Tag Archives: yucatecan restaurants

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

Casual Restaurant Critic visits Hacienda Santa Cruz

Under new Mexican ownership, the hacienda Santa Cruz, on the outskirts of town, is undergoing a massive facelift and renovation. The Critic visited recently to have dinner with Better Half and spent a very pleasant few hours in this beautiful dining room.

Food was good, service was fine and the place is peaceful and relaxing. There are the usual tweaks that could be made to the service, which is a pet peeve of the demanding Critic and BH, but it is a nice way to spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of life in Merida.

The pasta was fine, “spaghetti” according to the waiter when asked, which turned out to be a flat noodle more reminiscent of a tagliatelle, but who cares. The cheese-y sauce was tasty enough. Better Half’s choices were more inspired and definitely better. The black bean soup in particular was excellent. The pork with a guayaba salsa was also delicious.

Not cheap, but not expensive either, considering the location, which is here.

Enjoy the photos.

Napkin

Napkin

Dining room view

Dining room view

IMG_6995

Little welcome snack

Little welcome snack

Serving the black bean soup

Serving the black bean soup

Beef carpaccio

Beef carpaccio

Black bean soup

Black bean soup

Pork w guayaba sauce

Pork w guayaba sauce

Pasta

Pasta

Grounds at night

Grounds at night

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.

IMG_2602

IMG_2569 IMG_2570 IMG_2571 IMG_2572 IMG_2573 IMG_2574 IMG_2577 IMG_2579 IMG_2580 IMG_2582 IMG_2583 IMG_2589 IMG_2590 IMG_2591 IMG_2593 IMG_2595

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Eureka!

Some finicky Lawson guests as well as many friends and acquaintances have all raved about Eureka and so, it is more than appropriate that the Critic take note and see what all the fuss is about.

IMG_0119

Once again accompanied by the ever-present and charming Better Half, the Critic visited on a Sunday and experienced this latest Italian entry into the Merida restaurant scene first-hand. And what a great experience it was!

The Critic and BH we welcomed at the door by smiling faces that seemed genuinely pleased to receive new lunch guests. This is remarkable when you consider how many times your welcome at a restaurant seems less than cordial, or perhaps at some of these places they already know it’s the cranky Critic and are preparing for the worst.

Chef Fabrizio stopped by the table and said hello and told the Critic a little about where he had worked before and so on. Friendly chit chat that just seemed natural.

The menu is interesting in that all of the appetizers aka aperitivi, all priced the same, making it easy both for customers and wait staff to figure out the bill. Salads and soups too.

But you readers want to know what the Critic thought of the food, right? Well let’s just say it was/is sublime. Absolutely lip-smacking, finger-licking and palate-pleasing-ly scrumptious.

IMG_0093

Mixed olive appetizer. And those garlic pieces.

To start, an appetizer of mixed olives with cured garlic (above) that sent Better Half to the moon and back, followed by an amazing mixed salad of the day and an asparagus/prosciutto/mozzarella appetizer that featured a fresh and creamy mozzarella cheese with a texture that straddled the line between fresh cream and soft cheese. You could have eaten it with a spoon and it was delicious!

IMG_0109

Mozzarella, Prosciutto e Asparagi

IMG_0098

Mesticanza del Giorno

Then, the main courses of salmon and pasta. The pasta is not the most photogenic of plates, but the Critic can assure you that this house specialty is an absolutely mouthwatering combination of flavors and textures. The pasta was a tiny bit inconsistent in texture, as in a few pieces a bit more al dente than others, but nothing to lose sleep over. The ragu sauce was so good!

The perfectly grilled salmon was dressed up with a fresh pea and leek puree sauce, and also outstanding. Even better, if that is possible, were the roasted potatoes served alongside the fish. These would be fantastic for breakfast with a little bacon a la German bratkartoffeln.

IMG_0106

Riccioli Eureka

IMG_0111

Salmone alla Flavia

And dessert? Well it had to be tried, although there was really no room whatsoever left at this point. The tiramisu is amazing.

IMG_0116

Eureka is on Facebook and their address is there, as well as on the sign in the photo below.

IMG_0120

If you are a fan of Oliva, Bella Roma or even Due Torri, you will definitely enjoy this new Italian restaurant that pushes the envelope yet again and raises the bar for anyone contemplating opening another Italian eatery in Merida. Grazie, Fabrizio e Vero!

 

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

 

 

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.

IMG_1958 IMG_1959 IMG_1960 IMG_1961

Casual Restaurant Critic at El Manjar Blanco

After a while, you tend to get a little tired of the same old same old when visiting Yucatecan food restaurants, so it came as a nice to surprise to find yet another Merida restaurant offering all the same recipes, but with a twist: a novel and appealing form of presentation!

