flan in the background

The Casual Restaurant Critic Revisits La Pigua and Kraken

While La Pigua is the more famous of the two, Kraken is probably a little more elaborate in its recipes and presentations. Both restaurants, of course, are all about seafood and favorites of the Critic since the Pleistocene era.

In other words, for a while now.

La Pigua has the traditional coastal seafood you would expect; from seafood cocktails and salads to fried whole fish, all done with flair and accompanied by excellent and professional service. The Pigua was reviewed here (with photos) in 2012 – http://www.lawsonsyucatan.com/2012/01/08/la-pigua/

Kraken is the more recently opened restaurant, and Isla Arena (Campeche) native Eduardo Estrella is really an estrella when it comes to combining fresh fish and seafood with local and not so local ingredients and presenting the result in true top chef fashion. Service is still a little below the level of the food, but perfectly adequate.

Enjoy the photos (all from Kraken) and visit one of these classic Merida seafood dining options, both highly recommended by the cantankerous Critic.

Pulpo (octopus) Kraken

Camarones (shrimp)

Tiradito de Atun (tuna) This was the Critic’s dish and on top of the raw tuna was a mango sauce with serrano chile and sesame and a sauce on the plate featuring among other things, dijon mustard which was unexpected and delicious

Ceviche de camarones (shrimp)

Shrimp taco

Breaded shrimp taco

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at PhoMX Reforma

PhoMX has been reviewed before, here. But that was the other location – this PhoMX is the one that has taken over the space occupied by YoungHee’s kitchen, the Korean restaurant that has now closed.

The service here is great – the Critic would suggest better than the other location and the food seems better too, but that is probably a culinary illusion. If you are in the area, perhaps waiting on a bullfight to start down the road or waiting for Namu Namu to open in the parking lot, or are looking for an alternative to Platos Rotos (reviewed in 2011) nearby – this just might be the spot for you.

Noodles aka No. 23 on the menu 🙂

Appetizer platter, with a few delicious samples

Garnishes for the Critics broth

The delicious broth aka No 25 on the menu, which is really a meal for about 17 people

The iced Viet coffee is worth the visit alone

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Eureka

It’s not a screaming headline that the Critic loves Eureka. It is, in fact, the only restaurant in town where he will let the chef cook up whatever and it will be fabulous, menu be damned.

On this occasion, and in celebration of the arrival of 2019, the Critic, MiniCritic and omnipresent Better Half enjoyed a delicious New Years lunch at what is arguably one of Merida’s best restaurants.

Casual Restaurant Critic at Las Meras

Las Meras (pescadillas) is a place the Critic “discovered” (kind of like those white Europeans “discovering” the American continent)  since it already existed. Anyway, the Critic walked into this place ‘green’ which is kind of like making a cold call in sales, when you don’t really know what you are getting into.

For starters, it is fishy, and those pescadillas are quesadillas or empanadas filled with – wait for it – fish. There are also camaroncillas, which are stuffed with shrimp. You get the drift. Someone thought it would be clever, one supposes. The music is Juan Luis Guerra and the chairs and tables are real wood with a Corona stamp on them. The Critic considers this a good sign as he hates the more ubiquitous white plastic or its’ trashy Coca Cola red counterpart.

As the only person in the place, the Critic receives a menu and decides to stay. Asking about the seafood broth, the wait person promptly offers to bring out a little to try. And it is good; more tomato-y than the broth yesterday at Micaela but very satisfying.

The pesca and camaron thingadillas are fine, but fresh out of the deep frier, they are so damn hot that the Critic burns his lower lip as the steaming contents burst out and spill onto chin and plate. This hasn’t happened since the Critic was 7, so it’s a really memorable event for sure.

There is an array of home-made sauces to squirt on your tacos and such, in those nasty plastic squirty bottles that invariably are sticky and have bits of residue on the tips. Note to restaurant owners: get rid of these damn things already. You don’t know where that stickiness comes from and the dried bits at the tops of the bottles are just gross. The Critic abstained from adding any of these probably delicious sauces to his piping hot pescadilla.

The food is not expensive and it is tasty, if you are in the area or waiting on your car being washed at the VW dealership car wash. Location is on their Facebook page (link on their name at the top of the article)

Interior of the restaurant

Complimentary ceviche to start

You see the problem with these sauces

One is stuffed with fish, the other with shrimp. Hot as hell, these little mofos.

Marisco soup. This is a great hangover cure.

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Micaela

The Critic is well aware that those in the know have already been to Micaela and raved about it – hell, even the Better Half has been here before – but today was the day that the Critic was able to get his sorry self there and, together with the well-traveled and socially mobile Better Half, see what all the Micaela fuss was about.

The restaurant is, in a word, gorgeous. Each and every angle and corner is a feast for the eyes; from the decorations and art on the walls to the floor tiles to the ceiling lighting.

The service is gracious and attentive – thank you Ariel, Armando, and Alejandra – and the food, well the food is astounding.

Between the two of them, the Critic and Better Half enjoyed the sample chilpachole soup in a tiny cup, the arrachera ceviche, seafood soup, two kinds of oysters, and the pigs’ ears battered up and frittered to delicious chewiness and crispiness. Note that the oysters are small, even tiny, so don’t be expecting the gigantic Washington state version.

There is not much the Critic can add to the already many gushing reviews out there, so this brief description and the photos will have to do. Congratulations to co-owner Alberto, who graciously invited us to the Cacao dessert, which should not be missed!

Happy face in the kitchen

View from the bar into the dining room

The lamps over the bar, and the wall behind, were begging to be photographed

Where the magic happens

These oysters are really tiny, but this particular roasted version with that pesto, is amazingly delicious. Ask for a chunk of bread to wipe up the pesto.

Crispy, chewy, delicious pigs ears. Really. With a dipping sauce and a grilled lime

Crispy fried oysters. These are good, but the other oysters are better, in the Critics humble opinion.

Take out the fish from the ceviche and thrown in arrachera, and you have arrachera ceviche.

The slightly spicy shrimp and crab seafood soup. Too good.

Armando preparing fresh ice cream table-side.

Alberto showing off the amazing whole fish, one of the specialties on the menu. This will be ordered next time for sure.

Lime, coconut and maracuja dessert

Real coffee. Espresso and americano

Cacao – fantastic chocolate dessert