Dec 29, 2007
With a small group of people, the Critic figured - based on a positive past experience and the fact that a French-run restaurant catering to a demanding European clientèle must have decent food - that the best lunch would be at the Club Med's "Villas Arqueologicas". Well, the Critic was wrong.
The small group of four ordered plain spaghetti, (without the Bolognese sauce as described on the menu), avocado with shrimp, guacamole, a Spanish omelette without chorizo for the group vegetarian and a Caesar salad. The shrimp served in an avocado was apparently very good (the Critic didn't partake since it wasn't a large dish for sharing), the guacamole fresh and tasty, but the Caesar salad was an absolute mess. Little bits of white Iceberg lettuce instead of green Romaine, flattened in the center of a small plate, and garnished with toasted bread triangles and boiled egg quarters around the edge. The Critic didn't recognize anything even remotely Caesar about this salad. The omelette was alright and the plain spaghetti was garnished with chopped parsely and had to be sent back to have the offending vegetable removed, since what was wanted was plain spaghetti, no more, no less. Not a difficult request, really. The most offensive platter was the Critic's own, the Poc Chuc. A piece of marinated pork slathered in red achiote sauce, served with the typical scoop of overcooked white rice, a dollop of black beans with some rubbery (not crunchy but rather, flexible) corn tostadas, soggy boiled vegetables and some salsa. This Poc Chuc was unlike any the Critic had ever eaten. Only the meat was really edible.
As for service, it seemed like the waiters were on Valium or something; they moved, talked and reacted as if sedated. Not particularly friendly, they seemed almost unable or unwilling to understand the Critic who was doing the ordering for the group. The Critic has lived in the Yucatan for 20 years and has quite passable Spanish, but from time to time, in out of the way places far from the city of Merida, this tends to happen a lot. It's almost like some of the locals don't coordinate what they are seeing (a blond Canadian) with what they are hearing (Yucatecan accented Spanish). At least this it the theory the Critic's Better Half proffered on one such occasion. The tortillas never arrived. The question "son hechas a mano" (are they made by hand) had to be repeated three times, each time slower than before, in order to be understood.
As for the restaurant itself, it's OK. There was no option for air conditioning, and so the group sat near the tiny pool under a fan, which was alright.
The restaurant gets a score of 2 out of 5. Don't bother; try some of the other offerings.
Nov 28, 2007
On this occasion, there was an actual hostess and the group had the pleasure of having a friendly, proficient waiter. The restaurant itself has undergone several renovations, featuring a semi-enclosed area near the street and large additional rooms in the back. Villa Italia has had staying power over the many years it has been on the Merida restaurant scene, and all this renovation proves the point.
The waiter suggested to the Critic that he try one of the daily specials, which was rabbit. Since one can't eat rabbit in Merida every day, the Critic decided against the pasta winking at him from the menu opted for the bunny. Seasoned, grilled and served with real vegetables and some grilled potatoes, it was a little on the dry side but very flavorful and something different for a change. Others in the party had salads and pastas, all of which looked and (according to them) tasted very good. Presentation was good; perhaps the table was a little small for 4 people.
While there was really nothing to write off as positively negative (!) and the Critic and Party enjoyed the experience, Villa Italia remains in a strange kind of gastronomic limbo in that it is not so unbelievably good that it's worth raving about, nor is it so absolutely awful that it is worth trashing. Perhaps another visit is in order to try the pastas.
Take it or leave it. From one to five, the Villa gets, from this Critic, a 3.
Nov 15, 2007
As in the last visit, the food this time around was absolutely wonderful; scrumptious queso relleno, hearty lomitos de valladolid, classic papadzules and crispy/chewy well seasoned longaniza. The Critic cannot find a flaw with the food.
The excellent service, such a rarity in Merida, was friendly, efficient and fast.
In fact, the only miniscule detail in detriment to the restaurant's rating, were the saucers (think cups and saucers) placed on the table as side dishes, but this is so common that the Critic has almost given up on this niggling detail.
The Casual Restaurant Critic maintains La Tradicion at a solid 4.5 out of 5.
