Friday, December 14, 2007

Portland relocation nation

Last week I hauled three large bags and shipped eight boxes via UPS to my new pad in Portland, Oregon. Here I am, in a lovely apartment downtown, feeling "metropolitan" for the first time in what feels like years. It's briskly cold and gray outside, but I'm kind of in love with the city again.

This is my third (!!) beginning in Portland, the last two being in early 2002 and summer 2003 respectively. Saying that still sounds shocking. What will I do differently this time around?

Well, for starters, I've already made it a point to try to get out as much as possible. I'm determined that the winter isn't going to slow me down, and even though I'm having difficulty convincing some of my friends to come out of hibernation, I'm making an effort to be comfortable with going to movies, shows and meals on my own, not to mention living by myself. There's something to said for being able to enjoy something solo.

I live in an area of Portland that is easily accessible to most anything in Portland proper. My building is straddled by the eastbound and westbound MAX trains, and I can't say enough about the bus system. Many Portland residents would agree that not having to rely on a car is one of the best things about this city, and I must say it does feel truly freeing.

With this freedom to roam comes what feels like an obligation to explore. I'm well overdue for a new Hungry Cupboard-related discussion, and the harriedness of moving and unpacking and shopping for the household basics is leaving me a little drained these days. But I've already ventured to some of the nearby eateries, and I'm just going to call it now: My neighborhood is pretty much awesome.

Right before I got to Portland, I spend a week and a half in sunny Los Angeles. Part of any trip to LA for me involves partaking in many a libation and eating like a monster, and this one was no different. My easy access to excellent pho, banh mi, ramen and tacos in LA has left me simply craving these foods in Portland. It's going to take a few more bus trips to find the goods to satisfy these cravings, but a little hunting around Citysearch, Yelp and Portland food blogs has resulted in a handy (and growing) list of places to try out. Pho Hung, Binh Minh, Pho Oregon and a slew of food carts downtown top the list right now.

My only honest worry and serious doubt is finding a Portland ramen shop worthy of remembrance. I'll venture to Beaverton or Gresham if I have to, but the ramen pickings seem slim... any suggestions appreciated.

The hunt begins!

Monday, November 05, 2007

More than one way to skin a squash

I've always been one to follow instructions. I was a teacher's pet in grade school, and the one time I got caught in the 5th grade for bathroom graffiti, I felt absolutely awful and cried for hours. Naturally, this tendency to stick to the rules extended to a lot of my daily practices, cooking included.

I'm a HUGE fan of cookbooks, and read them the way that pruny beach ladies devour romance novels. It has taken years of practice to veer from recipes and tweak them to my tastes. I found myself improvising more while living in LA, when I didn't feel like trekking through traffic to the grocery store and/or money was tight. I made do with onions vs. leeks, chicken vs. cornish hen, packaged vs. fresh, depending on the recipe of course.

But any good kitchen girl (or boy) improvises every now and then, especially if we're feeling particularly frisky.

Early in my surgery recovery mode last year, I couldn't do much but read books with pictures and big font. A family friend lent me the brilliant Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home. The legendary Julia Child and Jacques Pepin collaborated on collecting a variety of classic French dishes and techniques, and variations on those techniques. The book is set up to read like three books: the left side of each page is Julia's opinion, the right side is Jacques', and in the center are the recipes themselves. They each have their own "best" ways of doing things, and take light-hearted jabs at each other's techniques. It was interesting to realize that even these two culinary powerhouses don't agree on a lot of things. There really is no single right or wrong way to roast a chicken or season mashed potatoes or bake a gateau or construct a tart.

Julia and Jacques ultimately recognize that even they aren't the be-all, end-all authorities on a genre of cooking that they'd seemingly mastered. Talk about eye-opening. I have to remind myself constantly that, like anything, cooking is ultimately subjective. People do things or like things because it's what they know, it's what they've done for years, it's how they grew up, it's just their taste. I think Olive Garden is putrid, but it's a favorite restaurant for so many others. I avoid margarine like the plague, but it's all that some people know.

