Tag Archives: hacienda

Casual Restaurant Critic at Ixi’im, Chablé Resort and Spa

Recently the Critic had the opportunity, thanks to the well-connected Better Half, to attend a sort of ‘fam’ trip to the fabulous Chablé Resort and Spa, recipient of several international awards in the tiny village of Chocholá, Yucatan.

The outing was organized by the Merida-based Club Sibarita, an informal group made up of like-minded people who enjoy great food and wine, spearheaded by Caro Molina and Jean Philippe of Dolce Magazine, who have also organized spectacular dinner events with renowned chefs from the region and Mexico in general, the last one at Merida’s Hyatt. The purpose of this trip was to sample some of chef Luis Ronzon’s culinary creations and take a tour of the former – and extensively, lavishly reconstructed – henequen plantation.

The room at Ixi’im is welcomingly chilled (it’s a thousand humid degrees outside) and gorgeous and you will be impressed with the collection of over 3,000 different types of tequila, and the resort is well on its way to holding the Guinness World Record for largest collection of tequilas in the world. Yes, in the world. It’s not just the bottles though: look up and notice the lamps made with jicaras, the ropes used as a decorative element and take note of the architecture which is glass and steel surrounding and integrated into the original stone structures of the hacienda, which have been left standing and make up part of the innovative and award-winning design.

The food and wine were, in a nutshell, amazing. A light foam to start off and whet the appetite, followed by a very green and very fibre-rich salad of quelites (translated as pig-weed, or amaranth depending on who you consult), parsley and cilantro with an emulsion dressing and some Tabasco queso fresco and roasted green tomato. Very chewy and a good combination with a French 2014 Bordeaux white wine.

Next up, the main course of cordero from nearby Tahmek, where grower Jennifer and her husband are providing the area with some excellent local lamb cuts. This was served in an huasteco adobe sauce that to the Critic, rivaled any cochinita he has ever tried.  This was paired with the robust 2012 Chateau des Tourelles “La Cour des Glycines”. Perfect. A second glass of wine was had and things started to get very pleasant indeed.

Finally, a third plate was the cilantro foam with guanabana (soursop) sorbet and pineapple. Accompanying this dish was a sweet dessert wine: Haut Marin “Venus” 2015. Delicious.

Service was gracious and professional. This was a private event but the Critic is sure that your experience will be equally impressive!

For more information: click here to go to the restaurant’s own website. Wine info at Les Vines de Moliere website. And you can read more about Caro and Jean Philippe’s Dolce magazine here!

Enjoy the photos!

6 Places to Get Out of the Rain

It seems, for some strange reason, that the rains this June here in Merida and the Yucatan in general, are never-ending and the humidity is threatening the paint and stucco on your restored colonial in el centro. And there is the mould that is sprouting on belts, shoes, handbags and the gear in your dungeon playroom; ugh.

Here is a short list of six things to do or places to go while this west coast (of Canada) weather continues to hamper your tanning,  organic tomato-drying and other sun-related activities.

1. Trámites. If you don’t know what a trámite is, you are missing out. Trámites can be loosely translated as paperwork (usually) involving something to do with the government. The rainy season can be used as an excuse to visit some government agency and do some paperwork: perhaps you need a license renewed, which you can do at the Siglo XXI convention center and movie theater complex across from what used to be Carrefour. You can easily spend a half day there, asking questions, filling out a form or two, getting some photocopies made and generally enjoying the dry, somewhat air conditioned space. Reward yourself with some popcorn from the movie theater concession stand afterwards.  OR, perhaps something to do with Hacienda? Hacienda has a modern office on 60 street near Sam’s and is fully air conditioned, has plenty of seating and there are lot of other people in there as well, so you can practice your Spanish and perhaps make new friends. I would not recommend doing anything related to immigration as their waiting room is tiny and you may end up waiting outside under a tarp in the humidity waiting for a spot in the air conditioned waiting room. There’s a lot of waiting in that last sentence.

