Tag Archives: centro

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 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 La Galeria Cantina Artesanal

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better-than-Ever Half, had the opportunity (by invitation) to visit this cantina/restaurant and sample some of their amazing food very recently. With expectations not really high nor low but somewhere in between, both the Critic and BH were blown away by the food, which is on the level of some of the best they have tried in Merida, and if you are fan of Mexican food prepared with imagination, creativity, and attention to detail, you are in for a treat.

The room itself is a mixup of an art gallery – there is all kinds of art on the walls – cantina and restaurant. Real tables and chairs, cool and dark, and music videos on the television monitors.

Service is a little distracted until Salvador, one of the owners, shows up and then things improve dramatically. When asked what beers they had, the answer was “Sol y Lager” and when asked for more detail and what other beers there were, as in artisanal beers, the information became a little more detailed. La Cantina offers a chocolate stout and an IPA by Tatich, a local craft beer. The Critic ordered the dark which was a delicious accompaniment to the food that followed.

Salvador told the Critic that the idea of the restaurant/cantina is to provide guests with a relaxing space where the beer is cold and not expensive (at $25 pesos it’s much cheaper than other places that serve free botanas) but with excellent food also at a reasonable price. A place you can visit 2 or more times a week and not break your pocketbook. And the food, dear readers, is truly amazing! Ingredients and recipe ideas from all over Mexico -guacamole w mezcal anyone? – are combined with Yucatecan influences to create original, delicious dishes that are generously portioned and extremely satisfying. You will not feel you are in a normal cantina; this is a much more gourmet experience and will please the most ardent foodie.

Enjoy the photos and come to eat here soon! La Galeria Cantina Artesanal is located on the corner of 54 and 35, very close to the CMA hospital just down the street, and open from 1-11 PM. Credit cards and cash are accepted.

A dark cool place to escape the midday heat

Blue corn chips for scooping up these delicious lentil and bean dips

The room. Plenty of art everywhere

Castacan con pulpo salad. This dish is gigantic and can be shared among many. Not to be missed!

Real mushrooms, real gouda cheese, looks as good as it tastes!

 

Poc chuc

Octopus tacos and grilled tuétano!

Blue corn tortillas

The men’s bathroom is worth visiting, truly

Entry to the bathrooms; if you’ve had too much to drink, you might find all the glass and mirrors somewhat disorienting. But this is the nicest baño you will ever find in a cantina, guaranteed.

More art on the walls!

The bar

Piece de resistance: pork chamorro bathed with home-made mole sauce

Roasting those bones

Chef Miguel Uicab at work

The Man behind the Magic, Miguel Uicab

The Pineapples are Here!

 

IMG_8192 IMG_8196Not from Veracruz but from the nearby state of Tabasco, the sweet pineapples have arrived and are for sale at a truck near you here in sunny Merida!

This truck is downtown, in the vicinity of 64 and 75 streets, near La Hermita and one of these giant suckers will cost you a whopping 20 pesos (about 1.50 USD if you are comparing)

If you love pineapple, as I do, these will make your day.

Pat Reflects on her Merida Reno

(Authors note – so as not to confuse you, dear reader, this particular moment happened before Betty came to Pat’s house to discuss the Seidy ‘situation’) Enjoy!

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“15 new messages” was Pat’s cue to begin clicking around her Facebook page, reading this and that until she remembered that she had wanted to replace the happy couple photo currently adorning her profile with something a little more up to date.

She clicked on “change picture” and began burrowing down into several directories on her laptop where she had stored her photos from the last few months, looking for something appropriate to show the world that she was adjusting to life in Merida, newly single without appearing too available or needy, and reasonably happy.

She opened a directory in which were photos of her in and around her new Merida house, before, during and after the renovation. The architect, a short, fifty-ish Yucatecan with greying hair and an excellent command of English, really had done an amazing job, and she congratulated herself on the decision to hire him based on the stellar recommendations she had found on several websites dedicated to the subject of life in Merida.

