Tag Archives: restaurants

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Pizza Rock, Las Vegas USA

A short visit to the “city of sin” which is such a silly term for the bleached and bland Vegas of plastic malls, outlets full of fake Chinese merchandise you don’t need and fountains of fake breasts bursting out of skimpy outfits in every direction, prompted the Critic to sample some new restaurants along with some perennial favorites.

One of the restaurants falling into the “new” category, at least for this Critic, was one of Vegas’ best pizza joints – Pizza Rock. They have a margherita pizza, Napolitano style and cooked in a 900 degree oven in seconds, approved by the folks in Naples, where it actually received a ‘best pizza’ recognition, no small feat. The Critic had one, luckily it was still available as they only make 73 per day. BetterHalf had a Sausage and Stout pizza with dough that incorporates stout beer (only 23 made each day) which to the Critics tastebuds was a little too sweet.  A Cuatro Carnes pizza for the MiniCritic and the Americano for the CanadianCritic.

The waiter informed the group that this was going to be a lot of food and was appropriately amazed when only two pieces of pizza were left after the feeding frenzy ended.

The pizzas are amazing. Don’t miss this place! There are no photos as the pizzas were devoured before the Critic had a chance to take a picture!

http://pizzarocklasvegas.com/_pages/pr-menu.html

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Chilakillers

Chilakillers. Chilaquiles. Get it? Clever name.

The Casual Restaurant Critic, accompanied by his darling Mini-Critic, visited this restaurant this past week thanks to several recommendations that said it was a great place for, well, chilaquiles. Mini-Critic loves her some chilaquiles.

The place is really pretty, amazingly so, on a non-descript stretch of 57 between 56 and 58 in the heart of Merida’s downtown, or as some of the expats call it – Centro. As in “I live in Centro, and you?”

You can see in the photos (below) that they have taken some time to create an original and attractive room, from furniture to ceiling and wall treatments. Treatments. This is beginning to sound like a pretentious architectural piece.

The service was of the shy, slither to your table variety, with one waiter and one what appeared to be an encargado at the cash register who did nothing to acknowledge the presence of the Critics and at one point, when the waiter was needed, who was taking dishes to the back, this person waited for the waiter to reappear and wave his hand in the Critics direction indicating that he was needed there. Perhaps he had a mobility issue and couldn’t leave the comfort of his cashier area. Who knows.

The food was good, but with one table and one order, they managed to screw it up – it is unclear if it was the waiter or the kitchen, but both orders of chilaquiles with castacan and chicken both arrived without the castacan or the chicken. After some digging to see if perhaps the meats had been hidden at the bottom of the bowls, the waiter was notified and he remedied the problem, taking the dishes back to the kitchen to have the order fixed.

The plates are deceptively small-ish, but the Critic suspects you might find it difficult to finish your order, as it seems to be an endless bowl situation. No matter how many spoonfuls you take out, it never gets smaller. At the end, there are soggy corn tortilla bits and while some like those, the Critic is not a huge fan. There could have been more cheese, more onions on them too.

Prices are very reasonable, the room is pretty and the drinks were good. Try the Limpiador smoothie. That’s smoothie, not smothie.

Service is really (WHAT IS IT WITH MERIDA??) the fatal blow to this otherwise interesting option for breakfast or lunch downtown. Again, as in so many Merida restaurants, the owners have spent good money on their location, their menu, their graphics and their concept and then leaving the most important part out – good, professional customer service.

Will the Critic go back? Probably not. But you go have some chilaquiles and make up your own mind.

 

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 Critics Re-Visits Merci

It seems amazing that THREE YEARS have gone by since the Critic first tried breakfast at Merci! It has, in the interim, become a definite go-to place not only for the delicious breakfasts but also the very good lunch offerings.

Merci

You can read the previous mentions of Merci here. And for some more photos of the menu items off the breakfast menu, here.

This mini-review is just to keep the Critics’ faithful seven readers up to date and in the loop, in case you are not, on the latest and greatest at Merci.

Owner Regina has been busy making changes both to the menu and to her operation, and has expanded the locale to make it a bit larger, thanks to demand from her loyal following. The changes are palpable, as the service has become more professional, the ambience is more relaxed and seems less stressed (due to her amazing success) and the menu features new and tasty options.