I find that keeping subjectivity in mind is really freeing; it's like giving myself permission to play. Something as simple as a butternut squash soup becomes a playground for color and palate. The coriander and nutmeg gave it a gentle kick, but I was looking for something to complete it. When I opened the cupboard to start sniffing around, a bottle of white truffle oil that my mom brought back from Seattle was staring back at me. Just a drizzle of the oil, and it was the kind of soup that made me wanna say, "got-damn!" It's the perfect savory winter treat and travels well, Thermos-style.

To accompany this, I made a sandwich of roasted pork tenderloin, Jarlsberg, mixed greens, sliced pear and tomatoes from the garden on sourdough; and roasted okra (a brilliant recipe from the Gourmet Cookbook). It was a good day. It's November and the tomato plant is still growing like crazy. It's been a weird year for produce, and I think we have global warming to thank for that.

A note: Pureed soups are an excellent arena in which to experiment; this is the perfect example of "fool-proof", as it's ultimately a mix of whatever you think tastes great in whatever consistency you find appealing. It's all about you.

Here's my take:

Butternut Squash Soup with White Truffle Oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 medium onions, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 leek, sliced (white part only)
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into small chunks
3-4 cups chicken broth (or water), more if needed
1 teaspoon coriander
salt & white pepper to taste
a few gratings of nutmeg
fresh parsley
1-2 teaspoons of white truffle oil to taste

Heat olive oil and butter in a big pot over medium-low heat. Add onions, carrots and leek and cook until onions are soft and golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in butternut squash and coriander, cooking for another minute or two. Pour in chicken broth or water, enough to cover the squash. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, turn the heat to low and simmer until the squash and carrots are nice and tender, about 20 minutes.

Take the pot off the heat and puree the soup, either in batches in a conventional blender, or (carefully) with a hand blender. It would be wise to wear an apron at this point so as not to get soup on your brand new T-shirt. Add more liquid if you think the soup is too thick.

Season with salt and white pepper, grate in a bit of fresh nutmeg and stir. Add truffle oil by the quarter-teaspoon to taste, stirring and tasting after each addition. Good truffle oil is extremely concentrated and it takes very little to flavor the entire pot. Serve each bowl with a generous pinch of chopped parsley.

Another note: If you don't have truffle oil handy, I imagine that one could add a handful of crimini mushrooms to the veggie saute. Alternately, the more savory and pungent shiitake might be worth a whirl.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween treats

This was my mom's very first pumpkin carving experience. It was pretty adorable.

The happy one is mom's.

Every October between the 5th and 10th grades, my friend Maile and I would carve pumpkins. Her mom would take us to a patch on a Saturday, pick out a pumpkin, go back to her apartment and set up shop. Newspaper on the kitchen table and a couple of blunt knives... We got to be pretty good at carving teeth and circles by year four. I've since lost touch with my friend, and haven't carved a pumpkin since, yet have had the hankering to many times.

In the past month, the carving itch was especially prevalent. I decided we needed to make up for our pathetic Halloween performance from last year: One year ago today, we were moving into our new house, moving trucks in the driveway, big dudes lugging furniture in the front door and everything. Before I remembered to turn off the light over the front door, the doorbell rang and two adorable kids simultaneously opened their bags and chimed, "Trick or treat!" Trick, I guess... our kitchen was completely empty and the only meal I'd eaten in the house was a salad from Chick-Fil-A (which I ate sitting on the floor as we had no furniture yet). I had no choice but to apologize profusely and tried to make up for it by telling them they were cute. I had visions of the kids crying to their parents and the parents passing on the word that we suck.

This year I'm determined to make our house a Halloween hot spot. And by that I mean people won't be pointing at our house and telling their neighbors, "They're mean to children." Mom and I went pumpkin shopping at a patch on a church yard this past Sunday, and bought two big pumpkins, one medium pumpkin, three tiny pumpkins and a funny squash that looks like something that gnomes would choose to live in. I picked one of the big ones for me to carve and the medium one for my mom.

