Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Category: Dining Out

Woo Me With Roses and Roast Pigeon

by lyzpfister

It’s not hard to make me fall in love. For those of you who are trying, here are a few tips. Buy me a set of copper saucepans. Preferably from Paris. Preferably antique. Know that I only ever drink cappuccinos, and order them for me when we go out. Bring me gifts of strangely-shaped fruits – like baby pears or blue melons or something with an unpronounceable name in a language neither you nor I can understand. Or, take me on a weekend jaunt to London to eat at St. John’s, and there, ply me with brains and liver, bone marrow, goat’s curd, and other things I’ve never tried.

Oh, St. John’s. Oh, Fergus Henderson. The man who changed my life with a piece of pork belly.

This is my second trip to St. John’s, the first being almost a year ago exactly. And though this isn’t the Smithfield outpost, rather the newer one in Spittlefield, and though there isn’t bone marrow and parsley salad on this menu, I feel both giddy and supremely content at the same time.

I’m here with Ambrice and her parents. We’re sitting at a corner table, getting cozy with a bottle of chardonnay. Our meal comes out in hiccups – cold lamb’s tongue salad with arugula and herb-soaked breadcrumbs, foie gras on toast, cauliflower and chickpea salad dribbled with spicy mustard, goat curd with caramelized onions and mint on giant slabs of bread. We sop up the sauces with freshly baked sourdough crusts.

It’s sitting here that I am reminded, once again, of how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do, how I can’t wait to see where we go.

Our mains arrive, with another bottle of chardonnay – venison with beetroot and horseradish, calve’s liver with braised onions and crisp potato hash, and finally, the most tender, rare pigeon, split upon a bed of greens and pickled walnuts. Even Ambrice’s mother, who says, I will not eat pigeon, eats pigeon. It is the perfect ending to this meal.

The low, pleasant murmurs of diners around us, the smell of rich sauces and simple, graceful food – this is what a restaurant should be.

So love, when I talk about it, this is what I mean. I mean laughter and lights, a bottle of wine (or two), good people, and food. When I say love, I mean food.

Pilgrimage

by lyzpfister

I stopped speaking.  I vaguely heard the man beside me rant about the Americans as my friends gossiped about mutual acquaintances and all around in the rest of the restaurant was the low hum of conversations, women laughing, sniffs at swilled glasses of port, the rustle of waiter’s whites as they brushed between tables and the open kitchen at the back.  But for me there was nothing but toast spread with bone marrow, pungent sea salt burning my lips, vinegary parsley salad cut with capers and paper-thin slivers of garlic.  My mouth smeared with grease.

This was heaven.  This was the silly smile of kissing, the quiet of vacation mornings on the beach.  Bone marrow and parsley salad at St. John’s Restaurant in London, my own nirvana.

Fergus Henderson’s restaurant is on the tip of one of those winding London streets that fork abruptly into other cobbled lanes, overshadowed by low-storied buildings that lean precariously over street lamps and clustered packs of suited, smoking office workers.  Inside, warm lights glint off steel trim, the décor is simple and white, the floors stone.  The waiters are attentive – coats are hung, dropped scarves quickly scooped from the floor, chairs pulled out, menus discreetly slipped onto the tablecloth.

We set our shopping bags under the table, slipped into the silk of quiet conversation, took sips of syrah, spread thick smears of butter on bread.  Already the atmosphere of the restaurant, casual yet completely elegant, impressed itself into our attitudes, and we sat with the sensual, fluid postures of posh and wealthy women.  Not that that’s not what we were.

The food was unassumingly described.  Ox tongue and chips.  Pigeon and beetroot.  I told my waiter I was deciding between those two things; he said, well, the pigeon was a really lovely gamey bird, perfect if I liked gamey meat, but the ox tongue, oh, the ox tongue was nice.  I told him he hadn’t been very helpful and asked whether he’d rather have chips or beetroot.  Oh, chips for sure, he said, and so I ordered ox tongue and chips.

