Friday, June 30, 2017

Dining in Malinalco I: Los Placeres

During our stay at Casa Navacoyan, both Margarita and her daughter, Lucrecia recommended two restaurants to us: Los Placeres and Las Palomas.

These were generally good recommendations, and soon after our arrival at la Casa, we took a taxi to Malinalco Centro. It's a small but charming town with a lengthy plaza, set on a hill slope. The bread vendors offered bounteous bags of bread at very low prices, although the pan dulce was not to my taste. I liked the cut bolillos very much.

We wandered around the Plaza, tempted by street food stands that lined one side of the park. But we resisted their alluring aromas and instead went to Los Placeres on the opposite side of the plaza.

Los Placeres has several dining rooms and a patio dining area. Some of these rooms seem unfinished. We were led to a small table at an outside corner, right on the main route from kitchen to diners. This could be defined as "a bad table". My seat was uncomfortable,  but I was able to exchange it for a better one from a neighboring table.

Arbor of hoja santa next to neighboring table

The annoyances began when we'd scarcely sat down. The waiter was overeager to get our drink order. In fact, I had scarcely started to look at the drink list when he asked to take our order. I dismissed him so I could look over the beverage menu at leisure. Meanwhile, Sra. Cuevas had ordered a glass of agua de sabor, chía limón, which arrived quickly, and a glass for me, which I hadn't wanted. I gave mine to Sra. Cuevas.

When I did decide on a drink, I then flagged down a passing waiter. My order must have become lost, because much time passed. I hailed our waiter again, and in a few more minutes, he brought what I'd requested.

Mezcal Amor. Very good!

A better start: We were brought very good bread, butter and both red and green salsas.


When we ordered our food, the hurry-up-and-order nonsense turned on again. I really dislike such behavior, as it deprives me of the necessary time to intelligently peruse the menu. But worst of all, it puts me in a bad mood, and tends to spoil my dining experience. Bad service can overshadow the good aspects of a restaurant. Fortunately, the food was quite good.

For an entrada, Sra. Cuevas had Sopes de Conejo, small corn cakes holding spiced, shredded tinga de conejo. The portion was generous and the presentation interesting. I tried a bite. I thought that they were pretty good. My wife liked them more than I did.

I ordered Dobladitas, a local variant on a quesadilla, served in wedges. The filling was good, of frijoles, quesillo (Oaxacan style string cheese) and hoja santa. Plain looking, but savory, especially enhanced with the accompanying guacamole and salsas.

We moved on to our platos fuertes.

Sra. Cuevas had Caldo Malinquense, a vegetable soup with cheese. She told me that it lacked seasoning.

I was drawn to Trucha en Clemole Verde. What's a clemole?  Google tends to define it as a prehispanic soup. At Los Placeres, it was a light, herbal sauce. Nothing soupy about it.
I liked it, but wished for more of the herbal sauce. The abundant vegetables cooked pre-al dente, were a plus.

I don't recall having dessert, but I did have an excellent, toasty and aromatic Café Americano. It was one of the best ever in my experience.


Food: 7

Service: 6 Sometimes confused and disorganized; waiters in too much of a hurry to take our order. It was a bad beginning but service improved with the course of the meal.

Ambience: Casual, rustic, nice garden patio. Some tables are uncomfortably close to the waitstaff delivery route.

Cost: I didn't get a photo of the check, but I'm guessing that it was around $800 pesos for two.

Rest rooms: nice

Keywords: be nice, but be firm.

Contact info:

Phone: 01 (714) 1470855


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

La Casa Navacoyan in the Mountains of Malinalco

Image from WikiCommons Part of fresco in ex-convent
Malinalco: a small and picturesque Pueblo Mágico in the southern pocket of Estado de México; embraced by cliffs; a town with blessed with spiritual qualities, its near neighbor, Chalma, a mecca for pilgrims.

Doña Cuevas and I chose Malinalco in which to stay and celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary. It would be very different from last year's anniversary, when we went to Guadalajara and stayed at the wonderful Hotel Morales. Casa Navacoyan is wonderful in its own, different ways.

I looked over various reviews of hospedaje in Malinalco. One small hotel is always at the top of the ratings lists. That is Casa Navacoyan, located on the outskirts of Malinalco, about 1.5 kilometers east. Taxis are available to carry guests from the Casa to Malinalco Centro for about $40. Guest reviews lauded the hotelito, noting especially the attentive owner-hostess, Sra. Margarita and her daughter, Lucrecia. The lavish breakfasts, served each morning on the terrace had gained fame among the guests. (see further on.*)

I decided to make reservations for three nights via I also had personal communication with Sra. Margarita in regard choice of room and a deposit via credit card to guarantee our stay.