It remains a top choice for breakfast and lunch and is an excellent spot to have a meal if you are in the northern part of the city, doing your non-colonial Merida errands. 🙂

Enjoy the photos, from a recent lunch visit with the always charming Better Half!

Interior shot

Seared tuna tostadas

Fish of the day – spectacular!

Salad

That’s pork belly. Can’t beat pork belly

Pear crumble could have been better with a more tart fruit to offset the sweet

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Peruano

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his lovely Better Half were celebrating. It was an anniversary and that dangerous time of the year was coming up (pib season in the Yucatan) and so, the Critic thought, something light, but special. He had seen the Peruano on the occasional drive-by near Santa Lucia in el centro de Merida, but had never stopped in.

What a pleasant surprise!

A colorful, beautiful little restaurant serving all things Peruvian with a few local touches. The famous ceviches are very present, as well as other combinations that have put Peruvian cuisine on the map in the last decade or so.

The house drink, a Pisco Sour, was absolutely fantastic. It was necessary to repeat the drink order as the first round went down far too quickly.

The ceviche trio – a sampler, and perfect for two people – makes for a great appetizer. They are fresh, zesty and refreshingly cold. Critic liked the tuna ceviche best. Fried yuca was great. The little bowl of crispy but not rock-hard corn, lightly salted and with that smoky flavor of the fire, was a nice touch.

For a little bit of carbohydrates, some coconut rice was ordered which was delicious and accompanied perfectly the ceviche.

Service was great, from the on-site Peruvian waiter who seems to be in charge of things. Make sure you get him to help you with your menu choices as he knows what he is talking about. Air conditioned and beautiful little room.

The bill, which you must find in one of the drawers of the little piece of furniture brought to your table, was completely acceptable, given the level of food, the location and the service.

Another – thankfully great – addition to the Santa Lucia restaurant scene.

img_7582
img_7583

img_7585

img_7584

img_7586

img_7587

img_7588

img_7590

img_7591

img_7593

img_7594

 

El Crítico Casual Restaurantero visits Oliva/Enoteca

Unsure if the Critic had posted a previous review of Enoteca/Oliva (which fell into the ‘meh’ category), he is putting this latest visit up for your perusal.

Everyone knows Oliva and Enoteca so there’s not much to add to the general knowledge base. Located on the corner of 47 and 54, Enoteca/Oliva is a slightly larger version of the original Oliva everyone raves about. Great Italian food, extensive wine list and, on this occasion the service by Maria was outstanding. She was so pleasant that the Critic forgot about the previous visit some time ago where the server was snooty and somewhat presumptuous in his handling of the Critics’ party.

Hopefully Maria will stay (and get a raise) and whoever the other waiter was will remain where he was on this occasion – happily absent.

Here are a few photos of the food, which was not only excellent but also beautifully presented.

Homemade breadsticks

Homemade breadsticks

Merlot

Merlot

Wine rack overhead

Wine rack overhead

Tuna tartare

Tuna tartare

Burrata with grilled asparagus

Burrata with grilled asparagus

Grilled 'escolar' fish from northern Mexico

Grilled ‘escolar’ fish from northern Mexico

The always unphotogenic but delicious gnocchi

The always unphotogenic but delicious gnocchi

A stupendous carbonara

A stupendous carbonara

Casual Restaurant Critic, sans new pants, reviews Petit Delice

The German part of the Casual Restaurant Critic feels it is important to have an afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen. If you have traveled to the land of the kraut (sauerkraut that is) you know what this custom is all about.

After a heavy meal the other day, the Critic wanted a good cup of coffee and Petit Delice has one of the best coffees in town, bar none. Along with their excellent coffee and tea selections, they feature some real French-style pastries that are out of this world.

The local bible, el Diario de Yucatan, did an article on them a while back, for those of you capable of reading en español:

Abren un rincón de estilo francés

The café, a little piece of France in Merida, is located on that awful and congested avenida that runs from El Pocito to City Center (Walmart) near the periferico, with it’s hundreds of small L-shaped plazas full of businesses that will probably fail sooner than later, due to the sheer volume of commercial offerings.

Enjoy the photos – this place is highly recommended!

