The service here is great – the Critic would suggest better than the other location and the food seems better too, but that is probably a culinary illusion. If you are in the area, perhaps waiting on a bullfight to start down the road or waiting for Namu Namu to open in the parking lot, or are looking for an alternative to Platos Rotos (reviewed in 2011) nearby – this just might be the spot for you.
It’s not a screaming headline that the Critic loves Eureka. It is, in fact, the only restaurant in town where he will let the chef cook up whatever and it will be fabulous, menu be damned.
On this occasion, and in celebration of the arrival of 2019, the Critic, MiniCritic and omnipresent Better Half enjoyed a delicious New Years lunch at what is arguably one of Merida’s best restaurants.
Las Meras (pescadillas) is a place the Critic “discovered” (kind of like those white Europeans “discovering” the American continent) since it already existed. Anyway, the Critic walked into this place ‘green’ which is kind of like making a cold call in sales, when you don’t really know what you are getting into.
For starters, it is fishy, and those pescadillas are quesadillas or empanadas filled with – wait for it – fish. There are also camaroncillas, which are stuffed with shrimp. You get the drift. Someone thought it would be clever, one supposes. The music is Juan Luis Guerra and the chairs and tables are real wood with a Corona stamp on them. The Critic considers this a good sign as he hates the more ubiquitous white plastic or its’ trashy Coca Cola red counterpart.
As the only person in the place, the Critic receives a menu and decides to stay. Asking about the seafood broth, the wait person promptly offers to bring out a little to try. And it is good; more tomato-y than the broth yesterday at Micaela but very satisfying.
The pesca and camaron thingadillas are fine, but fresh out of the deep frier, they are so damn hot that the Critic burns his lower lip as the steaming contents burst out and spill onto chin and plate. This hasn’t happened since the Critic was 7, so it’s a really memorable event for sure.
There is an array of home-made sauces to squirt on your tacos and such, in those nasty plastic squirty bottles that invariably are sticky and have bits of residue on the tips. Note to restaurant owners: get rid of these damn things already. You don’t know where that stickiness comes from and the dried bits at the tops of the bottles are just gross. The Critic abstained from adding any of these probably delicious sauces to his piping hot pescadilla.
The food is not expensive and it is tasty, if you are in the area or waiting on your car being washed at the VW dealership car wash. Location is on their Facebook page (link on their name at the top of the article)
The Critic is well aware that those in the know have already been to Micaela and raved about it – hell, even the Better Half has been here before – but today was the day that the Critic was able to get his sorry self there and, together with the well-traveled and socially mobile Better Half, see what all the Micaela fuss was about.
The restaurant is, in a word, gorgeous. Each and every angle and corner is a feast for the eyes; from the decorations and art on the walls to the floor tiles to the ceiling lighting.
The service is gracious and attentive – thank you Ariel, Armando, and Alejandra – and the food, well the food is astounding.
Between the two of them, the Critic and Better Half enjoyed the sample chilpachole soup in a tiny cup, the arrachera ceviche, seafood soup, two kinds of oysters, and the pigs’ ears battered up and frittered to delicious chewiness and crispiness. Note that the oysters are small, even tiny, so don’t be expecting the gigantic Washington state version.
There is not much the Critic can add to the already many gushing reviews out there, so this brief description and the photos will have to do. Congratulations to co-owner Alberto, who graciously invited us to the Cacao dessert, which should not be missed!
The recently opened Zu, located in the Victory Platz (yes, that’s German) along Merida’s busiest commercial street (the one that leads from the pocito roundabout to the City Center mall at the periferico) was the scene for another successful and delicious Club Sibarita event. Excellent food by the Zu chef and a guest chef from Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres along with wines from the oldest winery in the Americas; Mexican winery Casa Madero. The results were spectacular and the Critic (accompanied as usual by the ever-present and multi-talented Better Half) was glad to have had the opportunity to experience this event.
If you haven’t been to a Club Sibarita event, you really should consider getting on their mailing list. There is no membership fee and there are events throughout the year that highlight amazing food, drinks, and the good life. You attend only those events you find appealing or interesting.
All contact and additional info in the links throughout.
On to the photos!
Xcalachen (sh-cala-CHEN) is a neighborhood in Merida’s economically challenged southern half, where the real estate folks advise against buying anything as your property values might not as appreciate as quickly as an investment on the northern side of the Plaza Grande.
Once known for its many chicharronerias or chicharra (pork cracklin’s) stalls, the neighborhood, directly next to Merida’s cemetery, fell victim to decay and the lack of economic opportunity. Now, the neighborhood is coming back to life thanks to the efforts of residents and municipal authorities who have reinstated the colonias most famous product: the chicharra.