2. Movies. Rainy season is a great time to catch up on movies. Go to a decent movie theater like the Cinepolis complex at Altabrisa, which will afford you the opportunity to also spend time in the mall. Head out early in the morning and spend the day watching all the movies, back to back. Barring any power outages, you will have a great day, seated in air conditioned comfort and watching potentially decent movies and overdosing on candy corn which is quite good at Cinepolis. TIP: Avoid the movie Maléfica, with Angelina Jolie. It is truly hideous and you will feel your toes curl in pena ajena embarrassment for her. What was she thinking? She actually produced as well as starred in this drivel.

3. Mall time. Great time to go to a mall! The best mall is Altabrisa, where you can spend the better part of the day, especially when combined with a visit to the Cinepolis movie theaters (mentioned in the previous paragraph if you’re just skipping through this). Figure for an hour or two at Starbucks, people watching and drinking expensive but great coffee. Visit the Haagen Dazs shop and eat an ice cream that will cost as much as a dinner for seven at any panuchería downtown. Another hour or two can be spent at the Sanborns magazine rack, reading through anything of interest there. A movie will kill an hour and a half as well. There is a grocery store if you are so inclined as well as several restaurants upstairs such PF Chiangs, IHOP, California Pizza Kitchen, among others.

4. Serious grocery shopping. If you are used to the hustle and bustle, the grime and the crowds of the markets downtown, a rainy day is a good opportunity to visit a big grocery store in the norte of the city. Perhaps Comercial Mexicana or Chedraui or, what the hell, Walmart. Please note that Walmart here is not the same as trashy Walmart in the US; it is a more upscale experience and you will not find the g-string-clad and balding 65 year old with his gym pants around his knees shopper here. You can also enjoy the interesting concept at La Comer, for example, of laying out raw meat on giant tables with a little ice underneath, the carne exposed in all it’s raw nakedness, edges curling, to the supermarket air and people sneezing, coughing and poking with fingers. Nevermind the science that has evolved over several hundred years regarding temperature requirements for the storage of raw meat. The store is air conditioned so that is enough, apparently. And while the meat is placidly rotting, notice the ham and cheese ladies who are obliged to wear disposable masks. Does anyone else think this is somewhat incongruous or is it just me? Hmm. Cruise the aisles and look for interesting items you may have previously thought were not available here, like the Spam, located near the Paté du Canard. A gourmet item, surely.

5. Museum time. You might spend a day at the new Mayan museum, built to honor all things Mayan with money that could have been better spent on actual Mayans still living in abject poverty to this day. But who am I to know about these things and the deci$ion$ made by the powers that be. It’s all about promotion. Keep in mind that a visit to the museum might be thwarted if some dignitary is visiting the convention center nearby and the entire area is sealed off by the state police and men in white guayaberas, khaki pants and earpieces. These guys are the estado mayor and take care of presidential level security, so don’t expect any sympathy from them when you try to explain that you came all the way from Santiago by bus and were really wanting to see the how the meteor killed the dinosaurs at the museum.

6. Stay home. A great time to read, clear up your email inbox, file and label those papers you have been stacking in a pile near the door. Of course if the CFE doesn’t cooperate you will need candles and reading glasses as the power will flicker out and you sit in the damp, warm darkness listening to the lovers quarrel, cats mating, dogs barking or the roosters crowing just below your window. At that point you might consider renting a room at the Hyatt, which is what the well-to-do locals are prone to do during a hurricane.

I hope this list comes in time for you, dear reader, to take advantage of it and enjoy the rest of your mouldy day.

Don Ambrosio and the Hacienda Lifestyle

Don Ambrosio’s joints ached. As he climbed the stairs to the platform containing the rusting remains of the haciendas henequen scraping machine, 3 large white ladies in straw hats and plaid shorts bearing what must surely be expensive camera equipment close on his heels, he suddenly felt older than his 73 years. He was getting tired of this, showing a seemingly never-ending stream of tourists the ruined plantation that had been a part of his life for the last 60 years.

