Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Baby Step Backward

I learned yesterday that's "spoonback" will no longer work when more than one such link is included in a single blog post. That used to not be true, and several times over the last 8 years I've put up posts that included reviews of several restaurants within it -- either travelogues, or comparisons of two similar places; and the spoonback links have worked fine.

Last month I posted a review of two food trucks down the avenue from my house, but the Zomato web site wouldn't pick them up. So now I have removed the spoonbacks for the Ay Papi food truck, and am reposting it here. If you wanna see the blog post reviewing that food truck, click here.
Ay Papi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

She's Right Again

Beto's Comida Latina
8142 Broadway
(just north of Sunset Avenue)

Friends are always telling me that I'm the smartest person they know. Luckily for me, they don't know my wife, who is the smartest person I know. Last night's dinner at Beto's provided further evidence to support that judgment.

I had been to Beto's once before. It was so long ago, it might have been in the last century. (At that time, they had abandoned its Southtown roots for a location near the current one, but on the other side of the street.) I didn't like it. I don't recall now what, exactly, had displeased me about the place back then, but whatever it was, it was sufficient to keep me away for years. But my wife loves the place, and has continually championed it (gently and subtly) until, with an eye toward some kind of future trade-off, I at last agreed to go.

And wouldn't you know it? I have to admit it's a great place.

There's a small dining room on the front end, and a larger patio area out back. Both had live music being performed last night (a Friday): a guitar duo on the patio, a guy with a keyboard in the dining room. Had musical styles been the only consideration, the patio would have been the preferred venue, but the dining room is air conditioned. Shucks.

Anyway. So we take a table in the dining room, and even though we were close to the kitchen and the bar, we were undisturbed by the proximity. Noise wasn't excessive; a great relief in this era of concrete walls and floors. There was, in fact, nothing about to ambience of the place to disparage. I'm choking back tears, can you tell? It was clean, comfortable and pleasant. 

I had read a number of reviews on dissing Beto's service as the only failing of an otherwise-outstanding restaurant. Sadly, though, I can't join that chorus of grousing: our server, Luis, was exceptional: perfectly attentive, informative, straightforward, and pleasantly engaging without being intrusive. I may have had better table service in my life, but no such occasion comes immediately to mind.

I ordered a three-item combination, with a chicken-poblano empanada, a fish taco, and a sweet empanada of banana, leche quemada and pecans for afters. I also asked for a sample of something called chalupa cabra. My wife chose a two-item combo of fish taco and spinach-mushroom quesadilla. Both combinations come with soft drinks, but I had a margarita and she had a vodka concoction called Beto's breeze. (We had our soft drinks put in go-cups, because I'm not one to pass up horchata.)

The margarita was gold instead of the usual green; I don't know why and don't care. It was a little sweeter, a little less tart than is common, but it was very good. And it was only $4. (Note to self: happy hour goes until 7 on Fridays at Beto's.) I tried the Breeze, too, but after a sip of the margarita there was nothing there. 

The chalupa cabra sample came first. It's small chunks of goat meat in a curry sauce, topped with shredded vegetables, a little coconut, and a sprinkle of cotija cheese. In its full version it's served on a flatbread made from the same dough as the empanadas, which I suspect will make it completely irresistible. I made a mental note to include this dish in my order next time I come.

The combination plates are served with rice and beans. Not the kind of rice and beans in Tex-Mex cooking, but fluffy white rice in the Caribbean style, with savoury borracho beans. You can substitute roasted vegetables for the rice and beans, but that strikes me as a mistake, depending somewhat on which veggies are being served; last night's included yellow squash, and that made up my mind for me. 

fish taco, empanada, beans & rice
This was actually my very first fish taco; and while it was good, it had a strong fishy taste that I have avoided for many years. Don't get me wrong: I love fish. But some fish has that peculiar flavour, and I don't much like it. I don't know if it comes from having been frozen, or if it's just the type of fish used. Both possibilities seem unlikely, and it's not a question that raises in me the desire to investigate. It's most noticeable with catfish that's been frozen, but I haven't encountered it in other previously-frozen types. In any case, Beto's uses grilled Alaska pollock, a type of cod (and I often cook previously-frozen cod at home and don't get that fishy taste). It had a good texture, was on an excellent tortilla with slaw and cilantro (but not too much) and topped with a creamy poblano sauce. It's served with a small ramekin of chimichurri, in case you think the lily needs gilding. I see from this meal why people get so excited about fish tacos. Yes, even with that fishy taste.