But first there was this bone marrow and parsley salad.  Neither Ambrice nor Utsha had ordered an appetizer, so I was the only one eating – of course I gave them a taste – but the rest was mine.  I am selfish.  I didn’t care.  I didn’t care that our food wouldn’t come until I had finished eating, that they wouldn’t begin to cook it until I had finished eating.  And I didn’t care if they were hungry.  I took my time.  Because this was one of the most extraordinary things I’d ever eaten.  The process was refined, with an undercurrent of visceral energy.  One hand holds a thin, long spoon, silver with a lobster imprinted in the handle, and the other grips a hewed-off chunk of bone, glistening with grease and dripped fat from the animal’s self.

I actually dreamt last night that I had somehow missed all of the marrow in a piece of bone and no matter how furiously I scraped, I couldn’t seem to get it all.  And then, suddenly, I found the font and my silver spoon excavated mound after miniature mound of creamy marrow.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m in love with Fergus Henderson – I have been, ever since I read his cookbook, The Whole Beast, a year and a half ago and subsequently spent ten days shoving groceries around a giant hunk of pork belly brining in the fridge.  That belly, boiled for hours and served over supple, slow-stewed lentils, was the best thing I’ve ever made.  I haven’t made many more of Fergus’ recipes – partly because they involve hard to find ingredients like lamb’s brain or pig’s blood and partly because they usually take more than ten days to make.  As soon as I booked my ticket to London, I told my friends that the only thing I wanted to do, the first thing on my list of things to see, was Fergus Henderson’s restaurant.  They were obliging.

We sat in the center of the restaurant, pointing out beautiful men as they wandered in, peeking into the bustling kitchen, just sitting and drinking and listening to the tinkle of expensive conversations.  The clientele was mostly older, CEOs with slicked-back hair and trim suits, women dripping pearls from their necks, but there were also younger couples, a woman in a green sweater and leather boots, two young men in jeans.

Our waiter glided to the table with three plates, large, white, simply plated.  There was mutton and lentils for Ambrice, stewed rabbit for Utsha, and my tongue with chips.  We tried bites of each others’ meals, gamey mutton and rich rabbit, tongue with the disconcerting ripple of taste buds running over taste buds but lovely and darkly dense, changing consistency from one part of the muscle to the next, some bites almost melting the way pork fat dissipates without having to be bit.  We all stopped speaking.

When the last hunks of bread had been dipped into Utsha’s rabbit sauce and the last sips of syrah drunk, we quietly gathered up our bags and stepped outside, solemnly, as if a great pilgrimage had just been completed.  Or maybe that was only me.  Maybe it was just for me that the air was crisper, the stars brighter, the food coma miraculous and magical in its weight.  Probably.  But in the tube on the ride home, I stared at my warped reflection in the window opposite, and it looked like a drip of bone marrow, just slipped from the bone.  Pork belly, I’m sorry, but I have a new obsession, it seems.

Resolutions and Assorted Thoughts on Salt and Things

by lyzpfister

It’s been a minute.  I’ve missed you.  I never told you about Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Years and all the magnificent food I cooked and holiday observations I made.  I didn’t write about the Greek Meatballs or the Fancy Vegas Dinner, the Skirmish with Lamb Marrow, or the Million Clove Dinner Party.  I took a few pictures, but not enough.  I let my errands run me.  But now I find myself wedged into a MegaBus seat with no WiFi, my copy of Fear and Loathing (plus commentary) finished, fifteen minute nap done (and besides, I told myself I wouldn’t nap this time), and I think it’s time to write a little.  It’s part of my New Years Resolution, I guess – to write more.  That, and to actually remove the makeup from my face before I go to bed, keep my toenails painted, and use my Crockpot more often.  And to be generally nicer.

I’m on my way back to New York from a weekend visiting one of my oldest friends (by which I mean, we have been friends since the age of four) in State College, PA.  It’s a snowy drive, and the big windows are streaked with salt spray, which makes the view grim.  I feel especially sorry for the people who have been riding this WiFi-less bus since Pittsburgh.  Although it looks, at least, like everyone else’s seat reclines.

We’re pulling into a travel station, and I’m tempted to get a hot dog.  Nothing as extravagant, of course, as the hot dogs my friend said she used to get at Hoss’, where they’d carve her name into the unlucky wiener.  These are weird moods of mine.

