Category Archives: Eating

Oh Sherry,

Sherryfest is happening here in New York City this week, and before one can say that sherry has arrived, I might argue that it has always been here, albeit not commonly consumed or appreciated, but revered and sought increasingly by those who seek excellence in all their wines.

Sherryfest is an idea put into reality by Rosemary Grey and Peter Liem, two people who dared to dream that even if a select few drink sherry, they do so proudly, eschewing the common thought that sherry is cheap wine made in bulk, that a real renaissance is upon us, that sherry marries well with food, and can sit right up there with the most exquisite wines of the world.

Aside from putting together this Sherryfest, this gathering of great Spanish producers in the great international American city that is Gotham, Peter Liem, a Champagne aficionado and wine writer has inked Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, a comprehensive guide to the traditional wines of Andalusia, with Jesus Barquin, one of the dynamic duo that has brought us Equipo Navazos, flying winemakers who strike deals with bodegas to create special cuvees of top sherry, at the forefront that is currently the sherry revolution.

The Grand tasting was held at The Ace Hotel, coordinated by Carla Rzeszewski, whose passion for all things sherry is second to none, creating an electric atmosphere for tasting sherries from several top producers.  Present were twenty bodegas with a long tradition and history of winemaking who have persevered during a down time in Jerez, but continue to stay ahead of the curve and offer wines of purity and integrity.

Having spent a week back in late May this past year, I had the privilege of visiting several of these bodegas and producers, and it was so warm to see many old friends.  A cerebral gaze into the eyes of Lorenzo Garcia-Iglesias  A Californian high five with Steve Cook of Barbadillo, a gentleman’s handshake with Jan Petterson of Fernando de Castilla, topped only by a genuine hug from the lovely Ana Cabestrero of El Maestro Sierra.  I miss Dona Carmen too.

Absent were the wines from Equipo Navazos, who is in part responsible for raising the quality of sherry and garnering a tremendous amount of press of late.  It would have been nice to have seen Eduardo and Jesus, whose pride and knowledge of sherry is top notch.

The exhaustion of a long day of tasting was masked by the smiles of the winemakers and their representatives, such a large turnout for sherry overwhelming satisfying their efforts.

I would have stayed for the whole event, but had a few more errands to run at the Union Square farmer’s market to get the final ingredients for one of the scheduled Sherryfest producer dinners, one of which Pata Negra was hosting.  The reps from Barbadillo and Emilio Hidalgo arrived early, weary from the day thirsty for Mahou beer and Jamon.

Then the party kicked off at seven, sherry flowing, and pata negra glistening, magical, classic pairings anchoring a good old fashioned tapas fiesta.  Pimientos de Padron, Pata Negra bacon,  bacalao crudo, tortilla, morcilla, chorizo, gambas, croquetas, datiles, just to name a few dishes.  The Solear Manzanilla en Rama was my favorite, as well as the Villapanes Oloroso, La Panesa, and the Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado.

The night ended at The Beagle, a beacon for sherry selection often infused in their ingenious cocktail service, with event organizers, planners and staffers winding down with leftover bottles and delicious drinks.  Great hospitality from the new-look Beagle.  The East Village just gets yummier and yummier.

There are seminars scheduled for the next two days as well as other evening events.  There is still time to join on the fun and Get Flor’d.

What does this all mean?  For me Sherryfest is a good example of what happens when a group of people are passionate about something. Sitting outdoors at Gaspar Restaurant in Chipione on the beach, I recall a conversations with friends and industry people about bringing and promoting all the excitement of our trip to Jerez, Sanlucar, and Montilla back with us.  The night sky and moon in the background, the aroma of manzanilla in the air, bottle after bottle of Solear and shrimp and snails, pimientos and fried fish. I remember being pessimistic, speaking about advanced palates and educated consumers.  The truth is sherry is a wine to love, with pleasure on many levels from the quaffable to the profound.  The dream becomes a think tank, and forms collaborations and relationships to create awareness and celebrate it in a meaningful and fun way.  It shows that the preservation of tradition is paramount, and that by spreading the word to even a few, the seeds are planted and can grow without limits.  Just check out the number of restos offering sherry on wine lists now.

