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What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

Arte Helado! Lemon Pie ice cream. Yum.

Here’s the Casual Restaurant Critic’s – their Pay de Limon is most amazing!

Arte Helado Campestre

A Re-Visit to Merci

Merci on a Sunday is guaranteed to feature a wait and sure enough, when the Critic and his Better Half arrived this past Sunday to have breakfast, several people were parked on the bench outside the door. Dalia – next door and on the Critics list based on Better Half’s recommendation – was the backup plan and it was evident that tables were available there.

Nevertheless, a table for two was not a problem and Critic and Better were seated upon arrival. Brunch is available on Sundays from 8:30 to 4:00 and features breakfast items as well as more lunch-y options.

The Critic opted for chilaquiles, served up here with a sunny-side-up egg, a longaniza tomato sauce, avocado, some cheese, and fresh radish garnish. And a smattering of shredded chicken to round out the caloric intake. Better Half ordered what appears to be a sort of Croque sandwich which, she assured the Critic, was delicious. Coffee (latté) was great, as was the almond and pepita croissant and home-made papaya jam.

Recommended? You bet.

Two café lattés and the day’s agua de naranja con mango

Le croissant

L’autre pain whose name the Critic cannot recall. But it was flaky and deliciously warm and with some butter… yum

The chilaquiles rojos

Le sandwich d’oeuf

Customer Service Tales

In a short span of two days, I had three memorable customer service experiences which I think are typical of Merida, a city not known for its outstanding customer service whether it’s retail or restaurant. Perhaps some of you have had similar experiences? Read on.

The Dry Cleaners

Pre-wedding (not mine, one I had been invited to)  and I had some shirts to clean so I stopped at a previously unknown-to-me dry cleaning operation at the Uptown shopping mall. I stopped there because I rarely if ever visit the dry cleaners and so my criteria for selecting one is if I see it on the side of the road or not. This one was there, with a parking spot to boot, so I stopped.

In I went, holding my two items of clothing and standing behind a woman who was in the process of leaving her clothing. No one looked up or acknowledged my presence in any way. The space was small, so the young woman behind the counter knew I was there, I was sure, and the other lady who was wandering around behind the counter unsmilingly definitely looked my way at some point before quickly looking away without so much as a growl.

I was there for a while, while the counter lady and the customer lady negotiated what was cleanable and what was not. I was growing increasingly impatient as one does when one is ignored, but finally, after what seemed like a Pleistocene length of time, customer lady departed leaving me face to face with counter lady. She looked up and then at my shirts.

Digame?” she asked, finally acknowledging my presence.

¿Digame? What is she? A Venezuelan phone operator?

I asked her if she had any idea of what it felt like to be invisible. Her response came in the form of a bovine stare and silence.

“It would have been nice if at least you had said hello when I came in” I remarked.

Es que estaba atendiendo a la señora

Of course, I hadn’t noticed. Silly me. And imagine the effort and coordination it would have taken to continue attending one client and saying hello to another! I ask too much. There wasn’t much more to say so I left my shirts, took my receipt and left.

Thank you, Tintorerias MAX. Never again. Well, one more time, to pick up the shirts.

The Camera Store

It had been almost a week since I left my Canon camera to be repaired and maintained. When I went to pick it up, the person behind the counter informed me that unfortunately, it was not ready.

I was more than a little mortified since it was my daughter’s wedding and I kind of needed to have the camera that night, but I held it together as best I could.

“Is there nothing that can be done? I had hoped it would be ready for tonight. It’s my daughters wedding you see.”

Déjame hacer una llamada” the employee said and went into the back room.

Although I have been coming to this place for many, many years now and know the owner quite well. I could understand that things were what they were and if it wasn’t ready, it wasn’t ready.

Le vamos a prestar una cámara” I was told when the employee emerged, smiling, from the back room.

Once I picked up my jaw from the floor, I thanked her profusely and signed the receipt for 20,000 pesos of camera that they were lending me in order for me to be able to take photos at my daughters wedding. Who does that anymore? I was impressed, big time.

You have my business for life, Victor and Digicentro.

Home Depot Stop

I have 10 minutes to run in and buy a faucet, a simple garden-type faucet, as there is one at the house which is not closing properly and so, water is running all the time, which means the pump comes on all the time… but I digress.

10 minutes.

I rush in, only to find that the aisle that has the faucets is closed, as a forklift is working in the next aisle over. There is an employee standing next to that little fence they put up.

“Can I just rush in and get this faucet?” I ask, showing him the one I had brought from home.

No, porque están trabajando al lado” replies the employee.

I point to another customer, in that very same aisle, looking for something.

“What about him – does he have magic powers or something?”

No, de hecho le estamos esperando para trabajar.

OK, while you work/wait could you perhaps pop in and get me one of these? You know where they are, it’ll only take a minute.

He does. Comes back with several models.

Tengo este que es cromado pero es de medio, el suyo es de tres cuartos. Tiene que comprar un adaptador. Y tenemos este otro de tres cuartos que no necesita nada.”

