Tag Archives: life in yucatan

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

Casual Restaurant Critic visits Las Yuyas

Every once in a while, my work, such as it is, requires me to visit restaurants that could be potentially incorporated into a tour offering. Such was the case today, with Las Yuyas, located in the Merida’s Jesus Carranza colonia.

Open since March of this year, they are cooking up traditional Yucatecan food with some original twists and presenting it in an attractive manner. My dear readers will agree that one of the most delicious and absolutely worst Yucatecan platillos to photograph is sikil pak, but the way chef Edwin prepares it here is a work of art. Very tasty too! Look:

Sikil Pak at Las Yuyas

All the dishes tried were excellent, from the queso relleno (my go-to dish when comparing Yucatecan restaurants) to lomitos de Valladolid to pipian de puerco. Also sampled were chayitas, taco de cochinita, relleno negro and escabeche, along with crema de brocoli and sopa de lima. Each was very well presented and perfectly seasoned. Tortillas were handmade and hot, and the tostadas for the sikil pak were fried just before being brought out to the table which made them extra hot and crispy. Nice touch.

Dessert was caballeros pobres, better than the usual goop served at so many restaurants, and papadzul ice cream. This is made by a local ice cream artist and this restaurant is the only place in town where you can have this flavor. Reason enough to come and sample the wares.

The room is comfortable, chairs are a bit on the hard side, walls are all glass and the A/C is cold. Service was very friendly with a bit of a delay on the removal of dirty dishes but overall very attentive. Owner Mario stopped by for a chat and explained a little about what he is trying to do.

Recommended; a restaurant that deserves a visit. Enjoy the (iPhone) photos!

Little masa ball appetizers

Crema de brocoli

Sopa de lima

Nido de Yuyas – a large sampler plate of several items

Pipian

Lomitos de Valladolid

Queso relleno

Caballero pobre (dessert)

Caballero pobre II

Papadzul ice cream. Yes, papadzul – amazing!

Brown People

There is and always has been a palpable racist element in this country and you will see, in the hundreds of interactions the well-to-do Mexican upper classes have with their supposed inferiors, a total disregard for these browner versions of themselves.

Look around. You will see it everywhere.

Privileged kids at private school
dropping wrappers and plastic bottles
Brown People

Dirty dishes in the sink
greasy pots and pans
Brown People

Enemas and bandages
bedpans and injections
Brown People

The Lincoln on Montejo
garbage out the window
Brown People

The traffic accident
blue lights flashing
Brown People

The Barbie Mom
coffee after the gym
Brown People

Babies in strollers
families at the mall
Brown People

The busy executive
car at the valet
Brown People

Gym workout
towels, wrappers, water everywhere
Brown People

The children’s party
the piñata bursts open
Brown People

The drug war rages
who to fight the cartels
Brown People

Fortunes made
henequen industry families
Brown People

A stray shopping cart
supermarket parking lot
Brown People

Political unrest
thugs beating up citizens
Brown People

Morning TV show
the silver-toothed buffoon
Brown People

Casual Restaurant Critic at Zamna, in Izamal

The Casual Restaurant Critic had the opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon near Izamal and so it was only logical that lunch should be had there. Instead of the usual and 99% excellent Kinich it was decided, with the Better Half’s acquiescence, that the newer Zamná, which has somehow appropriated the entire serving staff originally working at Kinich (how did THAT happen?) should be given a chance.

Located just near the edge of town, where the ‘paint your place yellow’ memorandum somehow failed to arrive, the Zamná restaurant is an attempt to recreate the same atmosphere as Kinich, with mixed results. There are artesanias for sale, there is a giant palapa roof, there is an hipil-clad Mayan lady making tortillas in a separate hut along with a young man grilling the poc chuc and the servers are all women, able to maneuver giant trays of food and drink to their guests.

But somehow, the atmosphere is lacking. There is something missing here and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is – maybe a lack of interaction with the friendly-enough staff, who are mostly efficient, but not particularly charming. The actual space is a long an unremarkable rectangle and the music is all trio but the overall feel is… meh. If you are going to copy or emulate the already very successful brand that is Kinich, you are going to have to try to make it better, not just the same or almost the same.

The food you ask?

The food is fine. Better Half had the pipian de conejo, served only on Sundays which was quite good and the Critic had the queso relleno, which his go-to dish to evaluate Yucatecan restaurants, due to its complexity and the facility with which one can get it wrong (like at the over-rated Hacienda Ochil, where the dish is quick to arrive at your table and has seemingly been microwaved) and here, the platillo tipico was very good, but not better than, Kinich. Or Teya, where it is excellent.

