Tag Archives: seafood restaurants

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.

 

Casual Restaurant Critic re-visits Peruano

Just a quick update on this great Santa Lucia restaurant, in the heart of Merida – it’s still fabulous as of this writing. Don’t miss the ceviches – on this occasion we had two different tuna ceviches and one warm shrimp ceviche – and drink a Pisco Sour or two: refreshingly delicious but strong, so don’t be getting into your car after this!

Highly recommended!

Tuna ceviche I

Tuna ceviche II

Warm shrimp ceviche

Pisco Sour

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 visits Younghee’s Kitchen

IMG_2568 The Casual Restaurant Critic, following the suggestions of Better Half who seems to be trying new restaurants with far more frequency than the Critic these days, visited Younghee’s Kitchen today.

Accompanied by said Better Half, the Critic ate far too much absolutely gorgeous and delicious Korean food and is still feeling the after-effects of the severely spicy and overwhelmingly delicious soup(s) feature in the photos below.

All names have been forgotten but be assured that everything is excellent and the restaurant itself is a gem and would be at home in Miami Beach, Chelsea or Vancouver. Top notch quality throughout and the service is delightful.

This will become a Saturday thing folks, and since the restaurant is only open that day, expect waits and line ups but be patient. It’s worth waiting for.

It’s located near the Cine Colon where the Slow Food Market takes place every Saturday and doors open at 9 AM and close at 4 PM.

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Hamachi Sushi. Yes, more Sushi.

The Critic is aware that for many people the thought of sushi in Merida is somewhat disconcerting. A lot of these people also think that Starbucks ruined the local coffee culture to which the Critic can only snort in derision at the mere idea of a coffee culture in Merida back in the days of melamine plastic cups served with hot water and a spoon alongside a jar of instant. Nescafé if you were lucky.

But the Critic digresses.

The newish sushi place Hamachi is Japanese owned and features a chef imported all the way from exotic Cancun for the express purpose of putting Miyabi on alert as they may soon be ousted from their premium spot on the list unless the latter becomes a little less complacent and makes an effort to be more professional when it comes to service.

The nigiri or sushi by the piece is scrumptious, with generous portions of fresh and cold fish on perfectly cooked rice. Cream cheese is notably less in your face in comparison with other Merida sushi restaurants and that is a relief. What little there is on the menu can be left out, at diners requests. The unagi is delectable, warmed and again, generous in portion size when ordered as a piece of sushi or as part of a sashimi platter.

The scallops (cooked) on the appetizer menu sound great but while the texture is fabulous, the flavor is to subtle and after a few pieces, it loses its appeal. Dip it in soya sauce for a little extra salt. An appetizer that consists of the cheeks of the robalo fish (fried, you basically get the head to pick at) was better than expected.

Service is superior to Miyabi (not hard to accomplish) and friendly. Prices are up there, but the quality of the fish and an interesting menu make Hamachi worth it.

Fish cheeks

Fish cheeks

Rolls

Rolls

Salmon, tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi

Salmon, tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi

Unagi

Unagi

Traveling to Chetumal? The Restaurant Critic Recommends…

There’s not a whole lot to motivate you to want to go to Chetumal, the capital city of the neighboring state of Quintana Roo unless you have business with the state government there or are enroute to points further south via Belize. As a city, it has a somewhat provincial feel completely unbecoming a state capital. Everything there revolves around government jobs, real and imagined and the economy is based on the circulation of  government money. Also, as part of the now historic so-called zona libre, exempt from taxes levied against consumers back in the day, Chetumal became synonymous with cheap imported stuff that folks from Merida would drive hours for to buy and smuggle back into the Yucatan. Smuggle, because there was an actual border checkpoint on the Chetumal and Cancun highways where these entered the state of Yucatan. Cheeses from Holland, candies from all over, cookies from Denmark and butter in blue cans from New Zealand all became staples in the Yucatecan diet in the 60’s and 70’s, long before Costco, Sams and Walmart. Or Pacsadeli.

Enough with the history already!

Nowadays Chetumal will remind those who have lived here for some time, of a late 70’s, early 80’s Merida. There is nothing historical to look at really, except for the occasional wooden house, a tradition that made the place charming but wiped out by a hurricane in the 1950’s and never rebuilt. Everything is modern, square, unimaginative concrete with garish paint and horrific signage everywhere. There seems to be a problem with providing folks with garbage containers and so garbage can be seen most everywhere, including among the mangroves at waters edge. Chetumal is a popular place for folks from Merida to go when they head over the border into Belize to buy inexpensive Chinese junk and for Beliceños who want to step up and out from their border area to see something more modern. Granted, the state of Quintana Roo is one of the newest states in the United Mexican States (official name of Mexico did you know) but still, and for the same reason, you would think a somewhat more dignified city would carry the label of state capital.

On that 70’s-80’s theme, the fancy restaurant described a continuacion, is very much like what the Critic recalls from fancy restaurant experiences in Merida 30 years ago. The formal service, the elegant table-side dessert and salad preparation, the hygiene-challenged, poorly lit and charmless bathrooms completely at odds with what is happening out front, is a throwback to an earlier, less sophisticated time at least in terms of restaurants.

El Faro

El Faro, which means The Lighthouse, is undoubtedly one of Chetumals’ better restaurants. Ask a local which place is the best and the name will come up. Featuring formal service, lots of glassware and cutlery, real tablecloths and the stuffy feel of a tropical restaurant gone formal, the food is presented in a way suggesting that the chef or whoever is in charge of the kitchen has seen a few magazines and websites. It is good without being great and combined with the attentive yet cool service, the experience is decent enough.