He turned to face them, directing his gaze at each of the three flushed red faces that stared back at him expectantly. Two had already raised their cameras and were pointing them directly at him; he wondered if he should start a little song and dance number. Wearily, he took a battered henequen leaf – one of his props – from the floor behind a giant metal wheel and, bending it in half, showed them the fiber that would have been extracted and motioned to them how the leaves came up from the fields and onto a conveyor belt that fed them into the scraper, leaving liquid and pulp behind. The tourists snapped away with their cameras and he paused for a moment and smiled a tired smile. His English was unfortunately non-existent and their Spanish was limited to “si” and “no“.

It seemed – no it was – so long ago now that he had worked as a henequen leaf cutter in the vast extensions of land that had once belonged to the plantation, working from 5 AM to 5 PM under the merciless sun for very little pay. In those days, he remembered, there was no question about what one was going to do, or to be, other than a worker at the hacienda. If you were lucky you worked in the hacienda buildings, tending to gardens or perhaps performing cleaning duties for the wealthy owners who spent an inordinate amount of time lounging around on the expansive terraces, sipping cool jamaica tea or perhaps something a little stronger. If you were less fortunate, you worked in the fields and were woken each morning by a 4 AM whistle that signaled the beginning of another backbreaking day in the fields or on the machines.

The gringas had stopped taking photos and were waiting to move on.

He had already taken them through the haciendas main buildings, including the kitchen, living and dining areas and had tried to explain, as best as he could with his mime techniques, the fact that every room in the hacienda could be converted into a bedroom or sleeping area thanks to multiple hammock hooks on the walls. He had also shown them the office, where he recalled Don Ignacio, the owner, spending many hours poring over papers with the assistance of an accountant making sure that every aspect of the henequen production was recorded, measured and accounted for. The gringas had shown special interest in – and taken many photos of – the wooden desk, now infested by out of sight termites and ants, who were silently reducing the ancient piece of furniture to dust before his very eyes.

He now showed them the silent motors that once ran the scraper machines; hulking steam engines that belched smoke unfettered by environmental concerns into the Yucatan sky for years through tall stone chimneys that rose, San Giminiano-like, above the flat land like lightless-lighthouses and now served as beacons for visitors intrigued by the prospect of exploring the Yucatans rich past. He recalled the noise of these machines that could be heard for miles around and while it may have been annoying, it was the sound of money as well, for this was the time of the so-called “green gold” which made the chosen families – those of European descent – rich beyond their wildest dreams and allowed them to furnish their mansions and plantations with the finest offerings from Europe, from floor tiles and furniture to crystal chandeliers and marble statues.  Meanwhile, Ambrosio, and the other 300 dark-skinned Mayan workers and their families, lived in the most basic conditions and shared none of this wealth. Instead, they were paid a meager salary in currency produced expressly for their hacienda – it was useless anywhere else – and were limited to buying their provisions at the tienda de raya, or company store, at often inflated prices.

He led the gringas on to the hacienda’s small chapel. While they – somewhat disrespectfully he thought – snapped close-up photos of the altar and the haciendas patron saint dressed in a purple frock, he recalled that many of his friends from the village had initially been glad when, in the mid 1930’s, the leftist federal government introduced land reform and forced the hacienda owners to relinquish control of the thousands of acres they had and turn them over to the mostly Mayan workers. These same workers had quickly changed their tune when they realized that without the machinery, still under the control of the hacendados, they were unable to do anything with the henequen plantations. The owners, meanwhile, also came to a similar realization as the upstart Indians began demanding a better price for the plant, thereby cutting into their enormous profit margins and making the business less attractive. Many of Ambrosios friends had then complained that perhaps they had been better off under the old system as they had been more or less taken care of by the hacienda owners, who, while not permitting anyone to improve their lot in life had provided such basics as elementary education, a living wage, basic medical care and a strict dose of Catholicism. Of course it was too late; the federal law was now the law of the land and things were about to get even worse. The invention of synthetic fibers dealt the final death blow to the henequen industry which, through the demand for rope produced from this plant for the worlds shipping industry and many agricultural applications, had made a select few Yucatecans inordinately wealthy.

