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The Week Before Winter

Autumn won't officially end until December, but now that the clocks have turned back an hour and snow is in the forecast, it seems winter is upon us.  I have no regrets about the way I sent off the season though.  The last week has been a good one.

Last Sunday, six of us drove north to Farmington to spend the day riding roller coasters at Lagoon.  I hadn't been there since 1997.  I will try to remember three things for my next scheduled visit in 2019.  First, take hand sanitizer.  Second, skip the corn dog.  Third, don't miss the mural on the front of the Terroride--it may be the best thing in the park.

I ate proletarian Mexican food this week.  This is not the meticulous pre-columbian cuisine enjoyed by college types and out-of-town visitors at The Red Iguana.  These places have landscaper's trucks parked in front and international phone cards for sale at the register.

On Wednesday at lunch, I went out to 3200 West to pick up some ski goggles from the warehouse.  I took advantage of the trip far west to visit El Paisa Grill. They have a satellite location at the latino mall, and I had noticed their main restaurant on 3200 west just south of the 201 freeway.  The space is kitchy and unpretentious, with  beach decor and beer signs.  I skipped the lunch buffet and had chile verde, which was rich, meaty and warmly spiced.  Beans, rice, and salsa were all very good.  El Paisa looks like a popular spot with people who live and work out west, and they have Mariachi music nightly.  I hope to get back there for dinner soon. 

On Friday with five bucks and change in my pocket, I went for tamales at Victor's Tires and Mexican Food on 700 West.  They serve a great variety of handmade tamales, along with the usual tacos, burritos, and quesidillas.  Orders are placed at the main counter of the tire showroom, which resembles a downscale version of Vinson's rim shop from The Wire, full of huge chrome rims.  Two tamales with beans and rice cost $5.38, or they are available by the dozen for a dollar apeice.  

I also photographed this awesome lowrider. The owner told me it had been stolen and recovered, and he was at Victor's to replace the rims. 

With the big storm coming in, the crew from work decided to say goodbye to the Wasatch Crest trail on Saturday.  Instead of instead of following the direct route and dropping into Mill Creek Canyon from the crest, we extended the trip by riding down Lamb's Canyon and back over Elbow Fork to Mill Creek.  Most of my photos came out dark, but we the air was clear under high clouds, and we could see over a hundred miles in every direction.  I suffered on the uphills a bit, having pushed the stroller more than I've pedaled the bike lately, but it was a great way to end the mountain biking season. 

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(no subject)

Rather than indulging in a long explanation/apology about the 3-month gap between posts,I'm going to get right down to business.

My knowledge of Venezuela comes from years of listening to NPR, so I know that it's an urban, oil-rich country with a leader who doesn't get along too well with the current U.S. administration. Looking at a map, I see that it's further north and East than I thought, on the Caribbean not the Pacific. Venezuelan food was completely unknown to me, though I have a general sense of what to expect from South American food. So after noticing it several times across the parking lot from Cafe Thao Mi, I decided to try Andanita's Restaurante Venezolano.

Located in the Carriage Square shopping center on 4100 south and Redwood Road, next to one of the Utah's few remaining Godfather's pizza locations, Andinitas is tiny, with about six tables and three stools at the counter. When I have visited, one or two of these tables have been occupied by families lingering over imported soft drinks and empty plates, conversing in Spanish. The menu is a single page, with a small and focused selection of appetizers, sandwiches, soups, and platters. The small menu and the presence of other patrons reassures me that the food is likely fresh, in stark contrast to some South American Restaurants on the West Side that sport huge selections of food and no customers at lunchtime.

The unquestioned star of the show at Andanita's is the patacones (fried plantain) sandwich. Halves of starchy green or sweet yellow plantain are smashed flat and deep-fried to a crispy brown, then used in place of bread. The plantain sandwich is built from the bottom up with iceberg lettuce, onion, avocado, and mildly seasoned shredded chicken. White cheese, similar in flavor to Swiss, is melted on top of the chicken, then topped with thin slices of ham and an orange sauce that would be described as Russian dressing anywhere else, but that our server told us was fry sauce (when in Rome, I guess). Two salsas are served on the side, a chunky piquant green chili and tomatillo sauce, and a creamy smooth avacado and cilantro sauce. With sweet yellow plantain, the flavors of the sandwich are predominantly sweet and mild, with all the spice coming from the hot green salsa. It's a knife-and-fork affair, served alone on a plate, big enough to make a full meal without anything on the side for $6.99.

