Tag Archives: comida

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 at Tostada Madre, Food Court, La Isla

Every once in a while, you will find yourself in a mall. And if you are in Cabo Norte, you will find yourself in La Isla, the new behemoth just north of the periférico at City Center. The mall has a food court and after careful examination and trial and error, the Critic has decided that the Tostada Madre restaurant is the best option, as long as you like seafood. And tostadas. Priced at between 70 and 120 pesos, each tostada is a mountain of deliciousness and the Critic highly recommends you give them a try.

For drinks of an alcoholic nature, you can order them from waiters passing by or the bar located in the middle of the food court. At the restaurants, the offerings are mostly sodas and local drinks like iced tea, horchata or jamaica.

Mojito from the bar

This is octopus, battered and deep fried on a corn tostada

Shrimp

Arrachera

Tuna, avocado, on a crispy cheese tostada

 

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 revisits SOMA, now in Merida. Multiple mouthgasms result.

If you didn’t read the previous great reviews on SOMA you can have a look at them here and here.

SOMA, run by the talented Alberto and dulce Linde, is a restaurant that really stands out from Merida’s other restaurant offerings not just because of the food, which is truly extraordinary, but also the warm and fuzzy (and authentic) attention you get from the owners and staff alike.

The Critic won’t get into an entire review again, because it is just as good as ever and the new Merida location is a blessing to those who live in the formerly white city and are too lazy to trek out to Chelem (that location is closed by the way – sorry beach people).

On this occasion, Better Half and the Critic made it simple. Looking at the appetizers, it was decided to just order one of each. Six in total and each one better than the last. The grits with Spanish chorizo and sauteed shrimp were outstanding and Better Half raved about the calabaza soup, a creamy concoction bursting with squash flavor. The salad with real oysters and Spanish chorizo, the warm bread and butter, the ginger peach tea – everything was absolutely scrumptious.

This restaurant is heads and shoulders above what some of the more ‘famous’ restaurants in Merida are offering, no offense.

Directions to this restaurant (in a car) are below the photos. Note that there will be a Christmas Eve day serving as well as New Years Day brunch. What a perfect way to start 2015, ¿no creen?

Hush puppies!

Hush puppies!

Mac and cheese (and bacon, yum)

Mac and cheese (and bacon, yum)

Crispy oysters on a salad

Crispy oysters on a salad

Squash soup!

Squash soup!

Close-up of the salad

Close-up of the salad

Grits, SOMA style

Grits, SOMA style

The famous cookie w ice cream dessert

The famous cookie w ice cream dessert

Coming north from el centro along Montejo, turn left at the Burger King fountain and the silly underpass. Note: you need to get in your right lane to do the roundabout and make that left. Proceed to Calle 60, where you will turn right. At the calle 21 lights (car wash on your right), make a left, cross the train tracks and calle 60 and straight ahead on calle 21 for a block to where the trees are. SOMA is on your right.

Coming south on Montejo from the beaches, turn right on calle 21 (burnt out Parisina textile store and Waldo’s on your right) and proceed to the lights at calle 60. Go straight over the train tracks and 60 and then about a block down, where the trees are, is where SOMA is, on your right.

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Yerbabuena, del Sisal in Valladolid

On a very recent visit to the Valladolid area, the Casual Restaurant Critic and the three ladies known as the Belle Groupe (it’s a southern thang) followed up on Casa de los Venados owner John Venator’s recommendation to try a restaurant he likes, called Yerba Buena.

A colorful facade

A colorful facade

Located across from the convent, this restaurant was previously unknown to the Critic and so, in the spirit of research and with the hungry Belle Groupe de acuerdo, this is where lunch was had.

Among all the pretty painted colonial facades across from the convent and right next to a video rental place (do video rentals still constitute a viable business option one wonders) was Yerba Buena. It’s even more colorful facade and interior, compared to the rest of the houses nearby, was a delight to behold.

The colorful entryway and restaurant

The colorful entryway and restaurant

A most accommodating young man, friendly as one can be, asked if the group would enjoy a table in the garden and there, several tables of Europeans were enjoying the sunny, cool day and zen-like atmosphere, surrounded by eclectic decorative items and a ton of jungly greenery.

It only got better.

The Critic was amazed at the level of kind, friendly attention and service and the freshness of the food. When asked about a menu item involving corn masa and maculan or hoja santa, the waiter promptly disappeared into the foliage and came back with a leaf of this plant on a plate, for the group to examine and sample.

Maculan, or hoja santa

Maculan, or hoja santa

The items had for lunch included smoked meat tacos (a standard for this area, where longaniza and smoked meat are a specialty), smoked meat in a Oaxacan mole sauce, a poblano chile stuffed with cheese and quesadillas. All were beautifully presented and very sabrosos. There are four salsas that are brought to the table: roasted tomato, xcatic and habanero. But it is the green tomatillo salsa that will blow the taste buds off your tongue. The Critic has never tasted a fresher salsa verde. Anywhere.

Prices were beyond reasonable and the entire staff was welcoming and friendly. Try their ginger honey drink!

Definitely a highlight of the trip to Valladolid and, along with the Taberna de los Frailes, one of the best restaurants sampled to date in this ever-more cosmopolitan city. highly recommended.The Belle Groupe and the Critic were all most impressed at this find!

More info on their Facebook page here.

Enjoy the photos!

Menu at the door

Menu at the door

Color everywhere

Color everywhere

Chips and salsas

Chips and salsas

Smoked pork tacos and fresh avocado

Smoked pork tacos and fresh avocado

There's smoked pork under that rich Oaxaca mole sauce

There’s smoked pork under that rich Oaxaca mole sauce

Chile poblano

Chile poblano

Quesadillas

Quesadillas

The fresh corn tortillas with maculan or hoja santa attached

The fresh corn tortillas with maculan or hoja santa attached

The maculan plants are the ones with the big leaves

The maculan plants are the ones with the big leaves

Eclectic ornaments in the garden

Eclectic ornaments in the garden

One happy chef, preparing a giant vegetarian burger

One happy chef, preparing a giant vegetarian burger

Hard at work

Hard at work

Chef number two

Chef number two

How often do you find a happy dishwasher and cooks assistant?

How often do you find a happy dishwasher and cooks assistant?

The view from the front door.

The view from the front door.

 

 

 

Giant Burger and Best Service Ever.

The Casual Restaurant Critic has one beef (complaint) and it is this: service at restaurants and almost anywhere in Merida generally sucks. Of course there are individual exceptions; persons that have an innate ability to be welcoming, warm and and genuinely kind and are capable of making one feel welcome and taken care of. But at the institutional level, from the owner on down, where everyone in the organization is on the same page, this is rare to non-existent.

IMG_4324That is why it was such a surprise to find three different people at the same burger joint, called Angus in Las Americas, all acting in unison, one nicer than the other, and probably providing the Critic and BH with the best service had anywhere recently, including all the pretentious gringo franchises whose owners think that their fancy location and name will be enough and the higher end places that are slacking off in general. Not to mention all the others in the middle to lower end of the gastronomic spectrum.

One or more of the loyal readers of this column will ask about the location of this place, so here is a link to their Facebook page complete with photos, menu, phone number and address. Go try it for yourself and see if the service is as good as it was on this visit. In any case, the hamburger was amazingly good.

https://www.facebook.com/angryangus.lasmejoreshamburguesasangus?fref=ts

And too bad for Bella Roma as they open too late for the late afternoon “I’m starving feed me NOW” crowd.IMG_4323

Sikil Pak – a Traditional Mayan Dip – Recipe and Rant!

The other day I was showing some lovely people the bustling market in Uman, when it occurred to me that I would like to buy the ingredients for making sikil pak, the traditional Yucatecan pepita de calabaza dip that I adore on crispy corn tortilla chips, to attempt to recreate this at home. Asking a vendor or two for the correct ingredients and quantities I bought the ingredients for one batch:

  • one bag (about the volume of my two hands put together) of pepita molida aka toasted and ground squash seeds
  • three ripe local tomatoes (not the round ones, the oblong ones)
  • a bunch of fresh, pungent cilantro

Today, I made the dip and to me, it turned out absolutely scrumptious and since I didn’t have any corn chips lying around that weren’t soggy from all this humidity, I used Salma brand baked corn crackers, crispy and slightly toasty-burnt.

Here’s the methodology:

  • Turn on your heating element and stick a grill or iron pan on it. Set the tomatoes in the pan or on the grill and go check your Facebook timeline or something else that will allow the tomatoes enough time to properly toast, burn and smell up the kitchen.
  • Between liking photos and putting smiley face comments on your friends Facebook pages, turn the tomatoes this way and that, to get all the sides roasting and burning.
  • Once the juice is bubbling out of the tomatoes and the skin is blackened on 3/4 of each tomato, skin those suckers (I used tongs and it comes off really easily) and cut off the hard ends where the tomato was attached to the vine and toss them (the tomatoes!) in a bowl. The skins and ends go into the compost.
  • The cilantro, roots and black leaves removed, gets tossed into the bowl as well.
  • Use one of those hand blenders, stick it in the bowl and grind away (with the blender that is) until you have a puree consistency.
  • Pour in the pepita. All of it, go ahead. Now with a spatula, mix it all up until it becomes a thick, creamy, totally un-photogenic dip.
  • Add some salt to taste.
  • I also added a squirt of Habanero salsa that I had sitting around to give it some kick.

And voila – Sikil Pak! Now dip those Salma crackers in there and gobble away. Yum!

