Tag Archives: italian restaurants

Il Casual Restaurant Critic Visita il Ristorante Scatola a Merida


The Casual Restaurant along with BetterHalf, MiniCritic and NewAdditionCritic  met at the latest pizzeria in Merida, which of late have been popping up all over the place. There was a time when you could only eat pizza at Messinas, then the chains came with their corporate American style pizza, then Boston’s arrive to reaffirm one’s faith in the possibility of a good chain restaurant pizza and then the Italians who were getting tired of sand in their pasta and hurricanes on the Riviera Maya themselves came and said what the hell are all these crappy excuses for pizza and started making the fantastic crispy thin crust version that you can now find all over Merida from El Centro to El Norte (de Merida).

After that run-on sentence, perhaps it’s time for the restaurant critique portion of this essay.

Scatola is the newest of the Italian thin crust pizza places, having just opened the day before yesterday. In fact, there was no one else in the restaurant except for one table and the hosting and wait staff was apparently glad to see someone and made a real effort to be welcoming and friendly. As is always the case in Merida restaurants, a solid training program would make these friendly people much more professional and basic errors, such as reaching across the front of the client to place a glass on his/her left therefore subjecting said client to back, shoulder and arm in face as well as thumb getting dangerously close to food on plate, could be avoided.

The food, mainly appetizers and pizzas, was great. The mushroom appy has real, thick and juicy mushrooms, cooked to plump perfection with chipotle chile and what the Critic supposes is olive oil. Delicioso. The salmon carpaccio is not razor thin and could be a little more marinated/flavorful for the Critics’ taste, but if this is the way they make it here, who is he to argue. Critic prefers the La Tratto version of this dish, where it is thinner and has a little more flavor for some reason. The third appetizer was the Mejillones al Tequila. It seems that mussels are another item that is popping up on menus all over Merida and while these ones are very tasty indeed (and huge), the flavor of the spicy cream sauce of the mussels at Hennesseys are still the Critics favorite. However, the Scatola mussels hold up well in comparison, especially if you can tilt the dish they are in and get some of that broth to dribble over each mussel before popping it into your mouth.

Pizza: The group ordered three pizzas. A vegetarian pizza, which looked really great but the Critic wasn’t in the mood for anything remotely health-friendly; a Spanish pizza, with fresh red onions on top of some ham, olives and other goodies and the BetterHalf favorite: the Cold Cuts Pizza. Pizza de carnes frias, which was a sodium packed treat with delicious and quality cold cuts like jamon (not FUD or BAFAR brands thank you very much).

Now the more careful reader among you might be thinking “How can this pizza be the BetterHalf’s favorite since they just opened the day before?” Well it turns out that Scatola is a chain of restaurants operating under the same name, with locations in Campeche and Puebla, among others, and BetterHalf had eaten at the Campeche location and loved it.

No desserts were ordered as the food was just too filling and there was nothing light and fresh on the menu; mostly cheesecake, creamy things that one would need to leave room for. A sweet clericot was offered for dessert, compliments of the house. Very nice.

A couple of glasses of over-chilled Concha y Toro wine (some confusion exists about which wines are available by the glass) and some refrescos and the food above, came to 900 pesos for four people.

La Scatola is located across from Tacos PM on the Prolongación del Paseo de Montejo, in that part of the city that some new NOB arrivals don’t like to visit because it’s not the “real” Merida. And you all know how the cantankerous Mr. Lawsons feels about that misguided perception so the Critic will not comment further.

Enjoy your pizza!

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The Casual Restaurant Critic – Luciano’s Ristorante Italiano

Lucianos Interior

A Gaggle of Teens

The Casual Restaurant Critic – hungry and celebrating with Better Half the recuperation of a lost item which will be explained at some point but not right now – decided on lunch at the new Italian restaurant called Lucianos, located in that bastion of fashionable Merida mall-ness, Plaza Altabrisa.

There was only a table of young kids celebrating a birthday or something with pizzas and giggles in the entire restaurant which is huge, covering the corner second level of the mall, directly over Chili’s restaurant. About a hundred waiters abound and one is immediately struck with the thought that it is a lot like Italianni’s (Gran Plaza) and the now defunct Contenti’s (remember that one adjacent to and a part of Friday’s?). A hostess takes a name and leads you inside.

The noise level will probably be too high for many of my readers, who often prefer something a little more tranquilo, but on this occasion at least, a Ricky Martin concert on all the restaurants video screens accompanied by the ‘music’ on the sound system drowned out the possibility of any conversation but a word to the waiter changed that. Actually, the exchange went something like this:

Better Half  – “Excuse me, but I think we are not going to stay because we really can’t talk here”

Waiter – *grin*

Better Half – “Is that OK then, if we leave?”

