The Slavia Experience
It took us about two years to finally go to this restaurant because we found the name so unappealing. Perhaps in Latino culture, the world "Slavia" doesn't have any negative connotations. We looked it up in our Merriam-Webster Spanish-English Dictionary and there is only ONE word that starts with "SL". It is slip nm: briefs pl, underpants pl... obviously a Spanglish word. Curiously, this was right next to more Spanglish words: smog nm: smog, and smoking nm ESMOQUIN: tuxedo, and finally our favorite, snob nm: esnob. We digress, as we so love to do. Anyway, nothing in the dictionary approaching Slavia. For us, however, "Slavia" was just a little too close to "slave" and "saliva" and "slovenly" and even "cole slaw" to be inviting.
Too bad, because for two years we missed out on a great place to eat and what we have come to think of as The Slavia Experience.
If you had driven by the Slavia "island" when it first opened, you might not have noticed it. It started out small and kept taking over parts of the building on that corner, kind of like a Restaurant Pac-Man. First, the restaurant itself expanded. Then a new coffee shop, Tobago, was added. And now another restaurant, to be called Cubanero, is being built. When everything is finished, the owner of Slavia will have transformed the entire tiny block into a veritable dining oasis at the Monumento a la Patria (across from McDonald's and half a block from Banamex on Paseo de Montejo).
To entice you to try this lovely little place, we will try to recreate for you The Slavia Experience, based on a dinner we had a few nights ago with our neighbors.
As we approached the restaurant, tiki torches were lit on the sidewalks and the lights from inside the restaurant were shining out through stained glass windows, casting a cozy halo-like glow around the building. Despite the fact that the weather was warm and we were wearing chanclas (flip-flops), the restaurant gave us, as always, the feeling that we might be cold and wet but inside it was warm and cozy, with our favorite drinks already prepared and waiting. Even from the outside, there is no other place like Slavia in all of the Yucatan. Unusual, other-wordly and enticingly dissonant.
We entered and were greeted by warm smiles by nicely dressed waiters and hosts, and the reflected gold light of what seemed like dozens of statues, vases, lamps, liquor bottles, mirrors, candles and other immediately-unidentifiable decorations. Bienvenidos (welcome)! Buenas noches (good evening)! A sus ordenes (at your service)! Everyone couldn't have been nicer... they were happy to see us and so glad we made it. After this exchange, they led us into a rabbit-warren of little rooms, each one filled with decidedly un-Yucatecan and un-Mexican decorations. (Actually, we suspect the decorations all come from years of dedicated shopping at Triunfo, a store about which we promise to bring you a story in the near future.) Suffice it to say, it is a challenge to find your table and chair amongst the hookahs and rugs and fountains and candelabras. The low light and all those mirrors add to the confusion of light and delight.)
Once situated, we were able to relax and enjoy the ambiance. Everywhere we looked was a fiesta for the eyes... a fiesta in gold leaf, cut glass, black lacquer and ostrich feathers. OK, enough. You get the idea. (No, you can't. Not really. Not until you go there.)
The menu was politely presented and we ordered. Slavia has a full bar and makes a whole list of drinks, including dry, sweet and dirty martinis. They have enough wines to choose from. They have hookahs and flavored tobaccos, if you are so inclined. They have an extensive menu of h'ors d'oeuvres and tapas. And they have a shorter menu of full entrees.
We ordered a pechuga de pollo (chicken breast), filet de atun (tuna filet), salmon con frambuesa y chipotle (salmon with raspberry chipotle sauce) and a filet mignon. Each entree came with a choice of natural pure de papa (mashed potatoes) or pure with onion & garlic, as well as fresh vegetables al vapor (steamed). It was all delicious. All the meat was grilled and served with a sauce al lado (on the side). The portions were generous and everything was fresh.
During dinner, we were introduced to Jonathan, the owner of the three restaurants. Jonathan is from Merida and he appears to be in his early thirties. When asked how he chose the name for his restaurant, he explained to us that he has always had a fascination for Yugoslavia (this in itself is a little raro, no?) and when he was choosing the name for his restaurant, he consulted Kabbalah and numerology and wanted something that started with an "S". Thus, Slavia was born. We told him we enjoyed his restaurant and thought the service was very good. He told us that he treated his staff like family and thanked us for coming. We were left with the impression of a gracious young man, one who is not an esnob and who would deserve any success that he is able to achieve.
And Slavia does seem to finally be coming into its own. As we wrapped up our dinners and decided to have dessert around the corner in the cafe, we noticed that every table in the restaurant was occupied. We had arrived about 8:30 pm for our meal, and by the time we left at almost 10 pm, the local young Meridanos who have begun to frequent this restaurant were filling up the place.
We walked around the corner to Tobago for coffee, something we would highly suggest as a way to end The Slavia Experience or even as a place to go after dinner somewhere else in town. Tobago has a more sleek but still cozy ambiance, as befits a sidewalk cafe. It's quiet and peaceful, in an urban sort of way. Jonathan was wise to put a few tables in that location where you can sit, sipping a capuccino or espresso, and look across the street to the Monumento a la Patria. It is all lit up at night and Paseo de Montejo is not busy at that hour. An occasional calesa (horse-drawn carriage) clip-clops by, which adds to the ambiance and after-dinner conversation.
Don't follow our lead. Don't wait two years for The Slavia Experience. Dive right in and immerse yourself in the glowing-gold candlelit hookah-smoking mirrored wonder of it all. The service is excellent. The food is fresh and well-prepared. The Slavia Experience is one-of-a-kind, certainly NOT a typical Yucatan experience and yet - somehow - it is.