The past week saw the Critic corraled by his Critic Family into having lunch at the Sirloin Stockade, one of Merida's newer entries in the world of franchise restaurants.
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