During the food discussion that starts around ten most weekday mornings, I described the patacones sandwich to my coworkers, five of whom wanted to try it.  Six was a large group for the small dining room, but we were cheerfully accomidated with two tables pushed together.  When one of my associates asked for chips and salsa, she was informed "We are Venezuelan. this is not a Mexican resaturant."  Shortly afterward, we were brought one plate with 6 chicken pasteles, and another with 6 cheese empanadas.  Both were memorably delicious, and neither appeared on our bill. 

For novelty's sake, I sampled the Arepas pabellon sandwich, on fried corn flatbread, with shredded beef, black beans, plantain, salty cheese, onion lettuce,and avocado. At $3.50, it wasn't as massive as the patacones, but would hold its own against any hamburger in town.  It would go well with a bowl of Andanita's weekend soup.

Andanita's is a hidden gem exciting enough to lift me from a three-month blogging stupor.  Small, family-run, and hospitable, with food that's lovingly prepared and genuinely novel to my North American palate, I will be returning there often this winter.  I'm told that November first will mark their one-year anniversary, and that they will host a celebration that day. 

More pictures of Andanita's food, and a snapshot of their menu right here.

Update: Craving empanadas, I went to Andanita's at lunch today and found a sign on the door advertising new hours.  The restaurant is open Thursday-Sunday only.  Times are tough all over.


  • Current Mood
    hungry hungry
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You Are Now Rocking With the Best

Best Chicken & Ribs sits just off State Street on 2700 South, on the north side behind a donut shop.  It's a small, informal restaurant where vinyl booths and formica tables surround a huge rotisserie in the middle of the room.

Good Greek fare is on offer here: gyros, souvlaki, and of course, chicken & ribs.  I think it might be Best Chicken...and ribs,since the ribs are boiled and baked to a tender grayness, then soaked in barbecue sauce.  The chicken is a different story.  I'm not ready to declare them a final winner, but this chicken is several steps above the stuff under the heat lamps at the grocery store.  The skin is paprika red, crisp and savory over a layer of lemony fat.  The chicken flesh is moist and firm, not soggy.

Accompaniments include lemon rice, boiled potatoes, and a lovely iceberg salad with house Greek dressing in a styrafoam bowl. 

On the way out, I snapped a better picture of vernacular window art.  i think its quite pretty.

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Wear Mittens While Reading

Given the pretentious title of his blog, I would be remiss if i didn't mention an article from the june 30th issue of The New Yorker, titled "The Itch."  It begins with a horrifying anecdote about an insatiable itch that causes a woman to do nightmarish things to herself, then discusses phantom limb syndrome before launching  into a discussion about the way our brains perceive our bodies, and by extension, everything our bodies sense. The article suggests that the signals we get from our nervous system are really of remarkably poor quality, and that our minds fill in the blanks and out-of-focus bits from context, experience, and memory.  Sense and memory might be the same thing.
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El Jaripeo, Again

Contemplating the sign on the side of the El Jaripeo taco stand where I ate sopes last week, I realized that the address references not the stand itself, but a restaurant around the corner on 3500 South.  Assuming I knew the neighborhood pretty well, I thought there was nothing there, but when I bicycled over on Monday, I found the sit-down El Jaripeo at the far end of an improvised Latino mall partitioned out of an old warehouse.  The dining room was not at all fancy, but the tables were covered with bright Mexican cloth, and the service from a young man in boots, black jeans, and a Slayer t-shirt  was solicitous and friendly. Chips and thin citrus-tanged salsa came right away.  I wanted a steak dish so ordered bistek encebollado, which turned out to be skirt steak, tender and tasty but without much spice, with sauteed onions, rice, refried beans, and 3 freshly made corn tortillas in a straw basket on the side. 

