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Dinner at Villa Maria

From time to time, the Working Gringos escape from their air-conditioned jaula (cage) and go out on the town. Such was the case a few nights ago when we met with two other Yucatan bloggers at a local restaurant.

The Hotel and Restaurant Villa Maria is an expat favorite and is becoming well known by visitors as well. Run by a gentleman from Mexico City via Spain who is a former hotel executive, and his partner who is from Austria, the Villa Maria is a place of casual elegance. It’s a perfect place to dine when you want to escape the traffic and heat of Merida, but not the historical ambiance of days gone by.

Villa Maria is located in a huge old renovated mansion. The rooms, which are all very spacious and most of which are even two-story suites, center around a lovely open-air courtyard graced by beautiful Moroccan-style arches. The original black and white tiled floors are still there, as are the elaborately carved tall doorways. The nicely-lit marble and glass bar at one end is a welcome addition to the original building. The courtyard is arranged with plants, tables, a fountain and in the corner, a grand piano. When Villa Maria is at its best, the sound of clinking wine glasses and low conversation blend perfectly with the Patsy Cline or light opera music that wafts around the tall ceilings. Its an airy, glowy, white tablecloth kind of place… but it’s not expensive!

What about the food, you ask? Well, before we get to the food, we must mention the service. Because after eating all over the city, we are convinced Villa Maria has the best trained and most elegant service in town. Waiters are impeccably attired in white. Guests are escorted to their seats, chairs are pulled out for the ladies, menus are presented, water is poured. Later on, crumbs are swept up with those little crumb-sweeper-upper tools, dinners are served, plates are removed… it all happens carefully, quietly and with a smile.

Okay, now the food. Villa Maria is probably never going to get an award for the most original cuisine. But the expat community rewards the restaurant with return business because the food is reliably good, hearty, delicious and comforting. The food is definitely cooked by a European, with dishes ranging from Moroccan Chicken (chicken served over rice with a compote of raisins and other dried fruits) to New York Steak with fries and a salad. Some of our favorite appetizers include gazpacho soup and crema doria, a cold cucumber cream soup… great in the heat! And for dessert, try the Pear Dali!

Usually, we are the couple hiding in the corner, enjoying our dinner over a hot game of Scrabble on our travel board that was a Christmas present last year. But this last time, we were joined by two fellow bloggers from the Yucatan, KAT of KATravels and Chris of Ruminations of An Expatriate. It turns out they both like to play Scrabble too, so that may be the focus of our NEXT dinner together.

This time, though, we were meeting f2f (face to face) for the first time, so there was a lot of catching up to do. And strangely, because we read each other’s blogs, it felt more like catching up with old friends than meeting new ones. Our discussions ranged from where to get the best mojito to the past tense of “dive” (dove? dived? diven? it’s still a mystery). We also had a long discussion about wikis, deciding that they were either a repository of useless urban myth or a process of negotiating reality and a product of true democracy and tribal consensus. Or maybe something else. You get the idea…

And Villa Maria is the perfect place for this kind of thing: long conversations over dinner, with a cigarette in one hand (for some) and a martini in the other (for others). The music isn’t too loud, you don’t have to get too dressed up, the light isn’t too bright or too dark, the walk isn’t too far, and la cuenta (the bill) isn’t too painful. Oh, and thanks Chris, for taking care of the propina (the tip)!

We left as we invariably do after eating at Villa Maria, with smiles on our faces and a friendly Buenas Noches from the staff. We’ll be back…


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12 Responses to “Dinner at Villa Maria”

  1. Very nice report of the very nice evening. Nice photos as well. I no longer leave home without my camera.

    The tip was my pleasure. Thank you for dinner.

  2. Yes, very nice writeup– somehow, I missed reading this one, and it took until yesterday for me to hear (through C) that it was up, with photos, real perty like. And it is.

    Looks like I’m the only one left to write up the night… and I think I was the one who had something about writing our respective reviews within 24 hours! Yes, KAT makes plans and god laughs.