In a way, he had been glad to see the end of the henequen; glad to see the owners abandon the buildings to find refuge and undertake other business ventures in Merida. With the demise of the hacienda, the beatings, the 12 hour work days and the harsh penalties for the most trivial transgressions also disappeared.

He took the ladies to the hacienda gift shop, where they examined postcards and trinkets and bought refrescos from Ambrosios daughter who had forgone a life in the city of Merida, preferring to remain in the pueblo surrounding the former plantation and work alongside her father. She had never known the hard life he had led in the long-overgrown henequen fields and for that, he was grateful.

The gringas were done with their shopping and handed Ambrosio a $50 peso bill and through their gestures and smiles, he could make out that they were very pleased with the tour, such as it was. He smiled back and said softly, “Gracias.”

Unexpectedly, melancholy tears came to his eyes – the eyes that had seen so much – and he turned away before anyone could see.

He was very tired indeed.

 

Hacienda Misne, Indigo Hotel

The Casual Restaurant Critic wanted to try something completely off the beaten path and since reading a decent review of a breakfast had by fellow neurotic blogger Gorbman, he thought he would take his Better Half for dinner there.

The hacienda is beautiful, from what one could see at night; completely at odds with the surrounding area, near to where you leave Merida for Cancun, which could optimistically be described using the local term ‘popular’.

Every staff member the Critic and BH came into contact with was extremely friendly, courteous and helpful, not only parking the car but escorting the two to the restaurant.

A little of everything was ordered in order to sample the most of a modest menu (compared to the myriad offerings from the Da Vinci restaurant review previously, this one is bare-bones!) and unfortunately, in spite of being hungry, the food was not particularly good. It looks like someone is trying to create some interesting food in the kitchen, without really being able to get the final results to have any flavor!

The mushrooms could have benefited from an additional dash of salt or a dollop of minced garlic or something to bring out their flavor. The BH ordered the Ensalada del Patrón (The Bosses Salad) which she enjoyed while the Critic ate a Caesar Salad which, although better than the Trotters version which has nothing to do with a real Caesar Salad, lacked the anchovies and garlic that a good Caesar salad should have. Or don’t call it a Caesar.

For the main course, BH ordered ‘stuffed bananas’ and the Critic Rollo Campesina. The banana dish was not hot and was sent back with no complaints from the service staff which were most accommodating. It’s taste was rather lackluster as was the stuffed chicken whose saving grace was that it was bacon-wrapped and everyone knows that anything can taste better when you add bacon.  BH thought that the sliced, cooked bananas over the ground meat underneath were a little under-ripe and took away from the dish.

The Critic thinks this would be a decent place for breakfast and will try it again, in the morning. This will also give him a good chance to check out the grounds around this tree-filled oasis. For dinner however (and lunch, it’s the same menu) the Critic would recommend staying away until some changes are announced in the kitchen.

The austere dining room at the Hacienda Misne

Sauteed mushroom appetizer

Caesar Salad

Platanos Rellenos entree

Stuffed Chicken Breast entree

More on the $2000 Peso Rule for Small Business Owners

This note is of interest for those considering coming to Mexico and starting a small (or large) business…

In their infinite and constantly increasing wisdom, the powers that be at the Secretaria de Hacienda y Planeacion (SHCP) known simply as ‘Hacienda’ established a rule that said you can not declare as a legitimate expense any expense that reaches or exceeds $2000 pesos if you paid for it in cash. This ingenious little rule will somehow make the country less prone to tax evasion and help the 30% of Mexico that pays taxes pay more taxes either directly or in fines and therefore support the other 70% that pays no taxes whatsoever.

Let’s say you are buying something in Costco and the bill comes to $1999.99. That’s OK, you can pay in cash. But if it comes to $2000.01 then you must pay with a company check.

