Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Italian Options in Centro

Trip Advisor list 33 Italian restaurants in Merida and a quick glance tells me I’ve eaten at only about a third of them.  A second glance and recent experience tells me I won’t be eating at the other two thirds any time soon.  This year Oliva Kitchen and Bar got a head start on the newly opened Dadaumpa but the latter will give Oliva a run for it’s money. The battle of the pastas will be interesting to watch and taste. Oliva has a tiny dining room that’s charming and cozy in the 90’s woodsy bricky way.  The roomier Dadaumpa has potential but at the moment has all of the charm of the dining section of an Oxxo and only half the comforts.  At Oliva the kitchen is in the dining room and so the service is good as they can never escape your gaze.  You’re not likely to get one of the six little tables so you’ll most likely wait at the tiny little bar.  You will be rewarded.  La Carbonara seems to be everyone’s favourite dish. Both restaurants offer homemade pastas and I prefer Dadaumpa’s rustic touch to Olivas. At Dadaumpa you should try the classics like putanesca, the arrabiata and above all the spinach and cheese ravioli, but ask for the Sorrentini sauce in place of the cream.  Dadaumpa has not quiet mastered the art of the cream sauce. At Oliva try the hearty Della Nona a yummy ragu or La Mora al Mare with calamari and shrimp in a saffron tomato sauce or my favourite the Raviolis stuffed with portabellos, pecans and Ricotta.  You’d be a fool to have a pizza anywhere in centro except Rafaello’s.  The thin crust pizza cooked in the wood oven on the patio by an equally crusty southern Italian are as good as anything you’ll find in Napa, Brooklyn or dare I say it Milan.  The pizza’s are big enough to share but you should order the anchovies so you don’t have too.  Rumor has it that Oliva is looking for a second larger location.  Dadaumpa has ordered new tables and chairs and has promised to replace the cold florescent lighting and put a candle on the tables…I’d take my own just in case.  Mercifully Oliva delivers, albeit tardily. We recently took out from Dadumpa and the pastas were equally good at home and the environment infinitely more charming.  I look forward to reviewing these restaurants individually as I gain more experience at their tables….or mine.

November 2014  another Italian restaurant has opened on calle 43 x 58 & 60 called La Casa de la Nonna.  Haven't tried it yet.  Tried it and it was absolutely awful.  February 2015

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Great Expectations and Greasy Donuts

As the food critic for The Times (Joanna Weinberg) was staying at Rosas y Xocolate and her two adorable kids were sleeping in the room down below we met on the terrace for drinks on a recent saturday night.  The overpriced wines went down smoothly and the New Yorkers in the group (Richard and Laura) explained the beauty of tequila and sangrita which lead to the merriment and the wish to have a little something to snack on.  We ordered 4 appetisers for the 6 of us and settled in.  The first two came amid the sound of plates crashing and smashing on the stairs...  The fritura del pescado was stone cold and it was explained to us by the waiter that the fried fish was always served stone cold (duh) Laminas de Atun in garlic cream was also refrigerator fresh though tastier than the insipid fried fish.  We asked if that sound of broken crockery had been our other two dishes and promptly canceled the order and moved ourselves down the road to Noche Mexicana but not before passing the owner Karole at the top of the stairs.  Luckily for Rosas y Xocolate they do not need my custom to thrive as they seem to be doing.  It's a truly lovely place to have drinks on the upstairs terrace and the jazz band is just jazzy enough.  The little patio downstairs is where I would always choose to dine were I to dine.  It's already time to redo the lobby and the dining room decor and I would recommend the design team who recently revamped the Hyatt's restaurant Amusa.

