Monday, July 30, 2012

Hvar, Hvar, Hvar!

Ron, our friend and frequent travel companion in search of fine eats sent me a link to a web site advertising Golden Olive Oil from the Isle of Hvar, Croatia. (From Croatia came Ron's ancestors.)

This is a very special olive oil, we are assured, for it is infused with 24 karat gold flakes.

I am crestfallen. How could I have lived a full life without this luxury olive oil, complete with hand crafted wooden box, exquisite glass bottle, and get this: a card of ownership attesting to my good taste and furthermore, allowing me the privilege of buying a plain Jane refill bottle. You also have an invitation to visit the Isle of Hvar where this oil is crafted.

Here is an illustration. You may wish to shield your eyes against the glory.

I would guess that only Arabian Oil Sheikhs and perhaps Carlos Slim would buy this stuff.

I haven't looked at the price. Probably, if you have to ask, you can't afford it. I would have to walk the roadways, collecting aluminum cans for the rest of my life to afford this precious Golden Fluid. Maybe I can have a bake sale or two.

Perhaps I can start a fund for me, the underprivileged, and you, my loyal readers, can send donations to my PayPal account.

Wait, wait! Just a little more of this nonsense. How could anyone resist What's In The Box?
2 dcl of extra virgin olive oil with 24-karat edible gold flakes...
A handmade wooden box with a lock
An owner’s card with a unique item number
A serving glove and an anti-dust bag

I shall say no more.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Parrilla y Canilla Morelia

We first heard of Parrilla y Canilla last December while in temporary residence in Morelia. Our friend and former neighbor, Larry, had been to it and liked it very much. But we were unable to visit it until last Wednesday.

We knew that it's an Uruguayan steak, pizza and pasta place. Larry is a a Texan and a big steak fan. Jennifer Rose, a friend of many years, is also a big fan of Parrilla y Canilla. She wrote me that it was her favorite place for steak in Morelia. At last came a chance to try it with both Jennifer and Larry.

I had heard of "great steaks" before in Morelia, but had invariably been disappointed. This time was a welcome exception.

The restaurant is located at  Calle J.J. Tablada #60, Colonia Santa María, Morelia, Michoacán. It's slightly hidden from the street. But once you eat there, you will have no trouble remembering how to get there.

Mario greets guests at the door
What does the name mean? A parrilla is a grill, but what the heck is a canilla? Jennifer told us that it's a "tap", as in a bar, or a wine keg.
The decor is sophisticated and contemporary. It shows restrained good taste at every turn.

Niche with figure
There's a wood fired grill and domed wood burning oven on the ground floor.

There are three levels of dining room. The third floor also has a very attractive terrace with umbrellaed tables. Large windows provide the upper dining room with a good view of Morelia.

The waiter brought us warm bread, baked in house and the regulation red salsa and green chimichurrí. The bread, in fact, was passable but nothing special. The salsas were fine.

There's a good list of appetizers, but we passed over those and shared a pizza Margherita. In a small lapse of service, the pizza arrived at the same time as our steaks. The pizza itself was medium sized, and the toppings delicious. The crust, unfortunately, was pale and limp. One of the attractions of a wood fired oven is to obtain a well browned bottom crust on the pizza. But I will give the restaurant credit for making an effort to use it. Perhaps the pizza cooks need more practice to perfect what must be a difficult art to master.

Pizza: delicious but underdone crust

On the other hand, the grill cooks did a masterful job of grilling meats over wood.

Three of us; Larry, Jennifer and I ordered beef cuts. Larry got boneless Costillas de Res, which looked very good; Jennifer had Entraña (South American Spanish for Arrachera), and I ordered a 420 gram Bife de Chorizo (something like a boneless strip steak). The meat was tender, juicy and delicious.

Doña Cuevas had a generous Ensalada Río Platense, cooked shrimp on a bed of greens, with olives and bits of sweet peppers and wedges of of tomato. Dressing on the side. She also got a baked potato and an order of steamed vegetables. The baked potatoes are quite good, served with chive sour cream unless requested otherwise. Unfortunately, they are wrapped in aluminum foil, thus losing the wonderful crust of the skin.

