Tag Archives: eating out

The Summer Scoop (or What I’ve Eaten for the Past Week)

Now that July is one-third over, I’m finally, officially in SUMMER MODE. Bring on the watermelon, the potato salad, the macaroni salad, not the egg salad, the hotdogs, the fluffy white buns whose interior texture mimics modified styrofoam! Bring on the funnel cakes and cotton candy: the inevitable gut rot.

Our July Fourth picnic (“Snax 4 America”) was a rollicking success. I was going to say, “To be fair, most picnics are,” but that’s not true. An overcast sky, an absent corkscrew, or a shortage of potato chips can turn a good picnic bad. We had a corkscrew, a jumbo size bag of Rip-L-chips, and a collective good attitude. Also, we had sunshine. And Tecate, and friendship!

Clockwise, from left: Trader Joe’s 100% pineapple juice (sold in overpackaged four-packs); Smirnoff marshmallow vodka; Rip-L-chips, which were two-for-one at my local Walgreen’s; Twizzlers; Trader Joe’s Good-N-Plenty-style candies; and the cocktail of the gods.

I discovered my new favorite cocktail quite by accident. The cocktail includes an adequate pour of chilled marshmallow vodka; ample soda water; and a splash of 100% pineapple juice. If you’re so inclined, add two ice cubes and a straw. Sarah and I sipped these marvels while readying for our picnic and listening to DadRock (i.e., John Cougar Mellencamp, more J.C. Mellencamp, Foreigner, CSNY, et al). If you add the proper amount of soda water, the drink is just the perfect amount of sweet; if you skimp, you will incur all the toothaches/headaches/stomachaches in the world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have an ongoing, informal goal to bust out of the food ruts I settle in. I know, I know! I castigate myself far too often, and for what? Being a creature drawn to projects, especially of the self-improvement variety, I adopted this loosely formed resolution. This week, I actually stuck to it.

Friday, I made two new dishes: one I haven’t made for months, and one I have never made. Exhibit A: Black-bean tacos with mango salsa.

I know: this picture is exceptionally bad, even by my knuckle-draggin’ standards. I was hungry, though, and just wanted to eat! Had you been there in my living room with me, you wouldn’t have blamed me.

Preparing the black beans is the easiest: dump a can of black beans (liquid included) into a medium-sized saucepan. Add cumin, red pepper flakes, the juice of one lime, and two cloves’ worth of minced garlic to the pot. Stir occasionally, allowing the liquid to reduce. When the beans are the consistency you prefer, remove pot from heat.

The salsa, too, is easy. Peel a mango, cut it into strips of equal size, and dice those strips into tiny cubes. Halve a bunch of grape tomatoes. Mince shallots and finely chop parsley. Juice a lime. Combine all ingredients with salt and pepper, and you’ve got yourself a condiment.

The never-before-made dish was eggplant pomodoro, adapted from Eating Well’s recipe. I don’t remember the last time I bought an eggplant, but I snagged one last week because it was 99 CENTS! Duuuuuude: healthy food for less than a dollar! After the bargain rush subsided, I was like, “Damn, what am I gonna do with this eggplant?” Enter pomodoro. As luck would have it, I had tomatoes, olives, capers, EVOO, and the requisite seasonings on hand.

Aside from not having enough tomatoes — I’d used about half the carton making that salsa — I followed Eating Well’s instructions allllllllmost to the T. (Added more seasonings because I love me some spice.)

And? This dish was a winner! Hella quick to whip up, its flavor is elevated via the capers and olives. Moreover, the eggplant, cooked in a liberal amount of olive oil, was silky rather than tough n’ chewy. Finally, the pomodoro reheats well, which bodes well for an episodic kitchen slacker like myself.

There you have it: two new recipes and a picnic. Oh! And I visited Southpaw for the first time, too, but that’s another story for another day. Until then, keep on rockin’ in the free world. I’ll do the same, sandwich in hand.

Restaurant Review: Don Pisto’s

Don Pisto’s is the best place you’ve never heard of. There’s no sign above the door. The walls of the dining room – exposed brick – are mostly barren of artwork, and the tables are bare, save tealights in tiny, earthenware cups. Clad all in black, the wait staff exhibit a collective stoicism normally reserved for funeralgoers, boyfriends dragged into fitting rooms, or grad students teaching their sixth semester of comp. Seating myself at a vacant table, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. I knew nothing about the restaurant – strange, given the amount my friends and I discuss and read about food – and I felt an edge of anxiety that this evening’s meal might become a Dirgeathon.

Few things are better than fresh, salted chips and a cold beer.