I don’t like the 3/4 inch one because it looks like a gas valve shutoff thing. OK. I am ready to buy the adaptor and the half-inch version, in chrome.

Miraculously, the forklift stops working in the next aisle and I am able to enter this one to peruse the faucet offerings. I quickly find exactly what I am looking for and am in the cashier line-up, not before showing the employee what it was I had been looking for. He shrugged and said “Oh” and that was that.

Home Depot, no worries and as the Terminator said, I’ll be back.

 

 

 

crabster photo, napkin

Almadia which quickly turned into Crabster

Late Seafood Lunch /Early Dinner in Progreso Part I

Better Half and the Critic were in the mood for fish and since a new restaurant had been announced, it was decided that they should go and try it out.

Almadia is a beautiful beach-front restaurant that looks like something from an architectural magazine, a stunning new addition to the restaurant scene at least in looks. For one thing, it sits diagonally on the malecon, just a few houses from the famous Casa del Pastel, and not aligned with the street out front, which sets it apart immediately from all its competitors, as do its modern columns and glass.

Almadia is a stunning addition to the Progreso waterfront

If only they had spent the tiniest fraction of what that architect charged on training staff! BH and CC went in, met no one at the door, had several wait staff pass right in front without so much as an hola and finally a hostess appeared in 4-inch heels and showed the Critic to a table. There, the Critic and Better Half sat and sat for the longest time, waiting for someone – anyone – to return to the table to offer a drink, at least. The hostess returned to her duties of doing Something Important on a clipboard with one or more of the staff members in another part of the restaurant.

Still hungry and bemoaning the tremendous waste it was to spend this much money and effort in creating a new restaurant and then not have anyone trained to run it, the Critic decided that enough is enough, and got up, took Better Half by the arm and left. There was no effort made by anyone to stop the Critic from leaving or even to say hasta luego.

Still, knowing the owners, there will be another attempt at this beautiful restaurant!

Late Seafood Lunch /Early Dinner in Progreso Part II

Crabster is, even when busy and everyone is running around like headless chickens, pretty much a guaranteed thing and after the disappointing experience down the street, the hustle and bustle of Christan Bravo’s seafront restaurant was a welcome sight.

Here, Better Half and the Critic enjoyed what they came for. A view of the beach, the smell of salt air and some good seafood washed down with some frosty micheladas. The awful street entertainment out front and the garbage trucks picking up trash from bins was a distraction, but not anything that Crabster could do something about.

Fresh guacamole, a deep fried grouper, some shrimp. Delicious. Gracias Christian!

Crabster in Progreso was reviewed previously in February of 2017 here.

Michelada!

Guacamole

Shrimp

Pescado frito – deep-fried grouper

 

Camino de las Flores – Parque de la Paz

On this site of the old penitentiary, in a park called the Park of Peace, there is a display of flowers happening that might be worth a visit if you are interested in flowers. The display has been presented in the form of an original design that incorporates Mayan cosmology and the personal vision of its creator, Martin Ramirez.

Eugenia Morales and Martin Ramirez – photo Maru Medina

Martin and his wife Eugenia Morales, both agricultural engineers, started what was then a novel idea back in 1994: opening the city’s first exotic plant store in Merida’s first world-class mall, the Gran Plaza. Since then they have moved on to larger projects. This current project, one of only three in all of Mexico has been done in conjunction with the municipal government of Merida.

An interesting fact that should be considered when taking in this bounty of color: each plant had to be selected according to the time that the flowers would appear, in order to achieve all the colors at the same time, not an easy feat.

The exhibit opens at 9 AM and is a good morning activity, which can be combined with a posterior (or prior) visit to the nearby Santiago market for breakfast.

Some photos of my very recent visit to the Camino de las Flores:

 

 

Pueblo Pibil on a Monday – Frijol con Puerco!

Traditionally, in the Yucatan you eat frijol con puerco (pork and beans in English speaking countries and feijoada en Brasil) on Mondays and if you are in the town of Tixcocob, a half hour from Merida, you can enjoy this classic dish prepared in the pib, or underground pit oven.

Pueblo Pibil is a beautiful restaurant, with attentive and courteous service and the food is really outstanding.

Highly recommended!

Start with an appetizer of chicharrones while waiting for your pork 🙂

Also, more pork in the form of this achiote-soaked grilled rib appetizer

The happy moment the lata (tin) comes out of the pit or pib

Close up of the bubbling deliciousness or frijol con puerco

Garnishes for your frijol con puerco

Handmade corn tortillas

The puerco

The frijol

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Partners and Brothers Burgerlab

Once upon a time, on a Merida intersection, there was a great property to build a city park. Unfortunately, this being Merida, it became yet another shopping mall, complete with a hotel, a Best Buy, another Walmart (Merida needed another Walmart) a movie theater and the obligatory Telcel store, along with VIP’s, Fridays and some other lesser-known restaurants. Today the Critic will discuss one of these, the interestingly-named Partners and Brothers Burgerlab. Or Burguerlab.

Accompanied by the MiniCritic, the CRC went for a late lunch, around 4 PM which is neither here nor there in terms of dinner or lunch, to try out this burger option in the formerly white city.