Waiter – *grinning* “um, OK”

As Better Half turned to the Critic incredulously, Waiter disappeared and magically, a moment later, the volume went down to a more normal level. Loud enough to make the place seem more exciting than it actually is, but low enough that you can actually talk to the person sitting across from you.

The Critic and Better Half both ordered pizzas; 4 cheese with anchovies and pepperoni. Both were fine, but it was not an OMG moment featuring groaning and mouthgasms. No, it was a decent pizza, but you can do better at Rafaello’s downtown or Boston around the corner or Bella Roma out in the sticks.

All in all, the Critic might be back to try the pastas, but for the time being, is not in any rush to do so.



Bella Roma – New Authentic Italian Find in Merida

Everyone is talking about it.

A new Italian eatery; a really authentic Italian restaurant, located in the most unlikely and hard to find places; the new, gigantic urban development known as Las Americas. Not the mall, but the Sadasi construction companys huge housing project near Dzitya, just off the Merida-Progreso highway.

The Casual Restaurant Critic, Better Half and several friends visited this hidden gem a few nights ago and the group was magically transported from Merida to a Roman neighborhood trattoria, where a large (20 members by one account) Italian family hosts Yucatecans and the occasional Canadian and offers up real food from the land shaped like a boot.

The pizza is of the ultra thin crust variety and while the ‘everything’ pizza was fine, it was the quattro formaggio with anchovies that wowed the group. Pastas were perfect; rare indeed is the restaurant that can put together a delicious pasta cooked perfectly. Elio al Mare is one, Bella Roma is another. Accompanied by a reasonably priced bottle of Moltepuciano red wine, the meal was perfect up to and including the tiramisu and limoncello (and mandarincello) for dessert. Exquisite!

Service was adequate, but the crushing onslaught of Yucatecans never stopped and the female waitresses, evidently sisters and daughters of the older folks in the kitchen as well as several young men including the Eros Ramazotti singing member of the family who provided live entertainment for part of the evening, were hard-pressed to spend much time at any table. Every few minutes, yet another Italian face would appear with a load of plates and the Critic counted at least 11 different members of the staff, all related apparently.

Dinner for 8 came to about $1400 pesos before tips which the Critic felt was quite fair.

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!

Da Vinci Italian Restaurant

The Critic, Better Half and Mini Critic felt like some Italian food for dinner on a Sunday night so it was decided that Due Torri should be the place. Arriving there, a waiter came out and said, sorry we’re closing now. (FYI: Sundays Due Torri is open from noon to 7 pm)

Next choice, Villa Italia. Closed as well. This outing was turning into a bust.

On the way to Superama to buy some ingredients for dinner, the Critic saw an opportunity for a new review: Da Vinci Italian restaurant, on the corner of Montejo and Calle 17 in the space formerly occupied by Le Chujuk, had all its lights on and appeared open, so in the group went.

The place was empty, probably due to the late/early hour of 7:00 PM which is neither here nor there in terms of dinnertime in Merida, or the fact that the Semana Santa (holy week) has just started which means Meridanos are off at the beach. Several white-shirted waiter types lounged about, all of whom dispersed to their work areas upon seeing some customers approach except for one who, menu in hand, opened the door and led the three to a table inside.

The feeling was that this place didn’t quite click; maybe it was the fact that there was Italian music playing a little too loudly combined with the sound of a giant TV showing Spiderman in Spanish. Confusing.

The elderly gentleman sitting in the restaurant who said hello initially but abstained from further interaction and sat nearby was watching the movie; was he the owner? Hard to tell.

A further lack of cohesiveness was provided by the menu, which offered an enormous variety of dishes both Italian and not. From carpaccio to pastas to veal, with names in Spanish, Italian and misspelled English apparently at random. On the last page, the Critic was surprised to see BBQ ribs, chicken wings and German sausage.

The group ordered a carpaccio to start and then waited for a looong time before the waiter came back with some bread and tomato salsa. He took the dinner orders at that time and shortly thereafter reappeared with the salmon carpaccio, which was sparse but delicious and came with arugula and hot homemade bread.

Spaghetti carbonara which the MiniCritic described as ‘X’ which is teenspeak for just average;
Raviolis al pomodoro which the BetterHalf thought very good and the Critic agreed;
Pizza 4 Estazione, which was enormous. The crust tasted like the bread but was crispy and the toppings were flavorful; it was far too much for one person, however.

The overall feel was that the food was made fresh and from scratch; the service was just alright and the restaurant itself needs to define what it wants to be: fine dining, casual, international cuisine or Italian.

This place might survive; right now the Critic predicts a 50/50 chance of making it since this location is Meridas most expensive strip of real estate.