We arrived after a ride through the beautiful hill country to the north of Malinalco. As we arrived, we were enthusiastically greeted by the energetic Margarita. We were given keys, both to the gate and to our room "Teresa". We rarely used our keys while there.

Puerta, Casa Navacoyan 
Main house, Casa Navacoyan 

View of the Cerro, Casa Navacoyan 
The room was modest in size but adequately served our needs. The king bed was very comfortable, the bedding soft and supple; the bathroom airy and well illuminated by a skylight. The hot water rapidly arrived to the shower head. There was a spacious, built-in closet, and a large wooden chest, but we didn't use it except as a bench to store loose items. The only negative thing, and a minor one, was the very small desk and its uncomfortable, thatch bottom chair. We adjusted the chair by getting a cushion which solved my seat complaint.

La Casa is set close to the massive red stone cliffs that embrace Malinalco.
The grounds are beautifully and meticulously maintained by the two gardeners, Cristian and Miguel. The modest sized swimming pool, set in a manicured lawn, is surrounded by lush semi-tropical growth.

Guests' comfort is ensured by the placement of comfortable lounging furniture. There is also a spacious recreation room with tv, honor bar and table games.

Lounging area overlooking the lawn and pool
*Now, to return to the breakfasts. In past years, we'd had less than laudable breakfasts at other B&Bs. The breakfasts at Casa Navacoyan swept those dreary granola and toast memories into the dust bin.

At Casa Navacoyan, every breakfast began with two different fresh juices, a plate of perfectly ripe cut fruit. We were especially impressed when a peeled, juicy mango was brought to us.

sweet, juicy mangos!
Of course, there was a bread basket, containing a selection of good bread from Malinalco's panaderías. The Malinalco bolillos are distinctive, with elaborate cuts, then baked in a wood fired oven. The butter was home churned and distinctive, as well as two different home made preserves.

That was only the beginning. We were then offered a choice of several main courses, for example, enmoladas, huevos al gusto, sopes, shredded beef in sauce and more. Hot tortillas were supplied freely, on request. Huevos al gusto, in a wide variety of styles. One morning, after I'd expressed my love for hoja santa, we were served huevos a la hoja santa, a very distinctive dish.

Enmoladas and frijoles
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Casa Navacoyan. The grounds and surroundings were idyllic. The hospitality went beyond the ordinary; we were pampered at every moment. We would  gladly return, if access by public and private transportation were not so complicated for us. It would be advantageous to have your own car.

RATINGS: From 1 to 10 

Room: 8

Cost: Approximately $2820 MXN per night for two guests, at least for the Teresa room. The cost may vary in regard to other rooms, and number of guests.

Cleanliness: 10

Service: 10 Extraordinary customer care. The owners are multilingual.

(About restaurants in Malinalco: Both Margarita and Lucrecia recommended two restaurants in town. I'll be describing them in following posts.)

Overall rating: 10.  A wonderful place for relaxation in a beautiful setting. The staff will pamper you.

Location: About 1.4 kilometers from Malinalco Centro. Beautiful setting near the foot of the cliffs. Fine views of a cone shaped cerro.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Newbies Do Uber in México


We just returned from a week's vacation to celebrate our 49th wedding Anniversary. All enjoyable, other than when our first bus, an AutoVias from Morelia, broke down soon after departure, with a two hour delay, then arriving in Toluca in the hellish rush hour traffic. But we survived.

We stayed our first night at the Fiesta Inn Toluca Tollocan. It was our pick up location for our first Uber ride the next morning.

We were to use Uber a lot in the following days. Our first experiences were very good, although not perfect. The convenience, peace of mind and safety were the outstanding features. Plus most of the 4 or 5 drivers we had were personable and liked to converse. Our first Uber driver was Arturo, who drove us from our Toluca hotel to Casa Navacoyan near Malinalco. It’s a long, 1 hour plus drive through scenic countryside, and we had enjoyable conversations along the way.

It was so enjoyable, that I arranged with Arturo to drive us to Mexico City from Casa Navacoyan (an idyllic B&B) three days later. It was relatively expensive compared to taking buses, combis and taxis, (although I have not done the math), but it made for a smooth, seamless and enjoyable ride, door-to-door, just under two hours. That was arranged “privately”.

Our other Uber rides were shorter, all within the CDMX, and, the cars arrived almost instantly. I need to play more with the Uber app to make pickup times more precise. The app is very cool, and the feedback is notably complete and good. I won’t go into the technical details.