Sikil pak dip was excellent, as were the empanadas, crunchy on the outside and melty cheesy inside.

Here are some photos of the food and restaurant and in the Critic’s opinion, visitors to Izamal are well-served by sticking to Kinich.

The restaurant Zamna

The restaurant Zamna

Hammocks make up part of  the decoration

Hammocks make up part of the decoration

Empanadas w chaya corn stuffed w edam cheese

Empanadas w chaya corn stuffed w edam cheese

Sikil pak and chaya limonada

Sikil pak and chaya limonada

Pipian de conejo (rabbit) only on Sundays

Pipian de conejo (rabbit) only on Sundays

Critic's choice - queso relleno

Critic’s choice – queso relleno

Casual Restaurant Critic visits Hacienda Santa Cruz

Under new Mexican ownership, the hacienda Santa Cruz, on the outskirts of town, is undergoing a massive facelift and renovation. The Critic visited recently to have dinner with Better Half and spent a very pleasant few hours in this beautiful dining room.

Food was good, service was fine and the place is peaceful and relaxing. There are the usual tweaks that could be made to the service, which is a pet peeve of the demanding Critic and BH, but it is a nice way to spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of life in Merida.

The pasta was fine, “spaghetti” according to the waiter when asked, which turned out to be a flat noodle more reminiscent of a tagliatelle, but who cares. The cheese-y sauce was tasty enough. Better Half’s choices were more inspired and definitely better. The black bean soup in particular was excellent. The pork with a guayaba salsa was also delicious.

Not cheap, but not expensive either, considering the location, which is here.

Enjoy the photos.

Napkin

Napkin

Dining room view

Dining room view

IMG_6995

Little welcome snack

Little welcome snack

Serving the black bean soup

Serving the black bean soup

Beef carpaccio

Beef carpaccio

Black bean soup

Black bean soup

Pork w guayaba sauce

Pork w guayaba sauce

Pasta

Pasta

Grounds at night

Grounds at night

Another Morning in El Mercado – El Chile Pica

El chile pica” warned the waiter, pointing to the blackened chile habanero bits mushed up in the little bowl.

The gringo smiled. He had eaten chiles before. Had even watched a show by Rick Bayless once where Rick explained how to spot a particularly spicy one.

De verdad pica; tenga cuidado” repeated the waiter.

He seemed truly concerned and hovered for another moment at the red plastic table watching the gringo, who nodded and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

The waiter turned back to the counter to pick up another order; mondongo para la mesa cuatro, his Mom told him from behind the counter, hands slick with pork fat as she worked the lechon.

He was setting down the spicy soup at table four when he heard a loud cough and the scrape of a plastic chair being violently pushed on concrete; the gringo was standing up waving his hands in the air and his mouth opening and closing like a freshly caught pescado. Comical almost, if it wasn’t for the fact that he looked like he was going to die right there.

Pinche gringo, que bruto; se lo dije” he thought to himself.

People at the other tables smiled bemusedly at the gringo’s predicament and those nearby held out their drinks or some tortillas, all of which the gringo ignored, not out of rudeness of course but because he simply couldn’t see them, his eyes were watering so bad.

Mom was already out from behind the counter, arms around the stumbling gringo and leading him towards the counter where Luisa had some milk in a glass. Mom was also stuffing tortillas in his mouth to soak up the picante.

Little by little, his eyes drying and the coughing subsiding, the gringo came back to this world. He opened his eyes to find himself sitting at a stool by the counter with everyone looking at him. He gave a limp wave with one hand.

Bien, estoy bien” he said lifting one hand and looking somewhat chagrined. Everyone smiled and returned to their meals.

He walked slowly, almost carefully, to his table and sat down to finish his tacos.

The waiter stopped by at the table.

Esta bien? Si pica el chile verdad? Se lo dije no? he asked with a not unkind smile.

Oh, si!” said the gringo and gave a feeble laugh. The waiter patted the gringo’s shoulder and moved back to the counter.

Tacos de lechon para la dos. His Mom gave him a wink.

 

Casual Restaurant Critic at the new Miyabi

As of this writing, Miyabi has moved its operation from the commercially doomed plaza on Prolongacion Montejo that features DHL, Carls Jr. (or Burger King – can’t remember which) and Walk To Wok, to a sparkly new location in the new shopping center where Merci is located, somewhere between the San Angelo condominiums and City Center.

The space is gorgeous, and the first thing you will notice when walking in is that the staff has cuadrupled. There are servers and busboys and who knows what else almost outnumbering the potential clients.

