Tag Archives: yucatecan food

Casual Restaurant Critic visits Las Yuyas

Every once in a while, my work, such as it is, requires me to visit restaurants that could be potentially incorporated into a tour offering. Such was the case today, with Las Yuyas, located in the Merida’s Jesus Carranza colonia.

Open since March of this year, they are cooking up traditional Yucatecan food with some original twists and presenting it in an attractive manner. My dear readers will agree that one of the most delicious and absolutely worst Yucatecan platillos to photograph is sikil pak, but the way chef Edwin prepares it here is a work of art. Very tasty too! Look:

Sikil Pak at Las Yuyas

All the dishes tried were excellent, from the queso relleno (my go-to dish when comparing Yucatecan restaurants) to lomitos de Valladolid to pipian de puerco. Also sampled were chayitas, taco de cochinita, relleno negro and escabeche, along with crema de brocoli and sopa de lima. Each was very well presented and perfectly seasoned. Tortillas were handmade and hot, and the tostadas for the sikil pak were fried just before being brought out to the table which made them extra hot and crispy. Nice touch.

Dessert was caballeros pobres, better than the usual goop served at so many restaurants, and papadzul ice cream. This is made by a local ice cream artist and this restaurant is the only place in town where you can have this flavor. Reason enough to come and sample the wares.

The room is comfortable, chairs are a bit on the hard side, walls are all glass and the A/C is cold. Service was very friendly with a bit of a delay on the removal of dirty dishes but overall very attentive. Owner Mario stopped by for a chat and explained a little about what he is trying to do.

Recommended; a restaurant that deserves a visit. Enjoy the (iPhone) photos!

Little masa ball appetizers

Crema de brocoli

Sopa de lima

Nido de Yuyas – a large sampler plate of several items

Pipian

Lomitos de Valladolid

Queso relleno

Caballero pobre (dessert)

Caballero pobre II

Papadzul ice cream. Yes, papadzul – amazing!

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

 

Casual Restaurant Critic at Zamna, in Izamal

The Casual Restaurant Critic had the opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon near Izamal and so it was only logical that lunch should be had there. Instead of the usual and 99% excellent Kinich it was decided, with the Better Half’s acquiescence, that the newer Zamná, which has somehow appropriated the entire serving staff originally working at Kinich (how did THAT happen?) should be given a chance.

Located just near the edge of town, where the ‘paint your place yellow’ memorandum somehow failed to arrive, the Zamná restaurant is an attempt to recreate the same atmosphere as Kinich, with mixed results. There are artesanias for sale, there is a giant palapa roof, there is an hipil-clad Mayan lady making tortillas in a separate hut along with a young man grilling the poc chuc and the servers are all women, able to maneuver giant trays of food and drink to their guests.

But somehow, the atmosphere is lacking. There is something missing here and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is – maybe a lack of interaction with the friendly-enough staff, who are mostly efficient, but not particularly charming. The actual space is a long an unremarkable rectangle and the music is all trio but the overall feel is… meh. If you are going to copy or emulate the already very successful brand that is Kinich, you are going to have to try to make it better, not just the same or almost the same.

The food you ask?

The food is fine. Better Half had the pipian de conejo, served only on Sundays which was quite good and the Critic had the queso relleno, which his go-to dish to evaluate Yucatecan restaurants, due to its complexity and the facility with which one can get it wrong (like at the over-rated Hacienda Ochil, where the dish is quick to arrive at your table and has seemingly been microwaved) and here, the platillo tipico was very good, but not better than, Kinich. Or Teya, where it is excellent.

Sikil pak dip was excellent, as were the empanadas, crunchy on the outside and melty cheesy inside.

Here are some photos of the food and restaurant and in the Critic’s opinion, visitors to Izamal are well-served by sticking to Kinich.

The restaurant Zamna

The restaurant Zamna

Hammocks make up part of  the decoration

Hammocks make up part of the decoration

Empanadas w chaya corn stuffed w edam cheese

Empanadas w chaya corn stuffed w edam cheese

Sikil pak and chaya limonada

Sikil pak and chaya limonada

Pipian de conejo (rabbit) only on Sundays

Pipian de conejo (rabbit) only on Sundays

Critic's choice - queso relleno

Critic’s choice – queso relleno

Another Morning in El Mercado – El Chile Pica

El chile pica” warned the waiter, pointing to the blackened chile habanero bits mushed up in the little bowl.

The gringo smiled. He had eaten chiles before. Had even watched a show by Rick Bayless once where Rick explained how to spot a particularly spicy one.

De verdad pica; tenga cuidado” repeated the waiter.

