Food & Drink
A Culinary Treat: Chef Stefano Marcelletti and Chef Moises Ruiz dazzled the palate with Sapore di Mare
Wednesday evening August 15th, I ventured out of the Centro towards the north end of town to Oliva Patio restaurant for the Sapore di Mare, flavor of the sea, menu and wine tasting. I am a fan of Italian/Mexican Chef Stefano Marcelletti who has three restaurants in Merida: Oliva Kitchen, Oliva Enoteca, Oliva Patio and just opened another in Baja California: Oliva al Mare. His restaurants are a fine dining Italian culinary experience. I frequent Oliva Enoteca; it is about a 10-minute walk from my house and a favorite dinner spot for pretty much anyone living in Centro. However, I had only been to Oliva Patio once before, about a year and a half ago, with a large group of friends where I clearly remember enjoying grilled octopus and a carefree amount of vino tinto. We stayed late into the night, losing ourselves in the light of the flickering candles and absorbed in our animated—and modestly scandalous—conversation. It was a memorable night, one of those where while reminiscing you can hear Dean Martin playing in the background music of your imagination. Needless to say, being invited back for Wednesday night’s menu tasting was a real treat and an event I didn’t want to miss. My friend and I got there around 7:30 pm, a bit early for Yucatecan dine out standards, so we were the first ones to enjoy the menu tasting. Other guests started trickling in around 8:30-9pm. The interior and patio is an elegant and contemporary masterpiece designed by architect Genner Gabriel Loria Salazar. In the indoor dining area, there is a large window separating the kitchen from the dining room giving the diners the delight of watching the chefs and kitchen staff in action. The evening featured a five-course seafood menu and wine pairing elaborated by Chef Marcelletti as well as guest Chef Moises Ruiz from Guadalajara. The menu was alluring and didn’t disappoint.
Catrin Restaurant: Hip New Addition to Calle 47’s Culinary Boom
The newest addition to the growing culinary boom happening on Calle 47 between 56 and 52 in the Centro is a hip new restaurant called Catrin. As you walk in, you are embraced by the true spirit of Mexico. In the inside dining area, artist Jacobo Roa’s vibrantly colored paintings that depict Mexican popular culture are hung throughout the restaurant. Hanging from the ceiling is multi-colored papel picado and, characteristic of Yucatecan colonial houses, patches of exposed limestone rocks embellish the walls. Continue out to the garden and you are greeted by Roa’s huge mural in the center of which is the Catrin himself looking at you with his cane in hand, a sheepish grin and leaning up against a bar. Catrin was a term used to describe a dandy of the high society elite and then in the Porfirian era (1876-1911) the term became popular when catrines were seen walking in the streets with striped pants, a cane and a bowler hat. They became such a part of the popular culture in their time that their image became a symbol for the Mexican lottery. Dining at Catrin restaurant is as if you are walking through Mexican society’s popular past and present. This is an especially fun place for me to see come to fruition. I met Adrian Marcos, owner of Catrin, two years ago as we sat with friends talking over a shot of Don Julio tequila. He was telling me about his aspirations to run a restaurant. Now two years later, after having attended culinary school and apprenticing in Monterrey under decorated chef Alfredo Villanueva, Marcos collaborated with investors in opening a restaurant in the heart of Yucatan’s culinary capital. He has done it. During his apprenticeship in Monterrey, Marcos worked in two of Villanueva’s restaurants. First he assisted the chef in Romero y Azahar and then he formed part of the staff that opened a traditional Mexican cantina called El Botanero de Monterrey. There he became familiar with this style of restaurant and decided to bring it to Merida. The botanero is a popular style of dining in Monterrey which is similar to the cantina of Yucatan where the diner goes to have a drink and then is served many small dishes to accompany the alcohol. The difference is at a botanero the client orders and pays for the dishes and the botanas are heartier. They consist of meats, soups, elaborated vegetables and all hot dishes are served on a cast iron plate. They are smaller portions and the best is to order many plates to be shared among friends and family. Chef Villanueva flew in especially to design the menu and has elaborated a gastronomic tour of several dishes from all over Mexico. His kitchen focuses more on the flavor than on a gourmet presentation and his motto is “fresh ingredients, extraordinary flavors and well-prepared food”. There are nine cold appetizers and fourteen hot appetizers to choose from as well as a selection of main dishes, soups and desserts. The variety is impressive and the dining experience in Catrin exposes the patron to a world of Mexican savor. Catrin also serves as a trendy place to hang out and have some drinks with friends in the patio area. The bar specializes in cocktails and has a variety of spirits and beers to choose from. As mentioned before, there is a stunning mural outside and Marcos has attractive events planned for the outside patio. It’s a festive ambiance and as a group of friends and I discovered the other night, it invites the diner to stay not for just a meal, but for a long evening of great food, cocktails and laughs with friends. Jacobo Roa Gallery at Catrin: all Roa’s paintings on display are for sale.Address: Calle 47 between 56 and 54 Hours:1pm-1amLunch from 1pm-4pmHappy Hour from 6-8pm You can visit their website at: catrin47.comFacebook page: facebook.com/CatrinmidInstagram: @catrinmid