In addition, there are many colorful and quite beautiful murals throughout the neighborhood, another effort to spruce it up and make it somewhat of a tourist attraction. Interestingly they are not just great art plastered on an available space, but each painting actually has something to do with the owners of the home or wall where they reside.
Today, November 24th, there was another edition of the Feria de la Chicharra, where pork rinds, fried pork belly, local blood sausage, and a stuffed haggis-like delicacy called buche relleno.
A live band was playing cumbias and other tropical hits while the crowds – and many many policemen from Merida’s municipal police department – filled the streets, munching happily on their cholesterol-laden heart-attack-inducing snacks. The mayor of Merida was also on hand, taking many photos with fans and dragging behind him a large and persistent press entourage.
Enjoy the photos – this is what the walk-through looked like today, from murals to pork to politicos, in chronological order 🙂
One of the most popular questions retiring expats have when researching a new place to call home, is the availability and quality of medical care in the potential new place of residence. Merida, being so popular, is no exception and a quick look around shows that medical care is generally pretty good in the formerly white city, with hospitals such as the Clínica Mérida, Star Médica and CMA (Centro Médico Las Americas) in the forefront, along with several smaller clinics and those serving the masses through the IMSS system with their long lineups, horrific bureaucracy and significantly less-than-five-star service.
In today’s rant, I am going to point out a few details that I have noticed thanks to a necessary and prolonged stay at the CMA by a beloved family member. Remember, this is one of the city’s better hospitals.
First of all, when you arrive, you will be greeted by a street that is trash-strewn, bumpy and a sidewalk that will present you with the very distinct possibility of breaking an ankle or fracturing a femur, should you fall into one of the many holes or cracks, or trip over the irregular sidewalk unions from one property to the next. In other words, should you survive your illness or are done with your doctor’s appointment and are able to leave, you just might fall and break a hip on the sidewalk outside, which, I suppose, is a handy place for that to happen.
On the side streets, many CMA affiliated clinics and other services abound. One service offers “mobility care” featuring a prominent drawing of a wheelchair on their facade. Interestingly, their minuscule parking lot means that cars are parked blocking the crooked and dilapidated sidewalk completely, making it necessary for anyone traversing this stretch of street to actually roll his or her wheelchair into the street and traffic. Amazing.
Should you enter the Clinica Las Americas through their ‘Urgencias’ (emergency) doors, with it’s tiny entrance for an ambulance that is frequently blocked by taxis, you will be greeted with paint-challenged walls and the words “soap” and “water” come to mind almost immediately. It gets worse inside the small area where emergency patients are treated or evaluated. While the doctors come and go in Mercedes and Audis, the patients are definitely in their own third world experience.
To check in, it is necessary to give your personal information as you would in any hospital admittance procedure. Enjoy your time here, as this is the most attractive space in the entire complex. The patient is then wheeled from the emergency area with its cadaverous white lighting and stained walls, to a room, this one called a ‘standard’ room, which is only a slight improvement over the emergency holding area.
A friend who had the need to visit the hospital described as a kind of throwback to a 1960’s American motel. The vinyl furniture surrounding the hospital bed, the awful lighting, the decor such as it is, all are reminiscent of another time and place.
The nurses, who seem to change shifts every 6 hours or so and a new group comes in to do their checking and medicating, mention that is suggested or rather imperative, that a family member of friend spend the night with the patient. This is apparently to inform the nurses if something should go wrong. Do not make the mistake of running to the nurse’s station in the night after waking up from your uncomfortable snooze on the rock hard vinyl bench that poses as a bed, IN BARE FEET as you will get an earful from the nurse on duty about not wearing footwear in the hallway. Bring flip-flops.
The nurses range from clinical to efficient to friendly to chatty. Like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates analogy, you never know which kind you are going to get, except for the head nurse, who is obviously the pro and knows her way around a bedpan like nobody’s business. She is also not afraid to point out that she is working a double shift because she can’t make ends meet, thereby somewhat subliminally making you aware of the time-honored Mexican custom of tipping the nurses, preferably the head nurse first.
Occasionally groups of chatty nurses male and female will congregate in the hall outside the patient’s rooms, under the sign that says “favor de mantener silencio” and have a loud gigglefest. Should you pop your head out of the room and remind them to keep the noise down you will be met with a blank stare or two before they get what it is you are on about. They might even move elsewhere, if you’re lucky and look fierce enough.