This meal was not spectacular, but it was well-prepared and presented with solid flavors throughout.  I'll go back to El Jaripeo to try the moles and other tipicos platos Oaxaceños on their menu.
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(no subject)

The first taco stands I patronized  were the ones around Sears on 800 South State Street, close to downtown.  The tacos I ate at those stands changed my thinking about Mexican food, and about eating out in Salt Lake.  Here was genuine street food, in a city that had had none before.  Competition between stands kept prices low (usually 2 tacos for 1 dollar) and the flavors were simple but phenomenal: roasted meat, fresh corn tortillas, chopped vegetables, fiery salsa, and tiny lime halves.  Sears has a low wall around its parking lot that is the perfect height for sitting with tacos and a Slurpee from the Seven-11 a block away, watching the mix of people patronizing the stands.  I found my favorite, Tacos Don Rafa, and patronized it faithfully. 

In the years since, my work has taken me from downtown to West Valley, where Mexican street food is in full flower.  Around my favorite intersection of 3500 South and Redwood Road, there isa taco cart on almost every block.  As any free-market conservative will explain, this kind of competition benefits the consumer (in this case, me).   In addition to offering a cheap, tasty lunch, some stands are differentiating themselves with regional food beyond the standard tacos, burritos, and quesedillas.  Last week, I enjoyed cemitas.  Today for the first time, I ate sopes.

Tacos el Jaripeo is parked in the lot of a downscale strip-mall on the west side of 1850 South Redwood Road.  It's a good-looking operation, a bright white trailer staffed by three people. awnings offer a bit of shade, and the cooking area is visible through a glass partition.  If I interpret their sign correctly, they invite us to try the typical dishes of Oaxaca and Mexico, and they're open from Monday to Sunday (also, th address on the sign is different fom the actual location of the cart)

A sope is a small cake of corn masa, thicker than a tortilla, that is cooked on the griddle until is is crisp on the outside and still soft in the middle.  While it is still hot, it is formed by hand into a shallow bowl, and filled with refried beans, and meat, and topped with onion, lettuce, crema fresca, and salsa. 

I ordered two sopes, one with chicken, one with pork al pastor, and tok a lemon-lime Jaritos from the large cooler.  As with any cart worth its salt, no one paid attention to me taking the drink, or asked for any money.  Proper form is to pay after eating and tell them what drink you took.  Since the sopes are made on the spot, the preparation took a little longer than tacos, but eventually I was handed a  plate. 

The sopes were much harder to eat standing up or sitting on a curb than tacos, but very worthwhile.  They were hard to pick up and too big to bite into once I did,  but they had the intense corn flavor and smooth texture of tamales, but with a crisp, slightly tough crust from cooking.   Corn (and the oil and syrup made from it) has become ubiquitous in our food, and often recedes into the background.  But the pure flavor of corn is one of the most satisfying tastes I can imagine.  With the spice and grease of the beans meat and salsa, and the coolnes of lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream, I had no problem cleaning them up with the fork.

When I returned to the cart to pay for my food, I complimented the cashier on the meal, and told her I'd be back.  She told me the hours, every day from 11 a.m to 11 p.m.  I said, "I hope you're not here working that whole time."

She replied, "No, I only work six days."

More pictures of el Jaripeo are here.  I googled Jaripeo, which translates as "horse show."he best description was embedded in the Wikipedia article, "Regional Styles of Mexican Music."  It says, "Jaripeos are popular local musical bullriding events featuring young bullriders, a 12+ piece brass band, cattle hands, rodeo announcer, dancing, clowns, families, kids, village officials, and drunks."  I want to go.
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What Should I Eat on the Best Night in June?

I love being a father, but my new family life has, of necessity, reduced the time I spend with my friends.  It had been two or three weeks since I had hung out with Scott, quite a change from the days when we were nearly full-time shooting pool at Brewvies and eating late-night burritos at Beto's.  After nearly nearly seven years, our friendship needed a celebration.  So I told Scott to come over at seven,  and after picking the baby up from her grandma's I headed over to the grocery store.