At first he had not seemed that particularly enthusiastic about the project, but she soon came to realize that this was his personality; cool, calm and serious, not prone to enthusiastic outbursts of feigned optimism or dramatic displays of frustration or dismay in the face of the many adversities that their project had run into. When the gutting of the house had begun, he negotiated on her behalf with the badged inspectors from the local INAH office who eagerly descended like rapacious vultures on the property, apparently smelling their prey from their air conditioned offices far away and anxious to justify their blood-sucking existence by attempting to apply their extensive rules and regulations on yet another unwitting foreigner who would sure pay any and all citations and fines involved with such a project. Pat suspected, and the architect later confirmed, that they could care less about the ‘historic preservation’ aspect of their mandate and were much more interested in supplementing their incomes with a little extra cash in exchange for certain permits and permissions.

He had also managed the hiring and supervision of the firm that provided sandal-clad albañiles who did the construction, the ingeniero who re-did all the electrical work and the company charged with renovating the plumbing. These contractors were all alike in that they appeared on the construction site as a group of rag-tag brown men who did all the work; an ingeniero who wore an impeccably clean long sleeved shirt and blue jeans with an ironed crease and who spent an inordinate amount of time on his cell phone while sitting in his air conditioned pickup on the street outside; and his assistant who was the immediate contact with the workers and who, if necessary, could be counted on to move things along and actually get dirt under his fingernails.

Pat had watched the work progress with fascination and more than a little concern, marveling at the way the workers would move giant rocks, heavy wooden beams and truckloads of concrete blocks and sacks of cement, without the benefit of a hard hat or steel-toed boots. Perched on precarious metal and wood andamios, they would shout to each other in what Pat would later find out was Mayan, avoiding all eye contact with the gringa watching below. On the rare occasions that she had tried to initiate some sort of dialogue with her admittedly limited Spanish, they would look at her blankly and then continue on with their work. Mostly, they ignored her.

The much anticipated visit (Pat had read about this on the internet) from the IMSS official who had come to verify that the workers on the list he had received as being on the payroll were in fact the same as the ones actually on the job, had resulted in work stopping for a day as initially the architect had not been on site and the man from the IMSS had tried to communicate his mission to Pat, who really did not understand the finer workings of this typical Mexican bureaucratic institution. When she finally managed to locate the architect on his cell phone, he told her he was in Progreso and would be back in the afternoon. He reminded her not to sign anything and ask the IMSS to return later in the day. Mr. IMSS was a little miffed and warned everyone present that the work could not continue until he had spoken to the architect and so, the workers sat around to wait for further instructions from the ingeniero who was due to arrive in a few hours. Pats voiced concern that the time could be spent sweeping and/or generally doing some cleanup was met with more blank stares and a few shrugs.

During the re-construction phase, Pat had learned to keep away from certain parts of the evolving house, as these were used as changing facilities and what her nose told her was a latrine, until she made it clear to the ingeniero and architect that she would pay for a portable toilet.

When the albañiles were done and the walls resurfaced and smooth, the electrical and plumbing workers moved in, smashing holes and canals in these same, apparently finished walls into which were inserted copper pipes for the upgraded plumbing and plastic tubes into which the electrical wiring would be pulled. This made little or no sense to Pat, who did not understand the natural order of the construction process in Merida but was reassured by her serene architect who simply nodded and explained to her that this was the way it was done.

Finally, the rough work was complete and the adventure continued with carpenters, painters and aluminum workers, who, under the architects guidance finished the house more or less on schedule and with minimum collateral damage.

Her thoughts wandered back to her present. Ah yes, the profile picture. Pat sipped her lemon tea and decided on a photo where she was standing in front of her bright yellow wooden front door, which contrasted sharply with the deep burgundy color of the facade of her new Merida home, clicked on the upload button and waited for her profile picture to update itself.

The doorbell rang.

Pat padded through the silent house, cup of tea in hand and opened the door to find Seidy waiting.

Buenos dias, Seidy” said Pat, opening the door wider to let her muchacha in. “Buenos dias, señora” said Seidy with a smile and headed towards her room beyond la cocina, to the obligatory cuarto de servicio, to change into her work clothes for the day. Initially, Pat had balked at the concept of making a special room for the hired help, but after being assured by her architect as well as several other people who knew about these things, she agreed to include the additional room in the renovation.

