Tag Archives: William Lawson

Miyabi Revisited – What is Wrong with these Servers

Don’t misunderstand – the Casual Restaurant Critic loves Miyabi’s food. And hanging a whack of plywood sheets from the ceiling is apparently is a design concept that is award-winning so there is that. The food is always amazing too; the ramen is the best in town and the fish is always fresh.

What is really puzzling is the staff. With attitudes that range from the completely and defiantly indifferent to the almost Valium-like spaced-out-ness of a lobotomized Walking Dead character, the Critic can’t understand why the service end of this potentially first class restaurant is so bad.

The Critic would also like to add that he has been coming to Miyabi for years now – alone and with several iterations of familial critics – so it’s not like staff doesn’t know who he is which is not implying that a red carpet needs to be laid out, but a simple ‘Hi, glad to have you back’ every once in a blue moon would signal to this particular client anyway, that there is some life, some enthusiasm, some passion for service, behind those rather dead eyes.

Walking in, one is greeted with the sight of several chefs behind the sushi bar, some of whom will look up and then get back to their important work. No greeting is proffered, not even a raised eyebrow acknowledging one’s existence. “Sit anywhere” is not only recommended, it is the policy and that’s what you are told when you ask someone who finally looks your way.

A waiter then eventually slinks to your table, and it is highly recommended that you make the most of this interaction, as any additional visit (to take an order, to replenish a drink, to clear away a dish) will require enthusiastic hand-waving and yoga-like contortions (if the server is behind you) in order to get anyones attention.

Amongst themselves, they are a happy bunch, smiling and laughing but when it comes time to deal with guests, the smile disappears and it’s all slinkiness and tail-between-the-legs standing there, awaiting instructions. Sales pitches for drinks or specials or anything really, are unheard of.

And thank goodness for cell phones, since this is what entertains both waiters who have nothing to do as well as yawning cashiers and anyone else not involved in the cutting of fish or the preparing of rice.

It’s a mystery. Perhaps it’s that they are content in letting the food be their strong card – which it is – and so, if you can put up with the sub-par service, you will be fine.

Playa del Carmen for Tourists

The strange roof top pool at the weird but comfortable Reina Roja hotel in Playa del Carmen

Having just come back from a little overnight in Playa del Carmen after dropping off the kids at their hotel in Tulum, I thought I would share a few impressions from Playa – as folks around here call it because it’s too hard and time-consuming to actually say Playa del Carmen – from a visitors/slash neurotic foreigners (the original viewpoint of this blog when it started 20 years ago) point of view.

Playa is heavily policed

In the touristy part around the 5th avenue area, the police presence is massive. There are armed policemen at every intersection and at one spot that I saw, a tank-like armored vehicle that probably came from the US Army’s surplus after the Iraq invasion was successfully completed.

Since you hear a lot about the gangs, the narcos and the violence that has plagued the area, this dark undertone to all the happy people selling stuff on the street and the trendy restaurants and shops, should be reassuring and not threatening. How you will react is entirely up to you. And in spite of their rather intimidating aspecto, what with their bullet-proof vests, machine guns, and all-black uniforms, they seem friendly enough though and don’t mess with anyone.

The touts

Touts is one of those weird words that I have trouble writing, just because it sounds so 18th century. But apparently, that is the official word for those guys in the street, that are trying to get you to come into their (or a friends or employers) store along the Quinta Avenida.

Predominantly men, they pester each and every passerby, inviting them to come and see their cigars, their hats or their tours. If they are waving a plastic covered menu, it’s a restaurant they want you to try. And listen to their banter, which is incredibly original – “hey, I remember you” and funny (sarcasm). If any females walk by, you can be sure that they will have a #metoo moment and be ogled and commented on by the touts, who usually hang around in small groups. As a tourist you can ignore them completely and if you don’t understand Spanish, the better it is for you since you won’t know what crap it is they are spouting.

Discounts galore

Beyond the verbal sales pitches of “good price” “cheapest price” and “best price” there are signs everywhere advertising discounts of up to 50% (on selected items). These are crappy things that never sold as well as they were expected to and so, are things you don’t want anyway unless you can’t pass up a good bargain on some plastic Made in China glass holder that says Playa del Carmen or the purple top with fringes from last year.

Pharmacies

Mexico is famous for its lax pharma laws and cheap drug prices and that, combined with the ridiculously high prices for prescription medicines in the US, means you will see pharmacy counters in the gift shops advertising everything from anti-depressants to anti-biotics to erectile dysfunction drugs with dubious labels. There are legit pharmacies a few blocks away where you can buy real drugs and medicines at local prices and so, you really don’t need to shop here unless you are afraid to venture into the “real” Playa del Carmen, a fear which is unfounded (read the part about the police, above)

The rich and the poor

You can see the disparity between the rich and the poor on the touristy streets of Playa. The wealthy tourists from abroad and from within Mexico stroll past high-end shops especially around the luxury shopping mall complete with Starbucks and all manner of luxury brand stores, while the miniature young women from Chiapas with their wares displayed Mayan market style on the very same streets right outside. Note that these women usually have small children in tow, who are entertaining themselves on cell phones, and who add a sympathetic look to the scene, invoking a sense of guilt to passers-by and thereby perhaps making it more probable to get that sale.

