Oct 28, 2007

San Bernardo de Sierna de Don Juanito - Valladolid

The other day, the Critic was invited to Valladolid to have lunch with friends. The restaurant chosen is the oldest restaurant in Valladolid, and it's a mouthful in itself: San Bernadino de Sierna de Don Juanito.

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

What is the Attraction of Konsushi?

The Casual Critic has had the opportunity, so to speak, to have lunch at this extremely popular sushi restaurant located behind the Pemex gas station across from Sam's Club on the Prolongacion de Montejo , thanks to invitations from extended family members who seem to enjoy it.
Do you enjoy hot, crowded, noisy, rushed-service sushi restaurants? Then this could be the place for you.
You can call him a snob, but the Critic cannot find anything remotely attractive about this sushi restaurant. The creamy dips and things give the Critic the willy-nillys (hygiene and temperature issues come to mind) and most of the rolls have artery clogging philadelphia cheese throughout.

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

Starbucks - November 9th, 2007 in Merida Yucatan

Here is living proof that the former Wendy's site, next to the Gran Plaza mall in northern Merida, will very soon be a hang-out of all the local wanna-be's who can afford to spend 40-60 pesos for their coffee.
One has to wonder why people get so upset about Starbucks coming into an area - Starbucks isn't exactly pointing guns at people's heads to make them buy coffee there are they? I mean if it bothers people so much, don't go and Starbucks will eventually leave. Business is business.
The Critic also wonders what all the coffee places are thinking? Will they re-train their staff to be better, friendlier and faster? Or will they throw their hands in the hair, stomp their feet and whine that it's 'unfair'.
The Casual Restaurant Critic gets a special kick out of the folks (American Walmart Bashers mostly he suspects) who lament the demise of the "traditional cafés" in Merida!
Let it be known: There are no traditional cafés in Merida!
A brief history of coffee in Merida:
The first one to offer a cappuccino was Mario's, a hole in the wall in Plaza Fiesta that served some pretty horrendous cappuccino complete with heavy carnation cream as milk and watery sweet coffee. This was in the mid-80's. From way back (probably as far back as the time of the Conquista, judging from the size of some of those rodents) there was the rat-infested Louvre who, along with many others, served (some still do) a piss-poor excuse for coffee, also known as agua de calcetin because it had the consistency and flavor of water that a well-used sock had been soaked in.
All the rest of the cafés in the Yucatan served Nescafé instant coffee. If you wanted black coffee, you got hot water along with your chipped plastic cup and a jar of Nescafé. Café con Leche? No problem - you got the same chipped grey plastic cup, this time filled with hot instant Nido milk into which you poured the instant coffee granules.
All the other coffee places came much later - Italian Coffee, the Coffee Factory, Segafredo, Café Havana, VIPS, Sanborns - and none of them are local.
This isn't Veracruz folks! There isn't even a tradition of drinking coffee in the Yucatan. Please don't make the ridiculous accusation that Starbucks will hurt all the local charming cafés because that's just a crock. Starbucks will only hurt them if they offer a superior product, in a superior environment, at a reasonable price. The Critic sees the latter as a problem, since Starbucks is pretty pricey and Yucatecans are pretty tight with their pesos... this could lead to a problem for Starbucks once the initial furor has worn off and the status quotient has reached it's zenith. Are there enough gringos with enough cash (remember that many come here because it's cheap and so are in the same boat as the Yucatecans) to support this Starbucks?
Anyway I will be in there from time to time for an espresso con panna, although I can already get this at Segafredo (they use artificial whipped cream though, ugh) and Italian Coffee, where it is pretty darn good.
Your comments are always appreciated.

Oct 3, 2007

Carls Junior Relocation / Wendy's Closes / Starbucks on the Way

For those of you who are fanatics of a decent hamburger (and who isn't) the sight of Carls Jr. closing their one and only Montejo location across from Sam's Club was terribly upsetting. Even more so when Wendy's also closed their location next to the Gran Plaza mall. While Wendy's was having some problems, they did have a decent burger... but who suspected that Carls Jr. was having any difficulties?

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.