Fuera del Menu

29 Jun

Ordering “off of the menu” can be a gamble, or at least inspire a lot of head scratching.

You have to be able to explain on your feet, especially if the person taking your order thinks you’re from a different planet.

I got the you’re-sprouting-arms-not-hair-out-of-your-head look when ordering a “short, hot, Dirty Hippie” off the menu at a local Starbucks (Translation: a 8 oz., hot chai with a shot of espresso in it).

She might have thought I was asking for more than coffee though.

My trip to Plaza Fiesta, the only Latin American-themed mall in the country (and sometimes a lot like Las Vegas) was a trip as always. The store fronts are designed like Latino market buildings, and there is a lot of different sounds springing from the mall’s playplace. This ceiling high structure has a tangling network of tunnels, and if I was younger (and not 6’1″), it’d be fun to navigate.

I had read about La Poblanita, one of the restaurants in PF’s food court, and since I drive by the warehouse of food and playplaces, I thought I’d swing in and give it a whirl. Ordering food at an ethnic restaurant usually ends up in a flurry of questions that’d make Alex Trebek sweat. So after studying the menu like an electrical grid, I realized that an item was missing.  My confidence and course of plan shattered when I couldn’t see the dish I read about. After awkwardly conversing with the cashier, and a little stammering at the counter, I was, er, smoothly, on my way.

“Una taco de lengua?”

Tongue.

That’s right. In my marinating in Anthony Bourdain’s weird food sampling this summer, I thought I needed to go out and try some odd stuff myself.

Though available in whatever I wanted to put it in, lengua is nowhere on the food chart. I had some of my own reservations when the girl behind the counter told me she wasn’t a fan of it. At $1.75, any possible rancidity wasn’t a big concern. It’s not as shaky of an investment as Lehman Bros., but nevertheless, I was worried.

“Number 18? Un taco?”

The cook brought the taco to the silver counter and walked back to his line station. In a little paper tray, this rite of passage, the step beyond burritos de Taco Bell and into the dark underworld of Offal, sat. I got it with a sheet of cilantro, and radish disks came on top. I grabbed two different sauces (a rojo and verde), and moved along as a dad bought his daughter a more conservative Coke.

In my hovering by the counter and right by a construction worker, I realized something: It was actually pretty good.

Lengua is like a tender pot roast, with a little less moisture (ironic?). The red sauce was a lot stronger and saltier, so I didn’t use it much for the taco with sharp radishes and light lime and cilantro flavors.

The green sauce was a pleasant surprise. I’m used to tomatillo salsas that come in grocery store jars or from the bar at Moe’s, so something with kick like Bruce Lee made this different dish a little more different. The lime slice and radishes were excellent condiment additions since lettuce and tomato were gone.

I got a Tamarind flavored Jarritos soda to go along with the spicy and strange. There are at least eight varieties of these compulsively sweet carbonated beverages, but since I was already stepping out of my borders, I thought I’d go further and go for tamarind. A tamarind is a fruit grown on a tree, and the dried pulp is common in Indian and Mexican dishes. This concoction I had was like a fizzy apple cider with a lot of acidic tang. I was already a fan of the other varieties from this inexpensive brand, but Tamarindo might be my new poison.

La comida no fue conservador, pero yo disfruto y me sorprendio.

Maybe that’s how we can solve picky eating: make it a mysterious search.

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