It could be being back in Pennsylvania, where, growing up, a special meal out was at Applebee’s and something super fancy got celebrated at the Olive Garden.  I felt this strange pull to big-house chain food as my bus rolled into the WalMart parking lot on Atherton – we’d passed a Texas Roadhouse – and I thought – I want that.  So for our first dinner, Liz and I went to the Texas Roadhouse, where the waitresses all stopped and line danced to Devil Went Down to Georgia and at least five tables were celebrating a birthday that got Yee-Hawd.  But my pulled pork sandwich was good and the rolls, buttery and mashable and slapped with cinnamon butter, were delightful.  And for breakfast this morning, we went to a small chain breakfast joint, The Original Waffle Shop, much like an Ihop or Waffle House but with less slick and sticky patches of maple syrup glazed onto the tabletops.  My omelet, with feta cheese, tomatoes, and spinach, was good and the homefries were perfectly done, an ideal ratio of crunchy fried nubs and soft red-potato rounds.

What is it, I wonder, that makes me disdain chain restaurants.  Principle?  Glossy printed menus and servers who’ll “take care of me?”  Is it kitsch?  Middle America?  Clearly they must have figured something out to be so successful and ubiquitous in the American cultural landscape.  I will also admit, I have had worse meals at some private restaurants than at chains.  How do they do it?  It must have something to do with the Stuff On The Walls.  Or salt.

And then again, food in Pennsylvania is not just chain restaurants.  I always know I’ll eat well at Liz’s; her mother cooks classic Americana for dinner and there’s always something tasty lying around, like brownies or rich chocolate milk fresh from a local dairy.  And things I never buy for myself (like baby carrots with Ranch dressing), because I long ago learned that cereal always tastes better at other people’s houses.

This time, I woke up on Saturday morning to her parents sitting around the kitchen table measuring out 4-oz bags of chipped dried venison from an extra deer a friend had shot and killed.  The meat is taken to an Amish farm where it’s cured and dried and for an extra two dollars, chipped into paper-thin pieces.  For dinner that night we had creamed chipped venison based on a recipe from something like the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking.  The book was worn, with cracked binding and sauce-stained pages; the hallmarks of a well-loved cookbook.  I’ve been sent home with a bag of chipped dried venison for myself and a photocopied page of the recipe.  I’ll make it back in New York, a reminder of a place where food is simpler and cozy, a buttress against snow and cold.

As for the chains?  I’ll leave them for PA, for the home journeys where we meet for Margaritas at Chili’s or find ourselves craving cheese biscuits from Red Lobster or Olive Garden’s breadsticks.  Where simple food with lots of salt and butter overcomes the garish apparitions dangling from the walls.  Where really, it’s less about food and more about being back home anyway.  After all, I have resolved to be Relatively Nicer.

Eating Blind

by lyzpfister

I have developed an irrational fear of flying.  It’s impractical.  Its source is unknown.  But there it is.  I have become the person that grips the edges of the seat and dons a horrified expression at a hint of turbulence.  I am the one frantically slinging back seltzer and wishing I knew a good Hail Mary.

I’m in a plane now, and I’m thinking back to the other times in life where I have been as paralyzed.  Once, on the Appalachian Trail, caught in a raging lighting storm coming off the Blackstack Cliffs, shaking in lightning position, crouched low on one foot and singing the chorus to Amazing Grace over and over again, feeling hailstones hit my back.  Once, flying through terrible winds, the plane plummeting and soaring like a whipped rag, with three failed landings.  And once, eating at unsicht-Bar, the blind restaurant in Berlin.

What all of these experiences have in common is the sort of fear that grips the bottom of your stomach and wriggles up through your chest, shortens your breath, makes you know a panic attack is just around the corner.  And there is helplessness.  You are not in control.

unsicht-Bar is fashioned around the concept of blindness.  Diners eat a four course meal in complete blackness, and the restaurant is staffed entirely by the blind.  In the marble lobby, on plush lounge chairs surrounded by candlelight, you are given a menu whose dishes include such enigmatic delicacies as “The Frisian nobility is on fire and looking for acquaintanceship with the French underworld to practice love things.”  It’s charming.  We thought eating blind would be fun.