The steamed vegetables are among the highlights of the meal. They are fresh, cooked al dente and simply prepared. They also taste very good.

I can say that my perfectly cooked steak was the best I've eaten anywhere in Mexico. It was better even than the huge but overly dense steak I'd had at Don Pepe's Steak House in New Jersey last month.

Bife de Chorizo. Tasty vegetables. Foiled baked potato

Now, for an amazing detail: the main course plates were heated! This was a nice touch to an excellent dinner and attentive service.

Two of us drank a tempranillo wine, which was poured from graceful glass porrones. There are two large casks set into the wall of the ground floor dining room. You may go there and see the canillas.

To finish, two of us ordered dessert. Jennifer had the apple strudel, chocked full of raisins and scented with cinnamon, flanked by a scoop of colorful ice cream. I had a somewhat similar dessert in which chunks of apple were baked in a crisp pastry roll and bound by cream cheese. It also was accompanied with very good ice cream. My dessert completely exceeded my expectations.

I also had a very good café express cortado, Jennifer a café Americano.

Let's look at the ratings.

Food: ****1/2
Note that there is quite a lot more from which to choose on the menu. The "Uruguay Gourmet" section has some intriguing creations listed.

Service: ***** Very attentive staff, without hovering over us.

Price: $$$+ Our total bill, with tip, for 4 persons was $1325 pesos. That's an average of $331 pesos each. I think that this is a very good price-value relation.

Ambience: Sophisticated, contemporary casual.

Restrooms: attractive, clean and well maintained.

Conclusion: the best upscale restaurant in which I've dined in Morelia. We will return at the first opportunity.

Contact and info:
Website: Unfortunately, my web browsers warn that the Parrilla y Canilla website  (Do Not Click!) is infected with malware. I hope that they eliminate the problem soon.

UPDATE: the website is now functional and apparently "clean".

Location: J. J. Tablada # 60 Col. Santa Maria de Guido, 58090 Morelia, Mexico
01 443 319 8352
Ample free parking next door.

Friday, July 20, 2012

From Pots and Pans to Potholing

After taking a break of about two years, I resumed writing my Arkansas caving blog, We Once Were Cavers. From those of you who who might enjoy an in depth visit to the strange Stygian netherworld where cavers frolic, I invite you to take a look.
Change of levels here.

(Don't forget to carry three reliable sources of light, and remember: Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. And keep your carbide dry.)
Our regular programming will resume soon.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Roma Holiday

We returned twice again, dear readers, to Colonia Roma Norte, Mexico City. It's our favorite area of Mexico City in which to stay.

This time we lodged at the Hotel Stanza, which is somewhat above our usual budget, but we used some frequent flyer miles to pay. The Stanza is a busy, full service hotel, with bellhops, wifi throughout, a large restaurant: "Wings"; hotel taxis, business center and a gymnasium. (Naturally, we didn't visit the latter.) Rooms vary a lot in size, so look first before settling in. We enjoyed two nights both coming and going, and I recommend it to you. Rooms vary greatly in size, so look at a couple before settling in. Avenida Álvaro Obregón 13, Colonia Roma Norte, México, D.F.

As to Wings, the restaurant: I usually follow a policy of not eating in the restaurants of the hotels in which we stay. There are some exceptions. For example, if our departure is imminent and the hotel restaurant is most convenient. We have only breakfasted twice at Wings, and it's serviceable. They offer a breakfast buffet for $90 pesos of which Señora Cuevas sampled.

This is their menu page. It's one of those slower loading, virtual menues with images. Have fun!

On our second visit, I had Huevos Veracruzano ($90); eggs scrambled with tomato and onion and rolled in tortillas, bathed in a smooth sauce of frijoles negros and sprinkled with crumbled chorizo. Naturally there was also the obligatory  crema and queso. I did have to send it back as it was tepid, but that was cheerfully carried out. This is an above average dish.

The highlight of breakfast are the creamy, custardy panes de elote, $12 pesos each. Served warm, and I recommend them.

The low point of any meal at Wings are the dreadful bread rolls served in a basket, for which each person is assessed $12 P. It would be best to refuse the bread before it is brought to you. We didn't try the pan dulce.