Nov 3, 2007
The restaurant, a large room with an open kitchen and a view to the Gulf of Mexico was packed with locals, a lot of them sporting nametags which seemed to indicate that they were with some sort of convention or at least on company business. The Critic mentions this only to give the reader a better picture of what was happening, since the service was rushed and slow at the same time, if you get the idea. Rushed in that the waiter almost bounced while taking the order and slow in that it took him forever to get there in the first place.
The Critic's group heartily approved the frozen margaritas and piña coladas and ordered several to make sure that it wasn't a fluke. Apparently it wasn't. Along with the drinks came the requisite mini-servings of botana (snacks) which accompany every round of drinks in every restaurant on the Yucatan coast. At Flamingos, these were the hard corn chips, refried beans, ceviche, sikil-pak (pumpkin seed, roast tomato, cilantro paste for dipping) and fresh cut jicama strips with lemon squeezed on top and a dash of chile powder.
As for food, the Critic had a small 'back to life' mixed seafood cocktail, which was good but by no means an OMG moment; the rest of the group had San Francisco shrimp, featuring melted cheese on top - which by the looks of the clean plates were delicious - and Shrimp in Normanda' sauce, which was a white sauce, again with melted cheese as well as onions, bacon and other goodies in addition to the shrimp. Both plates were served with white rice and some steamed vegetables of the local variety. `
Only one person in the party had room for the desserts and ordered bananas flambé; one banana, split down the middle and served in its skin, flamed in liquors but not at the table which was a little bit dissappointing since some sort of show was expected but then it was just brought out. Maybe at night, when the setting is a little more laid back, they actually flame them tableside? The Critic doubts it since this requires a little more training in the waiter department and some sort of little cart and other utensils that were nowhere in sight.
Overall impression? Ehh. Nothing particularly wonderful. On a scale of 1-5, this is a middle of the road 3.
Oct 28, 2007
Apparently Don Juanito is now in his 70's and the Critic didn't have a chance to meet him, but did get a glimpse of his shotgun hanging on the wall, as well as a photograph of him carving up a roast pig on one occasion when the restaurant, still twice the size it is now, was filled with 2,000 people. The waiter informed the Critic's party of this fact; no historical sources were researched to authenticate this nugget of information. 2,000 people does seem like a lot... Also, the Critic's party members were intrigued by the stuffed 'pavo de monte', a pheasant like bird common to the Yucatan at some point, in an unlit glass case in one dark corner. The Critic suggested perhaps it was some offering to coincide with the Day of the Dead celebrations coming up, but the waiter informed everyone that the owner had shot this bird many many years ago and then had it stuffed.
The menu is ample and there is probably something for everyone. The Critic's party however, came for the Yucatecan food and for this hungry party of 5, the waiter suggested bringing out plates of all the Yucatecan dishes on the menu (there weren't that many after all, and the Critic's favorite, queso relleno, was reserved for Sundays only) and this was agreed on.
So, after getting plates, cutlery wrapped in a paper napkin and some watery agua de lima (lime water) with ice, the dishes arrived. The papadzules, soft corn tortillas stuffed with egg and covered with pumpkin seed sauce and tomato sauce, were delicious as was the brazo de reina, a corn masa loaf made with chaya (spinach-like vegetable very common in Yucatecan back yards) and also served with the previously mentioned sauces. The lomitos de Valladolid (small pork chunks cooked in a tomato-y sauce and seasoned to perfection were very good, while the poc chuc - a marinated and very flat strip of pork - was extremely tasty but unfortunately also cooked to the point of shoe leather. Cochinita pibil and it's feathered cousin, pollo pibil, which is essentially the meat seasoned with annato seed paste among other things and baked in banana leaves in underground pits, were also quite good, with the chicken getting mixed reviews from the others in the party. The Critic's personal favorite was the longaniza, the chorizo like sausage Valladolid is known for. Fried, it was crispy crunchy on the outside and smoky and flavorful on the inside. Wonderful in a hot tortilla all by itself with a dash of habanero chile salsa on top for an extra kick
A big disappointment were the tortillas, which arrived luke-warm and had to be sent back to be nuked in a microwave. Also, they were not hand made, but rather the assembly line stamped by a machine variety which are so common these days.
