Tag Archives: comida yucateca

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Hacienda Xcanatun

OK, it’s been a while. In fact, the Critic hasn’t written a review of Xcanatun since way back in 2008 when the food was delicious but the service was not up to the standards of the kitchen.

Things have changed. For the better.

Fresh Menu

The Better Half and the Critic had lunch at Xcanatun a few weeks ago and oh boy was it good.  A new chef in the kitchen; a talented young woman who came by later to say hello, has created some remarkable new menu items that will delight your tastebuds and leave you wanting to try them all.

As appetizers, the Critic and Better Half over-ordered once again and had a splendid selection of oysters, half Rockefeller and half Mayan. The Critic preferred the fresh, raw and zesty Mayan oysters over the semi raw Rockefeller version but both were great. Also, steamed mussels in a savory broth – the kind you have to sop up with toasty fresh bread. Waiter, get your hands off that bowl, we’re not quite done with it. The Better Half, a fan of all things raw, ordered Steak Tartare which is definitely not on the Critics bucket list but what the heck, he tried it and liked it. A lot. Ate half the plate in fact.

Mussels

 

Oysters Rockefeller

 

Steak Tartare Presentation

Steak Tartare Texture

With three appetizers down the main courses arrived. A pork barbeque dish for Better Half which she loved, proclaiming it “perfect” (the Critic loves more sauce on his ribs) while the Critic had the steak stuffed with cochinita pibil and smothered in cochinita pibil gravy. Yes, it sounds decadent and thoroughly artery-clogging, and it may have been, but it was also perfectly cooked and outrageously delicious.Finally, the Critic can never resist a lemon or lime pie, and Xcanatun did not disappoint. Fresh, tangy, light and a perfect end to a perfect meal.

Pork BBQ Ribs

Steak with Cochinita Pibil

Pay de Limon

By this time, dear reader, you are probably saying “yes, Mr. Critic, but what about that service you so bitterly complained about last time?” Well the Critic is happy to report that you will feel like you are experiencing a production that has been polished and polished again until each edge is absolutely smooth. From the moment the parking lot attendant opens your car door with a flourish and a smile to the welcome you receive from the security man in front of the restaurant to the open door and welcome  you get once at the restaurant, you will experience the comforting feeling that you are in good hands and can relax and enjoy a truly superb dining experience.

Highly recommended and one of Merida’s – if not the – best.

Ode to the Torta de Lechón

Today I had what may have been the best torta de lechón I can recall ever having in Merida. Maybe it was because I was hungry, although I suspect not as I don’t remember having that ravenous feeling in the pit of stomach that would make even the most sawdust-flavored of sandwiches taste good.

The torta, presented to me in the usual way – on a faded red plastic non-disposable plate -at the Chuburná public market at 10 AM on a Saturday morning showed no signs of being better or worse than any I have eaten elsewhere. The roast pork filled the bread nicely and a strip of crunchy pork skin peeked out at me.

The first bite, however, was the beginning of a bliss-filled, three minute mouthgasm that transcended belief and defies description although I will make an effort.

The bread, was soft and warm; it’s outermost layer slightly crispy so that there was a soft but noticeable “crunch” as my teeth bit into it. The meat inside was moist, extremely flavorful and upon tasting it, my eyes rolled back in my head. The next bite included a bit of the crunchy roasted pork skin alluded to earlier and the citrical (yes I made that up) tang of the onion. Unbelievable. I finished the glorious torta without noticing who or what was around me or where I was. Total oblivion.

Highly recommended.

Chuburná market, Saturday AM.

New Restaurant Ku’uk Muscles in on the High End of Merida’s Restaurant Scene

Picture this: A cool, subdued and yet warmly lit environment, sparsely furnished and discretely lit. Innovative, creative, strikingly beautiful dishes presented before you in a dazzling succession of colors and flavors (and sensory experiences) that amaze, tantalize and delight your senses. Three and a half hours of celebrating food, glorious food, in ways you could not have imagined, enjoying a chef’s menu where each magical creation leaves you gasping and wondering “what can possibly be next?” or “how did they do that!”

A newcomer to the Merida restaurant scene, definitely at the higher end of the spectrum and not for the quantity-conscious (the “es mucho, so it must be good” crowd) has arrived in the form of Ku’uk and this may just be a valid a reason to come to Merida as the city’s colonial mansions and Mayan relics.