Browniques Youssef: Find Healing in the Best Brownies in Town
There are times in life when our biggest challenges are overcome by indulging in life’s simplest pleasures. Mexico is a land where a core part of their being revolves around food and family. In the Mexican kitchen, every ingredient is elaborated with tradition, pride and meaning. Monica, Sofia and Youseff’s brownies are no different. Elaborated with Ki Xocolatl mayan chocolate of the utmost quality, their filling of dulce de leche is stirred over a charcoal fire made in the tradition of her grandmother’s kitchen. They use no refined sugar, no preservatives. The brownies are a gooey mix of mouthwatering goodness. But most notable, they are infused with two of the most important ingredients of all: love and healing. The following is not only a story of the best brownies in Merida. This is a love story. It is a story of a woman’s love for herself and her family, the love that heals the deepest wounds and sparks a flame inside which reconciles and renews. Monica came from one of the most well-known families in Merida and growing up she never had to lift a finger. She was expected to study, but school was never a main priority because it was understood that she would become a mother and wife to another man from the same social status and she would continue to live as a kept woman for the rest of her life. And she was fine with that idea. As a child Monica had a passion for chocolate. She and her cousin would sneak chocolate from the candy jar in their nana’s kitchen and when it came time for her nana to bake brownies, she was right at her side helping with every step of the process, and licking the beaters of course! For Monica, the act of creating such a heavenly morsel of rich fudginess became a sacred process. She took great comfort in being in the kitchen baking and smelling the chocolate and when everything in her life seemed uncontrollable at least she could find calmness and comfort in making brownies. She met and married Rafael who was from a prominent Mexican/Lebanese family. They both dreamed of living in a small, intimate home where they had space to raise their family. Soon after getting married, they moved into one of his family's residences, a quaint house just for them. They painted, fixed it up and made it their home. They had two children a girl and a boy. However, their picture perfect world changed when they were faced with their first major challenge as a family. When their son Yousef was very young, he was diagnosed with Autism. In a society where social class and who you marry is a main focus in order to keep the status quo, having an autistic child created barriers for Monica. It was almost impossible to fit her nuclear family into such a square box. Youssef was not able to socialize and he and his sister Sofia barely interacted. Like the puzzle which represents autism, Youssef was a beautiful and colorful piece of a puzzle that whichever way you tried to position that piece, it didn’t fit into the puzzle of “normal” society. Determined to help her son become a high functioning autistic child, the first thing she thought of was to include him in the process of brownie making. She figured that because it brought her such pleasure and calmness, maybe it could help Youssef. Well, the first few weeks of this new experiment, Youssef was tormented by the sound of the blender and the fact that the batter would fly everywhere spattering not only the counter but also on him. This drove him mad and he would go into a screaming fit. However, once Monica got him to identify the taste of chocolate with the sound of the blender and the splatters of batter, Youssef became intrigued and was no longer bothered. Everyday Monica made brownies at the same time, creating a daily routine for Youssef. This worked. Youssef began to love being involved and the kitchen turned into a safe and calming place for him too. Yet, there was one problem. There was no way they could possible eat all the brownies. So, they started selling to the neighbors and to family members. Essentially Youssef became known as the brownie boy of the neighborhood. His father, Rafael, would make him gift cards at Christmas time or special occasions so that he could give the cards away. It was a family effort and a mother’s hands on determination to help her son