Category Archives: Casual Restaurant Critic

The Casual Restaurant Critic is where you can read all about restaurants both in Merida, the Yucatan and beyond.

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, the latest entry into the expensive and hipster steak restaurant category has the distinctive pedigree of being owned by the same folks that own and presumably operate 130 degrees, where the Critic once had the most expensive meal ever in Merida, is now open in what used to be the Tony Roma’s restaurant spot, near the periférico and across the road from City Center (Walmart). Whether or not this opening caused the demise of the Gloria Cantinera directly in front remains – at the time of this writing and to the author of said writing – a mystery.

Cienfuegos (literal translation; a hundred fires) is a beautiful restaurant. Potentially award-winning interior design and details abound that make the space very photogenic indeed. If you pick up on some similarities between the newest Miyabi restaurants and this place, it is probably because the same architectural firm designed and executed this. CHECK THIS

Besides the great room, you want to hear a bit about the staff. The hostess was on her cellular when the twenty-something MiniCritic arrived, ignoring her at the door for some time as she finished up with her phone call. The Critic, being a 50-plus male, had no waiting at the door.

The Mini Critic and Better Half had arrived before the Critic and so when the Critic sat down, brought in by the hostess, he expected a waiter to pop by to see if he wanted a drink but alas, this was not to be. The Critic flagged down what turned out to be the waiter and asked if a drink order was possible. The waiter seemed a little upset and perfunctorily answered the questions without much in the way of friendliness. Throughout the lunch, the service was lacking and every time something was needed, Critic and Co had to flag someone down. At one point the Critic stepped outside for a phone call and when the waiter also stepped outside, there was not a flicker of recognition on the waiter’s face as they crossed paths.

Now it may seem petty and trivial to narrow in on these details but when you see how much money they have invested in the decoration and architecture, this lack of training by management is unforgivable in the Critics never humble opinion.

The food, including some XXX and a rather massive cowboy steak (it was the Critics birthday) was excellent and cooked to order as asked. There was a lost sales opportunity in that the waiter did not mention the sides that were available. These were on the menu, but the wait staff should – again in the Critics never humble opinion – reinforce these options and make the effort to get the sale.

The Moscow Mule was great and did pack a kick, as it should, but here, no one came around to ask if another drink was desired. Another missed sales opportunity.

In the appetizer department, the bone marrow topped with escamole or ant eggs (popular in Oaxaca) won the Most Exotic prize, while the pear carpaccio with goat cheese and other curious ingredients, took the award for most surprisingly delicious appetizer. The dry noodles were tasty but eat too much of this and you will not have room for your main course.

All in all, the restaurant is a beautiful place and is new, which means it is full of the young rich hipster and NiNi crown who have more money than you probably do and can afford such luxuries without having the neurotic demands that someone like the Critic manifests in his picky observations. The food is good, albeit expensive. The service, like so very many restaurants in the formerly white city, is not at all commensurate with the quality of the food and beverages and the decor. It seems that Merida restaurant owners are not too concerned with providing a quality experience in every aspect and frankly, the clientele apparently attaches precious little to the concept of being served decently.

Tal para cual.

Tuna, crusted with pistachio

Ceviche with fried calamar

Here you can see a little of what they have done with the ceiling. This is wood.

Another shot of the pistachio-crusted tuna

The cowboy steak, a bone-in rib eye cooked to perfection, no sides and no distractions

Cowboy meat and fat close-up.

Bone chunks (marrow inside) topped with escamole ie ant eggs. Really. Quite Decadent. (appetizer)

Fideo Seco, or Dry Noodles (appetizer)

Pear carpaccio (appetizer)

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Bistro Cultural

It was their anniversary, it was very busy and the Critic won’t pass judgement on the experience he had this morning with the Better Half and several other, local guests. Breakfast was long, leisurely (not for the two waitresses desperately working the entire restaurant inside and out) and the food delicious. Good coffee too.

The space is cozy and attractive and chef Yohann kind in his attention to his guests.

Some serious swinging music in the garden

Some serious swinging music in the garden Part II

The garden patio, full of happy eaters

Inside

View to the street, from the inside

Pretty flowers as centerpieces throughout

Creme brulee

Isla flotante

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Soberana Steakhouse

The discrete Soberana restaurant, tucked into the bottom of the Santa Lucia hotel, might be overlooked with all the more visible eateries in the Santa Lucia square across the street (60) but it shouldn’t be.

Chef Andrés Zapata has created a meat-lovers menu and even sells some of the rubs that have made him somewhat of a local legend in the local culinary scene. That and his personality which displays none of the dickiness of other more diva-like chefs, make him one of the most sought-after personalities when it comes to events featuring barbeque, grilling and the like.

On this visit, the Critic had been invited to sample the new menu and in the absence of a recuperating Better Half, the Critic invited a second critic to help try the new meat offerings.

Frijoles Puercos

The first item to grace the table was a small bowl of beans, cooked non stop and served with black corn chips. The thing that makes these beans decadent (they are called Frijoles Puercos) is that when cooking up meat in the kitchen, the pot is always on the back burner and chef Andrés throws in whatever meat juices are bubbling up and left over, resulting in extremely flavorful and deliciously fatty beans. Cholesterol warning in effect.