The coffee is weak, but they bring lots, depending on how busy they are. At peak times, the restaurant is somewhat hectic and service lags. But when not very busy, the waitresses are friendly and chatty.

Conclusion: pricey for mediocre food. They will give you a senior discount if you present an INAPAM credential.

We prefer Bisquets, Bisquets de Obregón for casual, diner type meals. There are two locations close by, on Av. Álvaro Obregón 60, corner of  Calle Mérida. Breakfasts are the best meal, but you can do all right with supper. The aguas frescas are above average. The café con leche is justifiably famous. The pan dulce, made in-house, is very good, but the plain bread rolls very poor. The prices are substantially lower than those at Wings, and overall, it's a better, if cozier place. Again, INAPAM discounts for the qualified.

Moving now, up the price ladder, to Sobrino's, where we went for dinner. This was  our second visit. Sobrino's is part of a triad of restaurants in el D.F. It was preceded by Primo's and Tío's. Be aware that these are hip restaurants serving expensive food. The kitchen has creative ambitions which sometimes, but not always hit their mark.

Sobrino's is located on Avenida Álvaro Obregón at the corner of Calle Orizaba. This is the heart of Nuevo Hip Roma. (El Diez Parrilla Argentina is across the street on Orizaba.)

The ambience of the restaurant is bistro like, and the menu is international with Mexican flourishes. At busy times, it is very noisy, in part due to the tiled floors plus background music.

Suggestions of the day
At this meal, Sra. Cuevas had a Sopa de Lentejas con Salchichas. Very satisfying, just like home made, only more expensive. She followed that with Dorado en Hoja Santa con Frijoles Negros y Queso Panela. She enjoyed that as she loves hoja santa.

Dorado en Hoja Santa, etc.
I had the unjustifiably famed Torta Ahogada de Pato, $120 pesos. This was very disappointing. It's served on a length of baguette. The sauce was sweet-hot. The sweetness and thickness of the tomato based sauce was inappropriate for this dish. The duck was undistinguished. It comes unaccompanied, so I ordered some Papas Fritas. Although pricey at $60 pesos, I recommend them.

Torta Ahogada de Pato
Still hungry, I then ordered an Ensalada de Berros con Manzana y Tocino y Queso. This was the high point of my meal. It's totally delicious, especially the light dressing  and soft, mild, feta-like goat cheese on top; and it all works very well together. If I recall correctly, it was $80 pesos.

Ensalada de Berros (previous visit)
In passing, I saw some tostadas de ceviche that were very attractive. The seafood part of the extensive menu seems to be hidden but the offerings, although expensive, look great.

(I should add that a Sobrino's hamburger, served on a non-traditional length of baguette, is one of the best I've had in el D.F. and a relative bargain. And, it comes with papas fritas included.)

RATINGS (Sobrino's)

Food: ***1/2

Service: ****  Almost too well attended. We were asked by at least three different members of serving staff if we'd care to order something to drink; all within about 5 minutes. However, once we put in an order, service was swift and efficient.

Price: $$$ Our bill, for the above mentioned food, one agua mineral y una cerveza Bohemia Oscura was about $600 pesos, before tip.

Ambience: "Bistrot"; crowded, noisy but overall, handsome.

Rest room: small but clean, "Retro" look.

Friday, July 13, 2012

El Hidalguense

Before returning to Mexico City, I knew that I wanted some distinctly regional Mexican food soon after arrival. What better place than El Hidalguense, in Colonia Roma Sur, not far west of the Mercado Medellín, at Calle Campeche #155?

It was only recently that I'd seen a passing mention of it on's Mexico Forum. Then some Googling turned up a few more references to it, notably a glowing article in El Economista. That, plus a very positive response in an email from our friend, "Mija" Lesley Tellez was enough to convince me to eat there.

We made plans to meet friends and have a late breakfast there. It was a short walk from their house.

I was expecting a drab hole-in-the wall, but what I found was an attractive restaurant with two levels of dining rooms, and perky waitresses clad in "Scottish" uniforms. There are some attractive displays of food along a long counter.

