Cancun Date Night at La Habichuela Downtown

Even when you have the easiest baby in the world, sometimes you just need a date night.

And so, last weekend Jorge and I dropped off the baby with my in-laws and went out for dinner and a movie. First was the movie “Room” at Plaza Las Americas (highly recommend!), then we headed to Parque Las Palapas to experience one of Cancun’s oldest and most iconic restaurants: La Habichuela.

With 38 years of history in Cancun, La Habichuela has two locations: the original restaurant by Parque Las Palapas, and the newer La Habichuela Sunset in the Hotel Zone. (You might remember we went to La Habichuela Sunset about a year ago when I was very, very pregnant.) On this particular night, Jorge and I wanted to try the original.

I had been to the original La Habichuela once before, but never had the opportunity to sit out in the garden and hoped that this would be my night. It had been raining all day, but the sky had completely cleared by the time we arrived; much to my delight, they had a covered terrace area within the garden, just in case of rain. The host sat us at the last table for two on the narrow terrace that had filled up with customers, mostly small groups of tourists and a few locals.

The garden area twinkled with little white lights, accented by Mayan statues and small trees. A Downtown Cancun fairytale setting! Yes, date night had begun.

Right away, the waiter brought us a jícara (dried gourd) filled with a Mayan drink called balché, made with tree bark, honey and water. Definitely one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had and the perfect way to start the night. Jorge offered himself up as the designated driver for the evening, and I took advantage of my baby-free evening by ordering a few mojitos.

We were both in the mood for some soups, so Jorge got the cream of habichuela (string bean) and I got the lobster bisque; I’m pretty picky about soups, and these were delicious! Jorge and I filled up so much on soups that we couldn’t even finish our shrimp. (No worries, we ate the rest at lunch the next day.) Both of our shrimp entrees were wonderful, especially the sauces that came with them.

And for dessert… anybody who knows me, knows that if it’s not a chocolate dessert, I’m not interested. Well, La Habichuela changed my mind. The staff recommended the flambéed strawberries, so I asked Jorge if he wanted to take the risk with me, and he was happy to go along. Our server, Muse, brought all the flambé equipment tableside, and we looked on as he added cassis, red wine and brandy to the hot pan of strawberry slices. Then, he served the strawberries and sauce over vanilla ice cream and gave us each a glass. I had in front of me two things I’m not a fan of: vanilla ice cream and a non-chocolate dessert. Less than excited, I took my first bite… and discovered I had been so, so wrong. The flambéed strawberries and ice cream they had prepared was one of the best things I have ever tried, even better than *most* chocolate cakes. Thank you La Habichuela for taking me out of my comfort zone!

I think that my years as a waitress plus my years living in a city with so many cool restaurants has made me pretty picky about food, service and atmosphere. La Habichuela got gold stars in all three!

The Press Conference that Turned Me Into a Foodie

Amazing things don’t usually happen on Wednesdays… but last Wednesday, something pretty amazing happened to me.

A media friend of mine invited me to a press conference for the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival. Most press conferences are just the event organizers sitting at a table answering press questions and having their picture taken, but this was something else! I showed up to the beautiful Casa Rolandi and was taken to a large table with this view:

And the view from the deck! These are all pictures of the Nichupte Lagoon.

I was soon joined by my friend Kelly (aka Cancun Canuck). Figures the American and the Canadian would be the first to show up. As the rest of the group trickled in, it became clear that this was no ordinary press conference… we had just sat down to a multi-course tasting lunch with the founder and marketing team of the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival!

Along with some other bloggers and “tweeters”, I feasted on course after course while the festival organizers told us all about the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival for 2014. This is the region’s biggest food event, and it’s known for its luxury events, celebrity chefs, wine tastings, and upscale dinners hosted at some of the area’s best hotels and venues. Founder David Amar said, “We strive to showcase the world’s food and wine projects and the stories behind it… Even more than the names, it’s the story behind WHY.”

But back to my lunch! Had I known what I had gotten myself into, I would have brought my trusty Nikon camera. But alas, I’ll have to make due with my cell phone pictures. Here are just a few of the courses we had at Casa Rolandi:

My favorite, the white fish sashimi

Everything you need to make tiny pork tacos

My pork taco creation

Would you believe I have never gotten one of these fancy platters before?