And then there's that empanada: diced chicken with onion and poblano peppers, laced with a little cheese (I'm guessing cotija, but I could be wrong) and a light tomatillo sauce all wrapped up in an exquisitely made pastry. Writing that sentence made me want to go back for another. 

What's that mean?
Last city inspection: July 2017
score: 96
But no need! The three-item combo, plus the sample of chalupa cabra and a taste of my wife's quesadilla (which was good but not on the same elevated level as other things) proved to be too much food for one sitting, so that banana empanada with the leche quemada is sitting in my refrigerator right now. Having thought of that, I have nothing more to say before going downstairs to eat it, except that the prices at Beto's were pretty damned good, too. We got out of there for less than fifty bucks, including drinks, tax and tip, and that's better than what we normally spend on a date-night dinner.

Beto's Alt-Mex Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Take a Flyswatter

The Rose Bush Food Truck Court
2301 San Pedro Avenue
(between Huisache and Mulberry streets)

Malik's Phamous Philly Cheesesteaks
food truck

Ay Papi Puerto Rican
food truck

We made our first real foray into the not-really-exciting world of food trucks tonight when we went with another couple to the recently-opened Rose Bush, a few blocks down the avenue from our houses. When we went last night there were only two vehicles in place, so we got two dishes from each and split them four ways.

From Malik's the choices were the original Philly sandwich, and a veggies-only version. The Philly was, frankly, pretty disappointing, possibly because, you know, it's a Philly cheesesteak: (a) it'd be hard to live up to the reputation that sandwich has acquired, reinforced on a recent visit to Philadelphia where they talk about the sandwich the way we talk about hot weather; and (b) they wanted to put what they call "whiz-cheese" on it, so we opted for no cheese. And a cheesesteak sandwich without cheese is like a guard dog without legs; it'll still bark, but can only bite if you give it your hand. There's just something missing, and I can't see how using something called "whiz-cheese" can be any kind of improvement.

Unless, of course, it's whatever chemical concoction was used to
Mobile vendor inspection
reports are not currently
available on line
cover the veggies-only sandwich. It looked like melted cheese, if a little on the white side; it had the consistency of fairly-good-quality cheese, such as is found on your average pizza; and it had a mild cheesy flavour, such as you would experience in an underaged Kraft product. It was laid on in a pretty generous layer and held the thoroughly cooked onions and peppers together (though it didn't really stick to the soft, warm oily bread) and stretched just like cheese on a mediocre pizza. It may not have been the best quality, nutritionally speaking, but of the four sandwiches we tried, the veggie Philly won top honours for the evening. And the cheese (or whatever cheese-like concoction it was) would have improved the other sandwich.
Malik's Phamous Philly Cheesesteak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Mobile vendor inspection
reports are not currently
available on line
The other two were from the puertoriqueno mobile kitchen called "Ay Papi," which our neighbour tells us is a reference to some baseball player. Whatever.  This food truck -- trailer, actually -- offers a limited menu of 3 or 4 sandwiches, tostones, a few other sides, and canned drinks. We chose the cubano, a traditional Caribbean pressed sandwich; and a three-meat construct, the name of which I now forget. Both sandwiches were built in traditional hoagie-style rolls. The cubano was good for the type, though not outstanding; the other, larger sandwich was an esculent hodgepodge. It was impossible to separate the various ingredients either by flavour or texture, and overall both aspects of the product were the culinary equivalent of mud-brown. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good in any particular. And both sandwiches were marred by the slowness with which they were produced.
The prices for Malik's sandwiches were about what you'd expect, at roughly ten bucks apiece.  The sandwiches from Ay Papi cost about the same or a little more, but somehow seemed less worth it even before we'd tried them.

And here's one more curious failing to set against this food truck: at 7PM on a Friday night, with their busy time just beginning, they were already down to their last Diet Coke. I ordered two but could only get one. That is a failure of preparation on the most basic level.

