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Posts Tagged ‘tamale’

A few nights ago Yuki and I went for a walk and realized that we were pretty hungry. The beauty of Chicago in the summer is the numerous al fresco options. We walked by Angels and Mariachis on Division and I remembered something my friend Chef John Caputo said about the place, “it’s tacos for gringos.” I happen to be a gringo, and I happen to love tacos. Mind you, he didn’t say they were good, so I had to find out for myself. Yuki’s quite frequently up for some tacos as well, so we grabbed a table outside and dined.

Pitchers of the House Margarita were on sale, so we got one. Typical bar margarita, not very strong and a little sweet. Oh well, it was hot out, the margarita was cold, I wasn’t gonna bitch too much. It was refreshing, I just prefer a little tequila in my margaritas.

The chips were freshly fried and nicely salted. The salsa, well, it was salsa. A tad sweet, not quite spicy enough, and very mediocre.

We split a tamale as an appetizer, that was a mistake. The texture was alright, but there was absolutely zero flavor! It was stuffed with slow simmer pork, but you wouldn’t know it without looking. The pork lacked seasoning, the masa lacked seasoning, even the sauce lacked seasoning. I told the waitress to let their chef know not to be afraid of serving a tamale with some flavor. She did remove it from our bill, but they should be ashamed to serve a tamale like that…blaspheme!

We also split a rice and beans plate. They were ok, but definitely not Mexican in flavor. The black beans I make at home are far better than these, but they were edible.

On to the tacos. They come 4 to a plate and are small, about 2-3 bites each. We decided to share three different orders. First was the short rib braised in red wine. It was actually pretty good. The beef was soft and tender while it had the right amount of seasoning, surprisingly after that tamale. Then we had the carnitas. Again, it was also pretty good. The pork was properly cooked and they topped it with matchsticks of carrots and pickled daikon, almost Vietnamese in flavor. It was a nice match for the pork. Last was the lobster. It was basically a seafood salad with lobster meat. Not bad, but not anything special that sings lobster. Could have easily have been crab or shrimp and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

The service was pretty good overall. I didn’t have to ask for that tamale to be removed from the bill. I just mentioned how bad it was and she did the right thing. Food came out at a nice pace as well.

All in all, I completely agree with Chef Caputo’s assessment that the place serves tacos for gringos. You really don’t need to say whether or not it’s good or bad as that statement pretty much says it all. While the tacos weren’t too bad at all, I don’t think I’ll jump out of my seat and rush back for more.

On a side note, I’m still very dissapointed that Andy’s Deli is no longer there. I still mourn when they sold the building, and having flavorless tamales served from the very space that used to sell the best tubes of smoked pork in town only makes me miss them more.

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There are few things more satisfying in life than sinking your teeth into something truly special. Living in a fast food nation this is something that is harder and harder to come by. Yuki and I were just in Puerto Rico for 10 days, and due to American influence it’s also hard to come by there. If you look though, you can still find moment of culture, that moment of awe, that moment of pure bliss. For us, that moment was found in Guavate, better known as “The Pork Highway”.

Nestled in the mountains about 45 minutes south of San Juan, Guavate has become a destination unlike any other. I was first alerted to it by Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods Episode in Puerto Rico. As a fellow Jew who appreciates the fine art of lechon, suckling pig slowly and expertly roasted on an open fire, I knew I had to get me some.

After turning off Hwy 52 on Rt 184, we kept winding around the mountains looking for this juicy animal. We’d go by a lechonaria here, a lechonaria there, but nothing that resembled what could be called “The Pork Highway”. And then, about 15 minutes later…Xanadu! We had found the object of our desire. A strip with 7 or 8 lechonarias in full bloom. We had told ourselves that we weren’t going to just end up at the one Andrew featured, we would head to the one with the most action, the one that locals were eating at. Of course, that ended up being the one Andrew was at, El Rancho Original. More aptly put, hog heaven!

We got in line as our taste buds were salivating. The line was pretty long, but it moved quickly. El Rancho Original is cafeteria-style, so you just order what you want then pick it up at the register. All the while they have live music and a dance floor that is always packed with people, especially old people gettin down.

When we got up to order I just had to marvel at that pig on a spit with the master hacking it up with a machete. We speak very little Spanish, so they had to get a lady over who spoke more English to take our order. It all worked out as we got what we wanted. We grabbed our food, walked past the dancing into the back cafeteria, and proceeded accordingly.

We ordered a plate full of lechon (of course), some rice and beans, this tamale-like thing of mashed pineapple and pork, a salad of lettuce and tomato to help our bowels process this overload of nutrient information, some morcilla (blood sausage, basically pigs blood with rice and spices stuffed into its intestines and grilled), sweet potato, and a big slice of avocado. It may not look like much in the photo, but believe me, it was a lot of food for two people. All for only $21! I dare you to find a deal like that in Chicago.

Mmmmmmm, crispy skin. Or, as Yuki likes to call it “meat candy”.

This spread was so good! It really was the best pig I’ve ever eaten. My older brother is going to be mad at me for saying this, but Jews are CRAZY!!! Along with every other culture and being who deprives themselves of such pleasure. Call me a hedonist, but that pig sure is tasty! If I could eat El Rancho Original’s lechon every day three times a day I would, as long as there was some beef and scallops peppered in there.

Pork coma. You know, a good nap is a necessary part of life.

Once the pork coma wears off you really have no choice but to start shaking your hips and moving various body parts to the rhythms of old world latin music. Or, maybe all of our bodies were just convulsing from pork overdoses. All I know is that Guavate is one of the last true Puerto Rican experiences left in this world. Something not to be missed if you’re ever in our 51st state, or commonwealth, or whatever it is.

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