After making our dinner choices, we were introduced to our waiter, Harald.  Harald instructed us to grab on to the shoulders of the person standing in front of us.  I watched my mother grab on to Harald and Elisabeth grab on to my mother.  I took Elisabeth’s shoulders and felt the train whisk forward into the thick velvet drapes like some Wonderland bound vessel.  We wound around and when we stopped, we were in total darkness.  You could stand in a dark room and close your eyes and it wouldn’t be as dark as this room.  I waved a free hand in front of my face.  Not even the impression of a hand sweeping past, fracturing light.  We found ourselves whispering.

Harald seated us one by one, instructing us not to move unless sanctioned to do so, and then he had us feel our plates, our forks, knives, soup spoons, napkins.  He brought us wine.  We felt our glasses.  He brought us bread and we touched that too.  And then we sat in that giant, dark room.  I was massive and miniscule at the same time.  Totally alone without my sight.  I couldn’t see my hands.  I couldn’t remember if they were there.  I moved my fingers.  I blinked and nothing changed.  It felt futile, attempting to penetrate a black blankness.  I reached for my mother sitting next to me and grabbed her hand and then we both grabbed for Elisabeth across the table.  I breathed slowly, connected to two other people in the darkness, proof I wasn’t alone.  Unobtrusively, the darkness opened up and I became aware of the tinkling of glasses, a woman’s laughter, the feeling of being in a vast space.

We talked to hear the sounds of each other’s voices, to locate ourselves.  We loosened our shoulders, though our laughter was still tinged with nervousness.  The food was delicious.  Delicate.  It had to be good – we couldn’t rely on our eyes to fool us into instilling taste into an artful cylinder of yams.  And we had no idea what we’d ordered beyond fish, fowl, or vegetable.  But my risotto was rich, the flounder fresh, and I ate bite after bite to figure out what that delicious vegetable was – sweet, slightly firm, a tuber?  What was it, what was it… We exclaimed over our food.  Oh!  Look what I found!  I thought I was done!  Try this – where’s your hand?

There was the moment when I reached into the bread basket for a second roll only to find it empty.  I had two, said my mother.  I had two, said Elisabeth.  When you’re blind, no one leaves the last bread roll.  You eat as much as you want and no one knows.  I brought the empty fork to my mouth countless times, sometimes even upside down.  Mom was eating with her hands.  At one point, one of us (who shall remain unnamed) flashed the entire restaurant.  Not even the others at the table had any idea.

We moved through appetizer and salad, main course and dessert, by this time at uneasy peace with the dark.  Once, I put my hands over my ears to see what it would have been like to be Helen Keller and I almost screamed just to control something.  The thing about that darkness is, there is no relief.  Deep breaths.  The taste of fresh fruit.  Finding a closed jar on the plate.  Figuring out how to open it.  Reaching inside and touching firm pudding.  Making everyone open the jar to touch the pudding.

Harald came to take our plates and offered to take us back into the light.  We thought for a moment, silently communing.  No, we’ll stay a little longer.  There’s a word in German, seltsam, which describes the moment.  Sitting in the dark was uncomfortable, but when would we ever know it again?

Even the night afterwards was garish.  Stucco gritted out in plain relief, brilliant colors, textured wooden window-sills, and space.  So much space around us.  I wanted to look everywhere at the same time.  I wanted to stretch my arms out and know nothing was in my way.  I was in control again.  I barely remembered the fear, outside in the open air where I could see.  I tried to recreate it – I closed my eyes, but everywhere was still the impression of light.

Fear is a funny thing.  Our mind remembers, I was afraid, but like pain, our body cannot spontaneously recreate the stomach’s clutch or the chest’s arching tightness.

Today in my plane, the ride is relatively smooth, but just a few seconds of drop and rise, and how quickly fear blooms.  I wish it weren’t so restrictive – that instead of paralysis, we can link in to the fear and find the seltsam, the unique experience of near death, and the joy of finding ourselves alive and unscathed afterwards.  To taste the food with our eyes closed, so to speak.  Because we can never feel truly safe unless we are scared every now and then.

