Tag Archives: progreso

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Crabster in Progreso

Crabster is the newest addition to the food scene in Progreso, which until now, has been made up entirely of plastic Coca Cola chairs, familial service (cousins and siblings doing the serving with no training whatsoever) and the same tired menus at each and every restaurant. Thankfully, they have taken the bar and raised it substantially, which means you can now have a great meal right on the malecon in Progreso!

A recent visit impressed the Critic – the menu is vast, the actual restaurant is beautiful and the service is professional. The food? Fantastic. Highly recommended when you want to take someone to a civilized lunch or dinner overlooking the waterfront and not be kicking dogs or cats under your table or getting your food as it comes out of the kitchen meaning everyone in your party eats at a different time.

Enjoy the photos and plan a trip to Progreso’s Crabster soon!

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic is buying new pants – Hermana Republica reviewed!

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Hola!

Just when you thought it was safe to visit a restaurant without some idiot snapping photos of every single dish, the Critic strikes again, camera in hand, to review the Hermana Republica on the Merida-Progreso highway.

If you haven’t seen it, you have been spending far too much time in El Centro de Merida, where admittedly the offerings have been improving and where the Critic does not often venture, what with the dearth of parking and the enormous amount of time it takes to get there from his casa.

The Hermana República (sister republic) is an affectionate term for the Yucatan, employed by long-time fans of an independent Yucatan and the occasional jokester who understands that the Yucatan is a different place from the rest of the República Mexicana.  The restaurant that bears this name is located just after the Xcanatun exit on the afore-mentioned highway and features a very large, very in-your-face Yucatecan flag flapping proudly. This flag was the actual flag used when the Yucatan was an independent state back in the day, separate from the hated waches and other foreign meddlers (except for International Harvester – that was alright)

But, and in the keeping of this long-standing blog, the Critic digresses once again.

You want to hear about the restaurant and the Critic can tell you without hesitation that the food is great! While Better Half had pork cooked with mushrooms and a delicious gravy that warranted ordering the excellent (really – excellent!) french fries to soak up the juice, the Critic ordered the pork ribs cooked in smoky adobe. To the side of the ribs was sour and crunchy esquite corn, sans cream thank god. Both dishes were fantastic. Five stars on the food. Again, just to be clear, the french fries are disturbingly delicious – the Critic had to have them removed from the table in order not to devour the entire generous helping.

Appetizers included the guacamole with chicharron and sikil-pak, which is a must for any restaurant flying the Yucatan flag so proudly. That was really the only ‘typical’ dish on the menu. No queso relleno, no poc chuc, no relleno negro. The truth is, no hacen falta. No need to duplicate what others are already doing, in some cases well.

There was also a trio of very fresh salsas: tomate verde, chiltomate and habanero. It’s been a while since the Critic had such fresh salsas; they literally dance on your tongue and don’t just lie there like a tomato-flavored piece of sock as is so often the sad case in many Merida restaurants. The tostadas too, deserve special mention. They are baked apparently, thick and smoky tasting, like in some pueblo – and anyone who appreciates such subtleties can not stop eating them.

Service is adequate and friendly with the usual quiet/shy/unsure component shining through ; the room is essentially a box but a tastefully decorated and well air-conditioned one so it feels cozy. The furniture is real, no plastic.

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Skip dessert; the apple pie with vanilla ice cream was the choice but the pastry is too dough-y, which is overbearing and those poor apple chunks (and there aren’t that many of them) get lost in their heavy casing. It is warm though and potentially could be good with the ice cream on the side. Perhaps switch to a crumble? No photo because by the time the Critic remembered, the poor tart had already been jackhammered to death.

It should be noted that this is (out back) the actual brewery where Patito beer is made. You have heard of Patito beer? It along with Maneek and Ceiba are the microbreweries that are putting Yucatan beer making back on the map where it should be. So of course beer is highlighted on the menu also and one can order 2 samplers with four beers each (5 ounce glasses – you can do this) to try all eight varieties of local, microbrewed cerveza.  From stout and porter to Weizenbier, there is surely a cerveza for you here. Critic’s choice? Vanilla Porter and Belgian Blonde. Take a chew of a tostada between each beer to cleanse the palate.

Outside, there is a courtyard with wooden picnic tables and a row of food trucks that start up in the evenings, creating a biergarten atmosphere, hidden just a few meters from the busy highway. No retenes either out this way!