Dining room
Aguas frescas
The menu runs to three glossy panels, but the centerpiece is barbacoa de carnero (young lamb). For the more adventurous there are some intriguing items not on the carta of your favorite Restaurante VIP's. Chinicuiles (gusanos de chile), escamoles (ant eggs), criadillas ("lamb's fries" or to speak plainly, testicles.); pancita roja o blanca (lamb's innards seasoned variously and stuffed into a paunch. More variants on the montalayo theme.)
We stayed firmly in the non-innards part of the menu. Sr. Paco and I started with bowls of rich consomé de barbacoa. It was perhaps the best I've  had anywhere. He and I split a 1/4 kilo of barbacoa. It was tasty but somewhat fatty. The presentation was very attractively rustic.
The charred penca de maguey holds the barbacoa
Señora Luz María had a Mixiote de Pollo, (highly seasoned chicken wrapped in parchment and baked.) and she offered me a taste of the sauce. It was sabrosa pero o, picante!

Mixiote de pollo
I had a Mixiote de Setas (they spell setas with a "Z" but I won't.)
This was a wonderful, balanced dish without being excessively picante.

That reminds me to mention the three wonderful salsas. I tried the rich, smoky dark one and the verde. I enjoyed them both. I think the salsa amarilla is the most picante.

Sra. Cuevas was avoiding spices, and had a Plato Hidalguense. This was queso panela, avocado, tomato slices, a beautiful ensalada de nopales, accompanied by branches of papaloquelite.

All was accompanied by excellent tortillas de maíz azul hechas a mano.

El Hidalguense is definitely worth further visits in order to try its regional specialties.

There's a story behind how all the hard work is done, and it's explained in the El Economista article. (In Spanish.)

Owner, Moíses


Food: ****1/2

Service: **** 1/2

Price: $-$$ (Our average was $131 pesos per person, and that included  2 cervezas, 1 agua mineral, a pulque curado con tunas-click for picture, 2 cafes de olla, and the tip. Your cuenta may vary, especially if you order escamoles or chinicuiles.)

Noise level: moderately loud.

Rest Rooms: we didn't use the facilities.

HOURS: (pay careful attention!) Only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Open major holidays.

Tel: 55 640538
Cel: (045) 775 752 5606


View Larger Map

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Don Pepe Steakhouse: Two For One

We have been twice to Don Pepe's Steakhouse, near Pine Brook, NJ. Our first visit was in June, 2010. Our second was last week. It has been one of my parents' favorite dining spots over several years. I'll review the restaurant once, covering both visits.

Ostensibly a Spanish American restaurant, I would place it firmly in the category of American steakhouse with a few Spanish flourishes. The appetizers are among the more Spanish inflected items.

We were served good, warmed crusty bread, with a savory garlic butter and pimentón dressing.

A house specialty is "Spanish" potatoes, which are sort of homemade, well browned potato chips. I thought that they are a pleasant snack, but they are sort of one dimensional and uninteresting after a few morsels.

On the earlier visit to which my wife and I were invited, my mother chose her favorite dish; a 2 lb. steamed lobster. My father had a massive cut of steak, of which he gave me a taste. It was delicious.

Mom had her lobster broiled this time. I was given a taste. It was moist and sweet.

My wife and I both chose soft shelled crabs prepared in a butter and lemon sauce. We were very pleased with these.

At our more recent meal last week, two of our party had dietary restrictions, so that they were self limited in their choices. My father was missed, having passed away last year, but he was with us in spirit.
My mother chose "their" usual table, and I followed his example in ordering a fine steak. There's a good selection of steak cuts, some grander than the Chuletón de Ávila, but it was very good and more than I could finish. Nothing accompanies the steak, so I had a house salad, which was fine. I also drank a glass of California Cabernet Sauvignon Estrella del Río. ($5.50; a reasonable price for a generous glass.)

Chuletón de Ávila
My steak was densely textured, savory, and not the most tender, but that was no impediment to my eating it with pleasure. (There are larger cuts avilable.) I had a "baked" potato with it, which our waiter said would be cooked in the microwave, wrapped in plastic film. Normally I wouldn't choose that method of cooking, but it was serviceable in this instant.

Sister got a simply prepared filet of Tilapia, accompanied by steamed vegetables.