Get Flor’d.  Indeed.

Masters of Vermont

Each year I head over to Europe just before the tourist high season kicks in.  For me it is a great time to visit winemakers and the most agreeable time weather-wise before the heat becomes a factor.

This time when I returned from Italy/Ireland/Spain in early June, Pata Negra had been running on fumes.  My head waiter Gaspar had been ill from exhaustion, and the search for capable server staff had proven futile.  This was a blessing in disguise of course, as I was able to take the reins for nearly two months straight.  There is something to be said for getting back in the woodshop, as it were, and I enjoyed a fruitful, albeit swarthy reintroduction to my customers.  By the time the humidity cooled off in August I was gasping for some fresh air, peace and quiet.  The North Fork looked good on paper, but this late in the season, there were slim rental pickings.  I finally settled on Vermont, a haven I am familiar with from past ski trips, and an unexplored territory for summer jaunts.

I did my research through VRBO and HomeAway.  I found both sites full of options to my criteria.  About four hours drive, secluded, but near a Lake, State Park, and half hour drives to towns and points of interest.  Got a hit on HomeAway for a chalet in Ludlow, surrounded by trees and Okemo mountain range.

So with a rental car at Hertz, GPS, and old school maps, we (girlfriend Michelle and I) were Vermont bound.  We took Routes 684 to 84 to 91.  Save for two traffic construction delays we hit Putney in four hours.  Why Putney?  For Curtis BBQ of course.  Right off Exit 4 juxtaposed to the Mobil gas station is Curtis BBQ, two school buses painted blue and reconfigured to serve as kitchens.   Park the car, step up and order.  Then head over to the man-made BBQ pit and watch Curtis work his magic alongside his guardian pig C.J.  You can get ribs or chicken, slathered with Curtis’ special sauce.  When you chat with pit masters like Curtis I often get the sense that they have something figured out in this life, that time spent barbecuing is time spent thinking wisely.  Curtis is a master and an evolved soul.   When the grub is ready, you pick a park bench with the least amount of flies and critters and chow down.  Falling off the bone chicken with perfect degree of smoke, tender rubs slathered in that special finger lickin’ sauce.  Plenty of good sides like baked potato with all the trimmings, corn on the cob, or potato salad, all washed down with beer you bring or Vermont style root beer and sasparilla sodas.  Satisfaction Guaranteed.

The house was better than advertised with a huge porch and backyard facing Okemo.  During the day, the trees communicate by shaking in the wind.  At night it’s just you and the stars.

Now I had been to Ludlow before and knew of some staples, such as Singleton’s in Proctorsville where you can get all the meat you need for the grill.  The Hatchery is also a go to place for standard Vermont breakfast.  Goodman’s American Pie is still cranking out the best wood fired pizza pies.  The Wine and cheese shop still offer a great selection of both.  Got some cheese from Jasper Hill.  The wine selection was also varied and well chosen.  I even found some Poiré from Eric Bordelet.

We had a really nice lunch at Heritage Deli, perfect Reuben sandwich and feathery French toast, but we found ourselves returning to the Country Girls Diner in Chester, taken over last summer by you guessed who (country women), offering fabulous blueberry pancakes and pies to boot.  It’s the kind of place run by the ladies that you could see yourself going every day for breakfast or lunch.  I didn’t have the courage to try their monster (two grilled sandwiches between a burger or eggs), but enjoyed the regular sized food very much.

We dined at the Inn at Weathersfield, one of the quintessential farm to table restos Vermont is known for, and had a very balanced meal.  A half bottle of Bauer Gruner Veltliner and Begali Ripasso paired well with the New American cuisine of Chef  Jason Tostrup .  The trout was clean, crespelle plate cleaned out and short ribs succulent. Chef Jason is still on his game.