Lamb and sweet potato. Wow.

 

Just when I thought nothing could beat the sashimi, Casa Rolandi proved me wrong. They brought out the dessert.

I usually go by the rule, “If it’s not chocolate, it’s not worth my time” when it comes to dessert. I was wrong. So wrong. I’m not 100% sure what this is. I believe it’s some kind of large macaroon with a passion fruit or mango ice cream. Either way, it blew my taste buds away.

 

After that lunch, I felt like a true cuisine connoisseur! It really got me revved up for the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival. The festival’s events will mostly take place in the Cancun area this year (last year they were in the Riviera Maya). It will run March 13 – 16, 2014 with events like celebrity chef cook-offs, wine tastings (as well as mezcal, champagne and whiskey!) with top sommeliers, the Gourmet Tasting Village and a yacht cruise to Isla Mujeres. Their goal is to increase the luxury tourism market in the Cancun – Riviera Maya area with several days of upscale culinary events.

For all the information on the events and guest chefs, stop by the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival website. See you there!

 

El Pescado Ciego

Friday night, I got to try a restaurant I’ve been curious to check out for months now.

I met up with my friend Nadia and her boyfriend’s cousin Jorge (yes, another Jorge… there are many) at El Pescado Ciego, a small seafood restaurant on Avenida Nader in downtown Cancun. I was trying not to spend too much so we’d have money to go to Isla Mujeres on Sunday, so I ordered the cheapest things on the menu. It was the best decision I could have made because the result was delicious!

The atmosphere was beautiful, with a palapa out front and fun yet elegant decor inside. It had the same “upscale Caribbean hippie” vibe (I made that up) that many other bars and restaurants on Avenida Nader are known to have. I found the ambiance to be quite romantic, but I was surprised to see that almost every table was groups of friends, not couples.

(Please forgive the poor picture quality. El Pescado Ciego has very “romantic” lighting.)

To start, churritos with cream cheese dip. If I weren't on a diet, these would have been gone in 5 minutes.

They also gave us these shots of seafood soup. It was good, but not as flavorful as the shrimp soup at Muellecito (a post for another day).

My lobster quesadillas with mango sauce, a new favorite!

My "Dragonfly" Taco (fried shrimp): very good, but the sauce was a little overpowering

Jorge's Catch of the Day: very garlic-y, but that's how I like it

Nadia's tuna: I hate tuna so I didn't try it, but Jorge and Nadia gave it rave reviews.

Nadia, Jorge and me! Why do I look so frightened in this photo?

Overall, everything that we had was very tasty, but the only dishes that really stood out to me were the churritos and the lobster quesadilla. (Granted, I have very simple tastes.) I will be back for those!

I Famosi Italian Restaurant

Some friends of ours had recommended an Italian place near Plaza Las Americas way back in early February, and last weekend Jorge and I decided to try it out.

I Famosi is a small restaurant on Acanceh Street (behind Sports City, for all my Cancun friends). Their menu is pretty extensive, with lots of unique pastas and a wide variety of pizzas.

To start, they brought out a bread basket with a tomato dipping sauce. I could only have 1 bite because of the diet (had to save room for pizza), but it was delicious!

Jorge ordered an eggplant pasta and I had the Riccotini pizza, which was amazing. With my diet I’m only allowed thin-crust pizzas, and this one fit the bill.

When they brought the check out, the waiter mentioned that they weren’t charging us for Jorge’s meal since they gave him the wrong pasta, even though Jorge liked it so much he ate it anyway. I thought that was a really nice gesture.

We couldn’t finish a lot of it, and we ended up taking enough home for lunch the next day. (2 meals for the price of 1!)

Out total was around $120 pesos (my pizza, a water and Jorge’s Sprite). With Jorge’s discounted pasta added in, it would have been a little over $200 pesos. Not bad for a romantic evening!

The Surfin Burrito

One of our favorite places to go when we have nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon is The Surfin Burrito. It’s located in the Cancun Hotel Zone, and since it opened a few months ago it’s become quite popular with tourists and a lot of my expat friends. It’s also open 24 hours a day and right next to Party Center, so it’s perfect for some 4 am burritos right after you leave the club.

They have beers, cocktails, tacos, ceviches, burritos and even some burgers, perfect for a quick and delicious meal.