On the occasion of this visit, the Casual Restaurant Critic and better half went for a few pieces of nigiri and the always superb ramen soup. Not much to say on that end except that both were excellent.

Service was better than usual but still lacks a real friendly touch.  Many of the waiters are still as sullen as they were at the previous location and the new faces look like they are trying but the Critic suspects they will soon be contaminated with whatever grumpy virus the name carries with it.

Another thing that seemed odd and definitely detracted from the feel of the place is that all the lights were off. This was not a CFE thing as the kitchen was lit as were the little bonsai feng shui garden elements. The dining room was dark and it made for a rather cold feel.

If you are in the mood for ramen, definitely go here. It’s only 95 pesos and is a meal in itself. Sushi is fine, but you will get far more interested service at Hamachi.

Lights out!

Lights out!

The Heat

“It’s not every day that you feel like actually killing someone” an overheating Jack thought to himself as he looked in vain for a way to somehow maneuver around a fat woman in a black sleeveless top and red polyester skirt featuring a prominent and evidently struggling zipper along its taut length, and her two teenage sons in jeans, metal-band t-shirts and chanclas, sporting identically gelled jet black hair that stood up in some sort of Archie comic throwback look.

They walked slowly, and occupied the entire narrow sidewalk of Merida’s calle 58, which was packed with sweltering human flesh, while alternating green and yellow buses and a swarm of white colectivos inched and honked along the street beside the seething humanity. Overhead, the sun pounded down angrily, seeming to push against Jack like a physical force. He winced, and felt the steady trickle of sweat against the small of his back. Behind him, the crowd seemed to push him forward, although he couldn’t tell if anyone was actually touching him. He didn’t want to think about.

If he had only heeded his wife’s advice not to go shopping this morning.

“It’s too hot, and there are too many people,” she had said in that irritating all-knowing way she had. Perhaps just to spite her and perhaps prove that he did not mind these inconveniences, or perhaps to just get out of the house, he had ventured out and now he was stuck in this mess.

Jack felt an elbow in his side as a mestiza complete with hipil, sabucan and small child’s forearm firmly in her grip, pushed past him and headed for the fat lady, whom she also pushed aside like a small Mayan missile, the little kid half running, half stumbling along behind her. The two Archies looked surprised but moved to the side. Jack saw his chance and followed quickly on the heels of the mestiza, but he was too slow. The family closed in again and Jack had to bite his lip so as not to yell at them in frustration. He could feel the heat of the pavement oozing through his sandals.

An OXXO appeared suddenly, it’s giant letters beckoning him inside. He swerved, almost tripping as a man behind him stepped on his heels. He glared back, but the perpetrator had already moved on. As he reached for the door, it opened from the inside and hit his hand, causing him to grimace in pain. A group of students rushed out past him and he again had to wait, somewhat impatiently, to go inside. Wafts of cold OXXO air trailed behind the students, dissipating quickly in the heat around him. Jack felt like his hair was going to spontaneously burst into flame.

The air conditioning inside the OXXO was ice cold against his wet skin and felt heavenly. Jack stopped for a moment inside the door and looked around. There was a lineup at the cash register and many students from a nearby school sitting at both of the two tables. He walked slowly to the refrigerated drinks area and stood, looking at all the options in the coolers. Finally he grabbed an iced tea – Snapple in Merida: who knew? – and headed towards the cash register. Only one was open of course, and there were about four people ahead of him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that some of the students were getting up from the table and moving towards the door. Jack decided to take a break and sat down with his icy tea, sipping the artificial peach flavored liquid and feeling his body temperature return to a safe, comfortable level, his mood mellowing from murderous to magnanimous and he smiled at the students who were very entertained by something on one of their cell phones.

 

The Uman Police Stop

On the outskirts of that large small town called Uman, to the south of Merida, there is a small retén, a police roadblock manned un-imposingly by one or two members of the Uman municipal police force, a formidable foe feared by organized crime, I’m sure.

On this occasion I was driving through Uman to Muna and the single skinny police official manning this post, who could not have been more than 18, made the up and down motions with his hands indicating that I should slow down and stop at his 4 poles and a piece of plywood shelter, complete with the economical and improvised flattened-tire-across-the-road speed bump.

I rolled down my window. It was a first for me to be stopped here in the many times I have driven this route, and I gave him a look that I hoped was inquisitive and at the same time supremely bored.