The cars varied in newness and cleanliness. That aspect didn't concern me greatly. Almost every driver had a smartphone mounted above the dashhbord and running Waze or Google Maps.

There was only one glitch, when I requested a ride to O-Mart, a Korean grocery on Calle Londres in the Zona Rosa, and our driver took us by mistake to an other Asian supermarket, Super Mikasa, on Calle San Luis Potosí, in Roma Norte. But he graciously corrected it and we soon arrived at the correct destination. Kind of funny, because we’d already Uber’d to Mikasa that morning.

We did have to wait over 20 minutes for an Uber pickup from O-Mart to the Hotel Stanza because the Zona Rosa and other parts of the city were in the throes of near gridlock at that hour. But it all worked out before too long.

I was getting a couple of free rides (the shorter ones) or substantial promotional discounts. Why, I have no idea, but I didn’t complain. Maybe the long trip from Toluca to Casa Navacoyan generated some bonus credits.

We always tipped our drivers. Kind of funny, as we rarely tip cab drivers. We’ll be refining this in future use. We are now big fans of Uber.

Our final Uber ride of the week was from the Stanza to Terminal Poniente Observatorio, Our driver was not allowed to drop us off any closer to the terminal building other than at some grubby looking food stands on the outer road. But it wasn’t really a big problem, though we were carrying our moderately heavy bags. We entered the upper level of Metro Observatorio station, crossed over the tracks, then descended again to street level and across the street at the traffic light crossing to the terminal building explanada, where a porter took charge of our baggage. We were soon inside, at the ETN waiting room.

(If you are looking to find this post on Surviving La Vida Buena, forget it. I have retired that blog. I admit that I can't even find the Dashboard for it. So, adios, amigo.)

Friday, June 09, 2017

Another Roadside Attraction

La Estancia Camelinas
Sometimes I get fixated on trying a certain restaurant, but it seems as though an opportunity rarely arises. So it was with the apparently popular roadside restaurant at La Estancia, Michoacán, just south of Santiago Undameo. It's close to the Corona soap factory. By sheer coincidence, it is also known as Las Camelinas, but in no way could it ever be confused with Las Camelinas in the Hotel Plaza in Uruapan. Nor can it be compared fairly with the well organized and attractively presented buffet at El Mandil, Pátzcuaro.

In fact, we had breakfasted twice the year before at the outdoor, neighboring annex, Los Equipales. The food and setting were simple and rustic, and I enjoyed it. It has unfortunately closed since then.

But what was it about  the adjoining restaurant that so often attracted so many parked vehicles? We decided to take a Sunday drive, have comida at the mystery restaurant, and after, stop at the berry store. That store was another roadside attraction which we'd often passed but never shopped.

When we drove up to La Estancia Camelinas, it was obvious that Sunday afternoon drew a big crowd. The parking lot was almost full.

Welcome sign
Once inside, we found a table to the rear of one of the several rambling dining spaces. The overall decor was "eclectic". The floor was irregular, and I became somewhat alarmed when I realized that our table, at the base of steep stairs, was the outlet for kitchen staff carrying heavy, hot clay pots from an unseen, upstairs kitchen.

 A waitress told us that the comida was served buffet style. I made a recon of the main hot table. It appeared to be a jumble of hot, cold and should have been hot dishes. A few feet away, a window ledge bore several braziers with more dishes, both hot and cold.

A ledge end in its time

I selected a few of the more appealing items. Bisteces en Salsa Negra was outstanding; tender slices of beef in a zesty sauce. The arroz was o.k. but as a self service customer, I risked wrist burns in reaching the hot cazuela. Frijoles de la olla were unusually silky and rich.

Frijoles, chorizo, arroz and a mystery taco
Doña Cuevas got an entire tender chuleta de cerdo en salsa verde. I thought it was pretty good. There were so many dishes and tidbits that I have no way of recounting all. Some were less visually appealing, so we didn't try them.

Chuleta de Cerdo, salsa verde; cebolla y nopal asados: GOOD!

Our meals came with glasses of  refreshing agua de pepino al limón.

Our cuenta was $180 pesos, plus $20 more for a couple of not bad cafés de olla.

It's a bargain, but not a place for those of delicate sensibilities. I'm glad we tried it. My curiosity is satisfied.

I'm wondering what it's like for breakfast ...


Food: 7

Service: 7

Ambience: informal, self-service buffet. Seating not too comfortable.

Rest rooms: clean and functional.

Cost: BARGAIN! $90 pp