It's the first time I'd been to Noche Mexicana in a decade I guess.  Loved the kitsch stage setting it reminded me of the Saturday nights on the naugahyde sofa with wagon wheels watching Grand Ole Opry of my youth in Texas.  We had Ana Sabrina's famous tacos as the Tequila buzz waned...then to console ourselves the very wise and grease loving food critic from the UK ordered a dozen fresh hot Churros.  I shall no doubt go back for hot churros long before I find myself having frozen fish sticks at R & X again.   I'm looking forward to Joanna's article on Merida for Conde Nast Traveller UK and until then I'll check out her blog to see if gets around to reviewing the greasy fries at The Smoking Club No. 1 or panuchos in the Zocalo on Sunday.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Oliva, Like Vultures on Roadkill

I've gone often to Oliva only to find it shuttered.  Perhaps I always go on Sunday.  Below is the phone number in case you are the sort of person who likes to plan ahead.  My misgivings have turned into forgivings for the moment.  Upon entry Oliva just looks like any other Italian Deli/take out place from the 80's in New York but then you realise it's the dawn of  2014 and you are in Merida.  As it fills up, which is rapidly, as there are only 4 or 5 small tables, it becomes  as cozy as your favorite neighborhood haunt. When you can't get a table you order take out and go around the corner to your home to wait.  That is your first mistake.  We ordered at 8.30 the other night and got our cold food (which we devoured like vultures on roadkill) at 10.15...all of our order did not arrive and so we made a quick call which did get us our other two meals a little quicker.  It helped that the person who did not get her food is the neighbor of the owners I believe. When I say misgivings it's because I'm not the one to order pasta in a restaurant even if the chef owner is Italian and the pasta is home made like Oliva's. When I say forgiving it's because I've heard so many good things from so many people that frequent the place that I can forgive my first and only meal so far being stone cold squid ink noodles with rubbery overcooked squid and shrimp.  I believe that had I been served that meal hot at the table and sent it back, as one should, it would have come back to me promptly and perfectly cooked.  I have decided to be optimistic in 2014 and I've started practising early.  Like so many recommended places in Merida I'm afraid it's hit or miss.  I expect to update soon.

Updated 15 January 2014

At last I have succumbed to the charm of Oliva. The ravioli stuffed with goat cheese (Il Capretto) and served in subtile sauce of pimento and tomato was perfection.  The large green spinach salad with roasted beets and avocado (minus the bacon for me) was enough for the 4 of us to have more than a taste.  Everyone raves about the La Carbonara.  Yes it's worth waiting for a table in person given the long wait and cold food at the end of a phone call.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Oaxacan Food in Yucatan

Merida finally has a real “Mexican” restaurant.  Apoala in the newly renovated Santa Lucia parque is a dream come true.   I was reluctant to even try it until one night this month when four foodie New Yorkers and Josh and I were looking for a place to have dinner.  Three of the NY’ers had been to Apoala the previous night but didn’t say a word until we sat down.  They recommended the grilled shrimp on a bed of polenta and I was amazed.  Josh loved quesadillas with Oaxacan cheese and squash flowers and the tacos barbacoa.  Then Sunday night after a movie we went again with friends from Paris/Oaxaca/New York and three of us had the quesadillas and Josh had the octopus tacos.  We were all thrilled.  Last night, 3rd time in a week I had dinner with friends from NY who bought a hacienda 5 years ago and know my eating habits, as Laura said last night I was born jaded.  When everyone ordered top shelf tequila and appetizers I felt my wallet contract in my back pocket.  The place is a little bit too pricey for Merida Centro at least for expats who didn’t sell out soon enough.  Astonishingly everyone was happy with the first course and all six of us shocked and awed by each dish.  The house salad with seared tuna was perfectly dressed and fresh.  The conch ceviche I shall be having again as soon as possible.  The stuffed squash blooms would please any vegetarian. Apparently all of the tacos on the menu, especially the suckling pig, are divine though as a pescatarian I’ll never know.  The bill quickly disappeared as the New Zealander, our newest best friend, whisked it away. Twelve very happy customers in so many days.  Three excellent dinners for me and in my twelve years in Merida I’ve never been so happily fed after dark.  My one complaint would be the expensive bottles of water on the small tables. 