Our Halloween treats? We saved the pumpkin seeds and roasted them in a little butter and salt. 300F in the oven for about 45 minutes did the trick. Mmmmmm...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Northwest calling

With a little encouragement from loved ones, I feel I'm due for something new on the Ingrid food front. I've spent the last week and a half in the sunny Pacific Northwest: Portland for an amazing wedding and a migration to Seattle last night to spend QT with the siblings. In the year and a half since I was last in Portland and the two years since my last Seattle jaunt, the Northwest seems to have exploded with some incredible joints that are both deliberate and simple, creative and adorable and a spankin' good time. The "fashion-forward" versions of cuisine, if I may.

One of the several notable visits in Portland was Pok Pok on SE Division, a version of authentic Northern Thai street food served both sit-down style and a to-go shack. The dining room is situated in creator/owner Andy Ricker's actual residence, and the to-go shack in his driveway. Whatever the situation, the food is got-damned good. The choices are many and quality, and the menu is spattered with bits and pieces of info about Thai cuisine history, Pok Pok's origins, and helpful how-tos for Thai dining habits.

The dishes vary in size from tapas-serving to big plates of succulent meat. Our server was quite insistent, almost too much so, on making our party of eight ladies eat family-style, which ended up being more like sharing in groups of four or so, as some were vegetarians, some had food allergies, and some just preferred otherwise.

Regardless, I didn't try one dish that I wasn't impressed by. More than anything, every bite pretty much erupted (kindly) in my mouth. My favorite was the Yam Plaa Deuk Fuu, a green papaya salad with catfish gaufrette, which was like fresh, citrusy this-and-that topped with a perfectly-fried catfish cake, with the flaky integrity of the fish still intact. The Cha Ca La Vong (marinated catfish on vermicelli) wasn't far behind. The meal bore for me a new appreciation for Thai cuisine, covering all the bases of one of my favorite kinds of meals: undone, non-fussy yet explosive street food.

More than anything, this trip has reminded me that eatin' good remains a high priority. And I could eat coconut rice all day long.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Ode to Oatmeal

This is my current favorite breakfast.

Oatmeal with Maple Yogurt and Fresh Peaches
-1 serving oatmeal (NOT instant!)
-1 t. brown sugar
-1 cup of Brown Cow maple yogurt
-1 small peach, cut into bite-sized pieces

Cook oatmeal according to package directions. Stir in brown sugar. Serve in a shallow bowl, drizzled with yogurt and topped with peaches. Say "mmm" after every bite.

If you've never had steel-cut oats, now is the time. You'll never feel the same way about oatmeal. It's worth the premium, and this is how so many fancy breakfast places get away with charging six bucks for a bowl of oatmeal (I'm pointing at you, Portland...). Whatever you use, don't use instant! There's all sorts of junk in instant oatmeal that deserves not to be in our bodies.

The farmer's market has some wonderful peaches right now. Strawberries and blueberries are great too.

I like using our white salad bowls with the big rims. It makes me feel like I'm at my own little bed-and-breakfast.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Dining in Greensboro, and a plea for Muse Restaurant

Bear with me, Greensboro diners, you may just find this read worth your while. Alternately, it may offend. Your choice.

So I'm not going to lie. My frustration with the dining situation in Greensboro is getting steadily worse by the day.

Said frustration, however, does not lie in the variety of restaurants in the area, although I will admit Greensboro could do better. What riles me up more than anything else is the kind of diners that Greensboro is famous for. Call me judgmental, but it's difficult to think otherwise when a voters for local weekly's "Best of" list awarded first place for best fries to McDonald's, and runner up for best local sushi to the freaking refrigerated plastic packages at local supermarket chain Harris Teeter. My sentiment is the same as the Weekly's staff's: "Excuse me? Harris Teeter? Harris Teeter?" I'd like to add a "What the %!*$?" and a "Oh hells no" for good measure.

Other more popular reader review sites offer little comfort, though I will say that Citysearch gets it a little more right, with plenty of restaurants unique to Greensboro making the list. TripAdvisor, usually one of my "go-to's" for reader reviews of hotels and restaurants, is much worse, with Red Lobster, Applebee's and Olive Garden all in the top 15 most popular local restaurants.