After dinner Xtabentun, a local liquor, was not available, since they had "just run out."
The service was excellent, the waiter most attentive and informative without being overly familiar as is occasionally the case when Mexican waiters are dealing with tourists.
Bathrooms are in pretty bad shape, considering that this is supposed to be a tourist town. They are not clean and there is no place for garbage as in paper towels when you have dried your hands. The toilets are of the hover variety, which means they haven't bought toilet seats so you have a choice of hovering or placing the delicate white skin of your buttocks directly on the unwashed porcelain. There is no flushing of toilets with paper permitted; the standard battered plastic bucket with used toilet tissue from previous visitors stands at the ready, presumably waiting for you to finish hovering. The soap dispenser, on the other hand, is electrically motivated, completely at odds with the rest of the 'ambience' and will make you jump when you place your hand under the dispenser and a light comes on, a motor whirrs and liquid soap squirts into your hand.
This restaurant is not bad, but has deteriorated since the Critic last visited it. What is needed is a thorough cleaning and revamping of the building itself with a special emphasis on the bathrooms since this will gross most people out. The menu is not bad but tries to cover too much ground and should be whittled down to emphasize the Yucatecan dishes; in addition, the Critic would capitalize on the fact that if it is indeed the oldest in Valladolid, the restaurant is practically a historical site and should be promoted along with the story of the owner.
And they might want to think about buying another bottle of Xtabentun.
SAN BERNARDO DE SIERNA DE DON JUANITO
CALLE 49 #227 X 48 Y 50 BARRIO DE SISAL
(985) 856 46 53
Rating? On a scale of 1-5, this restaurant currently gets a 2.
Oct 18, 2007
On one occasion, the Critic had to visit the washroom and, in spite of Mini-Critic's warnings against doing so, visited the men's room. The accompanying photo can give potential diners of what they will find. The complete absence of any aesthetic considerations is astonishing. Note the professional electrical installation with several wires sticking out next to the tiny sink. The lack of any kind of toilet seat on the WC is another nod to third world expectations.
If this is what is visible to the public's naked eye, what doesn't happen in the kitchen?
But they are a very popular choice. Price seems to be the main attraction, along with the fact that they are feeding to their clientele what that clientele thinks is exotic Japanese food. On weekends and nights, the place is jumping.
The Critic gives it a solid 2 out of 5.
Oct 16, 2007
Oct 3, 2007
Turns out though, that everyone can rest easy; Carls Jr. has reopened in the Mexico Norte colonia, in a new L-shaped shopping center (Mérida has so few, that it is imperative that more of these be opened almost on a weekly basis) located beside Planet Bol (bowl) which has won awards for it's clever use of local vegetation in it's landscaping and it's spacious parking lot. Not.
You will be glad to know that the Critic checked and the good news is that the burgers at the relocated Carls Jr. are as big, sloppy and tasty as at the original location; the service is somewhat lackluster and unenthusiastic and the Cartoon Network blares away for the benefit of the employees who watch glassy-eyed as Bob Sponge indulges in his latest adventures.
For those of you interested in the back story (chisme!), Carls Jr. is owned by the same folks that own Burger King and it seems that BK wanted the Montejo location and so Carls was sacrificed to give the King more visibility on Mérida's most important traffic artery, offsetting the imposing McDonalds just a few hundred feet away.
As for the Wendy's location, there will be a Starbucks there very soon. Yes, Starbucks is finally arriving in Mérida and it is rumoured that they will be opening in the upcoming malls at Liverpool and Altabrisa as well as that other one being built by Hines on the periferico.
Aug 5, 2007
If you are in the mall, Win Fa is a good option; there are real Chinese people in charge out front and in the kitchen and the food, while repetitive after a while (the Critic eats there frequently enough to know) is generally - and consistently - good.
If you should get a chance to peer into the kitchens back doors, there are several restaurants that you will never eat at again! Among the acceptable ones, Burger King, Win Fa and Los Trompos for tacos.