No inspection report
on file
The place itself, the Rose Bush food truck court, is a converted auto-service shop, with a large paved area enclosed by a wrought-iron fence. It's family- and pet-friendly, though no one had brought their dog. In the far corner is a tetherball set-up to distract the kids; it worked well for that. The building provides restrooms, which were reasonably clean and adequately appointed, and seating in the former service bay (which, even with a fan running full speed, was intolerable in the early summer heat). The outside yard was washed with a comforting breeze that could do nothing to keep the hordes of flies away. There were sufficient trash receptacles with easy-to-close lids to help, but as soon as our first sandwiches arrived, so did more flies than you will find in a small back yard occupied by three large dogs. The picnic tables had paper towel rollers mounted on each, which was good, and there were plenty of paper towels, plus a service bar with barely-useful plastic utensils, napkins and a few essential condiments. The seating was adequate, except that one of the two planks used to make the picnic-table bench had sagged, quickly making it uncomfortable Had there been another table open, I would have insisted we move, but there wasn't; the entire outdoor seating area was taken up by our other neighbours.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Perfect Setting

Iron Cactus
200 River Walk
(at St Mary's, across from La Mansión)

This was a perfect day for lunch on the River Walk. There were no good movies we hadn't already seen; it was sunny and 75 with a mild breeze; and the crush of tourists is still a few weeks away. We pawed through the listings to decide on a place for lunch, then decided to just go down to the River and see what looked good. Ended up here.

This place wasn't around when I worked downtown, so I wasn't familiar with it. It's located in the Mokhara Hotel building, which used to be the Watermark, which is the building famous for having its historical facade fall over in the street about 15 years ago. I anticipated that anything in this part of the River Walk would be even pricier than the normally overpriced venues, but the prices on their posted (dinner) menu were, if not bargains, at least not unreasonable: $13 to $16 for sandwiches, $20 or so for entrées. 

We were seated almost immediately at a table hidden from the water by a planter. We couldn't see the strollers at riverside, but enjoyed all the ambience of the location: the perfect weather, the beautiful La Mansión Hotel on the opposite side; just a little traffic noise (and one siren) from street level; and a soft burble of conversation from all around.

Our server seemed new, tense and timid, but did a fine job throughout the meal. She brought me a sample of the chocolate chipotle sauce (it sounded too much like salsa molé for me to order it without tasting it first; I've had some wonderful molés, and others that are less appealing than dog puke) and kept our chips and salsa coming, followed up with us a couple of times at appropriate points, and hunted down answers to our questions, or at least tried to. 

The complimentary chips and salsa provided are very good. The chips are thin and fresh, though a lot of them had broken down to too-small fragments; the salsas --- one regular, one fire-roasted and served hot --- were both very good as well; chunky, with nice seasoning and not too runny. Despite having those to nosh on, we decided to split an appetizer. On our waitress's recommendation, we went for the tamale pops (see picture). Delightful balls of seasoned pork lightly fried and nestled on a bead of guacamole, they immediately attracted stares from the couple from Alabama who sat across the aisle from us. I always appreciate dishes that provoke conversation with strangers. These, as it happened, also taste good. They were a little overpriced, I thought, at $9, but then, this is the River Walk. Here, they seem reasonable.

For our entrées, my friend Roland went with the Stuffed Iron Burger, while I chose one smoked brisket enchilada in chocolate chipotle sauce (that sauce having passed review with flying colours), and one smoked chicken enchilada in salsa verde. 

Last city inspection: 10/2016
score: 90
The enchiladas were served with a small block of Spanish rice, good but unremarkable, and an equally small side of beans; you have the choice of black beans, refried beans, or charro beans; I chose the last and found it excellent. It had quite a bit of both ham and bacon in it, and there was some unidentifiable seasoning in the mix that really took it beyond merely good charro beans. I asked the waitress, who asked in the kitchen, but as she read from the list she'd made the only thing out of the ordinary was "solaro," which isn't a thing. Possibly she meant "celeriac," but by that point I was beyond following up. In any case, the beans were worthy of the venue.

The enchiladas were lightly filled, but had excellent textures and the sauces of each complemented the fillings in expert fashion. The chicken was nicely shredded, well-smoked without being at all dry, and with a very good smoky flavour; and the salsa verde was a quality mixture. The brisket was delicious, also with a clear smoky flavour, and the chocolate chipotle sauce was magnificent: rich, deeply flavoured, without the slightest hint of overwhelming the dish. (The sauce is also very good on tostadas....)

Roland's burger, which, like my enchiladas, we split, was of good size, with a satisfying patty stuffed with cheese and mild chiles verdes; it was served on what looked like a whole-wheat bun that was lightly toasted, but which seemed a little chewy by the time I got around to eating my half. It was served with fries that were coated in salt and parmesan cheese: too much of the former, not enough of the latter. Though in all honesty I could do without either. The fries would not have suffered from another few seconds in the oil, either. They were the outliers of an otherwise very good meal.
Iron Cactus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato