Tag Archives: pulpo

The Casual Restaurant Critic at La Galeria Cantina Artesanal

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

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

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

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

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

A dark cool place to escape the midday heat

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

The room. Plenty of art everywhere

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

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

 

Poc chuc

Octopus tacos and grilled tuétano!

Blue corn tortillas

The men’s bathroom is worth visiting, truly

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

More art on the walls!

The bar

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

Roasting those bones

Chef Miguel Uicab at work

The Man behind the Magic, Miguel Uicab

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Kraken

Remember the movie with Liam Neeson about the Kraken? The Critic is sure it was a fantastic movie with plenty of Oscar potential but for some reason he never had the opportunity to see it. Of course the Critic is being somewhat sarcastic in his appreciation of the movie’s merits.

Kraken the restaurant, on the other hand, would definitely be an Oscar contender if there was a category for best local seafood.

Chef Eduardo Estrella and his crew have created a restaurant that looks like your average seafood place from the outside, but when you talk to him and try his food, you will quickly realize that he is in another league entirely. He and his family are from Isla Arena, Campeche and if you dear reader know anything about gastronomy on the Yucatan peninsula, you know that the best recipes and most amazing cooks come from the neighboring state of Campeche; Eduardo is one of these people. Not only does he come by his skills naturally, he also formally trained in the US and applied the techniques he learned there, to the abundant local ingredients he can get here.

Chef Eduardo Estrella (middle) and his hard working team

All the seafood is fresh, and brought directly from Isla Arena. He will not purchase frozen seafood from the many suppliers who have stopped by to offer their products – and you can tell when you taste the food.

The Critic and the always amazing Better Half visited Kraken for lunch and it was probably the best seafood either have had in a long while. For starters, the menu was set aside as chef Eduardo suggested that he would prepare a series of plates for the table so as to be able to sample as many different flavors and textures as possible.

First up was a mixed ceviche tostada. Tiny ria (think Lagartos or Celestun) shrimp, literally bursting with flavor, unlike the flavorless shrimp one so often gets in a cocktail or ceviche these days, mixed with fish and octopus. This was glorious.

Next, aguachile in both red (shrimp) and green (fish) styles, with both items marinated in a lemony and very spicy broth, full of flavour. Notice that the dishes are beautiful to look at as well; presentation is top notch.

The third dish was a shrimp broth (caldo de camaron) full of flavor and some larger shrimp along with assorted minced veggies chopped in for texture.

Two plates arrived next, both octopus. The charred octopus is the Kraken octopus and the other was del Capitan. The Critic is not a huge fan of octopus since it is so often poorly prepared and impossible to eat unless you are a cat. These two samplings were perfect.

Then, what was probably the favorite dish of the meal, shrimp wrapped in bacon and cooked to crisp, on a lake of home-made tamarind sauce that was out of this world. The kind of sauce you want to stick your fingers in and get the last drops off the plate. And, something original and unseen in many restaurants, perfectly cooked vegetables on the side. Who does green beans in Merida?? And a black rice cooked in octopus ink. Amazing!

At this point the Better Half and Critic both were thinking that this couldn’t go on much longer as it would be sheer gluttony but there was one more plate to come: a pasta dish, with a cream sauce and fresh crab, baked over with parmesan and panko. This too, proved to be fantastic and was finished to the last noodle, much to the dismay of the ever-expanding waistlines.

Obviously there was absolutely no room whatsoever to even think about a dessert!

The room is casual; there are two televisions with music videos and a Kraken mural on one wall. The service is laid back but friendly. But the food! It is absolutely worth the drive, for drive you must to this location in Caucel, just past the periferico about a kilometer from the Walmart. The restaurant is located in Plaza Boulevard, behind Lapa Lapa which is what you will see first when you are arriving at your destination.

 

That Seafood Palapita across from Bancarios

The readers (well, some of them) of the Casual Restaurant Critic have asked him to include addresses so that they can find the restaurants he trashes and praises. This review, from the title alone, will probably irritate one or two of those people, but the truth is, that the Critic doesn’t want his column to look like everyone elses, what with B/L/D, AX, VI, MC, 9:00AM -5:00PM and all that other junk that the Critic can’t be expected to remember or jot down when he is enjoying a fantastic or terrible restaurant experience.

That said, the Critic will ALWAYS give directions to anyone who asks.

Today’s stomach-bursting seafood extravaganza lunch was had at that little palapita across from Bancarios, on the Correa Racho avenue. Bancarios is a club, with a huge swimming pool and all kinds of fun activities in the back; the Correa Racho avenue is named after a deceased local politician of PAN extraction, father of a local politician who still is in the business of politics. But this has nothing to do whatsoever with the restaurant, located on that avenue which, by the way, turns into the street in front of the Star Medica and Altabrisa mall that will eventually take you to the periferico and on to Cholul. This should be enough information to give even the most navigationally-challenged among you an idea of where to go. To find this restaurant, of course.

It is a locals favorite, and you won’t see too many tourists in there at all. The restaurant is small, maybe 20 tables at most; there is a palapa roof but air conditioning as well to keep things cool. It’s dark and homey inside and there is of course a television that you can watch when you realize that the person you are with is too boring to have a conversation with or if you are having a spat.

The service is fast, friendly and the waiters are knowledgeable and will recommend dishes rather than saying “todo esta bueno” which is the Critics least favorite answer to the question “What’s good?” Upon taking a seat, you are brought a basket of crispy corn chips and a few moments later, a small plate with a sample of whole-shrimp ceviche. Nothing better than getting something to nibble on when you are hungry and still have before you the weighty task of perusing the menu!

The Critic and his lovely Better Half ordered what amounted to too much food, but it was so good that it all managed to get finished. Two medium cocktails to start, one shrimp only, the other shrimp, octopus and squid; an order of xcatic chiles stuffed with cazon (shark) and bathed in tomato sauce; an order of queso relleno (stuffed cheese) with seafood instead of pork and beef and an order of the Critics favorite local fish, boquinete, pan fried with crunchy garlic bits.

All the food was delicious! The queso relleno was a little heavy on the bell peppers, in the CHO (Critics Humble Opinion), their sweet flavor overpowered the subtler taste of the almonds, capers and raisins. The presentation was interesting, on a banana leaf, which actually imparted some flavor to the dish. The boquinete filets were cooked just enough to not dry them out and the crispy garlic concoction that was sprinkled on top in tasty chunks complemented the understated fish nicely. Was that a pretentious sentence or what. But the most interesting item to pass over the Critics palate was the complex flavors of shredded shark meat stuffed into a mildly (if that) picante xcatic chile and bathed generously with a cooked tomato sauce.

No alcoholic drinks were had; only two limonadas con soda and of course, desserts were skipped entirely. The cost for this feast? $440 pesos, before tips. Highly worth your while to find this little gem of a place, which the Critic believes is only open for lunch.

Make sure you save a few coins for the bowing, scraping, toothy-smiled individual who works the parking lot and may open the restaurant door for you.