Sra. Cuevas requested boiled shrimp in the shell, accompanied by plain linguine. She reported that the shrimp and linguine were both perfectly cooked.

For dessert, Mom had Tortoni, an ice cream confection infused with almond. Sra. Cuevas and I both had a very pleasant Rice Pudding Brulée. Overall, I would say that desserts are a sort of pleasant afterthought.

Service was competent and informative*, but toward the latter part of our dining experience, rather less attentive. There was also a lapse in getting the wine list at the beginning of the meal, but when I asked a junior waiter, or perhaps he was a bus boy, the list soon arrived.
It also took several minutes to get our waiter's attention to bring the check.

* I should mention that at the outset, our waiter recited a very appealing list of specials, of which I may have chosen one, if I had not been so firmly fixed on having that steak.


Food: ****1/2

Service: ****

Ambience: Casual. See this photo: 

Price: As we were invited guests, I have no idea of the total bill. But I would place the average meal is the range of $$$ (Ten dollars U.S. per $ You can spend more without much difficulty)

Rest rooms: well kept.

Extensive wine list and bar.

Location: 58 Route 46 West
Pine Brook, NJ
Tel: 973-808-5533

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Randolph Diner

It may not be very appealing on the outside, but...
When we visit my family in New Jersey, it's become a little tradition to eat at least once at the Randolph Diner (spiffy new website). It's a good 20 minute drive from the family house, but worth the time and gasoline. We often meet my tío and sobrinas there.

The Randolph is not a gourmet restaurant, but instead, serves appetizing, satisfying food in generous portions, at a moderate price.

Yesterday, three of us, Mamá Cuevas, Sra. Cuevas and I trekked to Randolph for a nice lunch.

I had hoped to find some special from the blackboard menu, but as it was just Monday, the section was slender. But, no problem. The multi-page printed menu has more than enough to choose something that will please almost any customer. (Except maybe YELP! member-reviewers, who seem to have a higher than average percentage of whiners and nitpickers.)

"Blackboard" Specials a year apart
Navigating the vast full menu can be a pleasant challenge. I helped Sra. Cuevas, mi esposa, focus on Calves' Liver with Onions. It's a dish she loves but one that we rarely have in Mexico. It was perfectly cooked to her taste, with a light and tasty jus enhancing the meat. The onions, to the side as requested, were somewhat undercooked, but ignorable.

Calves' Liver dinner
Mamá Cuevas went for the Fish and Chips. It is just that; three fish portions fried in a puffy batter, a heap of French Fries, ($6.95) but more than she could finish.
Fish and Chips
Fried shrimp is offered in at least two presentations, as far as I can discover. The Shrimp In a Basket, $15, consists of 5 very large, butterflied shrimp and a heap of French Fries. It's accompanied by some pleasant, sweet and creamy coleslaw and preceded by a cup of homemade soup. The larger Shrimp Dinner costs $17 and has more shrimp. It's hard to imagine eating even more! more! shrimp, although I have done it on past visits.
Shrimp In a Basket
Our waitress, who at first looked grumpy, turned out to be very helpful and even subbed the fantastic Randolph Diner Onion Rings for the French Fries on my lunch. It's also possible to request half FF and half OR.

I think I have written about these great onion rings in "Lord of the Rings".

We drank iced tea, which was good and strong. When we left the bar area where we'd been seated, I saw on a blackboard that draft beers were $1.00 off on Mondays. Perhaps that was a lost opportunity, but a vigorous shopping visit to Costco still awaited us, and I needed all my mental acuity and remaining physical strength.

Ratings (based on several visits)

Food: ****

Service: *****

Price: (in U.S. dollars, one $= $10 per person)
$-$$ Our check was $50 before tip.

Ambience: Modern diner, comfortable seating, varies from room to room.

Restrooms, small but serviceable. Nifty hot air jet hand dryer!

Hint: The Lemon Meringue pie: avoid. I have no opinion on other desserts, and there's usually no room for any.

Coffee: very weak.

Useful Info:

517 New Jersey 10, Randolph, NJ 07869

Mon-Thu: 6 AM – 2 AM
Fri-Sat: 6 AM – 4 AM
Sun: 6 AM – 2 AM