Could it be a result of the overwhelming quantity of chain restaurants in the area, or an issue of local restaurant quality? I would argue that Greensboro, although certainly not a mecca for fine dining, has quite a few gems tucked in between the chains. In fact, if you discount the garbage pile of chain restaurants that is the intersection of Wendover and I-40, restaurants unique to Greensboro are quite easily found. Bistro Sofia, Noble's and Marisol, for starters, are all excellent venues. My favorite Asian restaurant in Greensboro, Taste of Vietnam, is buried in a strip mall next to a Staples. Get the Caramel Short Ribs in Clay Pot; you'll think you're in another world altogether.

Sure, there are plenty of places that aren't worth the bad parking and poor service, but I often wish that locals were more willing to give small spots a chance, and stop clogging up the parking lots of Olive Garden and P.F. Chang's. One might argue that Olive Garden and Red Lobster are, in fact, pretty decent, and P.F. Chang's is classy, authentic fine dining. I'd argue that this is total garbage. I'll save the specifics of my vitriol towards P.F. Chang's and their dumb cement horses for another day.

That gets me to the issue of the quality of the diners themselves. Many people in Greensboro rarely venture outside of the city for any purpose, so in a way it's understandable that a vast majority of people think that cheese-globbed tacos at Mexico Restaurant or General Tso's chicken at P.F. Chang's or hibachi-grilled teriyaki chicken at Sapporo's are "authentic" ethnic dishes. But to even suggest that there are more authentic versions of these cuisines is like taking a giant poop on the conservative south's feelings. Anything outside of their comfort zone is completely unacceptable. I mean, Chinese people eat General Tso's all the time, right?

What makes me the absolute saddest, however, is the fact that really good restaurants sit nearly empty while there's a 70-minute wait at the nearby Pretty Foul Chang's. I'm thinking specifically of a small restaurant called Muse that occupies a small space in a very large shopping center-slash-complex. Muse has been open for less than a year, I believe, and every one of the seven visits I've taken there has been nothing short of impressive, if not spectacular. Service is unusually attentive and friendly, the creators of the restaurant have clearly paid attention to every detail, and most of all the people who work there seem to actually give a shit about the food and not just the tips.

Not to mention every dish at Muse is so fresh and inventive; often unexpected, even. Their "Brutus" take on the Caesar salad is surprisingly bold, the fish selections are super fresh, the pastas are perfectly savory and the steaks and lamb are always cooked to just the right temperatures. The chef, Mitchell Nicks, has done a fine job of melding potentially intimidating ingredients with traditional Euro-bistro affair, making the menu inviting to even the most uninitiated diners. One of my favorite appetizers is their frogs' legs, which I got a little squeamish about when I first saw them on the menu. Instead of the scary, bare-roasted legs I imagined, they're fried in a panko breading and served with a lemon-caper butter on top of fresh coleslaw. Who knew frogs' legs could be so freaking good? Even the most conventional steak-lover can find tender steak to be served atop a sizable heap of mashed sweet potatoes, with some fresh, buttery veggies to match.

...Which is why I am so baffled by the fact that during the last three visits to Muse, my table was one of two, maybe three tables at the restaurant the entire evening in a room that seats 60+. To be fair, the last visit was on a Monday evening, but the chain restaurants a couple of blocks over had their parking lots packed. During that Monday meal, our server was almost overly-eager to have our patronage, and we got multiple visits from the Chef Nicks, engaging us in pleasant discussions about menu selection, wine varieties and seasonal ingredients, including when and where he finds the freshest fish and vegetables. You get the feeling that he's the kind of chef who would refuse to serve caprese if the tomatoes were underripe, and in fact relayed to us stories of such pickiness (I use "pickiness" in the best sense possible, like the way a parent might be picky about what they feed their kids).

Maybe Muse is too frou-frou for most. Frenchy bistro, after all, hasn't quite made it into the daily lexicon of the average Greensboro diner. Maybe the name is too pretentious for the lovers of Mimi's Cafe. Maybe they're not advertising enough. Or maybe (and this is my best guess) the prices have driven away potential customers. For a five-course meal and a bottle of good wine, plus complementary amuse bouche to begin and chocolate truffle to end, a party of four at Muse might expect to pay about 60 bucks a pop. That's more than what most would pay for, but I've seen fatties dole out serious cash money for a long waits, shitty service and mediocre meals at chain steakhouses (need I even mention Positively Frightful Chang's?).

