Sep 26, 2008

No Smoking Update - VIPS

The Critic had lunch at La Rueda and it has joined the ranks of non-smoking restaurants which is probably a good thing because there was no way you were going to be able to divide that tiny place into smoking and non smoking sections.

The real news is that VIPS, that Denny's clone from Mexico City (Wachilandia) still allows smoking in it's area reserved for those of us that still partake in the nasty habit.

How VIPS does this while everyone else is making their places exclusively non-smoking is a mystery to me. Perhaps it is because their food is so mediocre - with the exception of their great Caldo Tlalpeño which the Critic enjoys every Tueday night - and their service so lackadaisical that it doesn't really qualify as a 'restaurant'?

If anyone has any clues, please enlighten the Critic! Thank you.

Sep 25, 2008

La Rueda - Argentina in the Boonies

It's good to be back in Merida!

For those of us that live in Merida's norte, getting to La Rueda is a bit if a drive. But the Casual Restaurant Critic is happy to report that it is probably worth it.

On a sunny midweek afternoon which turned into a downpour by the time lunch was over, the Critic and some amigos went for lunch at La Rueda. After hearing so much about this place, the Critic had to see for himself what all the fuss was about.

The restaurant is surprisingly easy to find, and Jorgitos directions couldn't be simpler. It is a non-descript little place on a corner, a converted house, that had a large sign on top and, as Jorgito noted, a rather conspicuous collection of nice cars out front.

On this occasion, no waiting was necessary and a table - one of about 8 in total - was had in the middle of the air conditioned restaurant. The decoration is unpretentious but pleasant; nicely put together posters, photos and memorabilia related to Argentina is all over the walls.

The 3 amigos ordered a salad to share, which featured real, crisp romaine lettuce, fresh tomatos and strips of prosciutto tossed with a vinagrette dressing. Refreshing. Soft drinks were ordered and since the Critic believes that red wine is good for you, a glass of Cuné Rioja.

As for meat, one of the amigos ordered the veal, while the other amigo and the Critic ordered the churrasco steak. Once the meat arrived, which took a little while, it turned out to be delicious. The chimichurri sauce was, in the Critic's humble opinion, not needed. A little fatty around the edges, it was perfectly seasoned and cooked and came with a mashed potato garnish that was not very warm and half of a grilled sweet onion. Superb.

Suprisingly, the desserts were not only original but tasty as well! The Praline is what appears to be a homemade hazelnut and almond ice cream and the chocolate pyramid was delicous as well.

The Critic had heard that the prices at La Rueda were ridiculously cheap; one of the amigos mentioned that the menu had had a serious price hike since his last visit. Since he is of Lebanese descent, the Critic believes him, because if anyone notices these things, it's a paisano.

The bill for the three people, for the food mentioned above, was - with tip - $810 pesos. This is not a lot lower than the bill for 2 meats and a pasta at La Recova on Montejo, reviewed in August. In the Critics opinion, both restaurants are excellent in food quality and service; perhaps the Montejo version is a little nicer in terms of the actual room.

On a scale of 5, this place rates a solid 4.

On a completely unrelated side note, the Critic and amigos finished their lunch just in time, as a comandante of the local police and his family were sitting down to have lunch. With all the drug violence in the formerly white city these days, it would be unwise to remain in such a small space in the immediate vicinity of a police official, one could safely assume. Also, what caught the Critic's eye was that the officer sat with his back to the plate glass sliding door entrance, a move the Critic wouldn't have undertaken if he were a member of the police force. Of course, two bodyguards were left on either side of the door to watch for anyone that looked fuereño and suspicious, but a machine-gun drive-by could have made quite a scene...


Sep 23, 2008

The Casual Restaurant Critic on Smoking in Restaurants

The Casual Restaurant Critic would like to inform the 19 readers of this blog that Mexico - and even Merida - has joined the ranks of the cities, states and countries that have imposed upon their citizenry smoking controls of some sort.

While in Canada, the Critic noticed that not only are there no more 'smoking sections' anywhere to be found in restaurants or bars, there is no smoking outside the restaurants or bars either, and a new bylaw in the city of Vancouver for example, now prohibits smoking within '6 meters of any entrance' to the building. This means, wherever there are several small shops and restaurants together, like Robson or Denman streets for example you can't really get 6 meters away from any entrance. The Critic calculated in several areas that the 'smoking hot spot' (and it could be labeled as such, much like the WiFi hot spots in public areas) was in the middle of the street.

Of course there are ways around this; Canadians are generally very law-abiding but the smoking crowd is a little more rebellious. At many Starbucks locations, for example, smokers (or staff?) have moved one or two outdoor tables away from the other ones thereby creating a 6 meter illusion and bonafide smoking area. I mean, who can imagine coffee without a cigarette?

And now Merida has joined in in the no smoking fun. The Casual Restaurant Critic went to have a salad at Italianni's and there were no smoking signs everywhere and the place smelled of ozone. Those little injectors are everywhere it seems. Same experience at La Tradición. Also, at La Susana in Kanasin! The Critic was amazed at how civilized Merida has become.