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The End of the ‘Temporada’ in Yucatan

If you have lived in the Yucatan for any length of time, you know that every good Yucatecan looks forward to the summer vacations at the beach, known simply as “la temporada”. While the term “temporada” literally means ‘season’ a word that is of special significance to hunters when combined with the word rabbit, duck, deer or moose; or that special time of the year when those of us past a certain age used to play marbles. In the Yucatan, the word has a special meaning and that is: summer vacations. Plans for what one is going to do during the upcoming ‘temporada’ can be started as early as January, when looking at the upcoming year on the calendar; it is a big deal here.

And, at the end of August, when Sams Club and Costco in Merida have already set up displays with plastic made-in-China Santa Clauses and inflatable snowmen, the temporada comes to an end and the locals pack everything up and head back to the city.

No more afternoon sunset-watching, cool drink in hand, while the kids walk the beach for kilometers on end. No more afternoons of entertaining visitors from Merida or beyond with fresh fried fish from the local fishermen and junk food galore to snack on. No more morning jogs on the beach, lazy afternoons with the kids on a boat or pre-dawn wake up calls to go fishing. The beginning of another school year means that Moms – and the occasional enlightened Dad – will be lining up at Merida papelerias like Burrel to buy their school supplies and books if they haven’t already done so for their children and you can’t do those things if you are still at the beach.

For the well-off, who have vacationed in Chicxulub, Uaymitun, Telchac and points further out, jet-skis and motorized beach vehicles are hosed off (by the help of course) and stowed on trailers, to be towed back to Merida behind luxury pickup trucks and minivans where they will be stored in the garage until the next beach break, usually Easter in April the following year. Boats of all sizes are taken to marinas to be taken care of by someone else. Leftover food, alcohol, hammocks and clothing will be loaded into the aforementioned minivans by sullen muchachas to be unloaded by same once they arrive back in the city.

Here’s a socio-cultural aside: most muchachas hate the temporada as it means much more work than usual what with all the sand being tracked in on an hourly basis and the constant arrival and departure of relatives and friends. Plus they can’t get back to their pueblos as easily from the beach on their (few) days off and don’t enjoy any of the beach activities as these are completely foreign to them, never having learned to swim or to appreciate a good ceviche or pescado frito.

For the less economically blessed, plastic chairs, remaining food items and TV’s will be crammed into and onto smaller, less-luxurious vehicles and will, with their owners holding onto rooftop items with their fingertips, also be transported back to Merida.

Both socio-economic groups use the same garbage disposal system, which involves throwing supermarket bags of accumulated trash on to roadside temporary “dumps” which make for a delightful visual treat for many weeks to come.

At the beach, restaurants and businesses that had moved their operations to the coast for the duration will shutter doors, unplug refrigerators and return everything movable back to Merida. The futbolitos, those popular tables with little plastic soccer players that every Yucatecan teen and pre-teen spends an inordinate amount of time at during the evenings to flirt with the opposite sex will be packed up and moved to an upcoming fair or put in storage. Local businesses, the ones that are on the beach year-round, will reduce their staff and count the pesos they made during the temporada, which will probably be just enough (but not quite, they will assure you) to tide them over until the next group of vacationers – the notoriously frugal snowbirds from Canada and the northeastern states – arrive in the fall to spend their winters in warmer climes and spread around what little money they bring with them. Beach houses themselves are closed up in preparation for long term emptiness, unless they are on the rental market for the afore-mentioned snowbirds, in which case they are only partially stripped as a caretaker will probably remain on site to keep things up and running.

All that packing, storing, towing and hauling activity comes democratically together in a sea of vehicles on the Progreso-Merida highway, thankfully now 4 lanes wide most of the way.  Traffic to Merida, in the last daylight hours of the last Sunday of the last weekend of the temporada, is usually a nightmare, especially on the stretches from Uaymitun to Progreso and Chelem to the Progreso-Merida highway as there are only two lanes and one lane, respectively, as the upper class and the middle and lower classes converge. 23 years ago, when there was one lane out to Progreso and one lane back to Merida, this last day’s traffic was literally bumper to bumper for the entire 20 kilometer drive with exasperated drivers looking for free asphalt on shoulders and passing dangerously at every opportunity.

Upon arriving in Merida, temporadistas are welcomed by the flashing blue and red lights of many police patrol vehicles and face the final hurdle of getting into the city and home, where washing machines and empty refrigerators stand ready to process sand-encrusted towels and receive plastic containers of leftovers.

