Tag Archives: seafood

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!

 

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

Casual Restaurant Critic at AOKI – Yet Another Entry in the Sushi Category

Just when the Critic thought that is was not possible to find yet another sushi restaurant in Merida, another one popped up on the radar thanks to Better Half’s socializing and lunching ways.

This one is AOKI and if you have been to the great Beer Box store you will know exactly where it is; if not, you won’t. It’s right next door. Maybe it helps that there is a glorieta with five avenues emanating from it, and in the area is the the Chevrolet Monte Cristo dealership, the Super Deli store which is more super than deli and the Jarochita fruteria where you can get the best, freshest fruit in the area.

But who cares about all that.

The fact that the hostess (who turned out to be our waitress as well) told us to just go ahead and sit wherever we wanted seemed like a rough start. The Critic has become accustomed to having someone show him to his table and maybe that’s just ridiculous, but if you are coming to someone’s house, wouldn’t you want to make them feel welcome? If you’re already at the door and have nothing else to do, take your guest to a table, make her or him feel like you’re glad they’re there.

A look from the back towards the front. Soy soaked serranos on the table.

A look from the back towards the front. Soy soaked serranos on the table.

CRC and BH chose a table along the wall, you know, the kind that have one long bench along the entire wall that serves various tables. The Critic only brings it up because when you sit down on this vinyl stuffed bench, you feel the wood and uneven filling under your butt. This is common in Merida restaurants and one day the Critic will dedicate a whole article to it. Is is possible that the owner or designer has never parked his butt on these uncomfortable homemade booth seats? If you’ve been to Brians and plopped yourself on one of those comfortable looking booth seats and felt your tailbone crush on the hardness of it all, you know what this gripe is about.

Bitch, bitch, bitch.

Well, guess what, dear Reader! Things got better after that, and the food was ordered from the initially shy waitress (note to self: another article on shy and intimidated acting wait staff in Merida restaurants) who opened up, cracked a smile or three and brought all the goodies to the table.

If you are ordering rolls, make sure to notice that all of them contain cream cheese, as seems to be the custom in Merida. If this is the custom in other parts of Mexico, please can a reader enlighten the Critic on the origins of this practice and the reasons behind it? Thank you.

Niguiri pieces are rice-heavy but the fish is cold, delicious and the portion is a welcome fat chunk, not a thin excuse carefully applied on top of the rice. The stuffed squid is delectable and beautiful and for the amount of work involved in preparing this dish and the presentation, the price was ridiculous on the cheaper end of the spectrum. The tempura entree with the funny black noodles sprinkled with nori was just alright. The rolls were excellent.

Would the Critic return? Yes! Better than Miyabi? Food-wise, AOKI is a noodle below but at least they don’t have the Valium Crew waiting on tables, so big plus there.

Felices comidas!

See how fat those slices are on top of the rice. Excellent.

See how fat those slices are on top of the rice. Excellent.

Tempura Noodle Combo

Tempura Noodle Combo. Those noodles are cold.

Stuffed little Squid

Stuffed little Squid

Roll with Spicy de Atun

Aguacate and Cuke Roll with Spicy de Atun and some masago for fun

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Tuna on the outside. It comes w cream cheese but you can ask to have it left out

Tuna on the outside. It comes w cream cheese but you can ask to have it left out

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at El Tovar

At the recommendation of the now departed Mini Critic, the Casual Restaurant Critic took her to the fishy taco place called El Tovar, which has a seafood menu along the lines of El Pez Gordo; shrimp, fish and other seafood tacos prepared in a sort of Tampico/Monterrey way.

Located near the Cumbres school and that avenue that runs from El Pocito to the Monumento a las Haciendas, El Tovar was opening for lunch when the Critics arrived and as the weather was cool, the sliding glass door was open and once seated, the owner asked if it was OK that the door was open, or would the Critics prefer it closed and the AC? Open door was fine, the Critics agreed, and some drinks were ordered while the menu was looked at.