Update 8 December 2013  Inevitably I would discover another flaw in the best new restaurant in Merida dream.  This weeks meal was with friends in town from San Miguel de Allende and Los Angeles.  They were disappointed that there weren't more typical Oaxacan dishes on the menu.  That doesn't bother me so much.  What disappointed me was that for the first time we ordered more main courses than appetisers.  Not one of them was anywhere near the quality or taste of the starters.  The fish of the day I had was overcooked to the point of being rubbery and tasteless and served on a bed of tasteless floury mush they called gnocchi.  Josh's filet had all the charm of a freshly thawed steak which he ordered rare and it was in fact cold when served and tasteless.  The pasta, which I never ever EVER order in a restaurant was bland, boring and banal.  Apparently the Sopa de Lima de rez was OK (not stellar).  So my advise is to really just stick to that first section of the menu as that continues to be exciting and flavourful.

Update 15 January 2014  I continue to frequent Apoala and when I took the food critic from The Times there last week I gave them a little warning in advance that their entrees were disappointing and I had had reports about bad service and long waits.  I listened to their excuses and then told them that basically in a restaurant there are no valid excuses.  If the menu is too long for the kitchen to provide reasonable service from order to table then reduce the size of the menu.  The service was just a little too attentive after that and some dishes were better than others but over all it continues to be the best place in centro for gastronomy or just a decent plate of quesadillas and mescal.  Yes I meant the UK times not the Yucatan Times.

Update November 2014 Apoala now all the waiters know my name and I've settled in to my routine habit of ordering the same thing each time I go which is the house salad.  A mixed green salad with lots of grilled baby vegetables and seared tuna.  I never order the fish because I eat fish else where every week and I'm mostly vegetarian.  I do sometimes order the shrimp posole ceviche which has great flavor but strange texture for a ceviche.  Mostly I have salads or the excellent mole emoladas filled with quinoa (not pc) but delicious.  The squash flowers are always great too.  A friend recently went with out me and never got her guacamole after an hour's wait.  That happens to me all over town and I usually get up and go to the kitchen and ask WTF is going on and voila....guacamole!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Parque Santa Lucia

Sunday in the park with Ana Sabrina's divine tacos is still my favourite thing to do before I go to feed my chickens around the corner. But this summer (2013) the old arcades were renovated and new shops and restaurants have moved in and it's a lively place to dine alfresco at night.  La Tratto is an American Bistro with the kind of safe food you'd find in any American mall.  It is generic fare with no flare but it's a nice setting and you can dine or drink alfresco.  If they would cook the pizza in a hotter oven it would be crisp and enjoyable.  Much better food can be found across the park at Apaola the new Oaxacan restaurant.  Apoala is my favorite place at the moment and I've not experience the awful service and delayed meals I keep hearing about.  I like the appetisers much more than the main courses.

Having grown up in rural Texas where we had to drive ten miles to find a Dairy Queen I was appalled when one turned up with it's unfortunate signage in the arcades of Santa Lucia.  Since then I've come to regret the Butterfinger Blizzards and dipped cones even more.  Ki Xocolatil has a new location in the corner of the park and this is where you should have your coffee and sugar fix.

Sunday afternoons there's dancing and live music.  Thursday night there is a folkloric dance concert. Both can be very loud...ear plugs are de rigueur!

Update November 2014 
I personally think that Apoala is the best restaurant by far in centro.  The wait staff is now experienced and efficient.  The kitchen is now working twice as hard as before as the restaurant is always full and you'll need a reservation most nights if you go at prime time around 9 but not if you go early or late.

La Recova is a Argentine grill that I quit going to many years ago up north but they have just opened on the corner of the arcade. In fact they have barricaded the passage of the arcade and constructed 3 or 4 hideous obtrusive gazebos and taken over the south side of the park.  They have totally ruined the ambiance of the park.  I do hope they fail and soon.