At Manchester, after an afternoon of outlet shopping, there is a new Mediterranean themed menu anchored by pizzas named Depot 62.  Sit down on the furniture (everything is for sale), order a glass of wine and browse, the pieces offered are artisanal and eclectic, albeit pricey.  The hummus is good, the tagines earthy, and the pizza tasty.  Depending on how much wine consumed, you might leave with a piece to put in the trunk.

Even found a legit place for lobster rolls at Bob’s Antique shop, another dual business model where you can peruse through a large house of great antique pieces and nosh on a meaty and well-seasoned lobster roll.  One night we ordered a couple of three pounders, took them home for a steam with some corn, and delighted in some succulent lobster meat with drawn butter.  Paired great with young Muscadet.

By far the most cherished discovery is The Downtown Grocery, across from the wine and cheese shop.  The team at this humble eatery is top-notch, from Chef Rogan Lechthaler to Matthew on cocktails, to Abby working the front of the house.  We were in Vermont a week and visited three times.  Had they been open Tuesdays or Wednesdays, make that five.  What is the formula for their success?  Real cooking, great hospitality and sincerity.  The menus changes slightly, nightly.  One night a porchetta, the next magret.  Start off with steamed pork buns, or a luxurious corn soup, or spicy mussels with a curry aioli.  Specials included Plew Farms chicken crostini and Long Island blowfish tails.  Finish with buttermilk bacon ice cream or ginger lemongrass sorbet.  There’s a value mind-blowing $25. Prixe-fixe.  Outstanding.  I don’t know how they do it.

One night at the bar, Matthew poured us some of his fishhouse summer punch, a great expression of his techniques and bartending skill.  We tried most of the cocktails on the menu.   They would stack up to any mixologist in New York.  Like I said, sad only in that they closed two days before we departed back for NYC.

Perseid painted the night sky dreamy for us one starry evening, trailing trains of wishes on those bright tails.  We sipped Croft Vintage port and wondered at the heavens, how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

A week later, on our way back to the grind and the city of hustle, we stopped of at Curtis again for take out, along with the obligatory maple syrup and jams, so Vermont could linger just a bit longer with us when we got home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europe in the very lovely month of May

May is a great month for travel to Europe.  There is a slipstream just before high season when the weather is peak to enjoy sunshine cooled by soft breezes..

It has been over twenty years since I have visited Italy, mainly because I tend to take annual trips to Spain, dabble in France, and vacation in Mexico or El Caribe.  I was handsomely rewarded this time around.

As with any great culinary city, my attack plan was simple.  Plan meals around the sights.  Research great wine bars (business interest), and long evenings al fresco (a fiori).  Eat local wine, salume and cheese.  Hit the sweets circuit.  Espresso down.

Rome provided an ideal venue for my game plan.  Roma is Eurocosmo, a neologism I like to use referring to a city with style, sophistication and tradition in food and wine, a culture who lives to eat.  Roma is built for long walks peppered by golden cups of espresso, lazy late afternoon lunches climaxing in the joy of artisanal gelato.

My own personal view on sightseeing is simple.  Be around structures and museums accidentally, enter if I must, but plan all the eating and drinking around the environs of said must see attraction.

On my last trip, the Vatican left a lasting impression, so before the weekend crowds made a visit unbearable, the Vatican was the first target.  As it turns out it is difficult to find any good eats around this tourist mecca, but I found great respite at a ham and wine bar called Passagui, where I sampled some great Pata Negra.  The resto features a tiled encased ham slicing room/station, featuring many legs which curiously held on to its own curly tails, and the signature black hooves, of course.  Despite the euro vs. the dollar, wine prices are about a third less than in New York.  For example, Falanghinas were listed between 16 and 22 euros per bottle, and Valtellina Superior from 28 to 35 euros.

Thank goodness for a solitary rec from my good friend Pete, an honorary Roman, at Giarrosto Toscano, where my gal and I lunched correctly. Toscano, a place popular among locals doing nothing special, but offering correct pastas and aged beef.  Cacio y pepe, bucatini alla amatricana followed by a nice t-bone.  All a fiori of course.  Nice waitstaff.  We returned for dinner later on in the trip and were treated as regulars.