Chef Andrés taking a momento to crack a joke. This Critic has never seen Andrés in a bad mood, ever.

Rubs to take home

Soberana’s take on Mac & Cheese

The Critic let the chef decide, although anything off the menu was available to try. First up? The Mac and Cheese. It could use a tiny bit more cheese but the creaminess and the addition of caramelized “million dollar” bacon was amazing.

Smoky fish tacos on Panela cheese tortillas

The second appetizer was smoky fish tacos served on panela cheese “tortillas” Anyone familiar with dieting and panela cheese knows that this is a cheese-like substance, far removed from anything resembling tasty cheese. An interesting and probably healthy concept, but as far as flavor goes, eat the topping, skip the cheese.

Salsas

Main course – picaña steak, prepared tableside by the master grill chef himself.

For the main course, and to share, the picaña beef steak, cooked to perfection. The flavor of this cut was truly mouth watering and this is the steak the Critic highly recommends you order. Andrés will prepare it with it’s juices , at your table.

Preparing the Picaña

Delicious!

Prices are reasonable and this is a good alternative to mix things up a little in Santa Lucia. You can eat in the restaurant or enjoy a limited menu on the park itself, where there are some tables and chairs set up so you can have your conversation drowned out by the musical acts, if that is your thing.

Casual Restaurant Critic at Pan & Kof.fee

OK thanks very much – the anticipation of going to Paris and sitting in a sidewalk cafe, munching on fresh baguettes with butter is now a thing of the past. It appears that the folks at Pan & Kof.fee are trying to discourage travel to France with their most amazing baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolat.

The Critic has not tried bread this good since discovering Monique’s sourdough and Petite Delice’s pastries, so whenever you are downtown, do stock up. Recommended are the baguettes and the ciabatta as the loaf had too much air in it and the butter and jam went directly through the holes in the bread and onto my plate.

The restaurant – it is a restaurant as well – is drop-dead gorgeous and you can see the bakers in action with their ovens on the second floor, which is clever. Staff are beyond friendly and completely bilingual, at least the ones that looked after the Critic and his Better Half.

Located on 43 at 58 more or less behind the Palacio Canton museum or whatever it is this week.

Los Tiburones – Telchac Puerto

An afternoon on the beach in Telchac and a rumbling stomach with a hankering for something fishy? Try Los Tiburones right in the main square of Telchac Puerto, a half block from the pier and the cheesy shark thing to take your selfie in or the giant wrought iron bench to sit on.

Food is excellent, prices are moderate, and the service, given that the hated temporada was over and done with and the hordes having returned to their places of origin, was great.

Recommended!

Byblos Lebanese Restaurant – Club Libanés

The Casual Restaurant Critic and Better Half recently attended a small, family and friends wedding reception which was held at the Byblos restaurant in the Club Libanés, or Lebanese Club, where all the paisanos hang out on Sundays and where the debutantes’ photos line the walls. The club in itself is not much to speak of – as a venue for social events it is popular but not particularly appealing – but the restaurant has long been a Merida staple for solid Lebanese fare, home-cooked and delicious. On this occasion, the reception took advantage of the buffet, with many classic dishes represented.

From ftoyer to labne to garbanzo to gallina to kippeh to tabouleh, everything was delicious and far too filling to enable the Critic to try more than each dish twice. The service was gracious and the air conditioning cool. Prices are reasonable and if you want to be a Merida resident, you must have visited here at least once.

Kippeh crudo – raw meat, onion, mint

Kafta, or ground meat skewers, without the skewers

Ftoyer, filled with spinach or some such leafy vegetable

Kibbeh, Kipeh, kibi… many varieties of names. These are good but the ones from MIR are better.

Arrolladitos de parra, or wine leaf wraps (there’s meat and rice inside)

Arrollados de repollo aka cabbage rolls. Again rice and meat inside

Gallina rellena. This means stuffed hen. I don’t see the stuffed part, but this dish was the best of the buffet.

Marmalade Barra de Cocina Norte – It’s Open!

photo of the locale Marmalade Barra de Cocina Norte

Discretely tucked away in the corner of the Bon Ami Plaza (yes that’s really its name)

Tucked away in a corner where the Pho restaurant used to be, surrounded by defunct storefronts in a small commercial plaza on a congested avenue that has the most ridiculous amount of little L shaped shopping centers in Merida, Marmalade is a welcome addition to the area and, judging by the quality of the food and service, guaranteed to remain for some time. This is refreshing since there are so many people that have more money than business sense who are throwing their money into any and all kinds of businesses doomed to fail because they really have no idea of what the hell they are doing.

Location at the bottom of this article!

But I digress. Marmalade is not one of these.

Having visited the location on 47 on two occasions, the Critic decided that Better Half needed to experience the food and service that Dawn and Stephanie are throwing out there. And what an experience it was. Three delicious breakfast items ordered and eaten with gusto, and fragrant baked goods for the ride home (LOL) along with the kindness and attention of the hosts, make this restaurant the new favorite breakfast spot in this part of town.