At Win Fa, there are two types of fried rice, with chicken or with shrimp and several hot 'entrees' to choose from. The consistently better tasting are:
- the grilled chicken or pollo a la plancha, which is just that, chicken seasoned with a light dose of 5-spice powder and salt. The downside is the saltiness which will leave you dying for water about an hour after eating, as well as the inclusion of chicken skin, which is floppy and not too appealing;
- the pineapple chicken also known as pollo a la piña, chicken chunks breaded and covered with a sweet and sour-y pineapple sauce; this is tasty but try to get it when they are refilling the steam table container from the kitchen as the breaded part loses it's crispiness from sitting in the sauce;
- Szechuan pork, with lots of vegetables and plenty of spicy kick.
There are other options, including a chow mein with regular pasta noodles that the Critic finds unappealing, spring rolls (one roll counts as an entree) and lately, chinese steamed buns filled with pork or chicken.
A filling two entree platter with rice will run you 45 pesos while just one entree with rice will cost you 38 pesos. Drinks like tea and jamaica are extra.
And remember, you will require hydration later.
For a fast food place, this one gets 4 out of 5.
Jul 26, 2007
Jul 11, 2007
La Tradicion is located between San Fernando and the MegaComercial, on 60 street. It is completely air-conditioned except for some tables on the terrace where you could theoretically smoke those stinky Phillipine-made Marlboro cigarettes you bough in Molas on the way back from Sotuta de Peon.
Being as it is July, and the heat is unbearable, the original choice for lunch, Colonos, was discarded and the Critic's group decided on La Tradicion, which the Critic had heard or read about somewhere.
Chef David Cetina was at the door to welcome the party and soon all were seated at two tables - real tables with real chairs, not the cheap plastic ones - and had menus in their hands. After ordering drinks (micheladas, horchatas and jamaicas) a waiter arrived with a small plate of refried black beans with tortilla chips and another with codzitos for snacking while the appetizers arrived. The beans were not only good, they were hot, a real first since at most restaurants they are served luke-warm. The codzitos were crunchy and smothered in what seemed like a home-made tomato sauce. Very good.
The appetizers arrived soon after; crispy longaniza de Valladolid and delicious papadzules. In fact, the papadzules were so good that more were ordered almost right away. The temperature was excellent (hot) and the tortillas fresh, the sauce tasty. And the tortillas were thick and hand-made. Nothing like a fresh tortilla, filled with crunchy/chewy longaniza (a kind of thin flavorful chorizo) with some nose-watering, tear inducing chile habanero salsa.
Then the main course - panuchos and salbutes were ordered along with the now-obligatory Critic signature dish, queso relleno. At first sight, the Critic was alarmed by the apparent small size of the bowl of queso relleno set before him, but that fear was soon allayed with an abundance of fresh tortillas which seemed to make the dish last for hours. It was delicious. While the Critic's better half commented that the cheese wasn't the requisite Gouda (or Edam) the Critic didn't notice and happily devoured his queso.
Afterwards, for the sake of investigation (and to further complicate an impending attack of sever heartburn later) flan and crema española were ordered for dessert. They were creamy and delicious as well.
The rest of the menu looked very good as well. At the table next to the Critic's party, a family was enjoying what looked like a very authentic-looking and generous portion of puchero de tres carnes, a typical Yucatecan platillo which you can't find that often these days.
The bill? $800 pesos without tip.
All in all, La Tradicion was a pleasant surprise. The Critic would highly recommend it to both locals and visitors alike.
On a score of 1-5, La Tradicion rates a solid 4.5!
Jun 28, 2007
Under the shade of a giant palapa roof, with the breeze from an approaching storm to break the June heat, the Critic and Co sat down for a cool beer and something to eat.
As appetizers, empanadas de queso, which arrived promptly, the golden corn masa crispy on the outside with melted cheese inside and a little tomato sauce on top. Papadzules were very good as well. Before that, the cold beer arrived with two botanas: sikil pak, which is a traditional pumpkin seed and tomato paste that the Critic is extremely fond of, and a spicy mayonnaise-y cream.