Ku’uk is not an abomination of the English ‘cook’ but rather the Mayan term for sprouts or shoots, as in all things organic that start with a sprout from a seed, and the concept is all molecular gastronomy featuring local ingredients presented to you in ways your abuela never dreamed of (more on molecular gastronomy here). In addition to the restaurant itself, Ku’uk will feature a market where one can purchase delicacies and also a culinary workshop featuring classes for food aficionados. There is an herb garden out back and the entire place is visitable, so do make sure you get the full tour. The kitchen is equipped with the usual grills, ovens and mixers, but also with equipment straight out of a mad scientists laboratory, from nitrogen-based fast-freezing to humidity extractors that remove all water from foods leaving only intensely flavored concentrated flakes to other strange (and most definitely expensive) pieces of equipment that help chef Mario Espinosa and his team perform their magic. The wine “cellar” is a spectacular room that can be reserved for a special dinner and must be seen to be appreciated.

The Critic won’t go into the hows, whys, or pros and cons of molecular cooking and will instead stick to a short review of the experience:

Breathtakingly sublime.

There, that was it.

Better Half and the Critic enjoyed 3 and a half hours of culinary bliss, enjoying the chef’s menu which featured a total of 14 dishes, each more spectacular than its predecessor. The idea was to go through the different dishes but the Critic thinks you will be better served trying them yourself and coming to your own conclusions. Besides the full tasting menu, there is a shorter menu of about 7-8 dishes and there are also some items available a la carte. The photos (below) will speak for themselves.

Service is formal, a little stiff and there is some confidence lacking when presenting dishes but if you are as enthusiastic about the food as Better Half and the Critic were, they warm right up and the experience from the service perspective becomes more fluid and relaxed and one can even elicit a smile from some of the servers, who are mostly young foodie students.

The restaurant is currently in “soft opening” mode, so you can go, and avoid any semblance of a crowd and help them get on their feet before the official presentation to society at the end of the month.

Definitely put Ku’uk on your restaurant “to-die-and-go-to-foodie-heaven-at” list!

The Ku’uk website is here for more info on reservations and location. Or call  999-315-5825

Enjoy the photos!

The Casual Restaurant Critic reviews Habaneros Yucatecan Restaurant

It has been a while since the Critic has reviewed anything and for that he expresses his most heartburn felt apologies.

If you are tired of the Chaya Maya and La Tradicion, both great options for Yucatecan food and yet, you want something new every once in a while, you might try the relatively off-the-beaten track Habaneros, located next to Puerta de Campeche behind the Siglo XXI Convention Center and the ex Carrefour Chedraui supermarket.

The restaurant is small, the tables and chairs are real ie not plastic donated by a beer company and the service is friendly. There is a complete menu featuring Yucatecan food on one side and Mexican dishes on the other.

The Critic and his Better Half found the food tasty and took some photos to illustrate the care taken in the presentation; the plates look quite pretty when they appear before you.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits the Hacienda Temozon

While checking out several haciendas recently, the Casual Restaurant Critic had the opportunity to visit – and have a meal, albeit a small one – in the restaurant at the Hacienda Temozon, an upscale hotel part of the Starwood Collection of very high-end hacienda accommodations in the Yucatan.

In the past, the experience in the restaurant has been a far cry from the rest of the delights offered to the senses when one visits this property; the gardens, the pool, spa and rooms are gorgeous, while the restaurant lacked the level of quality commensurate with the high standards set in the previously mentioned areas.

On this occasion, the Critic and two guests had a light lunch consisting of jamaica, the refreshing red tea made from jamaica flowers, a lime soup, a trio of panuchos and the Critic’s choice: a Kinich salad (photo pending). The food was tasty and fresh, particularly the salad, which was a real mix of typical Yucatecan ingredients including ground pumpkin seed and chunks of smoky longaniza sausage. On the service end, there is still room for improvement. Although the welcome was cordial and the attention to guests and Critic alike courteous and prompt, the Critic feels that in a restaurant of this caliber ladies should be served first and the typical arrival of the food on a tray parked next to the table, followed by the waiter picking up a plate and announcing it with a question should be outlawed. The reason they ask is because they don’t know who ordered what and this could so easily be solved, as it has been in countless restaurants around the world, buy a simple system of numbers corresponding to guests and their menu choices. This would eliminate the need for the question “Sopa de Lima??” and enable waiters to serve ladies first, not last, as was the case during this lunch.

The flies were also a problem, getting into the drinks for a swim, settling busily on the bread and in general causing much fanning of hands and napkins more akin to an experience at a much less luxurious dining establishment.

Prices were on the high end for the food offered (Yucatecan dishes at $150 pesos plus) considering what one can obtain for such a price tag at places closer to town and the service and fly details mentioned above. The view of course and the semi-outdoor experience of dining in such a beautiful space was fantastic however and for a special occasion, this might be a pleasant destination to head to for a special occasion.

