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Miyabi Revisited – What is Wrong with these Servers

Don’t misunderstand – the Casual Restaurant Critic loves Miyabi’s food. And hanging a whack of plywood sheets from the ceiling is apparently is a design concept that is award-winning so there is that. The food is always amazing too; the ramen is the best in town and the fish is always fresh.

What is really puzzling is the staff. With attitudes that range from the completely and defiantly indifferent to the almost Valium-like spaced-out-ness of a lobotomized Walking Dead character, the Critic can’t understand why the service end of this potentially first class restaurant is so bad.

The Critic would also like to add that he has been coming to Miyabi for years now – alone and with several iterations of familial critics – so it’s not like staff doesn’t know who he is which is not implying that a red carpet needs to be laid out, but a simple ‘Hi, glad to have you back’ every once in a blue moon would signal to this particular client anyway, that there is some life, some enthusiasm, some passion for service, behind those rather dead eyes.

Walking in, one is greeted with the sight of several chefs behind the sushi bar, some of whom will look up and then get back to their important work. No greeting is proffered, not even a raised eyebrow acknowledging one’s existence. “Sit anywhere” is not only recommended, it is the policy and that’s what you are told when you ask someone who finally looks your way.

A waiter then eventually slinks to your table, and it is highly recommended that you make the most of this interaction, as any additional visit (to take an order, to replenish a drink, to clear away a dish) will require enthusiastic hand-waving and yoga-like contortions (if the server is behind you) in order to get anyones attention.

Amongst themselves, they are a happy bunch, smiling and laughing but when it comes time to deal with guests, the smile disappears and it’s all slinkiness and tail-between-the-legs standing there, awaiting instructions. Sales pitches for drinks or specials or anything really, are unheard of.

And thank goodness for cell phones, since this is what entertains both waiters who have nothing to do as well as yawning cashiers and anyone else not involved in the cutting of fish or the preparing of rice.

It’s a mystery. Perhaps it’s that they are content in letting the food be their strong card – which it is – and so, if you can put up with the sub-par service, you will be fine.

Playa del Carmen for Tourists

The strange roof top pool at the weird but comfortable Reina Roja hotel in Playa del Carmen

Having just come back from a little overnight in Playa del Carmen after dropping off the kids at their hotel in Tulum, I thought I would share a few impressions from Playa – as folks around here call it because it’s too hard and time-consuming to actually say Playa del Carmen – from a visitors/slash neurotic foreigners (the original viewpoint of this blog when it started 20 years ago) point of view.

Playa is heavily policed

In the touristy part around the 5th avenue area, the police presence is massive. There are armed policemen at every intersection and at one spot that I saw, a tank-like armored vehicle that probably came from the US Army’s surplus after the Iraq invasion was successfully completed.

Since you hear a lot about the gangs, the narcos and the violence that has plagued the area, this dark undertone to all the happy people selling stuff on the street and the trendy restaurants and shops, should be reassuring and not threatening. How you will react is entirely up to you. And in spite of their rather intimidating aspecto, what with their bullet-proof vests, machine guns, and all-black uniforms, they seem friendly enough though and don’t mess with anyone.

The touts

Touts is one of those weird words that I have trouble writing, just because it sounds so 18th century. But apparently, that is the official word for those guys in the street, that are trying to get you to come into their (or a friends or employers) store along the Quinta Avenida.

Predominantly men, they pester each and every passerby, inviting them to come and see their cigars, their hats or their tours. If they are waving a plastic covered menu, it’s a restaurant they want you to try. And listen to their banter, which is incredibly original – “hey, I remember you” and funny (sarcasm). If any females walk by, you can be sure that they will have a #metoo moment and be ogled and commented on by the touts, who usually hang around in small groups. As a tourist you can ignore them completely and if you don’t understand Spanish, the better it is for you since you won’t know what crap it is they are spouting.

Discounts galore

Beyond the verbal sales pitches of “good price” “cheapest price” and “best price” there are signs everywhere advertising discounts of up to 50% (on selected items). These are crappy things that never sold as well as they were expected to and so, are things you don’t want anyway unless you can’t pass up a good bargain on some plastic Made in China glass holder that says Playa del Carmen or the purple top with fringes from last year.