A sense of relief mixed with nostalgia washes over many. But, the temporada has officially ended and it’s time to get back to the regular routine of life in Merida.

6 Cool Places to Escape the Heat in Merida

Damn it's hot!

Damn it’s hot!

At this time of the year, the hottest season in the Yucatan with temperatures in the high 90’s and low 100’s (fahrenheit) there are brush fires everywhere and the city of Merida, with all it’s concrete and asphalt, is an inferno.

Real health issues can result from extended exposure to this kind of oppressive heat and so, in the interest of assisting visitors and locals alike, I am presenting a list of my favorite places to cool off in (and around) Merida.

Please, if you have favorite places, let me know to include them in this list for others to enjoy.

1. The Vegetable and Fruit Refrigerated Room at Costco

Costco is air conditioned and that is all fine and good, but if you are really wanting to cool off, I suggest you go to the patio furniture area, pick out a nice lounge chair and carry it into the vegetable and fruit cooler at the back of the store, where temperatures hover just above the freezing mark. A good 10 minutes in there and your body temperature will be restored and your brain will contract back into the available space in your cranium, relieving you of your heat-headache.

2. OXXO Convenience Stores

The thing about OXXO convenience stores is that they are located everywhere in Merida (except south of 63 street as it seems that the people down that way do NOT fit into the OXXO demographic) and they are all air conditioned and most even have a small table and chair setup where you can enjoy something from the large selection of processed junk food available. Take your time; there is no apparent set amount of time you can stay there. If you are feeling considerate, you can give up your spot to the next overheated Meridano or turista waiting to cool off.

3. Galeria Mall

At the Galeria mall, you can grab a bench seat in front of the ice rink (yes, I said ice rink) and watch the kids – and some adults – do their imitation of The Walking Dead on skates. Of course there are some really talented skaters out there along with the zombies which begs the question “how the hell did THAT happen?” Where did they learn and practice skating before this mall opened? Interesting.  After sitting there for a while you will notice your body cooling off and the desire to throw yourself on the ice naked will thankfully go away.

4. Altabrisa Mall

At the Altabrisa Mall, you can just hang out along with everybody else and their perro who is in from the heat. I mention this mall and not the Gran Plaza mall as it seems the Gran Plaza mall has air conditioning issues and so is not nearly as fresh and refreshing as Altabrisa is, the mall of the moment. There is a Starbucks and also a Haagen Dazs café if you are feeling the need to be seen spending an inordinate amount of money on a beverage.

5. Starbucks

Speaking of Starbucks, there are several of these around Merida now and are a somewhat more cozy option than the OXXO convenience store concept discussed above. It’s like being in someone’s (someone well off) living room: nice music, nice people, nice temperature and good coffee. You’ll spend money on your coffee but you will be guaranteed a good cup of coffee. To the people not from Merida – you know who you are – who whine that Starbucks is killing the local coffee culture, I laugh out loud at your ignorance of the crap we had to drink before Starbucks came to down.

6. The Casa Montejo Museum

If you are in dire need of a blast of ice all over your body and are on the main square, you can pay a visit, ostensibly to get a little culture, to the Casa de Montejo museum. Unless it’s a Monday, you will be able to visit the former home of one of the Franciscos de Montejo and while pretending to enjoy looking at furniture and wallpaper from the 1500’s and 1600’s, you can be sucking in icy cool air. That place is kept as cool as a Pappa’s Steakhouse meat locker and it feels great. Afterwards, pop across the square for a sherbet at the Sorbeteria Colon, where you can frost your insides with a creamy scoop of coconut ice cream.

Casual Restaurant Critic visits SOMA in Chelem for Brunch

After the last gushing review, the Critic and his Better Half had the persistent urge to revisit SOMA – for brunch. With the Mini-Critic along for extra chowing down power, the trio sat down for breakfast/lunch aka brunch.

The Critic was a little surprised to see that it was a buffet, all you can eat, kind of brunch which was unexpected but of course, the ingredients were all fresh as fresh can be and delicious. Fluffy scrambled eggs (real eggs, not instant) zesty chichen wings, puntas de filete beef, fish in a mustard sauce (extra good), plenty of crispy bacon, tasty ham and fresh fruit and even salad ingredients – all one could eat for a reasonable price.

But the Critic wanted something from the talented chef, so he ordered an omelette from the chalkboard menu. There were plenty of optional fillings to go with the cheddar cheese omelette.

“Would you like something else in that omelette” Linde asked.