Why is it called Partners and Brothers? I had a look at the website to find out more, and found the typical message of FUN! and FRESH! and COOL! with lots of really great English words sprinkled throughout (at the top of the website: HOME / SOMOS / FOOD / DRINKS / CONTACTO – why?) to make it all so much more international. Burger is spelled Burguer and then it isn’t, which shows an impressive eye for detail considering it is in their name. The annoying video on the home page says that at this restaurant, which seems like a clone of the Fridays or Bostons concept, at one point says: enjoy…  partners, with your brothers. Um, OK. I don’t understand, but maybe it’s in English so that’s cool in itself, regardless of any possible meaning. By the way, the video and its ear-worm jingle will continue playing as long as you are on the website, ad nauseum.

The experience was a mix. The food is perfectly acceptable: the MiniCritic had a half kilo of BBQ ribs, which were tasty enough and the Critic had the Louisiana Burger, a monstrously high collection of many ingredients stacked on home-made bread. The bread kind of fell apart quickly, with the juices of the meat and the caramelized onions, but the flavor overall was very good. Home-made chips (as in potato chips) are an option and while they were fine, they seemed to have been sprinkled with either lemon or vinegar and the sour taste was not to the Critics liking. A dessert of apple tart, described in flowery terms as soaked in Jack Daniels blah blah blah, was frankly, inedible. The coffee is of the Nespresso machine variety.

Quibbles?

Service, as is so often the case in Merida, was spotty. The waiter was friendly enough, when he was around. To get the drink order, one must get up to get a waiters attention. Many staff members are lounging about, absorbed in their smartphones and whatever exciting stuff is going on in there.

Considering the place had been open for three hours, you would think that things would be ready for the evening rush. However, sauces in glass bottles on the table were not full and had that look like they had been there since last month, with crusty bits inside and a generally unappealing look to them.

A visit to the bathroom revealed that there was no paper towel in the dispenser to dry ones hands after washing, that in spite of the obligatory cleaning schedule on the door which obviously no one was paying any attention to.

Dirty dishes on the table containing rib bones and burger/burguer carcasses had to be looked at for the longest time until the Critic, on his way to the bathroom, interrupted the waiter who was smartphoning with his compañeros, and mentioned that he might want to clear away the dishes.

That caesar salad! A caesar salad is a caesar salad. If you leave out the dressing with the anchovies, throw in a tomato and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds you no longer have the right to call this a caesar salad. Call it a bloody pumpkin seed salad, or a Mayan salad, or make up another name. It’s NOT a caesar salad for crying out loud.

So overall, this restaurant does not impress. The Critic suspects that it is popular with the drinking crowd in the evenings, especially on the terrace where there is a nice breeze and it is quite pleasant, in spite of the horrific view of traffic and concrete that makes up the area around Altabrisa. Then again, with drinks on the expensive side, including a bottle of scotch you can enjoy with your brothers (or partners) for a paltry $13,000 pesos, the target market might be a bit fuzzy.

Verdict? Don’t bother. Friday’s is directly across the hall from them, on the second floor of the mall, and they have their act together and will provide you with a more predictable American-style food experience. Partners and Brothers is a poor imitation.

 

That habanero sauce really does look disgusting

The room. There are over 30 TV screens all around

Amstel Ultra chelada

The Caesar salad that isn’t

The burger/burguer. You can squish it down so it fits in your mouth. Best part of the experience (the burger, not the squishing part)

Burger accompanied by chips

BBQ ribs, corn on the cob and in the little bowl, mashed potatoes that the MiniCritic said were tasty

This apple tart, in spite of its flowery description on the menu, was pretty much inedible

 

 

 

 

Highlights from the Club Sibarita Festival Gastronomico 2019

The Critic and his Better Half bought tickets for several culinary events for this year’s version of Club Sibarita’s Festival Gastronomico 2019, the third such festival in Merida and now recognized nationally as an event worth attending. Chefs from all over Mexico (including Merida of course) and places further afield are in attendance, showcasing their talents with exquisite creations for attendees to swoon over.

Events at Pueblo Pibil in Tixcocob, Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca in Merida and the Hacienda Xcanatun were packed and the food was truly amazing. It made for some very late nights, and often the Critic and BH were home around 1 in the morning, full of great food and excellent wine courtesy of Casa Madero.

Enjoy some photos of the highlights of the events! First up: Pueblo Pibil, in Tixcocob for a leisurely and delectable lunch. Click on the photos to make them grow magically.

Next stop: Hacienda Xcanatun for the Fine Dining signature Sibarito event.

Lastly, Taste the Best at Altozano:

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!

Have you heard of DIEZ DIEZ?

Diez Diez is a new boutique hotel offering that is in the works just a block off Paseo de Montejo. The kickstart party to the construction which is underway as you read this was at the end of January. Some music, some drinks and some classy snacks from chef Roberto Solis (Nectar, Orori et al) made for an interesting evening, meeting the project founders, architects and promoters.

Should be interesting – stay tuned!