Pharmacies

Mexico is famous for its lax pharma laws and cheap drug prices and that, combined with the ridiculously high prices for prescription medicines in the US, means you will see pharmacy counters in the gift shops advertising everything from anti-depressants to anti-biotics to erectile dysfunction drugs with dubious labels. There are legit pharmacies a few blocks away where you can buy real drugs and medicines at local prices and so, you really don’t need to shop here unless you are afraid to venture into the “real” Playa del Carmen, a fear which is unfounded (read the part about the police, above)

The rich and the poor

You can see the disparity between the rich and the poor on the touristy streets of Playa. The wealthy tourists from abroad and from within Mexico stroll past high-end shops especially around the luxury shopping mall complete with Starbucks and all manner of luxury brand stores, while the miniature young women from Chiapas with their wares displayed Mayan market style on the very same streets right outside. Note that these women usually have small children in tow, who are entertaining themselves on cell phones, and who add a sympathetic look to the scene, invoking a sense of guilt to passers-by and thereby perhaps making it more probable to get that sale.

At one point, a shiny black Mercedes Benz coupe drove past a police checkpoint which was interesting since a) it was a black Mercedes that costs probably about a million and a half pesos and was driven by a twenty-something-year-old and his female cohort which might raise an eyebrow or two; b) they had a child on the lap of the female in the front seat, a clear violation of transit law and c) the car had no plates, another violation and normally a reason for the police to pull the car over.

Weekend getaway

In any case, Playa del Carmen is a great destination for a weekend escape from your routine if you enjoy a little beach time and some great restaurants. Other than that, I wouldn’t come back for more than a day or two as the whole ambiance seems just a little too much for my laid back Yucatecan self.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Numen

While the Casual Restaurant Critic is a meat lover (and dairy and fish and and and) some members of the Critical Family are vegan, and so, with a resigned sigh and little hope of a decent lunch, the Critic and the Family had lunch at the well-known vegan restaurant Numen, in northern Merida. The result was a mixed bag. Some good food, some OK food and some food that was quite forgettable.

The best option was the tacos al pastor, which is a local favorite and Numen has created a vegan option of this classic. Don’t ask, don’t tell is the Critic’s motto when it comes to what is actually in the vegan version, but it was tasty and satisfying. If he came back, the Critic would definitely have those again.

Most forgettable dish? The pozole. Pozole is a rich broth with all kinds of meaty juices and in this case, it was sliced mushrooms and hominy floating in a barely salted broth that was really quite watery. Not satisfying at all, ITCO. In between was the Critic’s dish, a pasta with tomato sauce, which he could have made at home but was tasty enough and the Critic devoured it down to the last spiral of fusilli.

Some photos will illustrate that the dishes are beautifully presented. The service was average, not horrible, but not particularly gracious or charming either.

Pozole

Pozole

Tacos al Pastor, vegan style

Torta de Empanizado, which was sort of a bean paste, and not great at all

Pasta w Tomato Sauce and vegan “cheese”

Avocado tacos

The accompanying fries were the best part of this empanizado torta

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Pueblo Pibil, A Club Sibarita Event

The Merida-based Club Sibarita (https://www.facebook.com/clubsibaritamx/) organizes events both in Merida and the outskirts, featuring themes or restaurants worthy of note and this time it was the famous comida enterrada (food cooked underground in pits called pibes) that the Yucatan is known for and that the restaurant Pueblo Pibil in Tixcocob does masterfully.

The last event the Critic attended was in Merida and before that, an event at the spectacular Chablé resort/hacienda and this one proved to be as well-organized and the food as delicious as promised.

If you haven’t yet been to Pueblo Pibil, put this on your to-do list ASAP. It is an amazing lunch destination, well worth the 30-40 minute trip from Merida.

Here are a few photos from the event.

In the backyard patio of Pueblo Pibil, the pits are unearthed and the food is taken out, cooked for hours and hours on hot coals. Chef Silvio supervises the process and proceeds to hand out samples. iPhones record the moment and guests wait for their samples, in this case, the exquisite relleno negro (the best the Critic has ever had in the Yucatan) and owner Karina, out hostess for the day watches.

