Tuesday, November 27, 2012

For the Love of Pastor: I Heart It So Much

Sometimes we dream of things that if true would overwhelm us to the point where our whole sense of reality would threaten to implode. For example, not too long ago a reader sent me this picture of bigger-than-life intertwining spits of pastor. For several, awe-inspiring minutes I was frozen, mouth agape, while my poor, feeble brain spiraled out-of-control, trying to grasp this wonderful alternate reality. Then I realized that it was a sculpture. Probably for the best.

I haven't had a dream that specifically involved two intersecting pastor spits in the form of heart (what other form would be more appropriate), but I would be lying if I said I had never dreamed of caressing this lovely chunk of meat and--well, let's just stop there, there's no need to get any more specific. Let's just assume that this reader blurred his friend's face in the photo in the same way a face may be blurred to preserve anonymity in some high-profile adultery scandal. 

Currently I am trying to figure out exactly where this sculpture might be. My best guess is on the Paseo de Reforma outside of one of Mexico City's world-famous museums. And while I like the idea of art for the people, I imagine this glorious work of art--maybe the best piece of art ever made in the history of the world--has had it's fair share of drool and drunken fondling such that it should really be moved indoors so it may be cherished for generations to come. If not the Tamayo in Mexico, at least the MOMA or the Louvre. I want my children's children to lay eyes on this masterwork (though if they could cop a feel that would be good too). 

But first I would like to lay my eyes on it. Do you know where this is? Please let me know. I'm due for a pilgrimage. 

And as for my own pastor journeys? I will be back out to try some old favorites over the next year and if I'm able to come across some new places in Denver, you'll be the first to know. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pinche(s) Tacos Inside: Eating at Pinche Taqueria at Last

I've said it more than once before, but considering the probability of people reading this blog more than once, I will say it again: I love the mixing of cultures and new definitions of tradition. Such was the open mind that I needed when venturing into Pinche Taqueria for the first time not too long ago. I had eaten at their taco truck the summer it first opened a couple times, and was not overly impressed, but the insane amount of buzz that has been coming out of this little brick box of a restaurant finally proved too much to resist.

It was 2 pm or so on a Saturday, and true to the lore that surrounds Pinche, it was packed. We hovered around for about 30 minutes before being seated and I must say we were looked after very well, wanting for nothing. And luckily enough, we were in the good company of Denveater, who also has just written her own take which I encourage you to check out.

When we finally sat I did a once-over of the abbreviated brunch menu and couldn't help but let out a cynical laugh to myself at these words: "Street Tacos". I realize that in Denver and many other urban centers of these United States there are these new food trucks serving meals on tortillas like braised pork belly with tomatillo crema and other fancy-speak garnishes-- but as much as I like re-defining new traditions, I have a hard time calling anything coming off any of these menus (especially this one, where I sat comfortably warm inside while snow blew unrelentingly out of doors) a street taco. And it's not even about new traditions, its like growing up in Littleton but telling people you were raised in the South Bronx. It's not just a stretch, it's a laughable manipulation of the truth.

But again, good food is good food, and when my first bites of pork belly came out I was salivating at the two large chunks of fatty, perfectly cooked pork belly drizzled in an agridulce (sweet and sour) sauce and pleasantly colored with a bright slaw and a candied clove of garlic. It was very good. But as I took a fork (the first time I have ever had a fork given to me at a taqueria by the way) to my huge chunk of meat I almost forgot the whole thing was served on a pair of corn tortillas. So I scooped it up and ate it like one would a taco, and for that reason I suppose it was a taco, but it was so good without the tortillas, I doubt I would have missed them.

The lengua was equally as succulent, and each chunk has a pleasant sear. It was not unlike the lengua I had at the Pinche truck a couple years ago--covered in a roasted tomatillo salsa, but I could have done without the mayo-like sauce on this indoor version. Much more taco-worthy than the pork belly, and just as tasty.

I also had a breakfast taco with scrambled eggs and more of that lovely pork belly. To give you an idea of how tender and luscious my pork belly was, it was hard to distinguish texture-wise from the light and fluffy scrambled eggs. This was a perfect example of the tortilla actually adding nothing to the dish. In fact, in the picture below it isn't even visible. A big plate of eggs with this pork belly and the tomatillo salsa it came with would be a great brunch plate.

My wife's fish taco was bland and forgettable. The fish was nicely cooked but the slaw, guacamole and pickled onions didn't bring much to the plate. Then again, I had a bite in between tacos of pork belly. Imagine me moving my arms back and forth like my hands were a balance scale and sarcastically saying the following "Pork belly? Fried fish? Pork belly? