Tag Archives: Elio al Mare

A Casual Critic Revisits Elio al Mare (for lunch)

All the Critic can say to begin this review is what the hell happened?

That would be a great way to describe what was going through the Critics mind the other day when he visited the famous Italian seaside eatery outside Progreso in the company of distant relatives from the Sofia Vergara family. Are you now thoroughly distracted, dear reader? Well, don’t be, because what the Critic is about to write is important and will save you gas money if you are coming from Merida with the intention of enjoying a good Italian meal.

Let the Critic preface (some more) by saying that this is what most people would call an ‘expensive’ restaurant for Merida; pasta dishes are in the $150 to $200 peso a plate range and there are Italian wines that are truly Italian – not from Costco – and priced accordingly. That, and the rave reviews previously expressed not only by the Critic but also others who have loved this place in the past, was one of the reasons the Critic wanted his guests to try this restaurant.

While they loved it, the Critic was appalled.

It was just after 1 PM, and the sign said they were open. However, no tables were set up and the little trio (Critic plus two) was greeted in a casually uninterested way by two individuals of the male kind, while two more of the female variety sat in the kitchen eating a meal of pasta and bread. Two schoolchildren were sitting at a small table in the restaurant, presumably somehow related to the women in the kitchen, also eating their lunch. They later provided sound effects and background noise in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Gone are the days of the charming Italian host, the sangria, the restaurant set with white tablecloths. Gone is background music, any ambience whatsoever or any feeling of being welcome. A meek, unsmiling individual with the personality of a sea urchin – a traumatized sea urchin that has suffered parental abuse as a baby urchin and moves like it expects a whipping any minute – set the one table and proceeded to take the order. Two of the dishes ordered were not available due to the absence of gorgonzola in one case and basil in another. This is an “upscale” Italian restaurant, you will recall. Orders were modified and eventually arrived at the table. The food was fine, in fact it was pretty darn good, especially the fish, a robalo in a tomato and black olive sauce that was succulently flavorful, albeit raw on the inside. The Critics pasta was tasty but non-descript and the other pasta dish, fetuccine carbonara, apparently was decent enough also.

Did the Critic already mention the noisy children who were now playing hide and seek and shrieking in delight as they skidded through the restaurant from one end to the other. The waiter, if one could call him that, would hide near the kitchen and when forced to come out to set another table for yet another couple (also foreigners who spoke no Spanish) would pass the Critics table and make a determined effort to not establish any eye contact or look at the table, choosing instead to look nervously the other way lest the Critics table asked for something he might have to respond to.

The Critic can not in any good conscience recommend this place any longer, at least not for lunch. What a disappointment.

Elio al Mare – Round Two

Last night the Casual Restaurant Critic revisited, in the company of some other critical foodies, the fabulous Elio al Mare restaurant near Progreso. If you read the previous review, you know that the Critic was blown away by the quality of the food at this beachfront Italian restaurant, especially the delicious pastas.

On this second occasion, there were a couple of things that stood out, one way or the other:

  • the off-menu Juanita shrimp were, as the photo suggested, scrumptious; succulent shrimp thick with tomato-y and cheesy goodness.
  • a fantastic risotto! The Critic is not a huge fan of risotto, but decided that Elio al Mare was the acid test to see if risotto was a good thing or just the mediocre pasty rice of yore; lo and behold this seafood risotto was extremely good!
  • on the not so great side, there was no welcoming sangria to be had and the service was a little on the slow side with a bit of waiting between courses and so on

Still, Elio al Mare is well worth the drive out from Merida to have a fantastic Italian dinner while watching the sunset.

Elio al Mare, Progreso, Yucatan

Better late than never, is the Critics motto when it comes to trying out restaurants that have already been commented on by others; take the Wayan’e case for example, where the Critic waited 20 years to try the famous tortas and tacos and lo and behold, when he did get around to trying them, he was convinced that the mythical reputation was justified.

Elio al Mare, located between Progreso and Chicxulub right on the beach, has not been around for 20 years, but it has been commented on and recommended by Italian friends in Merida (OK one Italian friend) and several other people as well. In fact, it has become such common knowledge that an article even appeared on the restaurant in Plan B, the Diario de Yucatans colorful Thursday supplement featuring fun, exciting activities and places to go as well as the latest photos of Meridas beautiful people having a great time at Fridays.

So the Critic, with the Motley Crew, an assortment of friends who occasionally dine and travel together and is made up of several entrepeneurs, including the Better Half, a doctor and his wife and an engineer set out for Progreso. Why the Critic is even mentioning the existence let alone the composition of the group is not entirely clear, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the comment at hand, which is Elio al Mare.

Elio al Mare is in a converted house, right on the beach and open to the breeze that on this occasion was just perfect. Sometimes that breeze is too strong and no amount of gel will keep your do in place and you end up looking like Mickey Rourke in any of his latest films with your hair standing on end. At other times the breeze at the beach is too weak, thereby allowing the mosquitoes to get a wing-hold in the sticky humid night air, and your legs will become an “All You Can Suck!!!” bloody nightmare. As mentioned before, the breeze was perfect.

The man in charge, an Italian one assumes, as were several key people in bar and kitchen areas, greeted the party and threw together two tables on the deck/porch and the Crew was seated comfortably. A menu was presented and then everyone was served a sangria, cortesia of the restaurant, from a large punch bowl in the middle of the restaurant. A refreshingly original way to start a great meal!

So how was the food you may be wondering?

From the bread (warmed) and mushroom dip, through the octopus carpaccio, which was more like a cross between carpaccio and ceviche served with parmigiano chunks, onion and tomato, through the main courses, all pastas, were incredible. The other appetizers, an ensalada Caprese and a Greek salad, were delicious.

The Critic ordered a Carbonara, which in Merida usually means loads and loads of cream and a hint of bacon; all that cream has nothing to do with a Carbonara pasta; and this time, it was perfect. Not good, perfect. The pasta itself, homemade and cooked to al dente perfection. The egg and olive oil in the pasta, perfect. And the crunchy bacon chunks were not hiding timidly under bits of parsley, but out there in full force and in your face. The seafood pasta ordered by the doctors wife was a-ma-zing. The doctor, the Crews most finicky eater and skeptical sampler of menus, was motivated to enthusiastically exclaim that his lasagna was excellent, a comment that rarely escapes his lips with such feeling.

It might be because the Critic was hungry, that all this seemed so wonderfully delicious; however, avid readers may have deduced by the previous review that the Critic had in fact lunched rather heavily two hours earlier on Progresos malecon, so the rave review is not a result of an empty stomach.

The one quibble was with a glass of red wine ordered by yours truly, which was chilled to room temperature in Inuvik, but that was it.

The service was fine and the bill for 6, with only a little alcohol served, came to about 1800 pesos before tips.

Elio al Mare is one of the best restaurants the Critic has had the pleasure of reviewing in a while. Open from 1 – 10, they don’t take credit cards, only cash and will modify their operating hours during the summer months, opening a little later, from 3 – 12.

To make this review a classic Casual Restaurant Critic review, there is no address. The fine folks at Yucatan Today have one though, click here and you shall find it!

Happy eating!