Then it’s off to the restaurant, where two large tables have been prepared for the group. There are two representatives from Casa Madero – the oldest wine company in the Americas by the way – who will be serving wines with each course and talking a little bit about each wine and how it complements the Yucatecan food served.

And of course, the food. Each dish is beautiful and as delicious as it looks, truly. The relleno negro has to be tasted to be believed and the hand-made corn tortillas, thick and luscious, are divine. The house signature dessert, el merengue de la abuela, was presented by the abuela herself, where she confessed that she won’t share her recipe with just anyone.

Last but not least, a shot of a few of the waiters and hostess. An amazing experience! If you like good food, good wine, and good company, join the Club Sibarita and come along on the next culinary adventure!

 

Chilaquiles for the Casual Restaurant Critic at Chill-Akil

Not having had any sustenance beyond the usual New York model breakfast of coffee and a cigarette, the by-now cantankerous Critic was driving to his pay-by-the-hour office at Alexandra’s when another luxurious plaza (not particularly luxurious, tbh) called Plaza Luxury – really, you can’t begin to fathom the local fascination with all things purportedly luxury – beckoned with its multiple culinary options ranging from the brand new Okana poke bar with its high-tech and line-up inducing iPad ordering system to the old-school Merida classic Siqueff to the restaurant the Critic finally ended up in: Chill Akil.

There’s the Lexus dealership, the Prada flagship store, and the Bugatti watch shop. And the Ya Abrimos store of course

Once the loud family discussing family relationships at the next table had departed, the famished  Critic was able to enjoy his classic chilaquiles rojos in relative peace and quiet while perusing CNN’s latest fake news on his iPhone.

These chilaquiles are really good, with lots of ‘stuff’ on top of those tortilla chips and they aren’t all soggy either, which is a nice touch. The red sauce is good, the chicken is good, the queso fresco is good, the onions and radishes are fresh and there are hot sauces and mild sauces (2 and 2) to add if you feel the dish lacks vim and vigor.

The restaurant is probably crowded in the morning with Moms and gym types who like to get up early, but the Critic had his breakfast at 2 PM thank you very much and had the place to himself. The A/C leaves something to be desired and it is uncomfortably warm in spite of the unit blowing all it can. Note: there are two air conditioners upstairs, but these were off.

Good service and plenty of parking available. You will also find a really nice high-end stereo shop in this plaza for your home theater installations in that new old colonial you are restoring.

Worth a second visit, ITCO.

Location: Plaza LUXURY (look for the Teslas, Ferraris and Jaguars parked outside) or just look at the map on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chillakil/

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Oishii Japanese Cuisine

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his band of merry Critics including Mini and Better Half, tried this new sushi restaurant which is on the THIRD floor of yet another commercial plaza in Merida, where the commercial plazas outnumber the parks by a million to one. Yes, you have to walk up to get here (or take an elevator – fancy) but it is worth the effort. It’s in the Altabrisa area, in the umpteenth version of a luxury plaza; this one is called Luxus (yawn)

However, the sushi is great. Service is friendly and professional and the room offers a great view of the area around Altabrisa, specifically the mall and hospitals just down the road. There is also seating outside. And you might recognize the chef behind the sushi bar – he was a fixture at the now-defunct Hamachi, so you know he knows that you know that he knows what he’s doing.

Location info at the bottom of the page or on their restaurant link here.

Edamame

Unagi

Ramen ‘especial’ w pork

Location: Calle 20 between 15 and 7 (Correa Rachó Avenue) in Altabrisa, Merida

From periferico, take Altabrisa exit, get into the side access road and turn right on Calle 20

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Sushi Pop in La Isla

 

The Mini-Critic invited the Casual Restaurant Critic to try a new sushi place called Sushi Pop in the closest approximation of shopping bliss in Merida resembling Miami. If you are looking for somewhere to make you feel like you are not in the Yucatan (with the exception of the people around you) come to La Isla.

