Archive for May, 2008

Sometimes, I don’t know why but I don’t think it makes me weird (other things make me weird–sure–but not this one), I look around for what’s wrong or incongruous in a situation before pinching myself to confirm that I’m not dreaming and in fact there is nothing “wrong,” and that everything is as great as it seems.

No, I have not just found Jesus but props to the many who have. Instead I’ve come back from a “nothing wrong” weekend with 8 of my closest friends from college and hence, because I enjoyed college and was lucky enough to go with a whole bunch of awesome people, favorite people in the world. I hope some of them will read this so I don’t have to actually tell them how I feel about them in person–God that would be embarrassing.

Anyway, we got a cabin and spent our Memorial Day Weekend in the mountains of Colorado on a Lake named Dillon that I can only describe as big, blue and wet. I was told we were 10,000 feet up, and I’ll take it on faith that my graduating from Harvard law school friend who, while she doesn’t know everything, probably didn’t makeup the elevation of a location in a state she grew up in. We had a cabin, a hot tub and lots of provisions which thankfully included gin but did not include cilantro. Actually that isn’t entirely true.

With the $300-something grocery tab (9 people, 3 1/2 days, pretty good if you ask me–no this did not include beer) we purchased lots of things that generally fell under these categories: meat, carbs, (both refined (hot dog buns) and unrefined (7-grain hot dog buns)) cheese (including my new once-a-year favorite–Salsa con Queso), condiments, (I correctly insisted on full-fat mayonnaise) bagged and pre-washed salad mix, and Oreos, which were consumed with such abandon as to require a group of their own. A category we did not entertain the use of was herbs, which if that means no cilantro is just fine with me.

Of course, when it came time to make extemporaneous use of the (somewhat) well-stocked pantry of the cabin we stayed in, anise seed made no appearance–a slight disappointment to my doctored-up leftover hamburger baked ziti. What they did have was two containers of dried cilantro. You know who else has two jars of dried cilantro? My folks. You know who else? I’m guessing a lot of people. But here’s the thing: neither container had been used much, especially when compared to the others, especially when considering there was only one jar of most of those.

What I’m thinking is, as cilantro is now everywhere, people buy it, forget they bought it because they never use it, then buy it again because they think this would either make them fancier human beings or be something they might like to use. In either case they are wrong because those who like cilantro know it tastes better fresh and those who hate cilantro know that it always tastes terrible.

In any case, I’m very proud to report that we put a dent in neither dried cilantro jar–the gin’s another story.

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It’s just like me to make a flowchart on how to eat out, how to survive really, and go out of my way to ignore it.

Like the Christian Existentialists who explain life’s troubling, irreconcilable paradoxes through the existence (and source) of the greatest irreconcilable paradox–Jesus (God/man? mortal/immortal?–anyone else confused? No? Congratulations–you’re smarter than me.)–sometimes we do things not because they make or don’t make sense, but because we just do them. Some things just are. Their absurdity is in line with the inherent absurdity of the universe and hence, given a certain liberal mindset, we are comforted.

And so was my absurdly comforting dinner at Chavella‘s last night.

ordered the chicken enchiladas. Here’s the thing about chicken: I was a vegetarian for 11 years, vegan for two of them and I certainly didn’t start eating meat again to eat factory farmed chicken. But, and I’m not making excuses here as I think factory farm chicken is morally and ecologically reprehensible, in the moral/flavor cost-benefit analysis often at work in my food choices, there’s something about that ambiguously but inarguably delicious American Mexican chicken that I’m a total sucker for. So, as I said, I ordered the chicken enchiladas.

At Chavella’s, a pretty good little Mexican joint a few blocks from my Brooklyn digs, one orders his/her enchiladas with a choice of salsa verde or mole. You don’t need a PhD in Cilantro Hate to know salsa verde is quintessentially dangerous to the cilantro averse. For those of you living in the far reaches of xenophobic denial, speaking so little Spanish that you don’t know verde means green–verde means green. It gets its green moniker from a variety of ingredients, most notably tomatillo, lime, green chili and, yes, cilantro.

But the thing is the gentleman next to me had ordered the chicken enchiladas with salsa verde and he was enjoying them with gusto in a not-subtly audible fashion. I asked, “Sir, excuse me, I can’t help but notice that you’re enjoying those enchiladas.”

“Oh, God yes. They’re so delicious,” he replied.

“Sir, do you have a palate for cilantro? What I mean to say is, would you notice if there was cilantro in your salsa verde there?,” I continued.

A good sport, he confirmed what I already knew: “Well, yes, it’s noticeable but certainly not overwhelming and did I mention how truly delicious they are?”

