Last night, the Casual Restaurant Critic, Better Half and friends had dinner at one of Meridas' newer 'upscale' restaurants, Acitrón.
The Critic had heard of the place and the wonderful food that the two chefs were preparing, and was expecting to be amazed. Unfortunately, the experience was underwhelming.
No doubt, the much commented-on Chaya Frita appetizer was terrific, a giant serving of chaya (a local plant always describe as a kind of spinach for lack of a better comparison) leaves, crispy, lemony and served with toasted bread and a tasty dip. Rolls are not warm, but the butter is seasoned and quite tasty.
The main dishes included Tequila Shrimp on a bed of coconut rice; the rice was fantastic with real live chunks of coconut but the shrimp, while large, had an aftertaste of frozen-ness if that is a word. They just didn't seem that fresh. There was also the fusilli in squid ink with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese, which was very good. The Critic had the salmon which was slightly undercooked but not overly so. The sauce, possibly tamarind - but then the Critics' memory is failing him - was sweet enough and complemented the fish nicely, as did the green rice which was delicious. In the Critics' opinion, the food could have been hotter, as it seemed only luke warm.
The room itself is warm, minimalist and lit up in plenty of red, making it cozy and modern at the same time. There was a problem with the electricity perhaps, because the overhead halogen lighting was flickering on and off. Music was off when the party entered, but some tunes came on about 30 minutes into the dinner.
The big problem here, like the Critic mentions in the previous Sensei Sushi post, is the service. If you have creative chefs in the kitchen working wonders with exotic ingredients and creating delicious food, why in the hell can you not have someone out front handling the service so it is up to par with the food? The waiters are in the "just alright" category; however, they lack confidence when presenting themselves and describing the food, and in the case of the Critics' table, the waiter could have benefited from a course in diction. His mumbling combined with the hesitant manner in which he described the food made it hard to understand what he was saying.
And while on the subject of Front of House, to serve a glass of Merlot ice cold was not to the Critic's liking at all. This is to be expected in some Yucatecan homes where wine is still a novelty but in a restaurant like this? Almost a sin. As well, maybe it's old fashioned but the Critic thinks it is a good idea to serve the ladies first. The mens' drinks arrived at the table several minutes before the ladies' drinks appeared. And when done, and the ladies are still eating, leave the men their plates so the women don't feel pressured. Just a few humble suggestions from the cantankerous Critic.
The chefs are doing their thing in the kitchen and doing it well. With a few tweaks here and there, they could eventually give Nectar a run for their money. But whoever is looking after their front of house needs to find work elsewhere to make room for a professional who knows what service is about and can bring that part of the experience up to the level the chefs are trying to reach with their imaginative culinary creations.
Check out photos of the restaurant on FaceBook