“You’re going to love it,” Sabina reassured me, sinking a chip into a dish of tomatillo salsa. As we waited for our significant others, I scanned the menu: tacos, tortas, a few sides and seafood options. Very brief; no desserts. Flint-eyed, our waitress asked if we’d like drinks while we waited. I had a Pacifico with lime while considering my dinner options. Small though the menu is, decision-making was difficult. Should I try the carne asada tacos? Tortilla soup? The chicken tostada with shredded cabbage and crema? I wasn’t clear on what “Mexican street corn” was, but corn in any incarnation is fine by me. After several minutes of silent deliberation (and a few hearty pulls of beer), I chose the carnitas tacos (two per order), dressed with onions and cilantro and garnished with radishes, a blistered jalapeno, and a fat wedge of lime. My dining companions – Hook, Sabina, and Thomas – ordered (respectively) the carne asada tacos, the chicken tostada, and the braised lamb shank served over chickpeas with a side of tortillas.

Guacamole with onions and cilantro.

Here I am, putting the cart before the horse. Don Pisto’s is a small establishment with a tiny kitchen, which sits in the corner of the dining room, encased in glass and in full view of the diners. Our waitress warned us that our entrees might (read: would) arrive at different times; she recommended that we either order several small plates and share or that we get an appetizer. I saw no need for an appetizer – the chips, salsa, and creamy, oniony guacamole would hold me over just fine — but Hook ordered a plate of six oysters, brought out with a bottle of hot sauce. And guess what? I tried one.

The last time I ate a raw oyster was as an eleven-year-old. My family was visiting relatives on Long Island, and by some act of witchcraft or sheer trickery, my dad convinced me to try a raw oyster. (Note: even now, I’m not sure how my dad accomplished this. As a child, I was so averse to seafood that the smell of baking Van de Kamp’s made me queasy.) As you’d guess, my heretofore only other experience eating oysters was not a success. I have a faint memory of pushing the cold flesh around in my mouth, trying not to let it make contact with my teeth, holding back retches so that I wouldn’t embarrass my entire familial clan in what I remember as a fancy restaurant.

That was fifteen years ago. This is now, but the old apprehension welled up in my chest. When the waitress brought Hook’s plate out, I almost backed down. Then, wanting to save face, I considered trying an oyster smothered in hot sauce so that Tapatio would be the only thing I could possibly taste. But then, I made a mature decision: I would try an oyster plain, setting aside my lifelong prejudice against the food. If I didn’t like it – well, that would be fine. I’d wash down the bite with beer, eat a plain chip to cleanse my palate, and get on with the rest of my dinner. If I did like it, I’d have discovered a new food to introduce into my Range of Acceptable Appetizer Options (RAAO).

Hook loosened the oyster, letting it sit in its own briny juice. “Here,” he said. “You can either chew it or swallow it whole.” I took the shell and thanked him. The oyster was pallid, wet as an eye, domed as a yolk in its craggy, crenellated shell. I breathed deep, opened my mouth, and let the oyster slide down my throat. It was cold and slick, but not as fishy as I’d feared. I’m not a convert, but I could manage to eat another oyster if the situation required.

Carnitas tacos with radishes and a roasted jalapeno.

As promised, our entrees came out in waves. Hook’s and my tacos arrived first. For politeness’ sake, I waited a few minutes before taking my first bite. Tender, juicy, and free of visible chunks of fat, the pork was beautiful with the crisp white onions and cilantro – by far, the best pork I’ve had in months. The tortillas – warm, saucer-sized, and flecked with dark spots – were neither too greasy nor too dry. I would have liked to take some home in a foil pouch and eaten them with jam for breakfast the next day, to be honest with you, but I didn’t think this could be easily arranged. The lamb, too, was perfectly cooked, its richness offset by the bite of the hot sauce.

Extreme close-up: tacovision!

The meal waned; satisfied, I sat back in my chair and scanned the dining room: mostly couples and a few groups of businessmen sharing small plates. I’d finished my beer and, at Sabina’s suggestion, ordered a margarita. Since Don Pisto’s has no liquor license, the margaritas are made with chardonnay. Was I skeptical? Of course. The drink was recognizably different from its namesake, but pleasantly so – it retained the margarita taste but was far less acidic. Served just slightly chilled, its glass rimmed with coarse salt, it refreshed me after my meal. (Note: I wouldn’t mind such a margarita at the present moment.)

Don’t let Don Pisto’s absent signage and morose wait staff deter you: the food is fresh, well cooked, and modestly priced. The menu is small, but its contents change frequently, from what I’m told. Bonus: DP’s has recently made additions to their brunch menu, including “Aqua Fresca” Mimosas. I’m so there.