Each plate and food item is a work of art, the plating/presentation beautiful. Everything tastes spectacularly good and everyone who works here seems to be happy to be there looking after guests.

The Critic had used up all his jam on the toast that came with the breakfast but there was a slice left. Dawn generously brought over another kind of jam just to be able to put something on that last piece of toast. It was a home-made pineapple and serrano jam. Truly amazing!

The Casual Restaurant Critic (and the Better Half) cannot recommend this place highly enough. A perfect spot for a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast – this is Marmalade Barra de Cocina!

flowers, table setting, restaurant, Marmalade, Merida

Fresh flowers on every table

desayuno

Marmalade Breakfast – eggs, bacon, toast, homemade jam and hash browns too

Home-cured lox

wafles, fresas, crema batida, light, desayuno, Merida, Marmalade

Waffles with strawberries and whipped cream

Pineapple and serrano jam. Really

Location location location! There’s a map and everything!

https://www.facebook.com/marmaladenorte/

 

 

 

Casual Restaurant Critic Breakfasting at Habanero’s

A quick breakfast at Habanero’s which at 11 AM was surprisingly full of people. Better Half and the starving Critic had 30 minutes to snarf down a breakfast. Both had been here before and were always happy with the food and the service, and today was not disappointing at all.

The food is great and comes out of the kitchen fast, the salsas are still made to order (you pick the chiles and ingredients and they hand-grind them for you in a metate and the service has only gotten better with time. Everyone is friendly and people stop by the table check to see that everything is good.

Highly recommended for a filling breakfast or some real Yucatecan food at lunch. Valet parking too, if you are in a hurry.

Chilaquiles w mole and dos huevos

Salsa de tomate made to order with the chiles of your preference

Huevos with longaniza sausage. There’s enough huevos to feed a small village here

crabster photo, napkin

Almadia which quickly turned into Crabster

Late Seafood Lunch /Early Dinner in Progreso Part I

Better Half and the Critic were in the mood for fish and since a new restaurant had been announced, it was decided that they should go and try it out.

Almadia is a beautiful beach-front restaurant that looks like something from an architectural magazine, a stunning new addition to the restaurant scene at least in looks. For one thing, it sits diagonally on the malecon, just a few houses from the famous Casa del Pastel, and not aligned with the street out front, which sets it apart immediately from all its competitors, as do its modern columns and glass.

Almadia is a stunning addition to the Progreso waterfront

If only they had spent the tiniest fraction of what that architect charged on training staff! BH and CC went in, met no one at the door, had several wait staff pass right in front without so much as an hola and finally a hostess appeared in 4-inch heels and showed the Critic to a table. There, the Critic and Better Half sat and sat for the longest time, waiting for someone – anyone – to return to the table to offer a drink, at least. The hostess returned to her duties of doing Something Important on a clipboard with one or more of the staff members in another part of the restaurant.

Still hungry and bemoaning the tremendous waste it was to spend this much money and effort in creating a new restaurant and then not have anyone trained to run it, the Critic decided that enough is enough, and got up, took Better Half by the arm and left. There was no effort made by anyone to stop the Critic from leaving or even to say hasta luego.

Still, knowing the owners, there will be another attempt at this beautiful restaurant!

Late Seafood Lunch /Early Dinner in Progreso Part II

Crabster is, even when busy and everyone is running around like headless chickens, pretty much a guaranteed thing and after the disappointing experience down the street, the hustle and bustle of Christan Bravo’s seafront restaurant was a welcome sight.

Here, Better Half and the Critic enjoyed what they came for. A view of the beach, the smell of salt air and some good seafood washed down with some frosty micheladas. The awful street entertainment out front and the garbage trucks picking up trash from bins was a distraction, but not anything that Crabster could do something about.

Fresh guacamole, a deep fried grouper, some shrimp. Delicious. Gracias Christian!

Crabster in Progreso was reviewed previously in February of 2017 here.

Michelada!

Guacamole

Shrimp

Pescado frito – deep-fried grouper

 

Eureka Revisited

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better Half, does not partake in the usual summer vacation activities known as la temporada. Instead, they stay home in Merida and on this quiet Sunday afternoon, visited their favorite Italian restaurant, Eureka.

Fabrizio was in fine form and before too long, the entire place was packed with families looking for some delicious home-cooked food.

Service, as usual, was sparkling and the specials of the day were sublime. Better Half exclaimed that this was the best dish she had ever had at Eureka, and she has been there quite a few times with the Casual Restaurant Critic, since this is probably his favorite restaurant in the city. This is one of only two Merida restaurants where the Critic will leave the dish preparation entirely in the hands of the chef (when possible) and be deliciously rewarded for the vote of confidence with a mouth-watering creation.

Salmon carpaccio

Salmon carpaccio

Special of the day – homemade focaccia w bresaola, pear and a gorgonzola cream dressing

Special of the day – homemade focaccia w bresaola, pear and a gorgonzola cream dressing

Special of the day – a most amazing ravioli dish with pistachio/salvia sauce, the pasta pillows are stuffed with homemade sausage and cheese