“I really must call Betty” thought Pat, watching Seidy disappear into the kitchen, as she closed the door quietly and returned to her laptop. Her Facebook profile picture now featured a beaming, obviously happy middle aged woman standing in front of a brightly colored colonial style home. “Much better” thought Pat, closing the laptop for the moment and heading back to her bedroom with its en-suite bathroom to prepare herself for the day ahead.

Doña Juany gets a Headache

Stepping out, broom in hand, into the relatively cool morning air in front of her colonial home that had once belonged to her parents and who had gone off and died, leaving her in charge of taking care of the old, crumbling family home, Doña Juany paused for a moment to take a breath.

Fate. Yes, as fate would have it and thanks to her ungrateful and unhelpful brothers deciding to marry and move to el norte because God forbid that her sisters in law should have to live in Merida’s congested downtown – las wachas – she had been the only one left to live in what used to be a grand colonial home but which was now reduced to a dusty relic, complete with cracks in the walls and ceilings, vines creeping into the kitchen and rotting wooden door frames. She glanced – half angry, half sad – back at the sagging front door and grunted sharply, beginning to sweep the sidewalk with quick, violent movements.

Of course she had not gotten married; the love of her life had been Carlos Irigoyen but what had been a promising love affair was fatally interrupted by the constant neediness of her mother who was on her deathbed and had no one else to care for her. Juany’s father had died a few months prior and that prolonged illness and the news that Mama was also now sick, was the motivation her brothers needed and they had fled the family home to take refuge with aunts and uncles and in universities in Mexico City and Monterrey.

“Anywhere but here” she muttered to herself, sweeping a little more vigorously.

Of course while they were off enjoying life and improving themselves under the guise of ‘studying a career’, she was left behind with Mama Rita, as the servants – long since gone after her fathers illness dried up what was left of the family fortune – used to call her; bathing, feeding, changing her now baby-like mother and arranging for a priest to come visit once a week to keep up her spiritual health. Not that she minded of course – she had to remind herself sternly – but wouldn’t it have been nice if her brothers had shown at least some interest in helping out, in some small way. But no, not even a hint of interest let alone outright help. And then they started in with their girlfriends, some of whom eventually became their wives – las wachas – and they all moved back to Merida, but as far away from el centro as possible, to fashionable neighborhoods with pretentious names, like Monte Alban and Monte Cristo and Monte Fulano and Monte Mengano.

Her sweeping picked up speed to the point where she was now slashing the broom back and forth, not even seeing what it was she was sweeping.

And so here she was, unmarried, overweight and bitter, saddled with a responsibility in the form of a house that she couldn’t get rid of even if she wanted to, given the condition of the building and the drooping real estate market in Merida.

She stopped sweeping and her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Embarrassed, she quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and muttered something about el polvo just loud enough to be heard, in case anyone was looking out a nearby window or door.

She could feel a headache coming on.

It was at this moment that Frijol, the neighbors dog, sauntered into her line of sight and stood before her, looking up with those big dark malix eyes and wagging his tail expectantly. He was a healthy, well fed, all-black former street dog who had had the fortune to be adopted by Doña Juany’s neighbor, a gringa who had moved in a few years back and with whom Doña Juany had come to be on speaking terms when they occasionally crossed paths on their street.

With a jerk of his head, Frijol turned to bark happily at his owner, who now also appeared in front of Doña Juany.

Buenos dias, Juanita!” said Betty cheerfully.

Buenos dias, Doña Beti” answered Doña Juany, forcing a smile and hoping her eyes were not too red. “Mucho polvo” she added with a quick rub of her left eye.

Si” replied Betty “es muy seco todo” and with that she turned, waving, and sang out “adios Juanita!” while opening her front door and with the malix Frijol bounding happily ahead of her, disappeared inside.

Doña Juany looked after them for a moment, then took her broom and slowly stepped through the sagging wooden front doors back inside, closing them carefully behind her, making her way past the scratched petatillo rocker next to a small metal end table that featured a scene from a Disney cartoon, through the off-white, almost green square-tiled kitchen, making a beeline for the baño with the one naked overhead light bulb and finally reaching the stained wooden wall cabinet with the broken mirror, where she kept her headache medicine.