At the meat counter I told the butcher I needed two good steaks at a reasonable price.  I was surprised when he told me there was an evening price on the prime ribeyes in the case--eight dollars a pound instead of eleven.  When two still came to almost $20, he managed to do even better, explaining that he didn't have to put away for the night meat he could sell instead.  I'm shopping for steak after 6 p.m. from now on.  I also purchased a small wedge of Maytag Blue cheese, 3 small summer squash, tonic water and limes for cocktails, and chicken tenders for my red meat-averse wife. 

Sometime this summer I will need to branch out, but for right now, everything I cook on the grill is good with extra-virgin olive oil my mother brought back from Spain, fresh ground pepper, and coarse sea salt.  After Scott arrived, I skewered the chicken tenders, halved the squash and scored their skins, and treated the steaks. I lit the charcoal with my new chimney (I'm never using lighter fluid again)  We sipped gin and tonic from tall glasses while we waited for the coals.

When the fire was ready, I wiped an oiled paper towel over the grate and set the summer squash halves face-down , letting them sear for about 7 minutes.  they then moved to the perimeter of the grill to make room for the chicken skewers.  Finally, the steaks went on.  I was shooting for the rare side of medium rare, but got distracted inside the house making vinegrette for the salad, and ended up with something closer to medium.  I laid thick slices of blue cheese on the steaks a minute before taking them off the grill.

We opened bottles of Uinta Brewing's Solstice Kolsch-style ale to drink with our food.  While we ate, the sun dropped behind the trees, reflecting orange off high clouds as the air around us cooled. 

After dishes, more drinks, and lingering conversation, Scott and I made the short walk over Capitol Hill and down into City Creek Canyon.  His girlfriend lives near Memory Grove at the mouth of the canyon.  Her cat, who disappeared five days ago, returned tonight  to everyone's surprise, offering no explanation of its absence. 
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Cosmic Comeuppance

I was talking to my youngest sister (who blogs at Food for Thought) about the way the universe repays our bad behavior.  She told me how, as punishment for driving the short distance to the train station instead of walking or biking, she misplaced her car in the station’s parking lot, not finding it until after she had reported it stolen to the police and her insurance company.

Similarly, I have been the recipient of a little universal justice of my own, for neglecting the loyal readers of this blog.  Let me explain:

A few months ago, on his last visit, my second-youngest brother (who blogs at Auschglitz) and I were discussing our love of Vietnamese food.  He told me about the Vietnamese baguette sandwich (banh-mi).  He described a sandwich of marinated meat and crisp vegetables on a buttery baguette.  I resolved to find one in Salt Lake, and eat it.

I vaguely remembered seeing some pre-made sandwiches on the counter at the old location of the Tay-do Asian market.  That store is not for the faint of heart, dealing in unfamiliar products both animal and vegetable, and smelling sometimes of inadequate refrigeration.  But I was determined, so I purchased the shrink wrapped sandwich from a shallow cardboard box by the cash register for two dollars, and took it back to work. 

This sandwich turned out to be the banh mi dac biet (combination baguette), which is the traditional favorite with four kinds of meat, including pate and head cheese.   Getting past the strange yet familiar flavors of the variety meats, I was hugely impressed. Pickled julienne carrots and diakon provide the bulk of sandwich filling, complimented by cucumber, jalapeño slices, cilantro, and green onion.  Juice form the vegetables mixes with the meat and the singularly yellow mayonnaise to moisten the dryness of the flaky baguette. 

So enthused was I about this sandwich that I returned to Tay-do each of the following two days, finding that they would, if asked, make sandwiches from scratch, with different fillings including grilled and barbecued pork.  Maybe I charged too hard out of the gate, but after the third day, I didn’t want a Vietnamese sandwich again for a while.  The Tay-do’s sandwiches unashamedly incorporate the flavors of organ meat and cool animal fat (like that head cheese) into their sandwiches, and I’m not quite ready for that. 

A few weeks later I was having lunch at Pho Green Papaya, and it occurred to me to ask the manager of that restaurant if she knew where to get banh mi.  She didn’t know the name, but suggested a coffee shop in Carriage Square, an aging strip mall on 4100 South and Redwood Road, where many of the empty spaces have been occupied by small ethnic businesses (check out the google street view here)

On my second try I found Café Thao Mi, located on the south side of the south side of the shopping center between a botanica and a Tandy Leather store.  The interior is spacious, fastidiously clean, and well appointed in with IKEA-modern furnishings.  The woman at the counter answered all my questions about the food in very understandable English (not vital to my enjoyment of the place, but welcome nonetheless).  I ordered a grilled pork baguette to go, which was prepared to order and served rolled in white paper secured with a rubber band for $2.50 plus tax. 