He seemed truly concerned and hovered for another moment at the red plastic table watching the gringo, who nodded and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

The waiter turned back to the counter to pick up another order; mondongo para la mesa cuatro, his Mom told him from behind the counter, hands slick with pork fat as she worked the lechon.

He was setting down the spicy soup at table four when he heard a loud cough and the scrape of a plastic chair being violently pushed on concrete; the gringo was standing up waving his hands in the air and his mouth opening and closing like a freshly caught pescado. Comical almost, if it wasn’t for the fact that he looked like he was going to die right there.

Pinche gringo, que bruto; se lo dije” he thought to himself.

People at the other tables smiled bemusedly at the gringo’s predicament and those nearby held out their drinks or some tortillas, all of which the gringo ignored, not out of rudeness of course but because he simply couldn’t see them, his eyes were watering so bad.

Mom was already out from behind the counter, arms around the stumbling gringo and leading him towards the counter where Luisa had some milk in a glass. Mom was also stuffing tortillas in his mouth to soak up the picante.

Little by little, his eyes drying and the coughing subsiding, the gringo came back to this world. He opened his eyes to find himself sitting at a stool by the counter with everyone looking at him. He gave a limp wave with one hand.

Bien, estoy bien” he said lifting one hand and looking somewhat chagrined. Everyone smiled and returned to their meals.

He walked slowly, almost carefully, to his table and sat down to finish his tacos.

The waiter stopped by at the table.

Esta bien? Si pica el chile verdad? Se lo dije no? he asked with a not unkind smile.

Oh, si!” said the gringo and gave a feeble laugh. The waiter patted the gringo’s shoulder and moved back to the counter.

Tacos de lechon para la dos. His Mom gave him a wink.

 

Casual Restaurant Critic at Los Frailes, Comida Yucateca en Conkal

Outside terrace

Many people have recommended the Critic visit Los Frailes, a pretty Yucatecan restaurant located in the village of Conkal, somewhat off the highway between Merida and Progreso.

With the always charming Better Half and on this occasion accompanied by members of the Vergara family (Sofia’s long lost Atlanta relatives) the Critic sampled the cuisine in the name of research and for the benefit of his 21 readers.

Upon arriving, an unsmiling, perhaps apprehensive, person of the male persuasion awaited to welcome the group with the question “Have you been here before?” said not as a welcoming comment but rather as a prelude to the next sentence which was “it’s that we don’t accept credit cards”.

OK, good to know and nice to see you as well.

The restaurant has an outdoor terrace and a small-ish interior which features air conditioned and enough hard surfaces to ensure a high level of noise which is always unpleasant and as the weather was conducive to outdoor dining, a table on the terrace was chosen.

Service was adequate and the ambiance pleasant. The food, which is traditional Yucatecan cuisine, is varied and offers all manner of classics as well as some the Critic hadn’t heard of before like the niños envueltos which are stuffed cabbage rolls that one can suppose look like children wrapped in green blankets, if those children were then covered with some sort of sauce.

The photos will show that each of the food items is very attractively and artfully presented but in the Critic’s never humble opinion the taste of these pretty morsels was somewhat lacking. Better-tasting Yucatecan food has been enjoyed at the Principe Tutul Xiu in Mani or Kinich in Izamal. Even the uneven Chaya Maya in downtown Merida has better-tasting food. Not to say it was awful – it wasn’t. It just wasn’t great.

Sikil Pak was a little on the sour side, and runnier than the Critic would like.

Sikil Pak was a little on the sour side, and runnier than the Critic would like.

Brazo de Reina, artfully presented.

Brazo de Reina, artfully presented.

Empanadas

Empanadas

Tortitas: fried corn masa and chaya bits

Tortitas: fried corn masa and chaya bits

Holoches. More fried masa covered in beans.

Holoches. More fried masa covered in beans.

Hmm.

Hmm.

Niños envueltos aka cabbage rolls.

Niños envueltos aka cabbage rolls.

Queso napolitano or flan for dessert.

Queso napolitano or flan for dessert.

 

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

Tempura Noodle Combo IMG_3806

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

 

 

What’s With the Masks on the Ham and Cheese People?

Is it just me or does anyone else out there think that the ham and cheese folks in the super markets look absolutely ridiculous with their mouth and nose covering masks? I mean, I don’t see this in the US and Canada where presumably people are also salivating on the merchandise before wrapping it and handing it to the customer. Or is it that the authorities have identified Mexicans as carriers of some rare disease that can be spread by breathing on ham? Perhaps the supermarkets are hiring people that are inadvertently discovering they are allergic to the smell of nitrates and since it is a pain to fire them, the mouth and nose coverings are the solution. Or the powers that be have discovered that people are eating too much of the ham and cheese and therefore profits are being affected and so…. a physical barrier to mid-shift Serrano ham snacking.

