Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Mexican food is about the attitude too

There is a veritable plethora of new options for more authentic Mexican food in NYC. When I arrived in 1992, there was a dearth. Most Mexican places had infamous offerings like nachos and slushy margaritas, and having a guacamole mashed at your table with one measly avocado at Rosa Mexicano would set you back an astronomical $9.
Today there are hip taquerías and tequila bars and what not, and the food has improved tremendously in some quarters, but there are certain things that Americans don't get about Mexican food and they drive me crazy.
Where do I start?
Here's a good example. I go to aptly named Pinche Taquería in Noho. They have pretty good tortas.
They have ham and egg burritos, so I ask if they can make me a ham and egg torta. The answer is NO. Why not, I ask, It's the same concept. Nope. They finally ask the cook and he relents. The order taker (a human bastion of imbecility) tells me, "ok, but this is the last time."
Besides the fact they should consider themselves lucky I don't carry weapons, the genius of Mexican food is its versatility. How you can't get this from just looking at it, is beyond me. Mexican food is a generous and accommodating cuisine. Pretty much any filling can be put in a taco that can be put in a torta, a sope, etc. The m.o. is common sense. So refusing to put the filling of one in another is a cardinal sin. You are not getting the generosity of spirit that comes when a Mexican feeds you.
But don't confuse this with putting the rice and beans, which are meant to be sides, inside a burrito the size of a Sherman tank. This is not Mexican food either. 
Another example. Yesterday my friend Alex celebrated his birthday at the new Taquería and Tequilería Los Feliz, on Ludlow St. We were in the space downstairs, a place so dark one could barely see in front of one's nose. The decor of the place has been celebrated elsewhere. Looked like a dungeon to me. There were playing horrible rock music at ear splitting levels. And you could not see your food. Not the most welcoming place.
But I took a picture of my tacos de barbacoa, and imagine my surprise to discover that they actually looked beautiful. What is the point of serving tacos (in a cardboard container) on top of a verdant banana leaf, with a slice of orange powdered with chili, if you can't see it? You will never have a taco in Mexico under anything else than blitzkrieg lighting. I understand here we are too cool for school, but if you are serving Mexican the combination of colors and textures is as much part of the experience as the first heavenly bite. Another pet peeve: nobody bothered mincing the cilantro, so one feels like a cow grazing, and I bet that most people think the stalks of cilantro are for decoration and they push it aside. In real tacos the cilantro is finely chopped so you can eat it, and it adds a fantastic kick to the food. Don't be lazy, is what I'm saying.
On the other hand, the tomato that should be sliced in the torta, is chopped, and falls off the sandwich at every bite. This makes no sense.

I order a shot of tequila. You would think that for a place that labels itself a tequilería, these people would know from shot glasses. You'd be mistaken.

I pay 10 bucks for a little grappa glass of Gran Centenario Plata with a stem that holds half of what fits into a tequila shot glass. I rest my case.

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