Friday, November 26, 2010

Island Departure

As excited as we are about the upcoming trip, we are a little sad to leave our new home. Because, well, it feels like home. The cat comes around a couple of times a day for food and attention. The basil plant is looking successful. And, there's the ocean. We try to take advantage of its proximity, as you can see from the posted photos.

One photo shows the dreaded lionfish, coming to an appropriate end. A non-native fish that eats everything and has few predators, there is a lot of local effort to reduce their numbers. Dive masters are encourage to catch and kill as many as possible. Jorge killed five on this dive. Jennifer spotted this one and Jorge speared it.

We're leaving on the 6:00am ferry, driving south toward Chetumal, then west across the Yucatan peninsula, visiting some of the lesser-known Mayan sites between here and San Cristóbal. We arrive in San Cristóbal on Monday, check in with our school, and move in with a local family as part of our two weeks of intensive Spanish language classes.

Since the city sits at 7,000 feet, we're packing flannel shirts, fleece, and one of us is packing down. Island living thins the blood.

One of the more significant festivals in Mexico will take place while we are in SC, the Fiesta de Virgin de Guadalupe. Supposed to be filled with 12 days of colorful parades, processions, costumes(?) and prayer vigils.

After our class we are driving to the far eastern corner of Chiapas, along the Rio Usumacinta which forms the border between Mexico and Guatamala. We'll take in two more significant, but remote Mayan sites.

We'll post stories and photos as often as we can. As long as we keep up with our homework.

Cocina Economica #2 - Las Flamitas

We arrive at Las Flamitas for Monday lunch with friends Delfina and Paul and their friend, Greg. Paul had carried on about the Monday special, frijol con puerco. That's right pork 'n beans. But, this dish has about as much resemblance to pork and beans from the can, as Mexican food (the good regional stuff) does to Taco Bell.

While the menu is a bit more varied than most of the local lunch places, I'm thinking that the frijol de puerco is not to be missed. The first four orders are for that Monday special and then the waiter looks at me. I just can't say cinco. Always the non-comformist, I order pollo pibil.

I figure with four orders on the table, I'll still get a chance to taste it. Besides, I love the Yucatecan pibil style which marinates the chicken or pork in achiote seeds, sour orange and other spices. The meat is slow-cooked in banana leaves, usually in a pan over a charcoal grill. Check out Rick Bayless' web site for the recipe, or better yet, buy one of his cookbooks. They are great.

The agua fresca of the day was watermelon, chips and salsa came to the table, then all of the condiments for the frijol dish arrived. Bowls of chopped onion, radish, chiles and cilantro with wedges of lime, were soon joined by plates of slow-cooked pork (shoulder?) chunks, rice with black beans and avocado slices. Then, each eager eater got a bowl of black beans and broth, followed by lots of warm corn tortillas.

You can make tacos out of the foods spread in front of you, but our friends started dumping everything into the bowls. Sort of like a Yucatecan pho. This proved to be the way to eat this dish.

I was right, there was enough for me to have both dishes. All of mine and some of Jennifer's. Urp! Someone in the kitchen knows what they are doing and cares about it.

Can't wait to try more of the Yucatecan specialties at Las Flamitas.

Las Flamitas
Av 25, between 1 y 3
Open Monday - Saturday

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cocina Economica - #1 - Cucina Italiana

One of the best food traditions, and values, in Mexico are Cocina Economica and loncherias. You don't need to speak Spanish to know that this means good value lunches. These places are really the Mexican equivalent of a diner with the daily blue plate special. Nothing fancy, just good, solid home cooking.

They are often in the owner's home, only open for lunch and almost always include a soup, main course and beverage for $4 - 8 usd. There are quite a few in Cozumel and we'll try to visit at least one a week. Here is our first, which, as it's name implies, does not serve Mexican food.

A mainstay on the island since 1986, it's a taste of Italia in Cozumel. The only thing missing is wise guys and small glasses of vino rosso. Not sure about the tough guys, but you'll rarely, if ever, find beer or wine at a cocina economica.

In a small house near downtown, the entrance is through a courtyard with a huge banyan tree and a bird cage full of songbirds. Inside you are greeted by Signora Torroni. The day's specials are displayed on large platters. During our visit they offered lasagna, fish filet with green beans, chicken breast with rosemary and a side of penne with red sauce. All of the mains included a minestrone, killer garlic bread, a salad tossed with a vinaigrette and a choice of lime tea, or melon aguas frescas (lighter than juice but loaded with fruit flavor).

Dessert is offered, but who has room for dessert after this much food? We'll be back.

Cucina Italiana
on Calle 6, between Ave 10 y 15
Lunches 1:00 PM until 5:00 PM

Kinta Mexican Bistro

It is no surprise that one of our favorite Cozumel restaurants receives great reviews from guide books, Trip Advisor and local forums.

The setting is stylish and relaxing, with a choice between an air conditioned dining room and an comfortable patio.

The ambiance enhances the food. It is terrific. Fresh flavors, creative combinations, and attractive plating all combine for a wonderful dining experience at a reasonable price.

Count yourself lucky if the flor de kalabaza is one of the appetizers. The squash blossoms are filled with a blend of three cheeses, lightly fried in a tempura batter and paired with a roasted red pepper sauce. La olla negra (black bean soup), the fish tacos (in photos) and the panuchos are three other appetizers we have enjoyed.

Salads offer usual and unusual pairings. We've had the freska with spinach, apple, dried cranberries, gorgonzola and tamarind vinaigrette.

The catch of the day (usually grouper or mahi mahi) with a red tomatillo sauce goes well with the Alameda Sauvignon Blanc (Chile). The porky pasilla is a near perfect dish of slow-cooked pork tenderloin medallions with a chile pasilla demiglaze, fig marmalade and mashed potatoes. Yucatecan meets California comfort food? Who cares? It's really good.

We've never had room for dessert, but were tempted by the mango kobbler on our last visit. The table next to us ordered it, but the waiter said it was made with apples that night. Mangos aren't in season until February. Something to look forward to.

A good wine list with South American and South African bottles is reasonable, and wines by the glass come in nice stemware and at the proper temperature.

With food this good, service that is knowledgeable and prompt, and fair prices, it would be easy to eat here every night. I wouldn't be surprised if some people do.

Kinta Mexican Bistro
5th Ave. between 2 y 4
5:30 PM - 11:00 PM
Closed Monday

Friday, November 12, 2010

Vacation - Nope, we got Married

Sorry it has been awhile since we have posted a restaurant review. We've been pretty busy the past few weeks with friends and families coming and going.

We'll have loads of new reviews coming next week. Just a few of the places we love in Cozumel: Kinta, Le Chef/Olives, and Palancar Beach Club.

Tell your friends.