This Sunday, Jorge and I ordered some pico de gallo ($25 pesos) that was absolutely perfect… spicy, but not so spicy it makes my nose run! Then we split a build-your-own burrito (around $70 pesos), with fish, a spinach tortilla, chipotle, rice, beans and God only knows what else!


I love this place… it’s super tiny (only 3 tables), very casual, and always has a mixed crowd hanging out and talking about their latest escapades.

We spent $160 pesos (about $13 US) total, including our pico de gallo, 1 burrito, some sodas and a tip.

Yet another Cancun restaurant that fits the 3 B’s: Bueno, Bonito y Barato!

5 Year Anniversary Surprise

Can you still celebrate dating anniversaries once you’re married?

Well, we did it anyway.

On Friday we had our 5 year dating anniversary, and Jorge wanted to take me on a dinner date to a surprise location. I wore my favorite yellow dress because I don’t get many fancy occasions for it.

I was really excited when we got there and I found out we were going to Elefanta, an upscale Indian restaurant at Plaza La Isla. We had a table under a palapa by the lagoon, which was lovely. About halfway through the meal, we felt water misting our feet. The waiter explained it’s their bug repellant spray to protect the legs. Pretty cool.

We’d never had Indian food before, but it was DELICIOUS. We started with potato and cheese naan bread, then had saffron and cheese shrimp and some kind of amazing spiced chicken for the main course.

I didn’t take many pictures because who wants to take pictures on a date? Plus “romantic lighting” isn’t very photo-friendly. You can check out Elefanta’s photo gallery, though. It’s a really, really beautiful restaurant.

All I have for you is a shot of my view of the lagoon:

I love upscale restaurants, hotels, etc, but for some reason I always feel out of place in fancy venues. What if the waiters find out that I’m not rich like the rest of the customers? That we had to save up for months for this dinner? That this is my only (sort of) expensive dress? That we took the city bus to get here? Totally irrational. But I love going anyway 🙂

 

**Update: By “popular” demand, here’s a picture of my favorite yellow dress:

Splash! Restaurant in Cancun’s Hotel Zone

Right after our afternoon at the beach last Sunday, Jorge and I took the Hotel Zone bus to a restaurant we’d been wanting to try called Splash. It’s located right on the lagoon (by where Basic nightclub used to be, for all you partiers) and has some pretty decent prices!

My lettuce tacos (shrimp, salmon/caviar, and tuna)

Jorge with his michelada

We spent $260 pesos total (several tacos each, drinks and tip).

Jorge says we have to return because this place has “The 3 B’s… Bueno, Bonito y Barato“!

Cheester: Is There Such a Thing as Bad Publicity?

One of my Cancun favorites, Cheester restaurant put up a post on its Facebook page this past Saturday that sparked quite the controversy all over Cancun’s social media culture:

hola amigos de cheester es de vital importancia que si es tu piensas festejar tu cumpleaños, reunion, posada, graduacion etc debes decirle a tus amigos que mesas mayores a 12 personas esperaras por lo menos 45 min si llegas en horas pico digamos entre 2 y 6 y entre 8 y 10 de la noche y que tenemos un consumo minimo de 100 pesos por persona, mas el 15 % de servicio asi que avisales a tus amigos, esto quiere decir que si vienes a ocupar un espacio y no vas a consumir mejor vayan a mac donalds evitenme la pena de causarte un mal momento SI ESTAS DE ACUERDO CON LAS REGLAS Y SON PERSONAS CIVILIZADAS ESTAMOS EN LA MEJOR DISPOSICION DE ATENERLES ( MESAS MAYORES DE 12 ES CASI IMPOSIBLE DE SERVIR DEVIDO A LA CAPACIDAD DEL RESTAURANTE ) POR SU COMPRENCION GRACIAS Y LOS ESPERAMOS

Here’s my rough translation (complete with spelling and grammar errors):

Hello friends of cheester it’s of vital importance that if you’re planning to celebrate your birthday, get-together, posada, graduation etc you should tell your friends that tables of more than 12 people will wait at least 45 minutes if you arrive during peak hours let’s say from 2 to 6 and from 8 to 10 at night and there’s a minimum bill of 100 pesos (about $10 USD) per person, plus 15 % service so let your friends know, this means that if you’re coming to take up space and you’re not going to eat you’d better go to mac donalds don’t make me have to ruin your evening IF YOU AGREE WITH THE RULES AND ARE CIVILIZED PEOPLE WE ARE MORE THAN HAPPY TO SERVE YOU ( TABLES MORE THAN 12 ARE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO SERVE DO TO THE CAPACITY OF THE RESTAURANT ) THANKS FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDIN AND HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON

Followers were immediately in an uproar over this statement, mainly due to the mean tone of the post.