Pastries that taste as good as they look

Pastries that taste as good as they look

Calm, subdued atmosphere

Calm, subdued atmosphere

The lamps are beautiful

The lamps are beautiful

Pavlova

Pavlova

The best coffee (this is a latte) in town

The best coffee (this is a latte) in town

Perennial favorite - lemon tart

Perennial favorite – lemon tart

Yum

Yum

 

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

img_9914

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.

img_9907

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!

img_9903

img_9904

img_9905

img_9906

img_9909

img_9911

img_9913

El Casual Restaurant Critic visita Ahumadero

Sign

Ahumadero

Ahumadero means ‘smoker’ in English and that is the premise of this taco place, located at the glorieta in Francisco de Montejo where the ‘mestiza’ statue is.

Parking is a challenge, but if you drive around the block where the OXXO is, you will find plenty of street parking.

The menu is simple, a few cuts of pork, served in tacos or in tortas, and all smoked. The BBQ sauce is delicious and everything is home-made. There are regular and blue corn tortillas that accompany the melted cheese aka queso fundido, which is made with a tangy cheese and not the bland tasteless glop that so often passes for queso these days at other taco places. The frijoles appie is also delicious, hearty and on the sweet side like you would find at a BBQ kind of place.

In keeping with the September, mes de la patria theme, there will be pozole, also featuring smoked ingredients, available from today on and possibly to the end of the month if the demand is there. The Critic got to sample this pozole and it is fantastic, thick with chunks of meat and hominy corn and a tasty, satisfying broth.

No alcohol, just homemade regular and in-season fruit horchatas, jamaicas and the usual assortment of refrescos embotellados.

Prices are very reasonable and a filling meal can be had for a couple hundred pesos, for two to four people, depending on your appetite.

Queso fundido

Queso fundido

Regular and blue corn tortillas

Regular and blue corn tortillas

Smoked pozole

Smoked pozole

The crew

The crew

Working the plancha

Working the plancha

Casual Restaurant Critic – Houston, Texas

Once again, it’s time for a visit to Houston which is becoming quite the culinary destination and the Critic has had the opportunity to visit and revisit some great restaurants. Here’s the latest:

Tiger Den
The Casual Restaurant Critic didn’t even know that such a sprawling “Chinatown” existed in Houston, or that is was stuffed with small and large eateries of all Asian types, from Korean BBQ to Hunan Chinese with Thai and of course Japanese thrown in the mix as well. It’s not really a “ChinaTown” but more like a large commercial area with several shopping centers, all Asian themed and with more foot massage places than you shake a set of toes at.

The destination was Tiger Den, on many lists of the best places to get ramen, the soul satisfying, mouthgasm-inducing broth that takes hours or days to get just right. The Critic and Better Half were joined by two other, younger and local diners, both male, who agreed to share a table of four and cut the waiting time by at least 10-15 minutes. Yes, there is a lineup every night and the owner, is not shy about warning smartphone-game-playing teens that there is to be no game playing once seated – you are there to eat. If not, “I throw you out!”

While the Critic, BH and friends talked about the latest news (guns, Texas, Dallas) everyone enjoyed a their ramen soup. BH and Critic had the tantan-men soup, with ground pork garnishing a hearty broth and with large, thick melt-in-your-mouth mini-slabs of slow cooked pork belly floating among the noodles. It was, according the Better Half, the best ramen ever, surpassing last years Momofuko which itself was outstanding.

There are other things on the menu like ribeye skewers and chicken hearts too, but stick to the soup and you will be one happy camper.

o-1

Tantan men soup – courtesy Yelp

9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

The Critic had been to this award winning sushi destination alone, and so was eager to share the find with Better Half, who, to make a long story short, proclaimed the evenings meal as one of the top three… ever. High praise indeed from a lover of great food and exotic locales.

The thing to do here is the omakase tasting menu, where the chef decides what’s best for you and serves nine stunning and delectable courses that range from tiny to generously large and run the gamut from fresh oysters flown in from Prince Edward Island to fresh toro from Japan. Everything is sparkling fresh and your place at the bar (do sit at the bar, not a table) is a wonderful vantage point from which to enjoy the artist Hori-san at work with his largely latino team.