For all consumer items, food and non-food, I try to buy local as often as I can. Though I love Whole Foods for their variety of (oft-overpriced) organic produce, I adore Deep Roots Co-op for their homespun feel and hippie cashiers who radiate excitement about sharing fresh food and local organics. I struggle with sharing knowledge about fresh ingredients when average American diners want the biggest plate at the cheapest price. "More For Less" is what many Greensboro diners want, and nudging folks towards quality vs. quantity is a bigger struggle than it should be.

I can't help but feel for the Davids in a slew of Goliaths. Especially when the Davids could kick the Goliaths' asses on Iron Chef any day of the week.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Flat-iron steak is the new black

I'll admit it: Oftentimes when I wander into a fully-stocked kitchen, I'm at a complete loss. It's like kid-in-a-candy-store syndrome; everywhere I look, there is something perfectly fresh and yummy, and my gears go into overload trying to figure out how to put together the math. Subsequently, I short-circuit and end up feeling completely uninspired and defeated.

Other times, however, I get handed a beautiful slab of meat and the gears click.

Tonight was a sweet cut of organic flat-iron steak from the farmer's market. According to the Wikipedia entry, it's a relatively new shoulder cut that was "discovered" by some college researchers. Frankly, "discovering" a cut of beef on an animal that's been around for thousands of years sounds a little hokey to me. Whatever the case may be, the verdict is... it's delicious.

I've been wooed into the world of sage butter by a particular recipe in my new favorite huge yellow book: The Gourmet Cookbook. Tossed with microplaned parmesan and fresh pasta, sage butter is the definition of savory.

I also love petit pois. Peas freeze so well, and if you don't have a bag in your freezer right now I think you should.

Gears started turning... 'I like steak, I like peas, I like butter...'

Flat Iron Steak and Peas over Tagliatelle in Basil-Sage Butter
1 flat iron steak, about an inch thick
2/3 cup frozen baby peas
2 servings of fresh or dried tagliatelle (I like the ones dried in nests--quite handy)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
1/8 cup fresh sage
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and fresh-ground pepper

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Heat a skillet or griddle (cast iron is great) to medium-high heat. Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper and drizzle oil on both sides to coat. Don't oil the skillet or it will stick! Grill about 5 minutes per side (medium-rare). Wrap steak loosely in foil and set aside on a cutting board to rest.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan add butter, herbs, 2 T. olive oil and a pinch of salt. Melt and let simmer over very low heat while you do the peas and pasta.

Nuke peas according to package directions, drain and set aside.

When pot of water comes to a boil, add 1 teaspoon salt to water. Cook tagliatelle to al dente, 2 minutes for fresh, about 4 minutes for dried. Toss drained pasta with basil-sage butter and peas in a big bowl, adding a few grinds of pepper and a pinch or two of salt to taste.

Thinly slice steak on a diagonal. Serve over pasta. Makes 2 picturesque servings.

p.s. Dried herbs can be substituted, but fresh is always better. Also, I suspect that grape tomatoes would go great with this dish--a good handful, sliced in half and tossed with the pasta.

Monday, April 16, 2007


There's this sourdough bread at the Sandy Ridge Farmer's Market that is like crack. I take that back; it's not like crack, it IS crack. It is dangerous, dangerous crack bread. I can literally eat a whole football-sized loaf in one sitting.

Don't ever put yourself in a position where you're sitting with the whole loaf in front of you. I prefer to stand while eating so I can will myself to run away faster.

Searching the interweb has revealed that this little operation, named (oh so sweetly) The Berry Patch Market, is the source of mass Triad-area sourdough hysteria. Their online store carries no such breads, but they dole 'em out by the dozens, probably hundreds, per day at the farmer's market. Oh, how you tease me, you bread bakers. Your dangerous crack bread is only available fresh-baked at Sandy Ridge...