¿A donde se dirige?” was the official-sounding query that came out of his barely teen mouth. This is a common phrase from the Official State Police Handbook used by police officials and literally translates as “where are you headed?” They could just say “a donde vas” but that just doesn’t quite cut it in terms of official verbosity.

“Muna” I answer evenly.

EagerCop closes in to peek inside the vehicle and sees that I have two 12-packs of cervezas on the floor of the truck. His face lights up noticeably.

Muéstrame sus papeles” is his next salvo. I hand him my foreign driver’s license, setting down a couple of $100 peso bills on the seat beside me, and fish around for the vehicle’s tarjeta de circulacion and hand him that as well.

Debe tener una licencia de aqui” he says. “Si no, le pueden dar una infraccion.” I know I should have a Yucatan license but did not know I could get a fine for not having one. In fact I do have one, but I like to mess with the traffic cops, especially prepotente little pricks like this one, who see a gringo face and figure they’ll try a little shakedown (cars, SUV’s and trucks were and are continuing to drive past and around us as he does his thing).

Aha – lo dudo” I answer looking at him.

He looked thirstily down at the beer. I swear he licked his lips, but my memory might be playing tricks on me. The thought occurred to me that he might enjoy a cold beer.

“¿Cuantás ya se tomó?

How many did I drink? Presuming guilt is is straight from the pages of Canadian customs officials and any hope he might have had of me giving him a few cold ones just went out the window.

He’s already giving up on the driver’s license end and now wants to work the alcohol angle or so it seems so as his next question, when I answer that I haven’t had a drink and that I don’t drink and drive is “No se puede transportar alcohol, le pueden dar una infracción.”

Right. So now, in his little world where he is the almighty authority lording it over a supuesto dumb gringo, transporting alcohol is now illegal. I explain to him that this is beer for an event I am attending in Muna, that I haven’t had any and that it most certainly is legal to put your shopping in your car and move it from one place to another even if said shopping includes alcoholic beverages.

He half-hardheartedly looks at the license, the registration, the 100 peso bills, the beer.

Debe tener cuidado,” he says and hands me back the papers. I place the license along with the $100 peso bills in my shirt pocket and nod at him, biting my tongue to not tell him what a dick he is, and drive on to Muna.

 

 

 

 

The Coliseo Experience – Part II – Ana Gabriel from the Palco POV

For those of you who read my last review of the Coliseo Experience which was based on the Marc Anthony concert (click here to read it) it might come as a surprise to find out that I again attended a concert at the Coliseo, this time to see Ana Gabriel in concert.

275x350

Ana Gabriel is a singer with a distinctively strained-sounding voice that is both captivating and irritating at the same time, depending on your mood and how long you listen to her music.

In any case, Better Half, through her multiple connections, got unexpectedly invited to attend the concert as a guest and brought along my curmudgeonly self to enjoy the show, this time from a palco, which is a private box, at stage level (one level above the floor) and so this is how that experience went down, as compared with the previous, sweaty encounter in the Xmatkuil-like ambience of the Marc Anthony concert.

First of all, there were far less people attending this concert than the Marc Anthony show. Ana Gabriel has been around for some time and while she is still popular, she no longer enjoys the ‘pull’ that first-draw stars can rely on to fill seats. Still, as the night progressed, terminally late Meridanos arrived and about an hour into the show, the Coliseo was almost at 75% capacity.

just before the show

just before the show

When you have a palco, which you can purchase for a year, you have a 13 seat box with a half kitchen (fridge, sink, etc), a lounge area (couch, coffee table) seats facing the stage and a bar to stand behind and watch from as well. Arriving at the Coliseo, there is no parking in Celestun as is the case if you have a regular seat. Palco owners have their parking spot right near the door and your walk is on concrete, not dusty rocks, and so your chance of having your clothing still dust-free when you enter the Coliseo is exponentially increased.

You have your own access areas and an elevator if you so desire. The box is small, has its own air conditioning and private bathroom. No sweating or standing in lines to make a wish! You can show up before the show (a few hours, before the doors open) and stock your fridge with drinks, snacks and so on so that when you and your guests arrive, you can eat and drink without leaving your private space.

While I would probably not buy one of these palcos for myself as it is beyond my budgets capabilities, it is a great thing to know someone who has bought one, and is willing to generously share it with you from time to time. Kind of like having a friend with a boat.

If you must attend a show at the Coliseo, find a friend who has a palco and ingratiate yourself into receiving an invitation. It’s definitely the way to go.

BTW: the air conditioning has not been fixed, as evidenced by the audience members in the regular seats and on the so-called VIP floor level, fanning themselves throughout the evening.

side view of the stage

side view of the stage