Eat Late, Even Great (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Carlisle, Pennsylvania, nestled in that sweep of country where the chain gang of American cuisine settled, is not what could be called a diner’s paradise.  Like roadside crosses in the Bible Belt, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Red Robin, Olive Garden, Panera, and every iteration of the Chinese Buffet dot the landscape with neon signs and trademarked logos.  If it sponsors a commercial with glistening stacks of ribs, steaming bread, oozing chocolate, delightful-seeming, hunger-inducing, mouth-watering, wallet-trimming images on late night TV, you can find it in Carlisle.

Every now and then a gem tumbles through town.  A quaint café, an Indian restaurant cum hookah lounge (!), a sushi place.  But these wonders come and go, ephemeral delights squashed under the heavy-handed thumb of reliability and seven dollar margaritas.  Many of my friends have done their time waitressing at Chili’s or Red Robin, and we’ve been known to indulge in a stack of short ribs from Texas Roadhouse without feeling bad at all, but when I think about where I want to eat when I make the journey back to PA, my first thought is always for the diner.

I did a lot of theater in high school (and I was in band – ok you can make fun of me now).  After every performance, the whole cast would go to the Diner for scrambled eggs, buttery toast, French fries, fried mushrooms, bacon, pie piled with whipped cream, omelets, and hash browns.  The Diner was for special occasions like that and conversations which just itched to be held late at night – crises of prom dates and friend fights, gossip mongering, life debriefs.  Of course, after we left high school, we learned to appreciate a beer or two, and after you’ve had a few beers, any occasion is a special occasion.  So now, when we see each other on holidays or opportunely timed visits home, the diner is where we often end up after a round or two at the G-man.  Though the conversation topics seem eerily familiar.

Unless you drive a truck, it’s kind of a rule that you can’t go to the diner before midnight or after six in the morning.  Diner ambiance is designed to soothe your night-addled brain.  A porcelain mug, with rounded edges and a hairline fracture dyed the color of dark coffee.  Heavy, white plates.  Cream colored walls accented by the same wallpaper that’s in your grandmother’s bathroom, Formica tabletops, vinyl booths, unobtrusive yellow light.  If you are still thinking at three in the morning, your brain doesn’t want to think about food in addition to your life’s current calamity.  Your brain needs canola oil for frying, butter and jelly, mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce.

The late-night diner phenomenon is not one strictly limited to Carlisle’s diner.  Diners everywhere beg to be frequented when your body really needs nothing more than to be in bed.  There’s a diner near where I work in New York that serves pancakes with piles of whipped cream and real strawberries, homefries scrambled with peppers and onions, crisp bacon, and eggs sunnyside up.  Sometimes I’ll go if I’ve just gotten off the closing shift or after late night wanderings through SoHo with friends.  I find their yellow, beveled plastic cups, just like the ones my hometown diner uses, comforting.

I appreciate the diner’s inimitable nature.  Its closest cousins can’t compete.  Brunch is too crisp and elite, fried chicken too social, breakfast too personal.  The diner is intimate and casual, comforting, yet slightly squalid with grease and ketchup.  The diner is dining out’s guilty pleasure.  Although I won’t say I don’t often dream about a plate of fried mushrooms – a perfectly crisp fried batter and the buttery, earthy umami of mushroom balanced by tart ranch dressing.  I don’t even feel guilty.

It soothes me that in diners from North Carolina to New York, I will find the same heavy china, the same waitress with tired eyes but good-natured sass, the same brown plastic dish filled with bite-sized packets of jam.  It’s good to know that wherever I am, if I am there at five AM, there will be cheese grits and sausage patties to sustain me until I manage to make it to my bed.  But then again, I could simply lay my head on a fried egg, and that pillow would do just fine.

Paris in New York (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

I think I’ve found IT.  True love.  The café of my dreams.  Ceci Cela is located on Spring Street in the heart of SoHo, and the bohemian chic stroll by in droves.  Inside, however, is an oasis of soft lights, well-worn wooden floors and tables, exposed brick walls, and crooked corners.  There are only eight small tables in the back room; to get there, you walk past a display counter of glazed tortes and cakes, crisp croissants, and sugar cookies glistening with raspberry jam.

