Postcard from Merida, Mexico: A trio of restaurants for dining well

Above: Micaela Mar y Lena crudo de atun

Grilled seafood is the specialty at Cocina de Mar y Lena, a contemporary restaurant that seems a magnet for an upscale crowd of fashionable Mexicans arriving by the Uber-full, at least they were pre-COVID. The grilled shrimp and octopus were wonderful, and the refreshing raw tuna (above) just melted in your mouth.

Chef Sara Maria Arnaud Gomez combines the flavors of Oaxaca with those of the Yucatan at Apoala on the prime people-watching park of Santa Lucia. From ceviche and fried zucchini blossoms to dessert, everything was beautifully plated. Loved their mezcal mule cocktails with a smoky charred chunk of caramelized honeycomb riding atop the rim.

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Postcard from Merida, Mexico: Cuisine branches out beyond the expected

Above, Grilled Pulpo and Camarones at Peruano in Merida

It seems way too long since the blog offered any nourishment. This first restaurant post from Merida has little to do with traditional dishes of the Yucatan (Don’t worry, we’ll serve you some of those soon.).

Since the most recent food post was from Italy, we’ll begin the transition with a visit to an Italian enoteca – Oliva. Having been spoiled so recently, we hesitated to try this high-end Italian in Merida. We were richly rewarded though. Lamb ragu, cauliflower risotto and a beautifully delivered filet of sea bass all measured up to Italy. Of course, Oliva had me hooked with a special starring one of my favorite foods in the world – soft-shelled crab.
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Postcard from Lecce, Italy: Sampling seafood and pasta served Apulia-style

lecce seafood ravioli radici

Seafood Ravioli at Radici – Market, Food & Caffetteria

With only skimpy sandwiches for lunch, we were ready for a sit-down meal after arriving in Lecce well after nightfall. We walked out the door of our apartment and crossed the street upon the recommendation of our landlord and entered what became our favorite restaurant in Lecce, Osteria 203.

The intimate restaurant had us hooked with the contorni, a varying trio of seasonal vegetables. Unlike in Naples, vegetable sides and antipasti were easy to come by in Lecce. But Osteria 203 also provided the Mister with his favorite dish of the entire trip, stinco di maiale. The enormous braised pork shank was falling-off-the-bone tender and was served in a pool of a rich red wine sauce. The fried young artichokes were highly addictive, and how can one resist trying purple gnocchi. Our only disappointment with the Osteria 203 is that it closed during our final week to repaint the interior, depriving the Mister of his third order of stinco.

Il Rifugio della Buona Stella is an unpretentious family-run restaurant with generous antipasto plates and regional pasta dishes, such as pasta with rape, turnip tops, all offered at resident-friendly prices. On our second visit there, we were accompanied by our daughter and fidanzato, and it proved a most pleasant experience.

Next to us was a family birthday celebration, a table of about 16 from multiple generations. The group was not rowdy at all, just enjoying exchanging family stories. We lingered sharing multiple courses, as did they. When it came time for them to cut into a luscious cake, they sent the youngest girl over with plates for us. And then they poured glasses of prosecco for us to share in toasting the young woman who was their guest of honor. There was something so warm and touching, and we felt so flattered to be embraced by locals instead of being dismissed as just tourists at the next table. It helped our standing that the Mister was able to go to the other room and ask the owner for a simple birthday toast and thank you he offered to them in Italian.

Other spots we visited represented by photos above:

  • Crianza – If you are pining to sample some of Italy’s prized Chianina beef, the Mister swears his was about the best hamburger he has ever eaten.
  • I Latini  – This spot felt touristy, but it was always open when others failed us. Despite that initial feeling, we must admit the seafood dishes, such as linguini, pistachio-crusted tuna and clam and chickpea soup, were delicious.
  • La Cantina delle Streghe – A good spot for wine and bruschetta
  • La Cucina di Mamma Elvira – Great vegetables and pasta, but do not fail to order the eggplant polpette.
  • L’Ostrica Ubriaca – We trekked to the one way outside the walls. It was a little spartan, but the seafood was always fresh. A new more upscale version recently had opened right outside the old city gate, but we did not try that location.
  • Radici – Market, Food & Caffetteria – Contemporary and casual, attracting a host of locals. The fidanzato highly recommends the seafood ravioli in the featured photo.

Hopefully, all of these restaurants made it through quarantine times and are beginning to welcome diners back.