Bucaneros

Bucaneros surprised the Critic because not only was the food great, but also the service was the friendliest experienced at any commercial establishment in Chetumal. Highly recommended for fun ambience and tasty, generously-portioned seafood creations including seafood-stuffed queso relleno!

La Pigua, revisited

La Pigua!

A recent visit with the MiniCritic confirmed to the Cantankerous Casual Restaurant Critic that La Pigua continues to be one of Merida’s finer restaurants with delicious, freshly prepared and tasty food and great service. In the photos, from top to bottom: Coconut Shrimp, Ceviche de Salmon, Tostadas de Callo de Hacha (scallops) and the Critics personal favourite, Calamares Sir Francis Drake.

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El Pez Gordo – Monterrey Style Seafood in Merida – This One’s a Keeper!

After a recent – and stomach stretching – visit to the Casual Restaurant Critics favorite Merida sushi restaurant, Miyabi, who continue to remain in the running for the Slowest Waiter in Merida Oscar, the Better Half pointed out a new restaurant right next door, called El Pez Gordo (literally, the big fish) which looked very eclectic and hip. The Critic and BH popped inside for a better look and wow! The place looks amazing; a funky bar counter covered in colorful broken tile, plenty of mirrors, themed vinyl decorations and phrases on the wall and loud rock music and the most friendly of owners, who hails from Chiapas but lived in Monterrey and wanted to bring some of that cuisine to Merida.

Seafood in Monterrey you ask? Yes, and the Critic reviewed the fabulous Pacifica restaurant there.

Today, it was the El Pez Gordos turn for a visit and the food did not disappoint! Not at all, not even close. It was amazingly delicious and fresh; nothing like yet another seafood restaurant with the same old tired creations.

To start, a warm shrimp broth in a little cup to open up the stomach and get the gastric juices flowing. Then, three scrumptious appetizers and three orders of delectable seafood tacos for the Critic and his beloved Better Half washed down with an icy Coke and a spicy Michelada were enough to convince both that this was their new favorite seafood restaurant in Merida!

First up was a mixed seafood ceviche, featuring shrimp, fish, calamar and octopus soaked and cooked in lime juice. The twist here was that there was also mango, jicama and pineapple chunks in that ceviche! Refreshingly cool and different and very good. Then, a pair of calamares stuffed with shrimp, cooked in a very spicy tomato-y sauce and served on a bed of guacamole. Hot, spicy and bursting with flavor, these were the best of the three appies. The third appetizer was a crunchy corn tostada topped with a smoked tuna and mayo salad and garnished with raw red cabbage. Unusual and pretty to look at, but the tuna was a little overpowered by the mayo, although I would order this dish again without hesitation if it wasn’t for the fact that there are a hundred more little items on the menu that need to be sampled first.

The tacos were delicious and the Critic cannot, unfortunately, recall their names, but one that stands out even now, several hours later, was a shrimp, chorizo, onion and tomato concoction that came in a melted cheese tortilla. That’s right, a melted cheese “tortilla” and it was absolutely fantastic.

Service today was a little on the slow side, but not as bad as our friends next door. And the bill? About 13 dollars per person for the meal described. Highly recommended!!


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Elio al Mare – Round Two

Last night the Casual Restaurant Critic revisited, in the company of some other critical foodies, the fabulous Elio al Mare restaurant near Progreso. If you read the previous review, you know that the Critic was blown away by the quality of the food at this beachfront Italian restaurant, especially the delicious pastas.

On this second occasion, there were a couple of things that stood out, one way or the other:

  • the off-menu Juanita shrimp were, as the photo suggested, scrumptious; succulent shrimp thick with tomato-y and cheesy goodness.
  • a fantastic risotto! The Critic is not a huge fan of risotto, but decided that Elio al Mare was the acid test to see if risotto was a good thing or just the mediocre pasty rice of yore; lo and behold this seafood risotto was extremely good!
  • on the not so great side, there was no welcoming sangria to be had and the service was a little on the slow side with a bit of waiting between courses and so on

Still, Elio al Mare is well worth the drive out from Merida to have a fantastic Italian dinner while watching the sunset.

Le Saint Bonnet, Progreso, Yucatan

Le Saint Bonnet is arguable the nicest looking restaurant along Progresos rather ragged malecon, which is why the Casual Critic suggested this as a lunch stop today for some out of town folks who wanted some seafood.

The tablecloths are white, but the fact that there are red stains indicates that these are not changed between diners.

Entertainment is provided, as is the case with all beach front restaurants, by the pirate DVD salesman, the plastic Chinese plastic bird salesman, the Chiapanecan blanket girls, the Cuban cigar salesman, a second pirate DVD salesman, a second Chinese plastic squawking bird salesman, and a lonely musician with a guitar who strummed a chord optimistically while smiling at diners and offering una cancion.

The Critic and his guests had – at the waiters suggestion – one of the restaurants specialities: the shrimp stuffed with crab, served with a combination of a creamy white and what appeared to be cocktail or barbecue sauce (red). When asked how many shrimp the dish had, the waiter replied that it had 4, but that it was well served and ‘si te llena‘.

And llenarnos it did. Those four shrimp, with the crab and the creamy sauce and an upside down bowlful of white rice in the center of the plate was too much to finish, and only the voracious 16 year old at the table managed to do so. The Critic wasn’t too enamored of the dish itself though; after the first shrimp it became empalagoso, which is a term that is hard to describe in English but it could be defined as when your taste buds become over-saturated with whatever it is you are eating – usually it’s used in reference to something sweet. Shrimp 3 and 4 were decidedly less exotic than shrimp 1 and 2.

There was no room for dessert. With 3 Cokes, the bill came to $465 pesos, before tip.