De veras, this country gets more and more ridiculous every day, trying to emulate other more advanced nations with policies that are completely and ludicrously out of touch with reality. What a ridiculous measure by the so-called health “authorities” who spend their time screwing over the established businesses; easy marks for the rules they invent in some office where they download health manuals from Swedish websites and decide that these will be perfect for Mexico.

Meanwhile, there are potentially hepatitis-infused tacos on the street,  partially-cooked grilled chicken sold out of a garage, the eggs covered in chicken excrement and transported in open pickup trucks in the hot Yucatan sun with their potential for salmonella poisoning, the slices of bistek laid out on tables in the middle of the supermarkets (because the air conditioning is cool and so that keeps the meat fresh and e-coli free RIGHT?) and the tamales sold street side in filthy aluminum pots filled with dubiously sanitized ingredients in someones hygiene-challenged kitchen are permitted. No problema!

We can’t really go after all those people because there are simply too many and if we hit the supermarkets and mall stores people will think we are really becoming a first world nation.

Know what? People will not think that and what you are doing is a ridiculous waste of time and money and manpower.

This is yet another shining example of government waste in a country that claims it has no money, implementing and enforcing stupid rules on one captive sector of the economy.

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!

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits the Hacienda Temozon

While checking out several haciendas recently, the Casual Restaurant Critic had the opportunity to visit – and have a meal, albeit a small one – in the restaurant at the Hacienda Temozon, an upscale hotel part of the Starwood Collection of very high-end hacienda accommodations in the Yucatan.

In the past, the experience in the restaurant has been a far cry from the rest of the delights offered to the senses when one visits this property; the gardens, the pool, spa and rooms are gorgeous, while the restaurant lacked the level of quality commensurate with the high standards set in the previously mentioned areas.

On this occasion, the Critic and two guests had a light lunch consisting of jamaica, the refreshing red tea made from jamaica flowers, a lime soup, a trio of panuchos and the Critic’s choice: a Kinich salad (photo pending). The food was tasty and fresh, particularly the salad, which was a real mix of typical Yucatecan ingredients including ground pumpkin seed and chunks of smoky longaniza sausage. On the service end, there is still room for improvement. Although the welcome was cordial and the attention to guests and Critic alike courteous and prompt, the Critic feels that in a restaurant of this caliber ladies should be served first and the typical arrival of the food on a tray parked next to the table, followed by the waiter picking up a plate and announcing it with a question should be outlawed. The reason they ask is because they don’t know who ordered what and this could so easily be solved, as it has been in countless restaurants around the world, buy a simple system of numbers corresponding to guests and their menu choices. This would eliminate the need for the question “Sopa de Lima??” and enable waiters to serve ladies first, not last, as was the case during this lunch.

The flies were also a problem, getting into the drinks for a swim, settling busily on the bread and in general causing much fanning of hands and napkins more akin to an experience at a much less luxurious dining establishment.

Prices were on the high end for the food offered (Yucatecan dishes at $150 pesos plus) considering what one can obtain for such a price tag at places closer to town and the service and fly details mentioned above. The view of course and the semi-outdoor experience of dining in such a beautiful space was fantastic however and for a special occasion, this might be a pleasant destination to head to for a special occasion.

Huevos Motuleños – in Motul

Is there someone out there who hasn’t realized that Huevos Motuleños are named after the town of Motul; birthplace of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, one of the more renowned governors of the state of Yucatan? Perhaps. The town of Motul actually got its name from the Mayan priest  Zac Mutul, who founded the Mayan settlement there in the 11th century.  But today we are not going to talk about history; we are talking about the eggs. Huevos Motuleños, which has a back story, apparently.

The story, as far I can decipher, is that Felipe Carrillo Puerto asked local restaurateur Jorge Siqueff to make him something for breakfast; something different. And this now iconic Yucatecan dish, served everywhere Yucatecan food is offered (and with as many variations as there are Yucatecan restaurants) is what he came up with.  The version in Motul is probably the closest to the original, and starts with crunchy fried corn tortillas or tostadas, topped with refried black beans, topped with your choice of eggs (sunny side up, runny, scrambled) topped with a unique cooked tomato sauce that has chunks of (should be smoked) ham and peas.

Check out some video (in Spanish) on the subject of this unique breakfast item here and here:

This is how the Critic and his guests had this breakfast one morning a few days ago on the second floor of the Motul market and it is absolutely delicious!

The lady in the Mirador spot (photo below) was very friendly and offered free refills on the horchatas; and as if the eggs were not enough, warm frances (crusty french-style white bread) was brought to the table as well.

Total bill for a breakfast that will keep you energized for the whole day? $40 pesos before tips. That’s a little over 3 dollars, for those doing conversions.