So then the waitress did what I didn’t even consider asking her to do, which was to bring me the mole and verde to try. The cilantro-hating friend who was with me tried them both too. Strangest thing: I could kind of tell there was cilantro in the verde, but I liked it anyway, not because of the cilantro mind you, but despite it. Now, it’s common knowledge that the cilantro taste is mitigated in the cooking process and in this case it was cooked. There was no extra fresh cilantro chiffonade or fresh cilantro finishing touch of any kind. As such it just sort of became one with the sauce. I don’t know what I’m saying here. This doesn’t make sense! This is so, so, absurd.

So I ordered the enchiladas with the very bright, pleasant, garlicky, limy, spicy sauce. It was perfect with the queso fresco and crema and yummy chicken and delicious house-made tortillas. The mole would have overwhelmed everything as (if you want my opinion) it does most everything it touches. In short, the chicken enchiladas verdes were good.

Now, this is not the post you’ve all been waiting for where I change my ways, start liking cilantro and ruin my blog. No. This is the post where I admit there was once a time in my life when I ate something that had cilantro in it and enjoyed it and much to the chagrin of you polarizing cilantro lovers out there–I’m OK with that. Existence precedes essence, if you know what I’m saying.

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As promised, I give you the Eating Out and Hating Cilantro (at the same time) Flowchart:

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The great thing about the regular place concept–whether a bar, cafe, AA venue or restaurant–is the familiarity, the safety, the knowing what you’re going to get and, unless you’re an idiot or a masochist, probably like it. For my friend and I, Evergreen serves as a near weekly regular lunch place. A reliable, noteworthy for its lack of things that suck and prevalence of things that are fast, midtown diner spot, Evergreen is perfect for a quick, decent, cheap lunch. That is, it was.

Knowing I’m in for a delicious BBQ dinner at Brooklyn’s Fette Sau this evening, I opted for a lighter midday fare: Manhattan clam chowder and tossed salad (a stupid term really, as it is so rarely actually tossed). I considered the New England chowder which they were also offering today, but 1) back to light fare thing 2) the waiter said he preferred New England clam chowder, but that the Manhattan was good. When waiters tell me what they like, it’s not so much that I don’t care for that as much as that I find it totally irrelevant. What I was asking was which was better, not whether the (very nice) waiter preferred cream or tomato-based soups. 3) My mom will no be surprised by this as she knows whichever outfit she likes better will be the one I do not wear; sorry mom, but you’re right in observing that — no contradiction there. 4) I do quite enjoy a good Manhattan clam chowder and I find they vary so much from place to place, it’s worth seeing where what you end up with ranks.

This one did not rank so well. The soup itself is what I would call diner-style vegetable soup with clams, which is probably what most diner Manhattan clam chowders taste like, come to think of it. I was actually ok with that. It sort of invoked the (not good) vegetable soup at Big Boy‘s I loved growing up; an excellent pairing with the (maybe good?) fish sandwich. The clams added a nice chewiness. It was good enough and more or less what I expected. The thing is, though, that a few bites in I thought to myself: “No, it couldn’t be. Really. Is this a joke? Who puts cilantro in Manhattan clam chowder?” Plus Friend and I were having a nice conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt with my food neuroses. But then, several bites later, that same, familiar ineffably bad flavor attacked my palate and this time it wouldn’t let go.

“OK. Enough about your life, you must try this soup. I swear. I think there’s cilantro in it. Try it. No not that bite, there’s nothing green. This bite. Try this bite.” Dutifully, she did: “Probably. I guess. Uh, maybe that’s cilantro.”

As a point of fact there wasn’t much cilantro in the soup or I would have smelled it before it hit my mouth, in all likelihood. So my friend’s lukewarm confirmation was as good as gospel to me. Of course I had to keep sampling it to be absolutely sure and each infinitesimal spoonful reinforced what I already knew: this was a Manhattan clam chowder unlike any other I’d ever had, and unlike any anyone else should ever have to have.

But to be fair, this was all my mistake. I should be more pointed in my waiter Q&A sessions. Instead of “Which is better?” I should say “Which do you recommend and by recommend I mean which is either objectively better, preferred by more customers or the chef or all three. Whether you prefer pasta carbonara or alfredo (gross) is of no interest to me. And if there is cilantro in anything, any amount at all, I don’t want it. No, I don’t mind if you check with the kitchen.” But then I’d be kind of a bitch and I used to be a waiter so I don’t like to give them too hard of a time. Perhaps I could prepare a cute flowchart to hand to waiters upon entering a restaurant that begins with: 1) Does this item feature cilantro? 2) if not, do more than 75% of customers like it and do those customers appear to have discriminating palates and/or college degrees? 3) If yes will the item arrive properly cooked and in a timely fashion? And so on and so on. This approach is perhaps no less bitchy, but, you have to admit, it’s pretty hilarious. Flowchart forthcoming.

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