At one point, a shiny black Mercedes Benz coupe drove past a police checkpoint which was interesting since a) it was a black Mercedes that costs probably about a million and a half pesos and was driven by a twenty-something-year-old and his female cohort which might raise an eyebrow or two; b) they had a child on the lap of the female in the front seat, a clear violation of transit law and c) the car had no plates, another violation and normally a reason for the police to pull the car over.

Weekend getaway

In any case, Playa del Carmen is a great destination for a weekend escape from your routine if you enjoy a little beach time and some great restaurants. Other than that, I wouldn’t come back for more than a day or two as the whole ambiance seems just a little too much for my laid back Yucatecan self.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Numen

While the Casual Restaurant Critic is a meat lover (and dairy and fish and and and) some members of the Critical Family are vegan, and so, with a resigned sigh and little hope of a decent lunch, the Critic and the Family had lunch at the well-known vegan restaurant Numen, in northern Merida. The result was a mixed bag. Some good food, some OK food and some food that was quite forgettable.

The best option was the tacos al pastor, which is a local favorite and Numen has created a vegan option of this classic. Don’t ask, don’t tell is the Critic’s motto when it comes to what is actually in the vegan version, but it was tasty and satisfying. If he came back, the Critic would definitely have those again.

Most forgettable dish? The pozole. Pozole is a rich broth with all kinds of meaty juices and in this case, it was sliced mushrooms and hominy floating in a barely salted broth that was really quite watery. Not satisfying at all, ITCO. In between was the Critic’s dish, a pasta with tomato sauce, which he could have made at home but was tasty enough and the Critic devoured it down to the last spiral of fusilli.

Some photos will illustrate that the dishes are beautifully presented. The service was average, not horrible, but not particularly gracious or charming either.

Pozole

Pozole

Tacos al Pastor, vegan style

Torta de Empanizado, which was sort of a bean paste, and not great at all

Pasta w Tomato Sauce and vegan “cheese”

Avocado tacos

The accompanying fries were the best part of this empanizado torta

 

Friends with Benefits – Giving Away Your Business

In the years I have lived in Mexico, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon among business owners and their friends, that I can only attribute to cultural differences between where I grew up and where I live now.

In Canada, and I suspect this also happens in the U.S.,  when you open a new business, you put out the word and where do you start? Friends and family of course. And your friends and your family will come and check out your new venture, congratulate you perhaps and wish you well; they will also buy stuff. No matter if you are making empanadas or ear wax candles, they will probably pick up something to support your latest entrepreneurial effort. They appreciate the time and work put into the logo, the concept, the locale if you have one, and the actual products themselves and they want to support you, so they buy something, even if they really have no use for it. They’re your support base and they want you to succeed, so they do.

Here in sunny Mexico, things are a little different. You open your doors or Tupperware container on the corner and let your friends and family know. They will all show up of course; they do love you after all and most of them want you to succeed except for the ones that don’t who will voice unwanted opinions on your product, your idea, your enthusiasm. The goal is to not let you get ‘too big for your britches’ so to speak; they do it out of love and for your own good and that when you fail, you won’t feel so bad and they can say “te lo dije” And, as George Lopez would say “so you learn”

And while they love you, they love anything free even more. And this invitation to see your new business is exactly that: an opportunity to get something for nothing because you’re family! So instead of buying anything, they will ask – in some cases demand – that you invite them to everything on the menu, or in the case of ear wax candles, a free candle to take home. This is not hinted at; no, this is expected and you had better cough up or else your friendship or familial relationship will be in peril.

Where does this come from I wonder? I am not an anthropologist but would love to hear from anyone who has a theory.

Chilaquiles for the Casual Restaurant Critic at Chill-Akil

Not having had any sustenance beyond the usual New York model breakfast of coffee and a cigarette, the by-now cantankerous Critic was driving to his pay-by-the-hour office at Alexandra’s when another luxurious plaza (not particularly luxurious, tbh) called Plaza Luxury – really, you can’t begin to fathom the local fascination with all things purportedly luxury – beckoned with its multiple culinary options ranging from the brand new Okana poke bar with its high-tech and line-up inducing iPad ordering system to the old-school Merida classic Siqueff to the restaurant the Critic finally ended up in: Chill Akil.