A short walk from the Pyramide (truly an uninteresting structure), there is a gold mine of a diner called Volpetti where the business model is split in two.  Alimentari extraordinaire on the corner, adjacent to mom and pop prepared foods with inexpensive wine resto.  Sample it all, from the antipasto to the meatballs to the pizze.  Nourishment for the Roman soul.

Near the Trevi Fountain, a small trattoria named Piccolo Arancino offers classic roman fare.  The menu is vast and comprehensive.  The ravioli arancino is a specialty.  Then head over to the Pantheon to San Crispino for some artisanal gelato, a cut above the rest.

At Campo de Fiori you can get lost in all the noise and hullaballoo created by the raging youthful crowds, but a block therein lies a well established wine bar called L’Angolo Divino.  Skip the food, which is mediocre.  But do sit in the wee hours for a great selection of Ar.Pe.Pe and fabulous boutique wines from great producers.

A walk through the Greenwich Village of Rome, Traversere, is charming and leads to the Jewish quarter, a line up of Roman Jewish food where the stalwart Giggetto stands out from the rest.  Order the artichokes, zucchini flowers, and on to the roasted lamb.  A real treat down the road at one of the entrances to the quarter is a wine bar named Beppe, where the owner makes many of the cheeses.  Choose wine from the shelves and have a 20 euro tray of marvelous cheese.  Order salume if you have the room.  Real mortadella here folks. A nice ’04 Produttori di Barbaresco nebbiolo was drinking well and a steal at 35 euros.

Coming back to Traversere, a fine meal could be had in a romantic setting at Trattoria Teo’s, or a more expensive formal meal at L’Asincotto with the only drawback being indoor seating only.

A trip to the Pantheon can be treacherous for food, but a nice trattoria, Il Bacaro,  on a tiny side street, pretty and draped by flowery trees of held its own with a nice antipasto selection and solid pastas.

A quick jaunt to Napoli, the armpit of Italy, but worth it just for the best pizza in the world at Da Michele for a whopping five euros.  We also spent a few nights in Sorrento and Capri, where the food was nothing to write home about.  The seafood was incredibly overpriced compared to let’s say, Spain.

The highlight of the trip was getting a tip from a nice bartender at Ris Café, where a decent martini can be crafted.  We were directed to a true speakeasy, The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy on a piccolo street called Vicolo Cellini 30, complete with password and no sign.  Enter and find a civilized adult setting that could be in Williamsburg.  No stumping the bartenders here.  Professional and correct.  What an absolute treat to watch Romans discovering cocktails and its ingredients with wonder and enthusiasm.  I dare say a movement is on the way.

Next stop Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, for a look at the state of sherry and perhaps some of the best jamon in the world.

 

Chicago Redux

When an opportunity comes my way to travel to a city known for its food, almost any excuse will do.  When it is a town on my top five list, no arm twisting required. Living in New York City tends to narrow my view of dining.  More and more restaurants that open seem driven by the same formula: a downtown location, a sexy crowd, and food that serves the needs of those who treat food as dressing, while also appeasing to the so called discerning foodies.

Aside from high end restos, cheap ethnic dining is best, offering real value for your food, packed with real flavor.  If this were a BYO town such as Philly or Chicago, we would have something here.  But how would the restaurants pay the rent.  One can get easily caught up in the notion that New York is the center of the universe in dining, and neglect other foodtowns, USA.  New Orleans disproves this theory.  San Francisco, Charleston, and (fill in the blank)head the list.

This weekend Chicago was the venue, and year after year, I leave with a great impression of a food culture that is thriving and genuine.

After arriving on Thursday afternoon and checking into the Affinia Hotel, I was treated to a surprise, an authentic Chick-Fil-A.  We don’t have it in New York, and I haven’t tried it.  But chicken would have to wait, as I had a date with Carriage Bakery, a small shop run by scientific dudes, dedicated to making pot pies and pasties, British style, with all the trimmings, peas, chips and malt vinegar, mashed potatoes and gravy.  Country ditties on the screen reminded me of Deliverance, but the only revelation was just how great these pies were, filled with steak, chicken, stew meat, or the special of the day, cheese and potato.  Washed down with a hibiscus soda, I couldn’t help but think that in NYC, another meatball or bao bun shop opened up instead.  A necessary cup of coffee from neighboring upstart Bridgeport was proper and enjoyable.  Auspicious beginning.