The Critic replied “Yes, everything on that list”

And so, moments later the Critic got a gourmet cheddar cheese omelette with bacon, spinach, goat cheese, mushrooms and a few other goodies in there and it was fantastic. Served with some pastry bread and tiny fried potato cubes, the dish was both pretty to look at and tasty. Not to mention filling, but then the Critic had already had seconds on the buffet before the omelette arrived. (It’s a tough life, but someone has to try all this food for the 13 readers of this blog, right?)

To be completely objective, the Critic would have liked to see some interesting creations from the kitchen for the brunch menu a la Remixto, which wouldn’t be a stretch for the talented Chef and perhaps a little later cutoff time for the brunch but perhaps these items are on the regular breakfast menu, which the Critic hopes to try on another occasion.

Real coffee and delicious fresh squeezed orange juice rounded out the breakfast and the Critic, Better Half and MiniCritic rolled themselves out to their car and headed back home to Merida in groaningly satisfied silence.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic meets The Thai Flasher

Way out in the far reaches of the expanses of ocean front property and ocean front wannabe property, there is a small gringo-run restaurant called Progreso Pastas. Or rather, there was a restaurant called Progreso Pastas but since the owners decided to take a break and go to Thailand for a while, a new owner came along and took over the place and guess what kind of cuisine he is offering? Oh. You read the title of this article already.

The Critic was sitting in his office, mindfully minding his own business when what on the computer screen should appear, but a man and a dog in the form of video star Erich Briehl interviewing Chris Zimmermann (of The Sean Hennessy Theater fame) who is the man behind the Facebook phenomenon Thai Flash which brought the concept of flash mobbing and Thai food together at predetermined times and places in Merida. Chris has opened the Thai Flash restaurant in Progreso (just off the road to Chicxulub, actually) and the Critic suddenly became very very hungry.

A quick drive out to the temporadista-infested coast and after briefly losing his bearings, the Critic found what he was looking for. Unfortunately he found it too soon – at 5 PM the place was still being set up and so the Critic went for a drive around the area, taking photos of flamingoes and trying not to get crashed into by gangs of pre-teens on four wheel drive off road ATV’s barreling along the sandy byroads around Chicxulub. This is where the money is so the kids are white and blond, while further inland – just a few rows of houses in fact – the populace becomes significantly darker and the ATV’s vanish to be replaced by the occasional horse or good old foot power.

Finally it was 6 PM and the Critic again got lost trying to find Chris’s Thai emporium. At last, and finding a parking spot on the street behing a car with plates from Texas and across the street from another with Manitoba plates, the Critic was in and ready to order. Only gringos occupied two other tables in what used to be the house’s garage which has been turned into a small dining area with some rather pretty Thai lamps at one end.

A new waitress, freshly installed and featuring a southern accent (not Peto; Texas) took the Critics order while a local celebrity from the world of real estate, completely over qualified for the job, manned the bar with ease and prepared the house specialty: a lemon grass Mojito. This drink is the best Mojito the Critic has had in Merida, as most places overdo the soda, others the sugar and usually the plant ie the mint, is flavorless and too subdued. This lemon grass version, invented by the Thai Flasher himself, is deliciously refreshing and dangerous because before you know it you will have drained your glass and picked out all the green stuff and ordered another, only then realizing that each of those Mojitos pack an alcoholic punch!

The Tom Yum soup is a work in progress and the recipe is still being tweaked to get it just right. The spice is there, the veggies and coconut milk too, but there is a little something missing and that is being worked on. Probably even as you read this, dear reader!

The Pad Thai however, has been perfected and due to a small snafu with the ordering process, the Critic had his with peanut sauce, which apparently is not always the norm. This Pad Thai, with fresh sprouts on top and plenty of Tofu and veggie goodness, will feed a small family, tastes as good as any Pad Thai the Critic has had and is extremely satisfying. Highly recommended. There was no room for the curry and so that will have to be eaten on another occasion, perhaps with the Better Half.

There was no room for dessert either but Chris graciously invited the Critic to a Thai Iced Coffee. Slightly sweet and served on the rocks, it was a perfect way to finish off the meal.

How to find the place you ask? If you are coming from Chicxulub along what is Calle 29 (please don’t bother memorizing this, the whole beachfront area is far too rustic to have signposts with street names or numbers on them) you are basically SOL as there is precious little in the way of markers to indicate a right turn onto Calle 32. Keep in mind that if you hit Progreso you have gone too far. Pass the parque, an optimistically-named area devoid of houses and featuring a tree or three and some shack-y constructions. Continue on for a few more blocks and hope for the best. If you make it up to the other one way street running from Progreso to Chicxulub and you hit the end of the wall of the Neek Kaan condos, you are in the right place so back up and look for a cross street.