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Will Doña Juany find comfort in Aspirin? Will Frijol the Malix live happily ever after? Will Betty remember to call Pat?

Stay tuned for another installment of TihoTales, when inspiration strikes!

The Problem with the Muchacha

“I mean it’s not like she’s actually stealing anything” said Pat, holding the cup of decidedly watery coffee with both hands, feeling the cups smoothness and marveling at the fact that you could even hold a fresh cup of coffee in a porcelain – albeit chipped – cup with both hands. Shouldn’t this be hotter?

Betty nodded, completely in tune with the frustrated sentiments of her recently arrived friend from Baltimore, for whom Betty had procured a maid in response to Pats request because, as she had put it, “I need more time for my art.”

Blonde, blue-eyed and originally from Guelph, Ontario, Betty had had similar concerns when she first arrived in the formerly-white city of Merida some years ago but now had become accustomed to the locals way of doing things. She recalled the shock of finding her mozo, a young lad of about 22 with a limited command of English and decidedly Mayan features whom she had hired off the street, poking around in her kitchen when he was supposed to be watering her garden. “Que haces, Juanito?” she had asked and the mozo had simply shrugged and left her there, wondering if she should make it more clear what his job description was and seriously debating whether or not she should count the spoons.

Pat interjected with a sigh. “I know she is a sweet girl and would never take something without asking” she said “but I can’t shake the feeling that she has been through my things”

The waiter, a man in his fifties with a large belly completely inconsistent with his income, approached the outdoor table. “Mas cafe?” he asked, all the while checking out Betty’s legs, which were bare, muscular and tanned, thanks to her plaid shorts and a strict regimen of daily swimming and walking her dogs. “No, gracias” said Betty, while Pat just shook her head. The waiter retreated into the dark confines of the cafe.

Pat continued. “I mean there I was, in my studio doing some work with forks. You know I am working on a piece that involves forks, right?” Betty nodded. “And I look over at the kitchen and there is Seidy talking on her cell phone and putting something in her purse. So I put two and two together…” Her voice trailed off.

“Look,” said Betty soothingly, “you really don’t know what she was up to and I’m sure you’re just jumping to conclusions. Remember that I talked to Seidy’s mother before we had her come to work for you and she assured us that Seidy was very responsible and completely dependable.” Pat nodded. “Why don’t you ask her what she was doing?” continued Betty.

Pat shook her head, setting down the chipped cup. “I couldn’t do that” she said, “I would be accusing her of something and what if it is all a misunderstanding?”

Betty smiled gently. Pat had been through a lot in the last few years and her self-esteem was still somewhat fragile. After her husband had left her in yet another classic middle age crisis love story, Pat had spent much of her time depressed and only when she discovered her passion for art – and anti-depressant drugs – did she climb out of her funk and rejoin the living. Now she had managed to purchase a small home in Merida and was getting by on her savings and the occasional sale of her rather controversial art. There was not a huge market in Merida, it seemed, for abstract sculptures made of kitchen utensils.

Betty signaled for the bill to a passing busboy using that ‘writing-in-the-air’ motion she had picked up as part of her cultural conversion, who nodded and continued on to the cafe’s interior. A moment later the waiter emerged from within and asked Betty if she wanted the bill. “Si, por favor” she said and a few minutes later was fishing through her fanny pack for some pesos. Placing the money on the bill and mentally calculating the 10 percent she was leaving as a tip, she looked at Pat. “If you like, next week when I have a moment, we can sit down – together if you like – and talk to Seidy and find out what she’s up to these days. You know, sometimes when you talk to them, you get to know a little about what it is that’s going on in their lives and everything is really OK.”

Pat’s slightly worried expression seemed to brighten a few shades. “That would be great Betty” she said, “can I call you?”

“Of course” Betty replied with a smile. They got up and made their way down calle 62 until they came to the corner of 61, where they parted, with a peck on the cheek just like the local ladies of a certain economic and social background do it, and continued on to their respective homes in Centro.

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Will Pat resolve her doubts? Will Seidy cough up her secret? Will Betty adopt another street dog?

Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’ho Tales, coming soon, should the inspiration strike!