    Acutally, KAT makes plans and the mosquitos that somehow mysteriously inhabit her (screened) bedroom eat her alive, making coherent typing near impossible. Must run, literally!

    Thanks for a lovely night.

  3. Sounds like fun, but what’s with the eye candy in the “drink” photo? :) Yummy!

    I’m thinking that as I go though your blog I’ll find this but as of yet, no.

    Do you find the Meridians (Meridanos? tilde on the n?) to be, well, a different sort of people than many other Mexicans? We didn’t spend much time in Yucatan state, but the time we spent led me to have an impression of the Merida inhabitants as very different from the rest of Mexico. Even from those in Quintana Roo and Campeche. Not unfriendly, but not immediately accepting and somewhat reserved.

    I’d be interested in your impression.

  4. I was at Villa Maria with my family for my birthday dinner in June. It was our second visit to the restaurant, our first being my wife’s birthday in Sept, 05. I am sorry to report that the second experience did not live up to our expectations. I agree with you about the staff and the ambience. They are and it is second to none. My problem was with the food and the attitude of the chef that evening. My son ordered the Duck, maybe that was the mistake. Not only was it served warm, not hot, it was extremely tough. We brought the concern to the attention of our waiter who immediately summoned the chef, the Austrian partner I beleave. His attitude was it was not his fault but the fault of the vendor who provided the Duck to the restaurant. That’s it…..he walked away. Nothing, nada……That’s it. Needless to say we will have to find another restaurant to celebrate birthdays at or quit having them altogether. By the way…is Nectar still open?

  5. Hmmm… that is unfortunate. We encourage you to give them another chance, as every place has a bad night sometimes. Nectar *is* still open, but the last time we were *there*, the quality of food and the presentation seemed to have fallen.

    We learned long ago that consistency is NOT something you can depend on here in Merida. Consistency tends to box people in and is so hard to maintain in this climate :-) . Like Buddha said, the only thing you can really count on here is change… and ants. (OK, he may not have added the part about ants…)

    On a third note, we think your idea of quitting having birthdays altogether is a great one!

  6. You’ve just about talked me into visiting Merida. Reading the Villa Maria article actually caused an involuntary reaction: I checked air fares then clicked on the hotel link and checked the price there too. (Very reasonable!)

    Now what about these bugs your blogger friend mentions in her comments? Are they big bugs?

  7. We’ve just published a “Yucatan Survivor” article called Top Ten Insects of Yucatan, which should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

  8. [...] Villa Maria is having a special New Years Eve dinner, including such delicacies as Sopa Fria de Sandia (cold watermelon soup) and Pato al Oporto (Duck in a Port Wine sauce). Grapes and wine are included in the $600 peso per person price [...]

  9. If I were in Merida for New Year’s, I’d be at Villa Maria. Having stayed there in May and October ’06, I’ve tried most of the menu by now. I’m very surprised at the characterization of the chef, presumably Johann, as indifferent to a dissatisfied diner. That would be so out of character for him. We’ll be returning to Merida in January and look forward to at least a couple of dinners at Villa Maria while in the city.

  10. What is the latest on the quality and presentation of food at Nectar? Eating there was one of the things, on the top of my list, to do when i visited last June-July. I was so disappoited they were closed during my stay. In Merida, there are numerous places to get a “good meal”. For me, Nectar was ranked at the top of the list, but it has been a little over a year since I have eaten there.

  11. I have been going to Villa Maria since it opened. I have had many wonderful dinners there with friend and have NEVER been dissappointed. If you have never tired the cold cucumber soup….you are really missing a treat. It is niced to be greeted with open arms by the staff and owners. It is truly like going home each time I go. Villa Marie is on the top of my list…visit this wonderful restaurant and you will be hooked as well. I have a small guesthouse in the city…all my guest go there for at least one night….many return again for the next night. Hats off to one very cozy and wonderful place to eat here in Merida.

  12. IMPORTANT NOTE: Sadly, the Villa Maria hotel and restaurant closed its doors at the end of October, 2009. We’ll miss this place, and we wish the former owners well on their new ventures.

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