Confused? You should be. Here is their Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/groups/285262688201534/

That should help. Contact them and have them explain it to you!

 

A Casual Critic Revisits Elio al Mare (for lunch)

All the Critic can say to begin this review is what the hell happened?

That would be a great way to describe what was going through the Critics mind the other day when he visited the famous Italian seaside eatery outside Progreso in the company of distant relatives from the Sofia Vergara family. Are you now thoroughly distracted, dear reader? Well, don’t be, because what the Critic is about to write is important and will save you gas money if you are coming from Merida with the intention of enjoying a good Italian meal.

Let the Critic preface (some more) by saying that this is what most people would call an ‘expensive’ restaurant for Merida; pasta dishes are in the $150 to $200 peso a plate range and there are Italian wines that are truly Italian – not from Costco – and priced accordingly. That, and the rave reviews previously expressed not only by the Critic but also others who have loved this place in the past, was one of the reasons the Critic wanted his guests to try this restaurant.

While they loved it, the Critic was appalled.

It was just after 1 PM, and the sign said they were open. However, no tables were set up and the little trio (Critic plus two) was greeted in a casually uninterested way by two individuals of the male kind, while two more of the female variety sat in the kitchen eating a meal of pasta and bread. Two schoolchildren were sitting at a small table in the restaurant, presumably somehow related to the women in the kitchen, also eating their lunch. They later provided sound effects and background noise in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Gone are the days of the charming Italian host, the sangria, the restaurant set with white tablecloths. Gone is background music, any ambience whatsoever or any feeling of being welcome. A meek, unsmiling individual with the personality of a sea urchin – a traumatized sea urchin that has suffered parental abuse as a baby urchin and moves like it expects a whipping any minute – set the one table and proceeded to take the order. Two of the dishes ordered were not available due to the absence of gorgonzola in one case and basil in another. This is an “upscale” Italian restaurant, you will recall. Orders were modified and eventually arrived at the table. The food was fine, in fact it was pretty darn good, especially the fish, a robalo in a tomato and black olive sauce that was succulently flavorful, albeit raw on the inside. The Critics pasta was tasty but non-descript and the other pasta dish, fetuccine carbonara, apparently was decent enough also.

Did the Critic already mention the noisy children who were now playing hide and seek and shrieking in delight as they skidded through the restaurant from one end to the other. The waiter, if one could call him that, would hide near the kitchen and when forced to come out to set another table for yet another couple (also foreigners who spoke no Spanish) would pass the Critics table and make a determined effort to not establish any eye contact or look at the table, choosing instead to look nervously the other way lest the Critics table asked for something he might have to respond to.

The Critic can not in any good conscience recommend this place any longer, at least not for lunch. What a disappointment.

What the Heck is a Beachstro Anyway?

It’s a cross between a bistro and a beach, that’s what!

So, as the Casual Restaurant Critic had far too much time on his hands and while surfing the internet for food porn he stopped by Facebook and read about a Beachstro and then read about homemade Rocky Road Ice Cream.

Rocky Road Ice Cream!

“Gotta have me some of that” thought the Critic and away he went.

Turns out this here beachstro is not really a bistro but it is on the beach (between Chuburna and Chelem to be exact) and by golly they have pizzas too so the Critic got hisself some of that as well. They bake ’em fresh right there in a big old pizza oven right there in their kitchen too! And the Critic did taste it and found it to be good. The Rocky Road Ice Cream was tasted and it too, passed the test with flying colors.

Now, Cil (or Sil) and Michael said their crust didn’t work out that well that day but you know what, the Critic’s gonna say it was pretty darn good. It’s hard to eat pizza and drive especially with all the new regulations about what y’all are supposed to and not supposed to be doing while you’re driving, but the Critic did pull it off. Also ice cream eatin’ is a challenge, but he’s got that down as well. It’s getting a Tweet in there between bites that’s real hard.

Here’s their Facebook info:

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002413601305

Now there ain’t nowhere to set down and eat right there, but you can get it all to go. So if you are gettin’ just a little tired of eatin’ fried fish for the Nth time on your summer vacation at the beach, well you just go and order yourself some pizza and ice cream.

You can buy the house too, if you want. Ice cream not included.