There are a couple of ways around this little rule, none of them particularly illegal (check with your accountant though, don’t take my neurotic word for it):

  • Let’s say you have $7000 pesos worth of goods you have bought for your business. You ask the cashier, or the person who is making up your invoice, to split the purchase into several separate purchases with each invoice totaling less than the $2000 peso total. This way you can pay for them in cash (petty cash) and then issue a check later for reposition of petty cash. This helps because if you want to pay by check in some of these places, it’s a pain in the butt since you will need to have extra paperwork done in the case of Sam’s Club or Costco, for example.
  • The other way is to pay your $7000 in cash; then make the check, and it’s accompanying poliza* out separately. Make the check out to yourself, but on the poliza make it look like the check was paid to the company in question.

This ‘petty cash’ rule is one of the rules that business owners must abide by and that make doing business in Mexico such a downright pleasure, especially when you see so many people not paying any taxes at all; it makes you feel proud to be part of that select group that pays for all the rest of the population.

The poliza is the copy of the check that must accompany each and every check in your accounting records and contains all the information on the check. It’s usually green which is another bit of completely useless information.

Casa de Piedra restaurant – Hacienda Xcanatun

After a long hiatus, the Casual Restaurant Critic had the opportunity to re-visit the restaurant at the luxurious Hacienda Xcanatun, located in the village of, you guessed it, Xcanatun, just off the Merida-Progreso highway.

The restaurant is still beautiful, the chef is relatively new (at least since the last visit by this Critic many moons ago) the food is both exciting in it’s combinations of flavors and textures, and the service is still hugely deficient, taking into consideration the quality of the room and the cuisine.

Why is the Critic such a rag on service? Because it seems that it is that one elusive detail that restaurants in Merida just can not get right. The owners of many a Merida restaurant spend good money on decorating, menu-planning, lighting, getting a great chef, even hiring valet parking in some cases. Then, when it comes to probably the most important (ok for some neurotic people like the Critic) detail, the human interaction between everything just mentioned and the guest, there is little or not enough effort made to ensure that the concept comes full circle.

In the case of this visit to Xcanatun, the Critic’s lovely better half had arranged a reservation asking for a nice table. Upon arrival, one of the wait staff consulted with the reservation book at the entrance and there was indeed a reservation; however, no table was offered. Instead, the waiter asked ‘where would you like to sit?’ which, when the table was chosen, turned out to be a table that was not ready and so the party stood around the table as the waiters changed tablecloths and set the table. Imagine this happening in a good restaurant someplace else? You make a reservation and then are told to sit wherever you like? The Critic doesn’t think so.

Service throughout the meal was adequate, but the lack of professionalism was further highlighted by the truly spectacular food promised by the menu and delivered by the chef and kitchen staff. On the one hand you have food truly worthy of accolades and groans of satisfied pleasure, while on the other you have to suffer the distraction of inferior service; service that could be found in any where in Merida, from Friday’s to El Fogoncito.

The Critic would like to stress that the service is not horrendous, but it is at a a level so much lower than the food that this creates a real clash. Of course, there are people to whom this is not important, but it seems a shame that Merida can not seem to boast at least one completely first-class restaurant. Another great and innovative restaurant, Nectar, suffers the same problem, as does the showy Trotter’s, the other night’s Casa de Frida, and these, along with Xcanatun, are among Mérida’s best culinary experiences.

But the food! Still reeling from the delectable duck with mole sauce at La Casa de Frida, the Critic asked for Magret de Pato, which was a meaty duck breast, crunchy, succulent and sliced and, as a friend would say, to die for. Accompanied by perfectly sauteed onions that still had their bite, a sweet fruity reduction and some shredded meat which the Critic cannot place (was it duck or pork?). Blame it on the wine.

Before that main dish, there were some appetizers ordered, of which the Critic sampled and can highly recommend the deep fried won tons and their accompanying dipping sauce (a special that day), the ceviche de atun with sweet potato chips adding crunchy texture, and the chicharrón soup with a hint of tequila, which was like sipping the delicious gravy of the best roast leg of pork you have ever had; thick, savory and satisfying.

The desserts were also very good, the pay de limón was refreshingly balanced between tart and sweet and the apple pie was delicious.

If you enjoy exquisitely prepared food, and can put aside the distraction of the service, you must try the Casa de Piedra restaurant at Xcanatun.