That evening I headed over to the Purple Pig, which was hopping at 6 pm.  I always forget that in the Midwest, people prefer to dine early.  With no reservation and a party for six, we were grabbed a two hour wait.  The reservation system was handled on a piece of paper and not well managed.  They were overwhelmed.  We were crammed at the bar.  I checking in several times and witnessed several spaces we could have been squeezed into, but I was told that people were running late. I watched as a family of six with four kids arrived late and took the space.  A huge pet peeve of mine, no kids at wine bars during peak times.  They drink soda!  After some nice cocktails and cidre from Normandie, we ordered a bottle of lambrusco.  After 15 minutes, it was clear that our order was forgotten. Note to self, dine after nine in Chicago.

When the time had elapsed, the hostess offered us a table out in the Chicago cold.  I expressed my displeasure, and stated the obvious.  That If I had been informed after waiting for two hours standing at the bar, that I was to be offered seating outside, I would have left accordingly.  All was forgiven when we finally were seated and comped the Lambrusco.  We ordered off the vast menu.  Some dishes were quite memorable.   The charcuterie plate was bright anchored by a creamy testa. Pork rillettes were rich and devoured.  Almonds fried in pork fat was eye opening.  Iberico lardo on toast points will be stolen and put on my menu at home.  The star dish was a balance fried, sliced pig’s ears salad with pickled peppers and fried kale, a real stunner.  The quail and roasted marrow bones were tasty albeit small in portion size, the mussels and octopus less successful.  The wine list was well put together offering many reasonable choices.  We had a bottle of Movia sauvignon blanc, LDH Tondonia Blanco 2001, and a Cerasuolo di Vittoria, all at great prices.  The cheese course was tame, and I wished for more aggressive offerings.  Time spent in total: 5 hours.

The following day we took in the Field museum and the Genghis Khan exhibit, whose DNA is responsible for 16 million Mongolians, The Red Queen supreme.  We paid a visit to the Bongo Room for their famous brunch, and comparing it to certain NY bruncheries, it held up its own, with intellgentsia coffee and great bacon and pork sausage.  I will have to return for the pancakes, which looked fabulous.

Squeezed in a Chik-Fil-A which was not bad, but nothing to write home about.  Moderately moist chicken, sorry bun, interesting, albeit sweet sauces.

A quick pit stop for oysters and cocktails in the C-Room (the hotel resto), and all was fine, but one could not detect Chef Marcus Samuelson’s stamp on anything.  It certainly was no Red Rooster.  A trip to the United Center was only overshadowed in anticipation of an evening at Publican, my favorite gastro pub anywhere.

Great seats by the kitchen, artisanal craft beers and pork rinds, heaven’s gate now open and the true games begin.  Hamachi crudo, pickled corn, onions, and pickles, boudin blanc, and more pork rinds, ethereal cheese and vinegar spiced, the perfect bar food.  The beer list is so well selected, you almost can’t bring yourself to order wine, but slightly sweet gruner and halb-trocken Riesling cut right into the fat of the steak tartare, brilliantly prepared.  The service is impeccable, and I truly lament that they don’t open a branch in NYC.  To follow up, lovely cocktails were had at Maude’s, a sleeper in my book.  Their house smashes took me out.

The next day I had my mind set on a burger, and we were advised to experience Kuma’s Corner for some heavy metal and all the fixings. There was a three-hour wait, so we ordered take-out, which was prompt, seven burgers and fries, mac n cheese in half an hour.  It was a little chilly for a picnic, but that was the only viable venue option.  Aside from the novelty nomenclature, I found the burgers to be good, enormous, and the toppings to be slightly more interesting than the burgers themselves.  No comparison to Pat La Frieda’s black label or The Burger Joint here.