Sigh. Slobber, slobber. More, please.

p.s. I suggest tearing into the loaf immediately after purchase. You'll get the crack bread high at its finest.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pimpin shabu shabu


Shabu-shabu at White Sugarcane

That was hours ago and I'm still ridiculously full. The restaurant was pumping Three 6 Mafia on the speakers. Completely weird to be dipping rare beef to a soundtrack of ganja, hoes and the po-po. Yet, strangely enough, the hardcore rap added some nice bump to the meal. Delicious!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Taipei dominates your face

I'm in Taipei for a week and a half to visit family. Yesterday morning, Mom and I went down a couple of blocks from our hotel in Taipei to treat ourselves to breakfast.

warm, sweet soy milk; savory soy milk; egg and scallion crepe; sticky rice roll; and fried dough in sesame bread:

Suddenly, it's lunch time... time for Din Tai Fung. Holy shit. I fall in love and sigh audibly through the entire meal. I enjoy the dumplings at the Arcadia location, but Taipei dominates Arcadia's ass.

rare beef in ginger soup with perfect noodles, and do miao (green sprouts) in garlic:
Din Tai Fung

pork and veg wonton soup:
Din Tai Fung

fresh julienned ginger soaked in soy sauce and rice vinegar; pickled burdock; and a delicious mountain of do-miao:
Din Tai Fung

...and of course dumplings, which we ate so furiously that I forgot to take a picture. Clearly I've found my appetite again.

Sorry, skinny jeans, you'll be back in the closet in no time. More to come...

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oh no he di-innnnt...

Would you like to spend your car payment on 18 ounces of "Kobe-style" beef? How about $390 for a single Australian Porterhouse steak? A la carte, mind you. All while seated under 2,000 Samurai swords dangling blade-down over your dinner table? Then Kobe Club in mid-town Manhattan is the place for you.

This is the latest venture of Jeff Chodorow, better known as the guy with the 9 o'clock shadow bickering with Rocco DiSpirito on the short-lived (but somewhat entertaining) reality show, The Restaurant. Incidentally, this show and the restaurant itself ended with a litigious bang, both parties hobbling off with a little less dignity. Both managed to regain momentum, however, and though Rocco has pretty much stayed away from further restaurant involvement (so as to not become Page Six fodder again, I suspect), he's followed the celebrity chef cookbook and public appearance path. Jeff Chodorow, meanwhile, re-established the bombed restaurant into Caviar & Banana, possibly the worst name for a restaurant ever and equally as unsuccessful as the first.

Fast forward to Feb 2007, and Chodorow now has a new bickering buddy. Frank Bruni, esteemed food critic of the New York Times, rated Chodorow's Kobe Club zero stars. Yes, ZERO stars. The review is a pretty entertaining read; what followers of the NYT ratings would call "pure Bruni". I like the "atmosphere" summary: "A dimly lighted theater of about 100 seats that's part samurai fantasia, part torture chamber and packed with chunky guys on expense accounts." Ha! Rate on, Bruni, rate on.

In response, Jeff Chodorow took out an $80,000 full-page ad in the Times Dining section, calling the critics unqualified, citing a personal vendetta against him and claiming that the "Rocco's curse" has been the downfall of his post-show ventures. It's essentially 1100 words of a whiny attempt at responsive vitriol, and a overdone declaration of entrance into the blogosphere. Hilarity ensues.

Incidentally, Frank Bruni responded via the New York Sun, saying, "None of [my comments] had any personal grudge. The next time he opens a restaurant that seems to be the kind that warrants a look and a review, it will get the same open-minded reaction that any new place gets." Ohhh, snap!

Moral of the story: Everybody should create a blog to prove who's balls are bigger. And this is a perfect way to make it back onto Page Six.

(Big hat tip to Becks & Posh, a foodie fav, and, a food blog with a gossipy leaning)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why I love reading cookbooks like people love Harry Potter:

"We're particularly partial to the lacinato variety of kale. Be aware that lacinato has more aliases than a ganster on the lam."
The Gourmet Cookbook on Minestrone

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This is what I'm sayin', yo

A model citizen of the Siete Mares fish taco community:

(credit to marc for letting the world see the beauty of Siete Mares!)