There’s the Lexus dealership, the Prada flagship store, and the Bugatti watch shop. And the Ya Abrimos store of course

Once the loud family discussing family relationships at the next table had departed, the famished  Critic was able to enjoy his classic chilaquiles rojos in relative peace and quiet while perusing CNN’s latest fake news on his iPhone.

These chilaquiles are really good, with lots of ‘stuff’ on top of those tortilla chips and they aren’t all soggy either, which is a nice touch. The red sauce is good, the chicken is good, the queso fresco is good, the onions and radishes are fresh and there are hot sauces and mild sauces (2 and 2) to add if you feel the dish lacks vim and vigor.

The restaurant is probably crowded in the morning with Moms and gym types who like to get up early, but the Critic had his breakfast at 2 PM thank you very much and had the place to himself. The A/C leaves something to be desired and it is uncomfortably warm in spite of the unit blowing all it can. Note: there are two air conditioners upstairs, but these were off.

Good service and plenty of parking available. You will also find a really nice high-end stereo shop in this plaza for your home theater installations in that new old colonial you are restoring.

Worth a second visit, ITCO.

Location: Plaza LUXURY (look for the Teslas, Ferraris and Jaguars parked outside) or just look at the map on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chillakil/

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Sushi Pop in La Isla

 

The Mini-Critic invited the Casual Restaurant Critic to try a new sushi place called Sushi Pop in the closest approximation of shopping bliss in Merida resembling Miami. If you are looking for somewhere to make you feel like you are not in the Yucatan (with the exception of the people around you) come to La Isla.

Sushi Pop is a franchise with locations all over the country. Merida location at the end of this post.

Directly in front of a colorfully lighted fountain with spurts of water shooting up ala Bellagio, and with the artificial lagoon in the background where you will nightly presence a light show, you can enjoy some truly average sushi, either in their air-conditioned locale or outside on the little terrace, where you will swelter but can enjoy a smoke without being hassled by the pure-air police.

The service was alright, but nothing outstanding. What put the Critic off is the fact that the waiter, who was dancing happily inside the locale, showed up at the table and his rumpled shirt with rolled up sleeves and unshaven face put an immediate damper on his expectations (the Critic’s, not the waiter’s)

There were some rolls which were fine, and an order of gyoza, but the most interesting item was their broccoli tempura, for which they are apparently famous, according to RumpleShirtSkin.

Would the Critic go back? Maybe, but no rush.

Broccoli tempura with spicy mayo and a slice of tuna

Unagi (roll) which was warm and delicious

Gyoza w meat filling

 

LOCATION AND HOURS INFO:

La Isla Mérida Cabo Norte
Calle 24, Cabo Norte
Mérida, Yucatán.

MONDAY TO WEDNESDAY:
13:00 – 23:00

THURSDAY THRU SATURDAY
13:00 a 2:00

PHO MX – The Casual Restaurant Critic Finally Gets Here

The Casual Restaurant Critic has been hearing about this place for a while, but never got around to visiting, until today when, at the suggestion of the always informed Better Half, he had lunch there. With the always charming Better Half of course.

The pho, which the Critic expected to be a watery broth with little flavor, turned out to be quite delicious and substantial, as were the two appetizers sampled -stuffed chicken wings (really) and rice paper spring rolls stuffed with lettuce and a shrimp or two. The Critic wasn’t crazy about the latter, but those chicken wings were really stuffed and tasty.

Service was very attentive and the owner, Robert, stopped by to chat and say hello.

Have the fruity tea, with passion fruit, and follow the meal with the fantastic Vietnamese iced coffee, strong and sweet and very refreshing.

 

El Catrin, a New Merida Centro Bar Option. The Casual Restaurant Critic, yet Again.

El Catrín, calle 47, Mérida

Accompanied by the Better Half and Mini-Critic, the Casual Restaurant Critic visited this 6 month-old addition to the Merida centro bar and restaurant scene, located on the up and coming gourmet stretch of calle 47, which already features 130 Grados, Oliva, Caffe 47 and others, and was suitably impressed by both the place itself, and its food. Gracious and friendly service rounded out the very positive experience.

The giant mural in the back, outdoor area of El Catrín

Artist credit. Murals and framed art inside as well.

Outside design and cool-ness

Salsas

These are napkin holders

Esquites, corn, queso fresco and plenty of zest. If you don’t like esquites, try this anyway. You’ll love it.

This caldo cantinero is a perfect seafood broth. For those who love chilpachole 🙂

Carnitas; can’t go wrong with carnitas

Good stuff to sprinkle on your carnitas, including chicharron

Carnitas deserve a close up, don’t you think?

Empanadas, beautiful

Guacamole w grasshoppers and cherry tomatoes

Fabulous chocolate brownie that looks like a tamalito, hoja santa ice cream and popped corn and strawberries and and and…

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Pueblo Pibil

It’s new! At barely three months old, this latest and impressive entry into the offerings of real home-cooked Yucatecan food in the nearby town of Tixcocob, is already causing a stir among foodie Instagram users (hashtag: foodporn) as well as all lovers of great food who are not afraid to hit the highway to discover these out-of-the-city gems.