It seems, however a little silly, all this fuss about smoking, when when people are literally losing their heads in drug wars, the land is being cemented over, every last living green thing is being chopped down, the water table is being contaminated, people still can't drive and there's no one to teach them, poverty is growing among the poor in the Yucatan's countryside at an alarming rate along with drug use and crime, wages are stagnant, and and and. But now we have no smoking in restaurants and this is progress at last.

Sep 18, 2008

Coffee Cup Café - Boulder City, USA

On the road...

Just outside of Las Vegas, on the way to the Hoover Dam, lies this charming little hamlet, which deserves a stop on it's own because it is really quite lovely. However, the reason the Critic stopped here on his way to the Dam, is because the concierge at the Palace said "stop at the Coffee Cup; it's great".

These are the kind of local, insider tips a food addict like the Critic loves and appreciates, so not stopping was not even an option.

It's a diner, it's on the main street in Boulder City and it's reeaal casual. No uniforms, no "hi I'm Madison and I'll be your server", no maitre'd, no celebrity chef photo hanging outside. It's great! Finally, the real thing!

The Critic had the Chicken Fried Steak with eggs and hash browns. Huge, somewhat greasy and extremely satisfying!

Breakfast for two here will run you about $20 or less and is a welcome break from the crowds, the plastic and the blinking, flashing lights of Las Vegas.

Lotus of Siam - Las Vegas, USA

On the road...

Do you like Thai? The Critic likes Thai.

In Las Vegas, hidden in an ugly shopping center on Sahara called (it's an original name no doubt) Commercial Center, is Lotus of Siam.

Lotus of Siam, if you do some digging on the internet, has a lot of fans! The accolades and magazine and major newspaper write-ups can be read in their entirety while you are waiting for a table, since they are posted in their tiny waiting room, where you will wait for a table as your nose starts to send urgent messages to your stomach as a result of the aromas emanating from the kitchen. "Best Thai Restaurant in North America" says one such article. Oh yeah, you say which magazine said that? Gourmet magazine that's who.

The Critic does not know if it is the best in North America or Las Vegas (or even Sahara Blvd for that matter) but it is extremely good and highly recommended. A meal here will be better, more satisfying and much more delicious than someplace on the strip or in one of the hotels.

The Critic usually orders more or less the same things: the Pad Thai, which, if you are familiar with, is a complex mixture of flavors and textures when done right and a mass of peanut-y goo when screwed up. Here it's the former. Also there is the soup, whose name once again escapes me, but it has lemon grass, coconut milk, shitaake mushrooms, ginger and is served in a pot to share with whomever is lucky enough to be sitting across from you.

Crispy duck is a must - there are three kinds, one is a little simple with Thai basil; another features a curry sauce and a third features.... something else. They are all delicious, having tried them on previous occasions, but the favorite has got to be the sauce-less one. It is such a flavor explosion in your mouth, if you include a basil leaf or two in your bite of duck, that you will think you have died and gone to heaven.

On this occasion the Critic asked for a recommendation and the waitress suggested crab salad. This was some kind of crab meat, lightly dusted and then quickly deep fried and served on a mixture of fresh salad greens that had a sweetish dressing on them. The taste of this dish was very light, fresh and delicate; have this one before the duck, definitely.

No room for dessert as usual, and the bill, with a beer or two, usually comes to under 60 dollars for two people. For that kind of money on the strip, you might get a main course for one.

Go there if you love Thai.

Sep 13, 2008

Water Street Café - Vancouver, Canada

On the Road...

The Water Street Café is another Vancouver restaurant that has been around for a long time, and while not part of a chain as far the Critic can tell, it has survived and maintained a stellar reputation as a great place for lunch or dinner.

It's located on Water Street, an original name for a street that ran along the edge of the... water, in historic Gastown. After living in Mexico and particularly the Yucatan for the last 20 years, the Critic always smiles when coming across anything 'historic' in the Vancouver area. The whole damn country is only about 100 plus years old!

There is a small but delectable menu, a decent wine list, good service and the room itself is casually elegant. The fact that it is located right in front of Gastown's main attraction, an old steam clock that blows strains of the national anthem (the Canadian one of course) every fifteen minutes and then a whole chorus on the hour, makes for good people watching while sipping on your wine. Watch the Japanese tourists jostling for position in front of the steaming, whistling clock to get their souvenir photograph. Great stuff.

Try the oysters (pictured above) pan fried and then served in this indescribably delicious sauce that will have you dragging the remains of your bread, trying to get all the gravy, because, like Ricardo Montalban used to say, it's good to the last drop.

A tradition for the Critic and the MidiCritic (not to be confused with the MiniCritic) the other dish always ordered is the Penne with BC smoked salmon in a light creamy sauce. Again, absolutely fantastic.

The MidiCritic always orders the same dish, the details of which usually escape the Critic's Alzheimer's-deluded/diluted mind. However, thanks to editing capabilities and occasional flashes of short-term memory, one can come back and edit, right? There it is right in the photo for crying out loud. It's homemade gnocchi stuffed with cheese and served in a pumpkin squash sauce and it is again, excellent.

The Water Street Café is a great place for lunch or dinner. Highly recommended.