Huevos Motuleños – in Motul

Is there someone out there who hasn’t realized that Huevos Motuleños are named after the town of Motul; birthplace of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, one of the more renowned governors of the state of Yucatan? Perhaps. The town of Motul actually got its name from the Mayan priest  Zac Mutul, who founded the Mayan settlement there in the 11th century.  But today we are not going to talk about history; we are talking about the eggs. Huevos Motuleños, which has a back story, apparently.

The story, as far I can decipher, is that Felipe Carrillo Puerto asked local restaurateur Jorge Siqueff to make him something for breakfast; something different. And this now iconic Yucatecan dish, served everywhere Yucatecan food is offered (and with as many variations as there are Yucatecan restaurants) is what he came up with.  The version in Motul is probably the closest to the original, and starts with crunchy fried corn tortillas or tostadas, topped with refried black beans, topped with your choice of eggs (sunny side up, runny, scrambled) topped with a unique cooked tomato sauce that has chunks of (should be smoked) ham and peas.

Check out some video (in Spanish) on the subject of this unique breakfast item here and here:

This is how the Critic and his guests had this breakfast one morning a few days ago on the second floor of the Motul market and it is absolutely delicious!

The lady in the Mirador spot (photo below) was very friendly and offered free refills on the horchatas; and as if the eggs were not enough, warm frances (crusty french-style white bread) was brought to the table as well.

Total bill for a breakfast that will keep you energized for the whole day? $40 pesos before tips. That’s a little over 3 dollars, for those doing conversions.

Wayan’E – Again

Poc Chuc and Chicharra tacos. Notice the beans.

After so many years of living here and not going, Wayan’E has received more visits from the Casual Restaurant Critic than usual, probably because of his rather sparse pocketbook situation (dictionary sales are down this lifetime) and also because Better Half is always on a trip someplace exotic.

Read the previous review here; there is really nothing new to report except that the tacos are delicious, the service friendly as hell and the prices are fantastic.

I am hungry now what with that photo. I think I will go al ratito which does not mean “to the little rat” but rather “in a little while”.

Comforting Rituals – and a Dilemma

Of all the comforting rituals that us humans take part in, a great proportion of them involve food, I would guess.

Here’s mine.

I come home hungry and without too many ‘ganas‘ to cook anything (rare, but it happens) and my eyes, scanning like the Terminator through the offerings visible in my fridge, rest upon a Ziploc bag containing brown kraft paper that is coddling a quarter of a chunk of Monique’s fabulous sourdough bread, made right here in the formerly white city of Merida. This is what I am craving.

Removing the spongy, dark crusted bread from it’s hiding place I slice thick chunks (I have been known to simply tear at the loaf) and pop them into the toaster, pushing the slices down since they are so thick that the toaster is gagging.

While the aroma of freshly baked bread wafts into my kitchen, I take a soup bowl and pour myself a healthy portion of olive oil. There are plenty of olive oils now available in Merida, some Spanish, others Italian and even others still of the gourmet variety from God knows where. For my purposes, however, I need the Costco jug, since it is the only one that can keep up with my consumption and still offer more the next day.

The bread is toasty and warm and my fingers burn as I move the slices to a plate.

Ripping off chunks of warm bread, I plop them into the bowl and push down hard to get all the oil I can into the pores of the sourdough. Then I pop the dripping mess into my mouth. Nirvana!

The dilemma comes when I no longer have any olive oil in the bowl into which to stick my dwindling bread stock. So I pour in some more and you know what happens; the bread runs out and I still have olive oil to soak up! So back to the remainder of the loaf, slicing and heating until a critical moment when both bread and oil are depleted and my craving is sated.

Here’s to the olive pressers but here’s even more to Monique, who bakes this stuff and offers it to the public every Saturday morning at the Slow Food market right here in Merida. Go this weekend; you’ll be so glad you did!

La Taberna de los Frailes – A Second Visit

On a trip to Cancun and back yesterday, the Critic and his Better Half had enough time to stop for a ‘nice’ restaurant lunch as opposed to the usual (but always delicious and eminently satisfying) Doña Tere at the toll highway isla near Valladolid.

This time, the Critic veered off the highway and landed – after some meandering among the twisting yet bewitching back streets of Valladolid – at the Taberna de los Frailes restaurant, reviewed previously by the Critic. Yesterdays visit was as good, if not better, than the first one.

The menu is a real mix of things innovative and things Yucatecan and things both innovative and Yucatecan. Think Thing One and Thing Two. No, on second thought, don’t.

