Feb 12, 2008

Cuban Grill - Gran Plaza Mall

There is a new place to eat in the Gran Plaza (actually, there are several new ones, but the Critic has a limited budget and who wants to spend it all on mall food, even if it is for research) called Cuban Grill, specializing in, you guessed it, Cuban food.

Tired of Win Fa (reviewed earlier on this site) the Critic and his Mini Critic visited the Cuban Grill for lunch the other day. What was found was a rather un-Cuban employee who stared back at the Critic with boredom, then offered some samples. Un-Cuban because you imagine a Cuban to be a little more lively. It was rather disconcerting to receive, from the naked hand of this sallow-faced employee, samples of their dishes placed precariously on toasted banana chips. Who knows where those hands have been...

They have Congrí, the traditional black beans and rice (or rice with black beans, depending on your point of view), which in this case is rather tasteless. The Critic had this, along with the garbanzo beans fried with chicken or pork, the Critic was unable to tell, and the afore-mentioned banana chips. The employee took great care to accommodate it all on an optimistically over sized Styrofoam platter, spreading the garbanzo dish carefully like peanut butter to make sure it covered the area it was supposed to and looked like more than it actually was.

All in all, it was a lackluster choice; the garbanzo dish was quite simple, which means it didn't really taste like much and the rice n beans was no better. That, and the lackluster attention received from the fellow behind the counter, made for a truly unspectacular lunch. The price? Under $40.00 for one person, which includes a can of soda.

From 1 - 5, this new place receives a solid 1. A waste of time, calories and money.

Feb 10, 2008

Fogoncito - Altabrisa Mall

There is a new taqueria in town, El Fogoncito, and it is yet another chain from Mexico City. They have a few locations around town and their newest one, the most ambitious in terms of actual real estate occupied is located at the entrance to the brand-smacking new Altabrisa Mall, located in, um, Altabrisa.

For those of you not from the area, Altabrisa is the newest area to be developed commercially in Merida, and it's all new. There's some higher end residential areas, the Altabrisa Mall built by the Gran Plaza people, the Star Medica hospital, the huge IMSS hospital and more. Car dealerships have all built spectacular outlets along the Altabrisa route, which is the street that winds its way from Plaza Fiesta (remember that mall!!?!?!) to the periférico and eventually Cholul.

A lunch at the Fogoncito on opening day left much to be desired. While the tacos are good, they are tacos and you can get a great taco anywhere, really. The 'chiste' or what makes or breaks a taco place, is the service, the salsas and the location. Here the Fogoncito, on their first day open, fell flat on their face. Service was spotty, with one section of the table (there were 10 people) getting their food order taken and actually getting their food before the other half even got the waiter's attention. The food came out in spurts (sounds disgusting, sorry) and everyone got something different from what they ordered which turned out to be a simple case of the wrong dish for the wrong person. Once that was cleared up, everyone got what they ordered. Wait staff (lots of different people) came and went, reaching across people to pick up dirty dishes and used paper napkins, setting down drinks beside the coaster that was waiting for the glass to be set on it. Much confusion all around in spite of the fact that there were about 30 to 40 wait staff people in the whole restaurant; it seemed that only 3 or 4 actually had any training before the doors opened.

The salsas? Completely unremarkable, most tasted like something you might get by opening a bottle or a tin. The food was alright, nothing to really write home about. The Critic had a selection of tacos on a platter, all of which were fine, but again, nothing special. The grilled cheese (a crispy flat roll - it's supposed to be that way) served as an appetizer was indeed crispy but besides salty, devoid of flavor. The guacamole was good but some of the tortilla chips were soft, and mixed in with others that were crisp, which makes one suspect all kinds of unpleasant things involving leftover tortillas chips and... Soft tortilla chips is a deal breaker in a taco place. I mean, really.

One thing that the Critic found really delicious was the horchata. Served with ice and with cinnammon sprinkled on top, it was, ITCHO (in the Critic's Humble Opinion) the perfect consistency and flavor.

On a scale of 1-5, the Fogoncito, this one at least, gets a 2. Don't bother wasting your time, calories or pesos here just yet. Let's wait a few months and see if things improve.

Las Gordas de Doña Gorda - Gran Plaza Mall

A newer option for a quick lunch at the mall is Las Gordas de Doña Gorda, which recently opened in the space formerly occupied by Crazy Pizza. That place served pizza that was so crazy that they didn't sell enough to warrant paying such a high overhead.

Anyway, if you are not familiar with the concept of gordas or gorditas, a word usually used to affectionately describe the wife (it means chubby, fatty and really is a term of endearment here), these are fat corn tortillas, cut in half, heated on a grill and then split so that they are hollow and can be stuffed. Fillings include things like cheese and roasted poblano chile strips, chorizo and potato, pork etc. The success or not of your gordita eating experience depends on who cooked those fillings and their degree of proficiency in making them extremely tasty.

The gordas in the mall are good, without reaching mouthgasm inducing levels of lip-smacking goodness. What makes them attractive is that they are very cheap. At about 10 pesos a pop, you can eat 3 or 4 of these and be very satisfied. Beware that the chile salsas that accompany the gordas are hot and that, in combination with the fact that the fillings are pre-cooked and kept at room temperature while they wait to be stuffed into the corn tortilla, can make your stomach have a violent reaction between 12 and 24 hours later.

Open during regular mall hours, from 10 am to 9 pm, next to Burger King in the food court on the second level of the Gran Plaza.