For a main course, the queso relleno, another absolute Critic favorite. The cheese was abundant, the k'ol was not too thick and overwhelming, and the amount of raisins, capers and ground meat (pork and beef is called for in this recipe) was just perfect. Tortillas were hot, corn and reasonably fresh, although not as fabulous as the thick, handmade works of art served in Mani.
After polishing off at least 8 mouthwatering tacos from this one serving of queso, the Critic had had enough food to last him the remainder of the day, thereby precluding a previously planned nocturnal excursion to Kanasin to show off those panuchos and salbutes to his visiting guests.
Service was fine and overall, it was a perfect end to the Sotuta Hacienda tour. Rating? The Critic gives it a 5 on this occasion.
Jun 22, 2007
There is no comparing the quirky atmosphere, the decorations; the ambience, that permeates the original Susana. At this sucursal (branch), admittedly easier to get to than the original and located in the afore-mentioned colonia, directly across from where the Cine Maya once stood, there are much fewer decorations, the waiters aren't as funny, the furniture is plastic Coca Cola red, and the street is right beside your table. Last night, there was also the added bonus of live entertainment in the shape of a wach (tenia aspecto fuereño) scratching a battered guitar and attempting something resembling music. The Critic and Co hate live music while eating and tried not make eye contact.
The food is very good, as in the original. The obligatory menu was had consisting of salbutes and panuchos, caldo especial and a taco each of chicharra. Portions are huge, again as in the original. Drinks were aguas de pitaya and chaya, two local flavors that you, dear visitor, must try at some point while in the Yucatan.
Service was good and the Critic was impressed with the speed in which the ordered food appeared at the table. Too speedy, since everything arrived at once. But that way, you can work your way through the panucho and the salbut, dropping bits and pieces into your caldo, which is cooling off while you eat.
Prices are ridiculously cheap; perhaps a little over those of Kanasin. The total bill for two fruit waters, 2 salbutes, 1 panucho, 2 small caldos and 2 tacos de chicharra, came to $145.00 (pesos!) At today's exchange rate, this works out to around $13 USD for a very filling, belt-popping, cholesterol-level-boosting dinner.
On a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best) the Critic subjectively awards the Susana Internacional's second location a hearty 3.
*poch - A Mayan word meaning to be in the mood for something. Also when you are feeling in need of a hug, your mood can be described as 'poch'.
Jun 4, 2007
- friendly service from quirky waiters;
- overflowing and oversized panuchos and salbutes;
- caldos loaded to the rim with actual shredded roasted pavo aka turkey;
- delcious, crunchy and chewy chicharra (pork rinds);
- refreshing natural fruit (and nutritious chaya) drinks
- amazingly accessible prices;
- that friendly parking lot guy.
In addition, La Susana Internacional, located just across from the El Chisme II store in beautiful (ok maybe a little less than beautiful) downtown Kanasin, had, on this most recent visit at 11 om on a Saturday night, an hipil-clad hostess to welcome patrons and there was a shiny, brand-new menu complete with package combo suggestions for 2 to 8 people.
Still haven't been there? What on Chaac's good earth are you waiting for?
May 29, 2007
The Sirloin Stockade is located beside the low-budget chintzy gambling (when did it become legal to have casinos in Mexico anyway?) joint known optimistally as Juega y Juega which means Play and Play, or Gamble and Gamble (no Procter). This creatively original nomenclature is similar to the Gran Plaza Food Court, which was called at one point Food and Food. Note that the casino is not called Juega y Gana, thereby warning you in advance that you won't be retiring with your winnings.
How to describe the Sirloin Stockade from the outside? The architecture could be described as strip mall disposable, with the boxy look, the windows flattened against the exterior walls and the sign un-aesthetically pasted on the facade. The color is a pale, creamy yellow. Upon reaching what appears to be the entrance, one learns that this is in fact off to the side, thanks to the crayon-wielding signage supervisor who has scribbled on the darkened windows to that effect. The arrows help.