live his full potential. Through extreme patience and persistence and regular trips to get treatment, Youssef became a functional autistic person. Life seemed to be going well for the family; however, in 2009 their family suffered a great tragedy. Monica’s husband was diagnosed with cancer and two years later, he passed away. Youssef was 13 and Sofia 15 years old. In the same year, Sofia became gravely ill. Monica fell into a deep state of mourning all the while seeking treatment for her daughter and taking care of Youssef who continued to struggle with his autism. The stress and despair took its toll. Living in the home filled with so many memories became too much to bare. They decided to abandon their home and move out of the neighborhood. Trying to heal, she took refuge in what made her happy: making brownies. She and Youssef worked all day in the kitchen. They invented new recipes and names for each different delicacy they created. Eventually after two long years, she decided to reconcile with her painful past and bring hope and love back into the home she shared with her husband. She wanted her children to remember all the happy experiences they had in the house. She was determined to overshadow the deeply painful memories with new memories of hope. Therefore she set her heart on opening a brownie shop in her family home. This would give her children Youssef and Sofia an opportunity to work and run a business. She felt very strongly that she needed to show her children that nothing in life is free; you have to work for it. You must work hard to overcome challenges; you must be able to support yourself. Working and pursuing a passion is what will heal your heart and build strength. Today you can find Monica, Youssef and Sofia working at the Browniques Youssef in Colonia Buena Vista. They just completed three years open and Youssef is the manager and basically runs the show. Sofia takes care of all social media and marketing. Youssef and Sofia now work hand in hand sharing new ideas and making decisions. To accompany their brownies they offer coffee and a wide variety of high quality international teas. The Neem tree, known for its healing properties, which they planted in the front yard when Rafael first fell ill, 7 years ago, has grown into a beautiful tree in the front yard. Adorned with trinkets, it’s the first thing you see as you enter the patio of the cafe. As in the book Like Water for Chocolate, where Tita infuses her emotions into the food she cooks and those emotions are transferred into the hearts and minds of those who devour it, such is the case with Browniques Youssef. Not only are they a delicious, gooey mix of chocolate of the highest quality, but you eats love and healing with each bite. You can follow them on Instagram: @browniques Calle 23 # 162 x 36 y 38 Colonia Buenavista, Mérida, Yuc.Open Monday through Saturday 11am to 9pm Closed Sunday
Written by guest columnist Harriet Sleath Hard to miss due to its striking outside mural of a Mexican catrina done by graffiti artist Datoer, Bistro Cultural is a charming oasis café which sits almost unknowingly on Calle 66, a short walk from the centre of Mérida. Owned by French chef, Yohann, Bistro Cultural offers fresh pastries for breakfast, homemade jams and spreads for sale, delicious meat and vegetarian lunch dishes and delicious desserts. There are a number of things that I love about Bistro Cultural. For example, I am a huge fan of the Jamaica drink (having once been advised by a doctor that it’s good for any stomach related troubles) and at BC, they serve Jamaica in a giant goblet that would make Harry Potter proud. You can add the sugar to your own satisfaction. The atmosphere is very relaxing and one can choose from an indoor table in a delightfully decorated dining room or comfy outside seating surrounded by plants and flowers. There are also hammocks and deckchairs for when you’ve eaten too much and need to lie down. The outside walls are adorned with local art. I once visited while some students were creating a mural on the wall which was very enjoyable to watch. One of my favourite things about this enchanting restaurant is the plate of desserts. I am definitely a sucker for a desserts (always on the hunt for chocolate cake) and I love a selling technique that involves bringing a plate of the desserts on offer to the table. This beats getting up to go and have a look. Options included chocolate fudge cake, crème brulee, apple pie and custard tart with either a topping of kiwis or strawberries. In addition to the food served in the restaurant, Bistro Cultural makes jams, marmalades and other condiments. I recently had a breakfast made up entirely of Bistro Cultural goods. I bought some pastries and some mango jam and some green juice from their BC’s marketplace and juice bar across the road and enjoyed Bistro Cultural’s delicacies in the comfort of my own home. Need to know info:Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 8.30-17.30, Sunday 8.30-16.30Address: Calle 66 x 43 (la esquina)Contact: +52 999 923 2013Spreads available to buy