This was the sandwich I had been seeking.  All the positives of the earlier example were present, but in a bigger and fresher package, super-spicy with jalapenos and the addition of Sriracha from the big bottle on the counter.   In the ensuing weeks I became obsessed, lunching there two or three times a week, talking about it all the time, and dragging coworkers to try it.  I felt, as I often do when I find an exciting new lunch spot, a misguided sense of ownership.  But I didn’t take my camera, or write any of it down.

And that was the cosmic payback I referred to earlier.  One colleague, a transplant from the Bay Area already familiar with baguettes, and one of the first to try Café Thao Mi with me, mentioned the place to his wife, who told their neighbor, who writes about food for the Salt Lake Tribune.  The bahn mi at Café Thao Mi appeared in the "Best Bites" section of the newspaper on the Friday before last.  I was scooped.  The special place that belonged just to me (and the entire Vietnamese population of Salt Lake City) was now on display to the whole world.

The food is still excellent, though.  In addition to grilled pork on the baguette, I can heartily recommend the saucier barbecue pork, and both grilled and barbecue chicken.  They also offer the traditional combination sandwich.  Though it’s hard to leave the sandwich menu, I have enjoyed the bun (vermicelli noodle salad), fried egg rolls, and potent Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. They also offer a large selection of fruit smoothies (including durian, soursop, and jackfruit smoothies) soups, and rice dishes. 

I’ve learned my lesson.  Digital cameras are for more than just baby pictures, and no one reads a blog with no new posts.  Thanks, universe.

View some more photos here.
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Biking, More Cemitas, Purple foods, and a Searing Pain

As the spring turns to summer, I find  that my thoughts are dominated by food and bicycling instead of food and reading.  These days, I don't go through the weekly issue of The New Yorker cover to cover, and have been reading Ross Macdonald instead of John Updike.  And I'm loving the bikes.  Whether it's riding to work, mountain biking on the Bonneville shoreline, or cruising to a bar to meet friends, this is the best time of the best year to ride (you know, gas prices and all)  And I'm not alone.  Riding around downtown on Friday night, every  bar, gallery and restaurant had locked bikes stacked deep out front.  After beer and Salt Lake's most glamorous sushi at The Circle Lounge, I floated up the hill to the Capitol at midnight, pedaling in flip-flops, catching spray from sprinklers as I rode by.

The midnight ride was so good because, as I must learn over and over again, Utah's summer temperatures make daytime riding nearly unbearable.  Today at 11, I met up with my sister's husband, who also rides a medium-vintage steel road bike, for a loop around the west side of the valley.  Bruce had read about the cemitas, so after two hours of riding in the heat, we made sure our route passed by the stand, and stopped for a snack.  We each got a Milanesa and a sparkling apple soda, and reclined under a shady tree to eat and watch the police sort out a car accident in front of the Super Saver grocery store across the street. 

There is a definite reason that the the thin-pounded breaded steak is the most popular cemita--it's greasy and fantastic just as its served. 

I got home, mowed the lawn, and showered.  My wife was on call tonight, and had to go to the hospital at 7, and it was not until she left and the baby was in bed that I realized that I was dying for a drink.  I have not shopped for awhile, an the makings of my three favorite drinks (beer, whiskey, gin and tonic) were all absent from the cupboard.  Scrounging, I found nearly empty old bottles of tequila, Grand Marnier and some lemon juice.  I bought this particular tequila for my '06-'07 new years' party and found it so un-palateabe that I forgot it for a year.  The only older liquor I own is a six-dollar bottle of brandy I bought for cooking.  My forage also led me to a bag of frozen blackberries, so I rimmed a glass with kosher sea salt and set up the blender.