The first time I came to Ceci Cela, I was visiting New York to meet up with a friend and native New Yorker, for whom coming to Ceci Cela was a family tradition.  We ordered cappuccinos and croissants, at which point Natalie, whose family is French and Persian, taught me the art of dipping croissant in coffee.  It all felt so very – French, like being transported to Paris on a magic quiche.

I’ve been back a few times since then, stopping by almost every time I come to New York.  And now that I live here (still so strange to say), I have the feeling I’ll be here more often.

Ceci Cela Patisserie
55 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
www.cecicelanyc.com
(212) 274-9179

Why the Diet Will Never Work (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Right now, I’m sitting on a train from Berlin to Stuttgart, thinking back on my visits, the conversations I had, the things I saw, and the millions of pounds I gained.  Not that I would give one single pound back.  In fact, I’m stocked up for this train trip with a hefty mound of honey-laden pastries from Al-Jazeera, a Turkish Konditorei that my mom just happened to find once on a bike trip through Berlin.

When we first picked up our goodies, we walked into the two-armspan-wide store and asked for one of everything.  The man on the other side of the counter couldn’t quite comprehend the request and asked us every third pastry or so if we really meant one of each.  Oh yes, we did.  And it didn’t take us long to walk back to our bikes locked other side of the street, open our three boxes of pastries and sample each piece.  We had an assortment of Turkish baklava, stuffed with pistachios or peanuts, halva or melting sugar and layered between crisp sheets of phyllo dough dripping with honey.  There were three types of cake, one filled with apples and custard, another with crumb pressed into rose-water flavored cream, and a third which the pastry cook brought out after we had paid and which looked so good, we asked for a piece of that too and paid again.

After an extra-vigorous bike ride (a guilty calorie conscience?), we stumbled into a packed Vietnamese restaurant/café for lunch.  Hamy, as the restaurant is called, only serves two dishes a day.  Judiciously, my mother ordered the chicken curry on rice and I ordered the Pho with pan-fried pork over rice noodles. Hands down the best Vietnamese food I have ever eaten in my life, and for five Euros, the most reasonably priced.  Both dishes were piled with fresh vegetables, and my pho redolent of Thai basil, lemongrass, and chiles.  Despite our Turkish pastry escapade, we both finished every bite on our plates.

I’m finding it hard to figure out which culinary adventure I liked the most, but one of the most relaxing and delicious eating experiences I’ve had so far in Germany was at Schlesisch Blau, a tongue twister if nothing else.  Schlesisch Blau is an amazing, homey, gourmet restaurant located near the Oberbaumbrücke, where you can walk along an extant section of the Berlin Wall, now covered in murals commemorating the East-West split.

After walking along the wall in the chill evening air, we circled back down into Kreuzberg and the warm glow of Schlesisch Blau.  We were seated at a round wooden table in the corner, where we had a good view of the rest of the small, ten-table restaurant.  As my mothers says, eating at Schlesisch Blau is like eating in someone’s living room.  The soup cooks on a double burner against the wall of the dining room and it’s a serve-yourself affair.  After soup, a big bowl of salad with mixed greens and two randomly selected bottles of homemade vinegar are placed on each table.  The restaurant makes over fifty varieties of vinegar, and if you don’t happen to like what you have, you’re welcome to wander over to another table to try someone else’s.

The restaurant’s owner and chef wanders around the room talking to and drinking with his guests while the waiter and waitress eat their dinner leaning on the corner of the bar.  The wine flows freely, and though we protested that we were on our bikes and really couldn’t drink another carafe of wine, our waiter, probably on his third glass himself, winked and told us of course we could—and should probably even finish two.  Apparently, though, only those patrons who order expensive bottles of wine are allowed to drink out of the sparkling, long-stemmed wine glasses.  My mother and I, with our house wine, were relegated to smaller tumblers.  The glasses of shame.