Quick digestion was necessary, as some hard to procure seats at Schwa for 8:30 were waiting, a meal I have been looking forward to all month.

Outside Schwa looks like a shuttered storefront, shades down and abandoned looking.  The cab offered to keep the meter running.  We walked in without an escape plan, and to our delight, they were open, alive and kicking.

We were well armed for the BYO nine-course affair.  Larmandier Bernier Terre de Vertus Blanc de Blancs, Domaine Servin Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis 2008, and Mastrobernardino Radici Taurasi 1999 Riserva purchased fom Binny’s, apparently the only game in town.   There was no Chamber’s Street in sight, and I will have to look into the wine selection availability more in depth in the future.

Enter a non-descript rectangular room anchored in the rear by an open kitchen as seen through a square porthole, with smoke and fire wafting through the ceiling, as modern hip hp blares and thumps thorough the Polk speakers.  At first it seem disjointed, all that rap, and the recessed down attitude.  But after we were seated, you just have to surrender, which was upon observance the only option exercised by the rest of the patrons.

One menu, nine courses, and service by the chefs who finish a dish and bring it out to the table.  Silver-plated ceiling above, back graffiti sprayed walls surrounded by silver blinged lighting fixtures: Odyssey 2000 meets Harlem meets El Bulli on American soil.

One could say it’s all about the food, but the music is there, thumping, causing you to rock back and forth or bow your dome in rhythm, a rap opera setting.

Menu

Amuse:  Chocolate cherry bomb Manhattan, Flower tonic

Cassoulet : deconstructed w pig ears

Baked Potato deconstructed into a soup

Raviolo Truffle Egg

Tortelloni Crab Apple Celery broth

Roe, Passion fruit, violet

Fruit Loops

Salmon Sous Vide

Cocoa Crusted Halibut in apricot and curry

Squab w/ Bourbon flavors, Dr. Pepper

Rice Crispies

 

The cooking is inventive, refreshing, and ballsy.  The flavors are balanced, bright with acidity, and artistic on the plate.  This is no apology cooking from Chef Carlson and crew.  You can tell they are doing it “my way” and if you are open for the experience it all makes sense in the end, expert technique and an approach to food that is playful, whimsical, thought provoking, and delicious, a feeling I had not had since dining at El Bulli.

In New York, Romera tried its hand, and failed, panned by critics and misunderstood by New York’s “educated” and “sophisticated” diners.  I wonder what reception Schwa would receive in NYC.  It is a shame that this type of cooking does not exist in my home town, save for Chef Wylie.

Followed up the great performance with some jazz from Joanna Connor at Kingston Mines, swizzling Goose Island until close.

Couldn’t leave Chicago without a deep dish pizza, but logistics steered me local for some rather good Hawaiian and meat stuffed pies, nothing that will replace the Napoletana craze back home.  Next time I want to try Smoque BBQ.

I leave Chicago with much respect, a little bit of envy, great satisfaction, basking into the arms of my diversely ethnic melting pot of comfort food, celebrity chef type and people watching venues that stand in for restaurants nowadays in NYC, anxiously waiting for the food to be the star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Escape from New York?

I like to think that my ideal living arrangement/lifestyle would be eight months in New York City, three months in Europe, and one month in the Caribbean.  I measure my success by the approximation to that goal.  So far this year, I have been late to travel, and only managed to squeeze in a week in Cancun to satisfy the “beach” element to my program.

It almost felt unnecessary to leave NYC, given the spate of warm weather, but a beach is still a beach.  I was warned about late January weather in Mexico, but found this to be a true bonus.  It rained the Friday I got in, and was cloudy the day I departed.  In between, however, sunny to partly cloudy skies, a fabulous constant breeze and mild temperatures.  The kind that allows for tanning without scalding, sleeping and reading on lounge chairs without sweating, encouraging for late night starry walks without the company of mosquitoes.

The other piece of advice I received was to stay in Playa del Carmen, a newer, less touristy, hipper part of Cancun, but because of the deal I sought out, Cancun it was.

There are two main problems with staying in Cancun.  One is that most of the hotels are all inclusive, which for a person looking to sample local cuisine, is a death trap.  Eating the same hotel food day after day is boring, often inedible, and not adventurous.  I chose a hotel with no all-inclusive, Le Meridien.  There are two buses that travel directly to the center of Cancun (R-1, R-2) which are inexpensive and run frequently.

After reading countless reviews on Trip Advisor and spending some time at the Barnes and Nobles travel library, I jotted a few places to try and decided to wing it.  Instead of being my usual obsessive self about the food, I decided to not to sweat it.

After establishing that the food at the hotel was inedible, the strip of the Zona Hotelera revealed various pitfalls as well, but I got a little lucky.  A small cafe at the back of a touring/rental company served a basic menu of eggs, tacos and sandwiches with drinks  with a view of the laguna.  Fred’s House, seafood restaurant, sister of the more expensive Harry’s Grill, did a great job with ceviche and grilled fish.  The chocolate (named for the shell color) clams were pristine, and oysters on the grill meaty and good.  The chef prepared the local hogfish with a 7 chili rub and various habanero sauces.  I struggled through a bottle of sauvignon blanc fom Mexico, but more on that later.

At Captain’s Cove, also on the strip, there is a Sunday buffet with omelettes and tacos to order.  They served cochinito pibil and rajas, but the stars of the meal were the hominy and pork crackling soups, deep, earthy, and hangover relieving Yucatan specialities.

A big blank was drawn at an attempt for sushi at Katsu ya, which prepared barely edible rolls, and were out of sushi grade tuna and hamachi.  I know what you’re thinking, but I just had an obviously non brilliant thought that fresh fish equaled good sashimi.  Not.

The saving grace to all of these establishments were their proximity on the laguna.  There is something to be said for dining at tables waterside, feeling the breeze, listening to the waves, and watching the sun or starry skies.

Then there was the afternoon of trying to find bars with working satellites to watch sports, (more Knicks games televised here than in NYC) which was responsible for drinking at Maragaritaville (ugh, during a kids party), and Champions outlet bar (double ugh).  Some satellites worked, others didn’t.  You can’t follow your sports team in Mexico unless its Chivas.

But, among those bad experiences good decisions were made too.  A romantic relaxed evening at Habichuelos complete with garden and tableside Caesar’s salad preparation made for a memorable meal of soft shelled crab, ceviche, mole, whole snapper and banana chocolate crepes. Behind the Parque de las Palapas, there is a plaza with street vendors selling tortas to tacos  of all varieties.  Mexico at its best.

On the bustling Avenida Tulum, a great show can be caught at La Parilla, a Tex Mex stalwart with giant drinks, flaming food, and a theatrical circus waiter who balances everything on his bald head.   Mariachis swing from table to table while the waiter climbs a ladder to perform a pyrotechnic Mexican coffee.  Pictures secured by camera phones and safety disregarded when it sure looked to me like everything was going to come crashing down on the patrons.

Very nice Oaxacan cuisine at Calenda, in case you missed out on your chapulinas (grasshopper) fix.  Moles, and stuffed peppers round out the menu.  And don’t forget the mescal.

More mescal and proper tequilas can be had at the Plaza de los Toros, in the bars surrounding the bullfighting ring.  There’s a style for every one, just make sure it is your style.

After the thirtieth margarita, my palate leans back towards wine.  I found that virtually every wine list had the same list of wines on the menu, only changing the price according to the type of restaurant.  The choices were awful, and overpriced as if I were in Venice.  I tried to taste some local wines, but could not stomach the alcohol content, and the oak.  Apparently, there are just two importers in the area, and they dictate the wines to be sold.  Oh well, back to mescal.

I found my appetite to be somewhat diminished and tame.  Perhaps the limited options did not inspire, or maybe the sun provided enough nourishment, but after seven days of eating in Cancun, I couldn’t wait for my 9:00 pm res at Mas La Grillade in the West Village.

Postscript:  Mas La Grillade was great, smoked romaine salad!  Thanks to Shiraz and Galen for a memorable evening and welcome back to my home town.