I was upset at first as well because it made me feel unwelcome as a customer, but I’m ok with it now for several reasons:

  1. Cheester is and has always been known for its sarcastic, no BS attitude. Their original restaurant even has a list of rules posted, insisting you not be cheap and tip your waiter, no special orders, we close promptly at 11, etc etc. I’ve been personally yelled at by the chef for making a special order, and the chef has also come out to tell my friends to stop using their Blackberries at dinner (haha). They have always been known for their acidic humor and everyone just thought it was funny, so why should they be expected to change now?
  2. If I read over this carefully, they’re actually pretty good rules and advisories.
    • The restaurant is VERY small, and doesn’t fit groups of 12. Thanks for the heads up.
    • Yes there will be a wait, especially for groups. Cheester doesn’t accept reservations and is always packed. Again, thanks for the heads up.
    • Automatic 15% service for large groups is standard for pretty much every restaurant.
    • $100 pesos minimum… I think this is a bit high considering Cheester dishes each cost around $100 and are meant for 2 or more people… but I get their point that you can’t just be sitting there taking up space.

New anti-Cheester Facebook groups have been formed calling for boycotts, and many are using the hashtag #CheesterSucks on Twitter.

Cheester has since posted 3 apologies on its Facebook page.

What do you think? Did they cross the line this time? Should they have to apologize? Is this good or bad publicity for Cheester?

Juan, Viri, Jorge and me at Cheester a few months back

Cheester Pasta

Last night, Jorge and I went to dinner with 2 of our best friends at one of my favorite restaurants… Cheester!

Cheester is a great casual outdoor restaurant that sells ENORMOUS pastas. Customers can write all over the walls, and the menu is written on a chalk board inside. It’s ALWAYS full!

First, they bring you rolls with a DELICIOUS habanero sauce... this sauce is so spicy, you can't eat more than a few drops of it! 🙂

The lamps over the tables are made of plastic funnels 🙂

Juan and Viri ordered the Don Corleone pasta... this is also Jorge's favorite!

I ordered Margarita pasta (and shared a little with Jorge, who'd already eaten dinner). Lots of cheese, red sauce and pesto! Mmmm! Definitely a serving for 2 or 3 people.

Juan, Viri, Jorge and Gringation

Good luck getting a table! Only downside is that this place closes at 11 pm… very early by Cancun standards.


Show Me Your Local Cuisine!

Today, I’ll continue on with Show Me Your (fill-in-the-blank).

Nikki from Que Sera Sera (as a semi-Mexican blogger, I gotta love the title!) asked to see some local cuisine. The other day I went to one of my favorite places on Avenida Tulum (the main road in downtown Cancun) for some…

FISH TACOS!

"Los de Pescado" 🙂 Aren't you happy just looking at it?

The view from my chair... this plaza has a whole bunch of small restaurants all lined up in a row. Sometimes I'll get a fish taco from Los de Pescado, plus a cheese & spinach empanada from the Argentinean locale next-door (El Emporio).

Here they are! Fish tacos. My drink is Hibiscus water, and the sauces from left to right are chipotle, tamarindo, and mayo-chipotle. As you can see, I opted for mayo-chipotle sauce with pico de gallo.

For 20 pesos (about one dollar and 50 cents), they give you one fish taco. This taco is 2 tortillas thick and includes 2 of those fried fish sticks. What I do to control my portions is divide my one taco into 2 (as seen in the picture). I separate the tortillas and put one fishstick on each. It lasts longer that way, and I feel like I’m eating more. I fill up on this pretty easily, although sometimes the craving for an empanada or 2 from next door overcomes me.

So what you see in the picture (1 taco turned into 2, plus my hibiscus water) costs about 3 US dollars total, plus tip. At the Argentinean empanada place next door, you can have 3 empanadas plus a soda for $49 pesos. Haven’t done it yet, but it’s a good deal.