IMG_0085

El Manjar Blanco is owned and run by some nice people loosely related to a local legend in the newspaper business: Antonio Peraza aka Tony, whose smart, funny and biting social commentary in the form of political cartoons are featured in the Diario de Yucatan newspaper. No politician or businessman, no matter how prominent, self important or powerful, is immune to the barbs and jabs that come out of Tony’s talented inkwell. The Critic only mentions this because when you enter the restaurant, you will notice a lot of familiar (if you peruse the local newpapers at all) art on the walls.

Once you order the food, you will see what the Critic is talking about in terms of the presentation of each platillo, Yucatecan cuisine classics all, from luscious papadzules and crunchy smoked longaniza appetizers to cochinita, queso relleno (the Critics personal favorite) and lomitos de Valladolid. They are all there, and they are all not only pretty to look at and photograph, but also taste as good as they should.

Service is very friendly and adequately professional and the prices are well within the bounds of reason for what you are getting.

For dessert, order some corn ice cream and an order of caballeros pobres and you will leave stuffed, satisfied and ready for a nap!IMG_0102 IMG_0100

IMG_0095 IMG_0099 IMG_0092 IMG_0084 IMG_0082 IMG_0089

IMG_0098

 

 

 

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits SOMA. In Chelem.

shameless borrowed from their Facebook page

A quick internet search for SOMA will result in websites for lingerie, drugs, a record company and a magazine, among others but to find SOMA the restaurant you will have to go to Chelem. Yes, Chelem, right here in the Yucatan.

The Casual Restaurant Critic had heard about this restaurant from some food-loving NYC refugees who now make their home in Chuburna and so, in the company of his lovely Better Half visited SOMA after a day of lying around the beach in Chuburna.

Located discretely in Chelem, just a block or two from the TacoMaya and Bullpen restaurants behind the baseball field towards town (how is THAT for an almost address-like description) the SOMA restaurant is one of those really weird experiences, very similar to when the Casual Restaurant Critic first found real Thai food in the tiny village of Baca, about 40 minutes outside of Merida. “What the hell is this!” thought the Critic while relishing a curry; “this is the best Thai food I have had in a long time and it’s in BACA?”

This same feeling came back last night, when the Critic and Better Half received a bread basket with crunchy/chewy real bread, heated and served with a pat of fresh butter in a colorful little dish, followed by the appetizers.

Appetizer one was a salad – what a miserably sparse word for the work of art that appeared on the plate. An assortment of lettuce(s), some baby/cherry tomatoes, a touch of cheese and a rasher of pork belly fried bacon-crisp on top not only looked beautiful but each mouthful was an experience.  Appetizer two was grits. Now, to a former Canadian who is not accustomed to such delicacies, the thought of grits was less than appealing, especially after having seen pans of unappetizing-looking grits in Houston restaurant buffets , but thanks to the mention of this particular appie by a certain New Yorker, the Critic said what the hell. And these are not bland, gunky grits. They come with a sprinkle of smoky chorizo and a quintet of perfectly grilled shrimp lying suggestively on top of those grits. The combination is remarkable as the  creamy texture below combine with the chorizo and the shrimp. Thumbs up for the grits!

lemonade

grits n shrimp

that's pork on that there salad

The Critic and Better Half looked at each other and thought – are we in CHELEM?

The main courses were as good or better than the appetizers. Better Half ordered a grilled chicken which, when ordered anywhere else could have been a dry lump of white meat, charred to the point of dried boredom, was instead perfectly seasoned, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and accompanied by a little pot of home made macaroni and cheese, which would make Kraft blush in embarrassment. The Critic ordered the fish (esmedregal en español) filet, perfectly cooked atop steamed fresh asparagus and served with crunchy baby potato halves. Scrumptious.

IMG_9430

IMG_9432

At this point, there was no going back and the Better Half and Critic decided that of the two dessert items on the menu… both had to be tried. The chocolate chip cookie is unbelievably perfect: crunchy and chewy and hot as in fresh baked right then and served with a little bowl of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream. The other option was a cheese-cake with cherries – in a glass! Delicious as well and washed down with a real cup of coffee and a cup of hot chai latte.

IMG_9434

IMG_9436

As it was Saturday, the restaurant was full and there was live music to entertain diners – a guitarist accompanying a husky voiced woman singing romantic songs in a parse, jazzy style that made the evening perfect.

IMG_9422

So how was the service, you ask? Excellent. Lindy, the gracious owner personally looked after her guests with help from a pleasant young man and young lady while her husband/artist Alberto worked his magic in the kitchen.

There is no liquor license and yet, the other tables were enjoying glasses of wine from bottles that mysteriously appeared from knapsacks and coolers they had brought along.

Ladies and gentlemen of the readership, you must try this new restaurant, and pronto. You will not be disappointed! Highly recommended. Hours vary, please check with Lindy and the restaurant at their Facebook page (link here) and for those of you always moaning 🙂 about a lack of addresses, here you go:

SOMA Restaurant
Calle 17 No. 77A
Chelem Puerto
(at Yeyo’s Hotel)

Phone: 999-348-0985