The result still had the rough taste of cheap tequila, but the berries, citrus, and salt were remarkably good companions to that foul flavor. 

the color of the berry margaritas got me thinking of my farmers' market haul form last weekend, which included two bunches of small fresh beets.  I mostly bouth them for the greens, whcih were delicious steamed with garlic, olive oil, salt pepper, and lemon, and bled pink juice from intense green leaves, but the beets were amazing.   I wrapped them in foil and roasted them over charcoal while I grilled chicken, then rubbed the skins off and and ate them with butter, salt and pepper.  The next morning I left for work right after the sprinklers had run.  I noticed the way the smell of water, grass, and moist earth on a late spring morning resembled the flavor of those beets.

I found the opening day of the Downtown Farmers Farket overwhelming.  Tons of people, and more  booths selling all-natural, locally produced carnival food than actual farmers selling produce.  today I rode down 900 West and saw the Peoples Market  at the International  Peace Gardens at  10th south and thought it looked like a much more sedate scene.  I will try that next weekend.

I had a baked potato with my second margarita, topped with sharp cheddar and Sriracha.  The drinks must have worked, bacause as I was cleaning up the dishes from the night's feast, I picked up the hot sauce bottle and thought I would like to smell the spicy garlicky goodness that I would add to anything but Ice cream.  I opened it, pointed it at my face, and squeezed.  Why did I do that?  After ten minutes of weeping and rinsing my eyes with cold water, the peppery burn receded to a level that was kind of pleasant.
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Cemitas Have Landed in Salt Lake City

This week I noticed two new taco carts on 3500 South at 1600 west (on the north side, in front of a car audio store) I've been in a rut with Mexican food lately, eating it infrequently, and not finding much new, so I am excited to to have some new choices so close to work.

The cart I visited today is a little hard to identify. It looks well-travelled, and bears multiple names on stickers, hand-painted signs, and murals.

I noticed several occurances of the word "cemitas" on the cart, so I asked what cemitas were. The very friendly man and woman collaborated to find the correct English words, and explained that it was like a torta, but with special bread and cheese. I asked what meat was best on a cemita, and without hesitation, they answered "milanesa." Unfortunately, they were out, and suggested chicken instead.

While I waited for my sandwich, I photographed the artwork airbrushed on the cart, including a lovely Virgen de Guadalupe on the side, and a full mural on the back showing two taqueros, one working the grill, the other reacting with surprise to the sight of a naked woman (I only glimpsed the woman, who was on the back of the open door of the cart. Her naughty parts had been obscured with white paint)  A genie in a cape and turban hovers above the whole scene.

I picked out a glass-bottled Orange Crush and looked at the selection of condiments in the cooler. The cilantro and cabbage looked fresh and hand-chopped, and there was a larger than usual selection of salsas, including one made with nopal cactus. I tasted a piece and found a flavor like tomatillo and a texture kind of like okra. The woman in the cart asked if I wanted whole chipotles on my cemita, warning me that they are very hot. I said yes.

The sandwich arrived looking impressive, in a large oval sesame seed bun, grilled to a buttery brown. Toppings included fresh onions and avocado, the aforementioned chipotles (the moist canned variety, very hot) a thick slice of moist farmer cheese (like fresh mozzerella) and a lot of white meat chicken in small browned pieces. I added cilantro , cabbage, and salsa and some carrots and jalapenos on the side.  The sandwich and soda cost $4.50.

When I sat down and tried to pick up the cemita, it became clear that it shared the problm i have had with every torta I've ever eaten.  It was not something ot eat by hand.  I had it wrapped up and took it back to work, where I went at it with a knife and fork.  The bread was sturdy, sweet, and eggy, like challah.  The insides kept falling out,  but I just loaded them back in with the fork.  Next time, I may just eat the sandwich as served, instead of putting extra stuff on it.

This sandwich had a great mix of flavors and textures.  I ate every bit.  With a full stomach, I found information about cemitas on Wikipedia, and in the LA Weekly

I went to lunch expecting a standard taco stand experience.  Instead, I got to try something I'd never heard of.  Since I haven't said it here for awhile, I'll reiterate.  The coolest cheapest food in Salt lake City can be found on and around Redwood Road. 

See all ofthe lunch pictures here.