A waiter-type person arrived and proceeded to close the sliding glass door until the owner told him that the door open was fine, whereupon the glass door was opened again.

Fishy tacos were ordered and the drinks arrived, along with a third person who, you guessed it, started closing the sliding glass door, until informed to leave it open.

The food arrived and, the Critic kids you not, a fourth person started on the door. Apparently there is some confusion about whether or not this door should be open or closed.

Now, the tacos were fine. In fact, they were pretty darn good. In particular, the queso fundido con mariscos, with its’ seafoody cheesy gooiness and the spicy broth of the pozole de mariscos, were outstanding and both meals in and of themselves. What really makes El Tovar amazing was the completely indifferent service. Each move on the waiters (and here the term is used lightly and generously) part must be provoked by the client as the personnel at El Tovar on this occasion seemed far more concerned with the exciting distractions of their cell phones than they are with perhaps serving another drink, clearing away dirty plates and heaven forbid, checking on the clients to see how everything is. Another reason cell phones should be banned in the workplace.

In short, the food is great, the room is not unattractive and the service is absolutely awful to the point of making one wonder what the owners are thinking in keeping these useless carriers of trays around. Is it that hard to find and train people? Come on. You already have the food, the presentation and the flavors are fantastic. Take a moment to get some real servers!

MiniCritic informed the Critic that there is an attentive wait person of the female variety but she was not working that day.

So, if you want tasty seafood tacos and don’t mind the abysmal service, El Tovar is a good choice for a satisfying mid-day lunch.

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Casual Restaurant Critic in Campeche

If you like seafood, and who doesn’t, then Campeche is the place for you. The Critic has been told also, that the fine Yucatecan traditions originate in Campeche, which was where the best cooks came from. The person that told me had relatives in Campeche so they might have been somewhat biased.

Campeche was once of course part of the Yucatan, even though they hate to admit it now. It was the main port of entry to the entire area and much wealth concentrated there before being either loaded onto ships or distributed into the countryside. So in a nutshell you have great cooking talent plus an abundance (up to recently anyway what with all the oil rigs out there) of fresh and varied seafood; all of this adds up to some pretty fine eating.

La Pigua

The best-known of the seafood places in Campeche also has a branch in Merida; called, believe or not, La Pigua. Known for it’s excellent dishes it became THE place to go for anyone of any importance visiting Campeche and in it’s former location/presentation it had many signed photographs on the wall from dignitaries real and imagined that had eaten there. The Pigua has been renovated and renewed. The look is sleek, minimalist and upscale and the food is as delicious as ever. The service, however, remains firmly rooted in the lackadaisical 1970’s, completely at odds with the modern and upmarket rest of the restaurant. The Critic was there before, and a recent visit confirms that the review stands as is.

Marganzo’s

The new CRC’s favorite, the restaurant is down by the wall in the old section of town and features all-women servers, dressed in traditional Campeche garb (think hipiles, Campeche style) and a terrific seafood menu from which anything you order will be delicious. The Critic always ends up ordering the Marganzo fish fillet and is never disappointed; but their coconut shrimp are a mouthwatering appetizer that should not be overlooked.

Gelateria Tigela 

There is, along the gorgeous malecón, a shopping center that advertises itself as the place to buy artesanias or crafts from Campeche artists. Inside, you will find several stalls featuring all kinds of cheesy trinkets made from shells as well as other pirate or ocean related items that will end up in your basement (if you are from up north) much like that purple-sequinned sombrero you got from your parents when they went to Tijuana in the ’70’s.

However, right around the corner on a side street leading back into the city is a terrific and authentic Italian gelato place with real, smooth and refreshing gelato, from limoncello to nocciola. Absolutely worth finding and enjoying after a seafood lunch at one of other places mentioned. Service is lackadaisical at best but the gelato more than makes up for the employee’s indifference and the pirated movie on the television screen which they are far more interested in watching than helping you, the inconsiderate interruption of their shift.

More info on it here.