As I was eating I thought it would be interesting to see what the actual recipe is for Sikil Pak and a Google search in English brought back many results, and the following is my personal favorite weird version where something simple and delicious and easy to make is turned into a ridiculous gourmet event that in no way resembles the original.

The Tasting Table website (http://www.tastingtable.com/entry_detail/chefs_recipes/8783) is a ridiculously fun example of this. First of all the photo: the dip shown is green, and looks more like parsley-infused hummus than any Sikil Pak I have ever seen.

Second, the description states that chef Mike Isabella spent 8 years (EIGHT YEARS!) researching and that, combined with his love of margaritas, has resulted in his take on the “Aztec” dip. Aztec? Really? I guess that’s what 8 years of drinking margaritas will get you; Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Totonacas, whatever. Hic.

The ingredients for this researched-for-eight-years take on the “Aztec” dip include shallots, garlic and jalapeño peppers, sauteed in canola oil. It gets worse as he whips in olive oil and infuses it with citrus zest. Because when you are a famous chef, you know at some point something is going to get infused.

Geez Louise – sounds like you need a Martha Stewart kitchen to whip this “Aztec” version up. Call it Mike’s Pumpkin Seed Dip; call it the Isabella Aztec Smoothie; hell, call it Frank, but for Chaac’s sake don’t call it Sikil Pak.

A Google search en español brought up this website, which is, in my never humble opinion, the real deal.

http://deliciasprehispanicas.blogspot.mx/2012/09/salsa-de-pepita-ha-sikil-pak.html

I have just finished eating my quick and easy version and I highly recommend it and thankfully, my rant has come to an end!

Happy cooking!

 

Merida Slow Food – Some Photos from this Morning

I have already written about the Slow Food market, but I thought I would upload some photos of the food from this mornings visit to the GringoFest that is the Mercado Slow Food in Merida. Lots and lots of familiar faces, from my international artist buddy Katherine to local celebrity Mrs Campos to my new bud Reg. Also some new ones and even the occasional Yucateco (walking around saying “pero que es ESTO?”) among the palefaces. The word needs to get out to the local foodies that this market even exists so they can come and partake of the excellent selection of organic and gourmet items on sale.

Enjoy the photos.

Thai food in Merida at last? No, but…

This past weekend was quite a culinary-intensive experience, with Friday night at Elio al Mare, Saturday night at Rosas y Xocolate and, in between, an extremely pleasant and totally unexpected surprise for lunch. Lovers of exotic food rejoice, because this is a good one.

It turns out that the Casual Restaurant Critics brother in law found out about a Thai restaurant in, of all places, Baca. The Critic knows this is hard to believe, but it is true, there is a place where one can eat real, authentic Thai food made by a Thai chef in the bustling town of Baca. Located on the grounds of a holistic health center, you will find yourself on a covered deck made entirely of bamboo. Look up, look around, everything including the roof, is made of bamboo. Only the tables and chairs are dark teak. There is no electric power as the place is on solar cells and therefore the restaurant portion, open on a limited basis to the public, is only accessible during daylight hours and only until 3 PM at that. And for those of you that like to take picture of your food (which includes the Critic) you will be out of luck as no cameras and no cell phones are allowed to be used on the site. Smoking of course is also forbidden.

BIL had ordered food beforehand and so, once the party of 11 was seated, real, freshly prepared Thai food started arriving at the table. First off, a ginger tea/lemonade combination that was deliciously refreshing. Then, the Critics favorite Thai soup:  ต้มข่าไก่.

OK that was unfair.

The soup is called, in English, Tom Kha Gai and the temperature, the flavors, the aroma were all exquisite. Next up, a small appetizer plate with a spring roll cut in half alongside a grilled satay chicken kabob. There was a plum sauce for dipping, as well as very spicy black sauce and some toasted garlic to add an additional kick to the dishes.

After the appetizers, plates for the center appeared with a rice noodle dish, a rice dish, chicken in a coconut milk curry sauce and finally shrimp with snow peas. The Critic couldn’t get enough of everything and hardly had room for dessert, which also arrived promptly at the table in the shape of creamy Arroz con Leche paired with chopped, fresh, tart mango chunks. Coffee, strong and black, was also available.

Interesting, this humble bamboo deck in the middle of the town of Baca, had better service than most of the restaurants in Merida. The service was prompt, attentive, and courteous. Most impressive of all was that for each course, the ladies at the table were served first, without exception, then the men. A small detail perhaps but nevertheless one that the so-called finer restaurants in the formerly white city have not been able to master.

Unfortunately, the Critic doesn’t know what the bill came to on this occasion, being as he was a guest, but whatever it is, it’s worth it. This is the real deal. Neither is there an address. Please contact the Critic directly for instructions on how to get there.