Sushi Pop is a franchise with locations all over the country. Merida location at the end of this post.

Directly in front of a colorfully lighted fountain with spurts of water shooting up ala Bellagio, and with the artificial lagoon in the background where you will nightly presence a light show, you can enjoy some truly average sushi, either in their air-conditioned locale or outside on the little terrace, where you will swelter but can enjoy a smoke without being hassled by the pure-air police.

The service was alright, but nothing outstanding. What put the Critic off is the fact that the waiter, who was dancing happily inside the locale, showed up at the table and his rumpled shirt with rolled up sleeves and unshaven face put an immediate damper on his expectations (the Critic’s, not the waiter’s)

There were some rolls which were fine, and an order of gyoza, but the most interesting item was their broccoli tempura, for which they are apparently famous, according to RumpleShirtSkin.

Would the Critic go back? Maybe, but no rush.

Broccoli tempura with spicy mayo and a slice of tuna

Unagi (roll) which was warm and delicious

Gyoza w meat filling

 

LOCATION AND HOURS INFO:

La Isla Mérida Cabo Norte
Calle 24, Cabo Norte
Mérida, Yucatán.

MONDAY TO WEDNESDAY:
13:00 – 23:00

THURSDAY THRU SATURDAY
13:00 a 2:00

The Casual Restaurant Critic at a Xcanatun Wine Pairing Event

Hacienda Xcanatun, one of the Critic’s favorite go-to options when you want to eat in a civilized manner, without crowds, without downtown traffic (bonus: no retenes! for after-wine driving peace of mind) just the other day had an interesting event featuring some of their typically fabulous food paired with some delicious wine from Baja California, part of a collection called The Four Seasons by Proyecto Vinícola de México (links at the bottom of the page) On this occasion, three of those seasons were presented to the folks attending.

Since wine is such a subjective topic, we shall leave the flowery descriptions to others far more qualified than the Critic. Nevertheless, there was one fine Chardonnay (Spring) accompanied by both a home-made duck paté as well as a terrific no-lime esmedregal ceviche and one very rich red blend (Fall), the latter a favorite at the Critic’s table, with definite notes of forest fire and earthiness. ‘Velvet’ was was another term that came to mind after some serious consultation and mouth swirling with the Critic’s always entertaining table neighbor, the Sculpting Critic and her husband, the Eagle Scout. That’s some pretty flowery wordplay right there…

As usual, a terrific experience at Hacienda Xcanatun.

The menu, with what appears to be one unfortunate typo

A delicious meaty paté

Spring, one of the four seasons collection – a Chardonnay – presented this evening

Hearty meat dish with grilled veggies to accompany the smoky Fall wine blend

Fall, which you might do after having too much of this delicious wine

Fall, again

Part of the fun was trying to figure out what the medallion around the sommeliers’ neck was all about. “Lemon squeezer” was one guess from the Critic’s happy table partners

Scrumptious chocolate cake to accompany the Winter wine, a South African dessert wine made especially for the Mexican label

The dessert wine Elefante sparkles on the left and the sultry Fall wine rests sullenly on the right. The angle of the photo was seriously affected by wine consumed up to this point

Links for more info:

Proyecto Vinícola de Mexico

Hacienda Xcanatun

The Casual Restaurant Critic at La Galeria Cantina Artesanal

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better-than-Ever Half, had the opportunity (by invitation) to visit this cantina/restaurant and sample some of their amazing food very recently. With expectations not really high nor low but somewhere in between, both the Critic and BH were blown away by the food, which is on the level of some of the best they have tried in Merida, and if you are fan of Mexican food prepared with imagination, creativity, and attention to detail, you are in for a treat.

The room itself is a mixup of an art gallery – there is all kinds of art on the walls – cantina and restaurant. Real tables and chairs, cool and dark, and music videos on the television monitors.

Service is a little distracted until Salvador, one of the owners, shows up and then things improve dramatically. When asked what beers they had, the answer was “Sol y Lager” and when asked for more detail and what other beers there were, as in artisanal beers, the information became a little more detailed. La Cantina offers a chocolate stout and an IPA by Tatich, a local craft beer. The Critic ordered the dark which was a delicious accompaniment to the food that followed.