For fourteen Euros, you get soup, salad, entrée and dessert.  There is one soup, one salad, two entrees to choose between, and one dessert.  I ordered slow roasted beef and my mom a pork roast rolled with herbs.  Both dishes are the kind that cook all day and require very little prep time.  But both, with their long cooking time, are tender and rich and served with a crisp vegetable medley of cauliflower, carrots, and potatoes in flavorful sauce.  It’s the ambiance, however, that really makes eating at Schlesisch Blau a wonderful experience.  It’s the comfort of the dim lights, the rustic furniture, the jovial waiters, the unassuming, yet lovingly prepared food.  For dessert, there was berry pie, and though we were both so full of food, we finished all of our pie, the rest of the wine, and set off a little wobbly on our bikes into the Berlin night, sniffing out the next best thing to eat.

A Fixed-Price Tapas Affair. For Three. (a post by Josh)

by lyzpfister

I think I’ve become predictable. Every birthday, holiday or Sunday (for that matter) my gift will always relate to food. It could be a cook book from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse, NY or Olive Oil (freshly pressed in the heart of Tuscany) or even a Simply Carrot Cake for Brenda. No matter what though, I always give food. My most recent, and dare I say “innovative,” gift was a cooking class gift certificate for an upscale restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina. And not only for my friend, but for myself as well.

And I lucked out. Because not only was it a cooking class in a classy restaurant, but that day the menu was Tapas. That may not sound so “lucky”, but these were not your ordinary get-these-ingredients-in-your-local-store type of Tapas, but more of the I’m-in-a-fancy-restaurant-spending-far-too-much-money Tapas. But it wasn’t too much money, since the price was fixed. I’d call that luck.

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A(nother) Moveable Feast (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

I have been to the taco truck four times in the last seven days, and I just can’t seem to get enough. Set squat in the middle of the Citgo parking lot, the taco truck doesn’t look like much. Its whitewashed walls are stained with cooking smoke and the menu scrawled in magic marker is just barely legible. But out of that trailer, hitched to the back of a pickup truck, drift the most magical smells of lime, sizzling meat, and roasting jalapeños. One woman is responsible for all of this, simultaneously taking orders, assembling tacos, and pressing fresh corn tortillas as she whisks her way around the small insides of the truck.

Let me preface my enthusiastic endorsement of the taco truck by saying this. I do not like Mexican food. I will almost always pick somewhere else over the kind of Mexican restaurant where one dish is indistinguishable from another, where every plate is a variation on the theme of refried beans, rice, meat wrapped in tortilla and smothered in iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. If this what you like, don’t expect it from the taco truck. There aren’t many options–eight types of tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and hamburgers–but even still, I’ve never known anyone to eat anything but the tacos. These are served simply, in a Styrofoam box lined with aluminum foil, garnished with queso and crema, and served with a roasted jalapeño, lime wedge, and salsa verde.

I’m not sure if I can do justice to the fiery, flavorful taste of a taco truck taco. Although they’re so small you can finish one in three bites, those pungent bundles pack a big punch. The basis for each of the tacos is meat; there’s beef, chicken, chorizo, tongue, and barbeque, among a few other options that my extremely limited Spanish cannot decipher–pastor, campechanos, chicharron–and this is really the heart of the tacos. So marinated it crumbles in your mouth, the meat blends delicately with just caramelized onions, fresh cilantro, salsa verde, sour cream, lime, and the balancing austerity of a hot tortilla. There’s plenty of oil, in both the marinade and the onions, which makes one of these tacos not so good for the waistline but magnificent for the taste buds.

If you’re feeling adventurous after one of these miniature culinary marvels, take the jalapeño and eat it in one bite, feeling machismo until your eyeballs start to melt with heat. Today, after popping one of those sneaky buggers, Josh said, “I can’t feel the top of my head,” and I sympathized because of the pepper I had eaten yesterday which made it feel as if I was boiling drinking water in my mouth.

Peppers aside, these tacos are amazing. Go to the taco truck, and if you don’t speak Spanish, order whatever sounds good to you right then, because I guarantee you’ll go back. After the first addictive one, you’ll have to try them all.

Directions to the taco truck from Exit 30 (Davidson) on I-77*
1. Go north on I-77 to Exit 33
2. Turn left off the exit
3. Make a right into the Citgo parking lot

*The taco truck is only open for lunch