Soon to open is a tapas bar called Bottela Verde  a great idea in a tiny little corner... more updates soon.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Trip Advisor WTF?

Here are the top 21+ restaurants  on Trip Advisor and my thoughts on them:

1. Cafe Creme
I thought it was going to be awful and it wasn't. We sat in the garden and we were not alone. I'm going back some day soon.  I had one of their croissants recently at Coqui Coqui and it was delicious.

I've not been there for two years and there must be a reason.  Heavy handed use of oregano.

3.La Chaya
Just plain awful.  Worse than I expected and my expectations were set very very low.  Pretty girl at the entrance and competent friendly waiters but when they don't ask you why you did not touch your main course I think I must not be first the person to hate it.  Oh & wilted brown greasy lettuce....yum.

4.Bruno Bistro Gourmet
Never been,  the word Gourmet scares me perhaps.

5.La Recova
Loved it the first 6 months and went there every week. Hated it the second 6 months after it opened and became trendy.  5 years later never been back.

6.Hacienda Xcanatun
The most consistent quality for the past 11 years of any of the restaurants in this price range.  The only really good Yucatecan cuisine I've had outside of the villages.  The restaurant interior reminds me too much of Miami but I love to sit on the terrace.

7. Helados Colon
This passes for the best sorbet in Yucatan and unfortunately it might be true.  It's not a restaurant though.

8.Hey Joe
Never heard of it.  Don't know where it is. Don't care.
All the reviews are from locals and it's an American restaurant so be very very wary.

Some people I know like this place.  I've never been.  I don't like stacked food and squiggles on my plate.

10. Hennessy's Irish Pub

11. Bel-Ami Cafe
I don't expect this will be no. 11 for long..It seems the owner has run out of friends to write reviews.

12.Trattoria La Pasta
I don't eat pasta at restaurants unless there is absolutely nothing else on the menu worth ordering.  I've heard less than appetising things about this place...never been.

Yuk Yuk Yuk a tan.  If you've ever eaten in the upscale restaurant in mall in America that hopes to become a chain then you've eaten at Trotters.  Have not graced the threshold in the past 6 years.

14. Casa San Angel
I've never had anything here that I loved and I've never hated anything about the place.  I recommend it for breakfast.

15. Marlin Azul

16.La Rueda
I'm a vegetarian but when I wasn't I used to go here.  Local steakhouse with lots of families and lots of TV's and bad accoustics.  But I did love the place.  Ask them not to salt your meat...

17.Casa Thai
Heard good things.  Gotta remember to go when I'm out in the boondocks.

18. La Pigua
I just cannot bring myself to eat here.  The food is not bad if you keep your order simple (not easy).
They use the cheapest fake olive oil on the salads and for me that says it all.

19. La Tradition
I want to try the new location but the huge photos of food on the facade have scared me away.  I've eaten some years ago at the old location near the Fiesta Americana hotel and the food was good though the atmosphere was ... off putting.

20. Punta del Mar
Can be good can be bad should be better than it is considering the owner chef knows what he's about.

21. Habaneros
I don't eat at restaurants with clowns passing out menu's ... However pre-clown I did walk in sit down read the menu and walk out .

26.  Rosas y Xocolate
It should probably have a higher rank.  This year it has been better than the past two years.  If you're going to splurge once I'd choose Xcanatun if your going to splurge twice I'd try RyX.

34. Ku'uk
I hear it's very Ku but I'm sure it's very Uk.  Afraid to go but someday I will.

38. Miyabi
I'm glad it's number 38 ... if it were in the top 10 where it should be there would be no table for me.  I go weekly as do most of my friends.

60. Alberto's Continental
It was once rated #1 in all the guide books.  I think the first review I opened it unfortunately correct. "Overpriced, Good Location-Average food"  stick to the Lebanese dishes ... but it's seriously overpriced for what it is.

Albertos is closed again.

I'm glad to see that most of my favorite places are very lowly ranked