Chef Silvio has run a food counter in the Tixcocob market for years, and now he has, in conjunction with several partners, opened this elegant alternative for those seeking his deservedly famous ‘sazon‘ in a more formal setting.

The restaurant is beautiful, the air conditioning more than adequate on a hot pre-April firestorm temperatures kind of day and the service is gracious, if a little uneven in some spots. A friendly hostess opens the door and welcomes you into a calm, cool room from the overheated effervescence outside. An outside terrace is available for those who enjoy sweating while eating, or for those who want to have a quick smoke before or after lunch. There, you can also see the pits that give the restaurant its name: Pibil. Almost all the food is cooked in the traditional underground pit oven (the pib) and the results are impressive.

The Critic, accompanied by the Better Half, Mini Critic and almost a dozen others, visited for lunch and sampled many of the dishes available on the small but varied menu and everyone was most impressed with the quality and flavor of each beautifully presented dish.

The Critic had, as usual, the Queso Relleno, which was very satisfying and cooked to perfection. This was immediately after a starter of Sopa de Antaño (soup from yesterday, as in yesterday from grandma’s time, not actually yesterday), consisting of a black frijol broth with short pasta noodles and spiced up with a condimented tomato sauce.

Also on the table were an order of smoky crisp longaniza, generously stuffed papadzules, a relleno negro to die for, brazo de india (reina) and a spicy mondongo soup. The tortillas were thick, handmade and piping hot each time another batch arrived at the table.

At about 2000 pesos for a group of eleven, this was not at all a luxury lunch but it felt like it, given the quality of the room, service and of course, the food.

The photos will speak volumes and give you an idea of what you are in for if you head to Tixcocob for lunch tomorrow. NOTE: If you go on a Monday, you will be able to sample Chef Silvio’s frijol con puerco, which was not available on this Sunday outing and will surely be motivating this Critic and his Better Half to return, ¡pero ya!

The room is beautiful, the flowers are real and the hostess is smiling

The bar

Brazo de India

Longaniza

 

Papadzules

Relleno Negro

Mondongo

Queso Relleno

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Katori

Katori entrance

There is yet another new sushi restaurant in town, located right across from the City Center shopping center, where Walmart planted its flag much to the consternation of politically correct ex-pats and the delight of locals who enjoy the shopping experience thank you very much.

The Critic visited the new establishment yesterday, in the company of the always charming Better Half and their friend HC (Houston Critic) who was in town and suffered stoically through the Critic’s taking of photos throughout the meal. “Don’t put your fork in it just yet!” said the Critic, brandishing the very indiscrete Canon he brought along for the purpose of this critique. The good news is that HC is still on speaking terms with both the Critic and Better Half; no friendships were harmed in the making of this review.

This is an ‘upscale’ restaurant and one of their draws is Wagyu beef; there is a Wagyu rib eye on the menu – 200 grams for a paltry $1900 pesos – which on this occasion the Critic and Co did not sample, not having robbed a bank in recent memory. It must be fantastic though.

Front, a lychee mojito. Back, a lychee something or other in a martini glass. Complimentary water bottle is a nice touch

Drinks were ordered and one of these was the somewhat watery lychee ‘mojito’. Not sure what the ‘mojito’ moniker adds to the drink as there wasn’t much to it besides a faint watermelon flavor and presumably some rum. The other drink, whose name escapes the Critics memory this morning, was much sweeter and well, that was about it.

The rolls were fine, the appetizers also, and the standout was the camarones roca which had some sort of extremely thin (asked and were told it was salmon skin) something on top, which actually MOVED as it was set in the middle of the table. It was almost eerie and seemed alive, which apparently it was not; it was a reaction of the heat of the dish or so the group was told, albeit the server also said that the ramen soup had chicken in it so not sure if this was really what was happening with the belly-dancing movements on top of those shrimp.

IMG_3948 (video)

The ramen soup, an eternal favorite of the Critic, was not particularly flavorful, leeching into the bland side of the taste spectrum. No comparison with Miyabi’s chigue-ramen soup which is not only 50 pesos cheaper but 100 times more flavorful. Skip it.

Service was fine, especially since one of the servers knew Better Half, but not particularly fantastic, as a place like this might warrant. The room is attractive, parking is nil (valet is your best option) and the place fills up with locals up for a sushi lunch.

If you want to try it, do. And let the Critic know how the Wagyu beef was, if you try it. But if you are looking for a great sushi lunch or dinner, stick with tried-and-true Miyabi, just a kilometer or so down the road.

Enjoy the photos!

The camarones roca and their interesting belly dancing topping

Menu

Squid appetizer

Ramen soup

Roll 2

Roll 1