Salvador told the Critic that the idea of the restaurant/cantina is to provide guests with a relaxing space where the beer is cold and not expensive (at $25 pesos it’s much cheaper than other places that serve free botanas) but with excellent food also at a reasonable price. A place you can visit 2 or more times a week and not break your pocketbook. And the food, dear readers, is truly amazing! Ingredients and recipe ideas from all over Mexico -guacamole w mezcal anyone? – are combined with Yucatecan influences to create original, delicious dishes that are generously portioned and extremely satisfying. You will not feel you are in a normal cantina; this is a much more gourmet experience and will please the most ardent foodie.

Enjoy the photos and come to eat here soon! La Galeria Cantina Artesanal is located on the corner of 54 and 35, very close to the CMA hospital just down the street, and open from 1-11 PM. Credit cards and cash are accepted.

A dark cool place to escape the midday heat

Blue corn chips for scooping up these delicious lentil and bean dips

The room. Plenty of art everywhere

Castacan con pulpo salad. This dish is gigantic and can be shared among many. Not to be missed!

Real mushrooms, real gouda cheese, looks as good as it tastes!

 

Poc chuc

Octopus tacos and grilled tuétano!

Blue corn tortillas

The men’s bathroom is worth visiting, truly

Entry to the bathrooms; if you’ve had too much to drink, you might find all the glass and mirrors somewhat disorienting. But this is the nicest baño you will ever find in a cantina, guaranteed.

More art on the walls!

The bar

Piece de resistance: pork chamorro bathed with home-made mole sauce

Roasting those bones

Chef Miguel Uicab at work

The Man behind the Magic, Miguel Uicab

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Pueblo Pibil

It’s new! At barely three months old, this latest and impressive entry into the offerings of real home-cooked Yucatecan food in the nearby town of Tixcocob, is already causing a stir among foodie Instagram users (hashtag: foodporn) as well as all lovers of great food who are not afraid to hit the highway to discover these out-of-the-city gems.

Chef Silvio has run a food counter in the Tixcocob market for years, and now he has, in conjunction with several partners, opened this elegant alternative for those seeking his deservedly famous ‘sazon‘ in a more formal setting.

The restaurant is beautiful, the air conditioning more than adequate on a hot pre-April firestorm temperatures kind of day and the service is gracious, if a little uneven in some spots. A friendly hostess opens the door and welcomes you into a calm, cool room from the overheated effervescence outside. An outside terrace is available for those who enjoy sweating while eating, or for those who want to have a quick smoke before or after lunch. There, you can also see the pits that give the restaurant its name: Pibil. Almost all the food is cooked in the traditional underground pit oven (the pib) and the results are impressive.

The Critic, accompanied by the Better Half, Mini Critic and almost a dozen others, visited for lunch and sampled many of the dishes available on the small but varied menu and everyone was most impressed with the quality and flavor of each beautifully presented dish.

The Critic had, as usual, the Queso Relleno, which was very satisfying and cooked to perfection. This was immediately after a starter of Sopa de Antaño (soup from yesterday, as in yesterday from grandma’s time, not actually yesterday), consisting of a black frijol broth with short pasta noodles and spiced up with a condimented tomato sauce.

Also on the table were an order of smoky crisp longaniza, generously stuffed papadzules, a relleno negro to die for, brazo de india (reina) and a spicy mondongo soup. The tortillas were thick, handmade and piping hot each time another batch arrived at the table.

At about 2000 pesos for a group of eleven, this was not at all a luxury lunch but it felt like it, given the quality of the room, service and of course, the food.

The photos will speak volumes and give you an idea of what you are in for if you head to Tixcocob for lunch tomorrow. NOTE: If you go on a Monday, you will be able to sample Chef Silvio’s frijol con puerco, which was not available on this Sunday outing and will surely be motivating this Critic and his Better Half to return, ¡pero ya!

The room is beautiful, the flowers are real and the hostess is smiling

The bar

Brazo de India

Longaniza

 

Papadzules

Relleno Negro

Mondongo

Queso Relleno