Other details you might notice:
- upon entering through the main doors, you will see a very modern reception area on your left. As mentioned above, this is where patients are admitted and it is the nicest part of the hospital, bar none. You will not see anything this nice again after finishing the paperwork. Straight in front of you is the little desk tucked under a stairwell in a masterstroke of architectural genius (the Cubbyhole School), where visitors to the hospital are ‘required’ to register. Often there is no one there, an open, ancient book open on the desktop. You can quite comfortably and without any trepidation completely ignore this desk and walk right in and stroll around, off the street. No worries. If you were a narco chieftain having your appendix out at this clinic, you should probably bring your own bodyguards because those sicarios from the other narco outfit can just waltz right in and wipe you (and the family member who is sleeping on the rock-hard vinyl bed contraption with you at night) out.
- nurses and cleaning personnel are almost uniformly unfamiliar with the concept of doorknobs; the fact that turning the doorknob will make for a quieter door closing is something not taught in nursing school apparently. Each entry and exit is therefore accompanied by the relatively loud snapping of the door mechanism, making it so much more peaceful for the patient.
- everything is childspeak in nurse-landia. Body parts such as brazos (arms) and piernas (legs) become bracitos and piernitas, cabezas (heads) become cabecitas and even medicamentos (medicines) become medicamentitos and so on. Urinating and defecating are referred to as pipí and popó, which is useful in making the patient feel less like an adult and more like a dependent child-creature, to be dealt with in a decidedly paternalistic way.
- the building is fugly. Really, really ugly. Whoever designed this abomination should have his architecture license revoked. And so much has been added onto the original building that it is a maze of tiny corridors and weird stairways and badly lit hallways that join them all.
The city of Merida, boasting its cultural attractions, liveability and wonderful lifestyle, really needs to take a hard look at this hospital and its surroundings. Making the (probably rich since this is the whole point of a private clinic) owners fork over a few extra pesos to improve the area around the hospital as well as an overhaul of the facility itself to bring into the modern world, and not in the third world it is in now.
All in all, the medical care at Las Americas is decent and you will get better. Doctors are qualified as are the nurses and even with all the neurotic observations I have mentioned, it is a far cry from the horrors of hallway heart transplants at the public IMSS clinics. But it has a long – very long – way to go before even remotely resembling anything first-world.
At Merida’s second-newest (the newest being Via Montejo) monstrous shopping mega shopping mall, complete with a let’s-turn-Merida-into-Miami artificial lake, there are some shops now open and the food court is fully operational and worth a visit. The Critic is talking about La Isla at Cabo Norte.
It is a strange food court, in that all the locales, with the exception of a few at the entrance area, are owned by the same company, Distrito Gourmet. They all look alike: lots of black backgrounds with white lettering and yet, at the same time, different. There are tacos, sushi, Thai, steaks, pastas, but they are all under the same company umbrella. This was the info provided by one of the employees when asked why the sushi person was in the taco place and vice versa. Also, you can see the same company-labeled drinks in all the countertop refrigerators, like horchata, piña con chaya etc as well as the usual Cokes.
Speaking of those drinks, do not have the piña con chaya drink as it is quite horrendous, so artificial tasting that you might as well be drinking Fabuloso. The horchata is much more palatable. And if you do, notice the ingredients labels on the plastic bottles. Here are some photos so you can reach your own conclusions (it’s probably not even legal to have this lack of information on a food product but the Critic knows nothing about such things) regarding what’s in that drink:
That’s right, the ingredients are: water. Notice that they are also free of protein, fats and sodium. No sugar either. OK.
Anyway, back to the food.
The Critic and MiniCritic decided on Thai at OnThai for something different than the usual boring tacos. The one employee commented that he was the only one who had been trained in Thai cooking and was therefore working 12 hours a day, every day. Every day. No days off. How a probably successful company (and the owners are probably doing very well thank you) can exploit an employee this badly in 2018 is beyond the Critic’s imagination, but again, what does he know about Mexican labor laws which look great on paper but are completely ignored in real life.
Back to the food.
The Critic ordered Pad Thai and the Mini-Critic a rice dish. As it turned out they were exactly the same: same ingredients (Mini-Critic chose shrimp and the Critic chicken) same sauce; they even looked the same. So much so that it wasn’t even worth it to take a photo of the rice. They were very tasty though and the Critic would probably go back to try something else from the limited menu of available items (about 8).
Hilarious non-related observation: there is a lifeguard watching the artificial lake.
Enjoy the photos and excuse all the ranting!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.