Note the healthy piles of tomato and onion, the substantial shredded cabbage and that lovely white sauce peeking out from under the cabbage. The limes and pickled carrots and peppers complete the plate, rounding out a truly excellent taco experience. One might say that the amount of vegetables is a bit much, but I figure in the case of veggies it's better to load it on and easily pick off yourself than scrimp or not serve at all. Remember, the tacos at Greensboro's Mexico Restaurant were simply scant meat, sad lettuce and drownage of cheese. Once the cheese came off, it was a practically naked tortilla.

Speaking of Mexico, the best taco I've ever had was in the tiny town of Ensenada on the Baja Coast. In a dusty street stood this open-air stand surrounded by a diner-style counter. There was an enormous, wok-shaped pot of bubbling frying oil behind the counter, and every few minutes a woman would dip fat strips of fish in a tempura-style batter and drop them one by one into the oil, which crisped and fried to a golden-brown perfection.

(At least that's how I remember it. Maybe I'm making up the dusty street part. Sounds romantic, though, yes?)

The tacos were juicy, crispy, and just the right amount of veggies. Even though each was served on standard-sized corn tortillas, they were stacked high, four for five bucks. I (of generally large appetite) barely made it through taco number three before I had to take a slump-in-your-chair-and-hit-your-chest-til-you-burp break. It was that good.

Now I'll be the first to say that I am hardly a taco expert, but I'd venture to say that Siete Mares is better than, ohhh, say, this:

(At least that's how I felt when I ate the tacos from Mexico Restaurant.)

Good Greensboro tacos, I know you're out there, and I'm comin' to get you...

Friday, February 09, 2007

My street food urges

As evidenced in previous post, I haven't had a truly good taco in a long, long time. I tried to fulfill my cravings a few nights ago at the most popular Mexican restaurant in Greensboro. It's called Mexico Restaurant. They've been around for 20+ years, and after dinner there the other night, I'm beginning to think they cater to the P.F. Chang's crowd. You know, ethnic food catered to suburban white America. No offense, suburban white Americans.

The tacos I ordered from Mexico (the restaurant) were individually wrapped in parchment paper like a to-go burrito. Each one was drowning in pre-shredded white cheese (mozzarella?), with lettuce as the lonely veg. Being on a dairy-free regiment at the moment, I scraped off the cheese, which left a tiny pile of dry meat and limp lettuce sitting sadly on a huge flour tortilla. If you drew a cartoon of the taco, the meat would have arms in the air as if being pulled into quicksand, and a bubble yelling "Help!". I'd draw the cartoon if I weren't so bad at drawing.

I tried to salvage it with salsa from the pre-meal tortillas. The addition of tomatoes made it palatable, but overall a depressing taco experience.

Besides the cheese drownage and lack of fresh veg (tomatoes, cilantro, onions and lime come to mind), I have a personal preference for corn tortillas. They are generally smaller (i.e. fit nicely in your hands), thicker, and much tastier in my humble opinion. I mean, a flour tortilla is literally flour and water rolled out into a tasteless disk. I like 'em for bigger stuff (enchiladas, etc), but I want my tacos with corn tortillas, please.

When I think tacos in the States, my mind wanders to El Siete Mares in Silverlake, LA. It's an orange stand (like a mini-drive-thru) with bad parking and a slanted covered patio, right on Sunset Blvd.

The Seven Seas

The picks

The food is fresh, the ceviche is satiating, and there's a nice counter on the side with a selection of various homemade salsas and extra veg for your eating pleasures. They serve their tacos with a dab of delicious aioli-like white sauce. Nothing beats a horchata and fish taco for late-night eats.

...except maybe a ghetto dog on Hollywood Blvd when you're drunk at 2AM and achin' for bacon...

I miss you, Los Angeles.

Looking for love in all the wrong places

ISO SST (single soft taco). Must love cilantro and lime. Meat/lettuce/tomato proportionate, and no cheese, please. I have a weakness for salsa verde, but I will consider roja, ranchero or pico de gallo. Only corn tortillas need reply.

p.s. Prefer roach coach or mini-stand background. Tacos with the last name "Bell": don't even bother.