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Puerta del Mar

At the time of the year corresponding to the visit of the Easter Bunny and all that hype, many locals like to enjoy a seafood meal at the beach. If you are not able to get all the way out to Progreso or Celestun or some of the other popular Easter break destinations, there are plenty of seafood options in the city of Merida to satisfy your craving for something shrimpy; one of these is Puerta del Mar, located almost across from the Bancarios sports center, somewhere between Plaza Fiesta and Altabrisa, on that bumpy stretch of avenue called Avenida Correa Rachó after a well know and loved PAN party mayor of Merida.

It is a modest-looking palapa and inside, it continues to perpetuate that impression with plastic chairs and tables and the obligatory television showing some inane sports event.

But, the beer is cold and the seafood is fresh tasting and comes from the kitchen quickly. A nice touch is a complementary tiny plate of mixed seafood ceviche placed on your table as you sip your drink and wait for your lunch. Service ranges from the “I couldn’t be bothered to welcoming you to the restaurant” to extremely efficient and fast once you are seated.

The dishes pictured below, are, in order of appearance:

1) Complementary seafood ceviche mini platter. Tasty, a little too lemony for the Critics taste, but fine when you are hungry. To be eaten with their excellent corn chips. It’s hard to screw up corn chips, but VIP’s manages on a regular basis so it is nice to have these be crispy crunchy, and not all limp and gross.

2) Chilpachole de Camaron – a spicy shrimp soup that the Critic absolutely adores. Unfortunately, this one is not great; the broth is far too reminiscent of tomato paste and lacks real flavor. Mildly spicy and plenty of fresh shrimp in there though.

3) Pan de Cazon – dogfish or shark meat cooked in a tomato mixture and then served between layers of corn tortillas and black refried beans. Covered with more tomato sauce and that garnish is NOT a little bell pepper, it is an habanero and so don’t just scoop it up and toss it in your mouth. A Yucatan classic (or is it really a Campeche classic?) and the Critic thinks the version served at Colonos in the Colonia Mexico is better. Still, not bad.

4) Seafood Stuffed Shrimp –  Yes, that is what the menu said. Each of the shrimp is cut and stuffed with a minced seafood mixture that is borderline inedible. To make matters worse, the shrimp are bathed in a mysterious cream sauce that is both tasteless and yet somehow rather nauseating. Not recommended.

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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!

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.

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

Pimienta – Good Seafood-y Pasta

The Casual Restaurant Critic had driven by the restaurant called Pimienta, located just a few blocks beyond the Consulado de los Estados Unidos de America, when heading south-north, just before the street opens up to reveal the estadio Salvador Alvarado on the left.  The Critic had also heard some rumors and whispers that this little restaurant was actually pretty good.

So, upon hearing that dear friends were going to visit and were requesting the dubious pleasure of the Critics company, he dusted off his dancing shoes and took the Better Half along with Miss Tenerife and joined aforementioned DearFriends for dinner.

And what a surprise! Pimienta, whose owner was on hand to welcome the group, is indeed a little gem of a restaurant with great food, an elegant room and a waiter with a personality.

As far as food goes, there was pasta had by all. From green linguine buried in a delicious red sauce that the BetterHalf raved about the next day to the scallops in the Fruti di Mare pasta had (for the first time ever) by Miss Tenerife to the Mona Lisa had by the Critic to the pasta with shrimp and an appetizing chunk of meat whose names escape the Critic as usual; all were delicous!

Appetizers included tender, zesty flavored mushrooms sauteed with guajillo chile and sprinkled cheese on top and bruschetta.

Desserts were had as well, although there was absolutely no need to subject the groups digestive system to such abuse; a homemade Tiramisu, a light, just right lemon mousse and a dark chocolate pyramid.

Service was friendly and for the most part right there when needed (ocasionally he could have been a little more attentive) with the only quibble being that the he could have ironed his shirt to be more in keeping with the rest of the dining room which was impeccable.

All in all a pleasant surprise. Recommended!