Once inside, the Critic and Family was forced to navigate a roped line-up similar to a bank, just that there was no one else, so around and around one goes to finally end up at a cashier. Hand scribbled pieces of white paper, left by the signage supervisor, were lying on three of the four cash registers making it plain that they only receive cash payments. Presumably, the last cashier may handle plastic. This was not confirmed, so if you should come here, bring cash just in case. The cashier immediately asked the Critic's Family what they wanted. The buffet only? With a drink? What drink? Buffet with a cut of beef? What cut of beef? Arrachera, rib eye, sirloin and others are available to choose from, all cost extra and that cost varies. The buffet is advertised outside as costing $99 (pesos) but the $25 charge for your refillable refresco will push you over that price.
It seemed rather disagreeable - to the Critic at least - to have to make these choices upon entering the restaurant without the benefit of a menu (later one was discovered above the cash area, but you can't see it if you are paying), a chair to sit in or a moment to get acquainted with the place. But it's a stockade, right? What can you expect with a name like Stockade.
The Critic's main thing is the food, so he will only mention in passing the huge, unappealing barn-like interior, the rushing waiters, the wrinkled-napkin-wrapped cutlery, the garbage strewn all around the entrance, the view of some gravel strewn with pieces of contruction from the window at the Critic's table and go directly to the food.
Apparently there is a lot to choose from: there is an Asian section, a salad bar, a desserts area, hot food area, roast beef and some other sections as well as a soup area. However, the selection is quite limited and it is challenging to encounter anything actually worth ingesting. The Asian section features some vegetables that can be mixed and matched with a selection of sauces; a cook will then grill them for you, teppan yaki style. Along with that, some cream cheese and cucumber sushi (nothing fishy was visible) and a piece of ham, a bowl of barbecue sauce and a platter of sliced and stir-fried (?) carrots. And fried rice. Perhaps this was a nod to Chinese cuisine? Who knows. But any Japanese person who sees the Teppan Yaki and the Sushi options will surely have a conniption. The Critic tried some rice and it was not bad.
The soups are of the corn-starch variety, with three options available: noodle (presumably chicken), cream of broccoli, a white, thick and unappealing barely-green paste and frijoles charros. While the beans were a little undercooked, this last soup was the best of the three.
Hot food? Well, the Critic didn't order any meat options with his buffet, so choices were limited to what was included in the buffet. The steam table featured: Spaghetti, bolognese sauce, garlic bread, fried potatoes, a fish dish, refried beans, salsas, roast turkey and gravy. Another area had some BBQ pork ribs, carrots (there was a special on carrots at Chedraui maybe?) and pale yellow third-world corn on the cob. There was a roast beef station, a little on the dry side, served with presumably instant mashed potatoes and equally instant gravy. Of all the hot food, the most edible was the pork and the beef. Did I mention that all-American staple of home cooking - the meat loaf? Here it is called 'pastel de carne' and it is a sickly-sweet crumbly abomination that bears no resemblance to any meat loaf the Critic has ever had in the U.S of A. Why not make a good picadillo (with the almonds, the raisins and other goodies) instead of trying to emulate a recipe from someplace else?
Desserts - like the soups - again heavily emphasize the influence of the Corn Starch Method of food preparation, with warm bread puddings in regular and chocolate varieties along with a warm cherry pie which was really apple but the crayon signage guy hadn't gotten around to changing the sign just yet. There are also extremely overbaked but edible chocolate chip cookies as well as that artificial, oil-based ice cream from the Taylor machines that you can sprinkle with marshmallows, Oreo bits and the like to your heart's content.
The overall impression was overwhelmingly dissappointing. The Critic can not recommend this restaurant to anyone, for any reason. The food is unappealing both to the eye and to the palate, the service is indifferent (cashiers and people walking around; the waiters admittedly try hard to make tips), the ambience horrendous, the price nothing special that would override the other factors.
Critics' rating for this restaurant? A Casual Restaurant Critic 'first': ZERO
This will be a repository (is that a word) for my good friend and collaborator, the Casual Restaurant Critic. He will continue to review Merida's restaurants, both great and awful, and give insight into where you should divest yourself of both money and time, while ingesting calories.