IMG_8027

When Better Half noticed some people nearby having a bone marrow dish, she asked the waiter if it would be possible to try that as well. Chef Manabu Horiuchi (above, right) was consulted and included it – a large bone sawed in half and the marrow baked with condiments and spices – in the tasting menu.

The crab, according to our excellent waiter, was so fresh that it had been alive when we walked in. This waiter, by the way, was probably the best waiter the Critic has ever had, at any restaurant, anywhere.

Wine and sake accompanied the 9-10 dishes, including dessert. The experience lasted 2 and a half hours and was truly sublime. Extremely highly recommended.

Oyster

Oyster

Ceviche, toro tuna and watermelon, among other delicacies

Ceviche, toro tuna and watermelon, among other delicacies

Rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots

Seafood custard, sea urchin

Seafood custard, sea urchin

Massive sashimi platter

Massive sashimi platter

IMG_8002

IMG_8007

The object of desire, bone marrow

The object of desire, bone marrow

Nigiri trio

Nigiri trio

Crab, tempura style

Crab, tempura style

That is foie gras, really

That is foie gras, really

Sea urchin

Sea urchin

Toro tuna with salmon eggs on top just for fun

Toro tuna with salmon eggs on top just for fun

Our one and only noodle dish

Our one and only noodle dish

Dessert too!

Dessert too!

3600 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098
(corner of Kirby and Richmond)
(713) 526-8858

Caracol
IMG_7960

Have you heard of chef Hugo Ortega? You might have as he has been around for a while, has visited the Yucatan (we visited the Santiago market together) and runs a very successful restaurant called … Hugo’s. More on that place a little later.

Caracol is a seafood restaurant with a definitely Mexican twist featuring a $29 dollar margarita which is quite delicious and packs a kick. The pescado zarandeado is amazing, as are the mejillones. Better Half and Houston Cookie Baker enjoyed, along with the Critic, an amazing meal in a crisp cool room, with attentive service and the location near the Galleria makes it an easy destination for those of the shopping mindset who need a relaxing and refreshing break from the madness of retail.

Service was prompt and friendly; however, for a restaurant of this caliber one expects a side plate for the mussel shells and wait staff to not barge into the middle of a conversation with their obligatory “so, how is everything?” question. Wait until there is a break in the conversation, people.

Mejillones, aka mussels

Mejillones, aka mussels

Poblano chile relleno

Poblano chile relleno

Scallops

Scallops

Pescado sarandeado

Pescado sarandeado

Chocolate ice cream made in house, coffee

Chocolate ice cream made in house, coffee

2200 Post Oak Blvd #160, Houston, TX 77056
(across from the shopping center w DSW, Container Store, etc)
713-622-9996

Hugo’s
Famous in Houston for years,  the Critic was searching for the best brunch on a Sunday and this place always came up, so off he went, with the ever accommodating Better Half in tow.

A buffet was set up and although the seating was at the very end of the brunch schedule, not one of the steam table trays showed any signs of neglect and were promptly refilled with a delicious selection of Mexican food items, all obviously made with quality ingredients (no skimping) and prepared authentically, with dishes ranging from huevos poblanos to pan de cazon.

The desserts are not only pretty to look at, they are actually very good. Which is not always the case in a Mexican restaurant. Service was top notch.

Absolutely amazing and a must-do on your next trip to Houston. Just plan on a siesta afterwards as you will not be able to move.

IMG_8049

IMG_8050

IMG_8052

IMG_8055

IMG_8056

IMG_8059

IMG_8064

IMG_8067

1600 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
(lots of restaurants in this area)
713-524-7744

Dolce Vita (TripAdvisor link – website domain name expired)
This Montrose-area pizza restaurant was recommended by chef Horiuchi at Kata Robata (above) as the best place for pizza. Thin crust and officially recognized by the pizza association from Napoli, Italia as the real thing, the pizza (margherita) was good but not overwhelmingly OMG good. The crust was indeed thin and a tad soggy, but the sauce and cheese and basil were right on. Service was very friendly, prices were reasonable and the place has signs outside prohibiting gun carriers, concealed or open, to abstain from entering the premises.

It was hard to fit in the pizza after the brunch that same day, but somehow the Critic managed.

Margherita

Margherita

500 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
(if you were at Hugo’s previously, it’s in the same area, just a little further down Westheimer)
713-520-8222