For example, the Critic ordered a Valladolid Temptation appetizer. What the hell is that you ask? It is two slices of grilled watermelon with a thick, gooey semi-melted (molten?) slab of panela cheese in between. Served with a little fruit sauce dip and grilled tomatos and a sprig of lettuce
bathed in balsamic vinegar, it was completely out of the ordinary and quite delicious not to mention unexpected. Is this Valladolid? A glimpse at the crumbling stone wall of the monastery across the tiny street confirms that yes, it is.

Then there were the nachos. Thankfully ordering only this one other appetizer the Critic, who is not shy about finishing his plate, could not finish these nachos. Arriving on a very hot plate the size of a small indoor swimming pool, the nachos featured tostadas that were thin and crispy, not the thick and crunchy ones usually found here. The cheese was apparently cheddar but the Critic can’t be sure but what was innovative about these nachos is that they were made with Longaniza de Valladolid, the citys famous smoked sausage, and served with a small dish of chopped pickled onions along with the usual jalapeno peppers. Again, please be aware that the size of this platter is on the huge size and the contents will feed a small village the size of Xcunya without much
difficulty.

Better Half ordered a lime soup and Dzotobichay aka Brazo de Reina which is a Yucatecan treat that must be tried at least once during any visit to this part of the world. The tomato salsa on top was fresh and very tasty. Again, the portion was quite large.

Service, from the same waiter as on the last visit, was courteous and friendly. Prices were reasonable, in the Critics humble opinion.

Bryans – The Newest Trotter Restaurant

Por fin, as they say around here, the Casual Restaurant Critic got his critical butt into a comfortable seat at Bryans, the latest and greatest in the Trotters chain here in sunny Merida.

For those of you unfamiliar with Trotters (no relation to Charlie in Chicago) the Trotters have several first-rate restaurants here in Merida; there’s Panchos downtown catering to the tourist crowd as well as those interested in picking up tourists who have overdone it on the excellent margaritas there; there’s La Tratto, an upscale and always popular trattoria located on the Prolongacion (del Paseo de) Montejo; the relatively new self-named Trotters, just down the street from the Burger King fountain (hey, that’s what it’s called around here) off Montejo which quickly became the benchmark for Merida restaurants trying to create the perfect dining room and now Bryans, which is even swankier than Trotters.

The menu at Bryans appears to be similar to that of Trotters, at least at first glance. There are some meats, some salads and some soups, as well as some desserts that all appear to be a continuation (or evolution) of items seen on the Trotters menu. The feel of the place? One certainly does not feel as if one is in Merida at least for a little while. There is an impeccable open kitchen, filled with industrious chefs and their helpers working away, polished stone and dark wood finishes throughout, enormous floor-to-ceiling open windows/doors, an upstairs wine attic visible from the dining area below, subdued lighting throughout and the huge terrace outside for those who enjoy a little nicotine with their dinner. Perhaps a little less formal than Trotters, but a whole lot more elegantly hip, this restaurant has to be seen to be believed and is filled nightly with Meridas beautiful people who know nothing of an economic crisis, thank you very much. The Critic, in spite of not being one of the beautiful people, was accompanied by his beautiful Better Half and so had an excuse for being there and visited Bryans at lunchtime, just before the rush.

Food ordered included a Parisian burger, medium rare and others in the party ordered the pork filet, which appeared to look more like a fat chop, served with a barbecue sauce. The smallish burger was very tasty and the Parisian part consisted of the sauteed mushrooms and onions on the meat and the small size of the platter turned out to be just right – not too much, not too little. The other members of the party commented that their pork was delicious. For desserts, the fantatic tiramisu cheesecake and a berry tart that the Better Half recalled as having been served to her warm on a previous visit. This time it was not warm, but straight out of the fridge. Coffee was excellent , aromatic nd fresh, individually made to order for each person.

The food, at least to this cantankerous Critic, although good, was not as mind blowing as he had expected. Unlike the recent meal at Hennessy’s, which blew the Critic away, this was fine, but nothing that the Critic would say exceeded expectations.

On a nit-picky note, the servers were friendly and plentiful, although large gaps appeared between their visits to the table and in spite of many of them just circling around, including supervisors. They could have been a little more attentive to the table at crucial moments, such as ordering desserts, refilling coffee, when it came time to ask for the bill, that sort of thing. Another detail which stood out in this immaculately beautiful dining room was the fact that the drinks were served not on a coaster with a funky design, but on a servilleta Lys, folded in half. One must assume that the printer is working frantically on those coasters as the limp wet napkin hardly does justice to the obvious care and attention paid to every other detail.

So, while the Critic would jump at the chance to return to Hennessy’s to sample more of their menu and enjoy a frosty Guiness, Bryans did not evoke that feeling. But go and visit the place yourself, and drink in the terrific ambience and then form your own opinion.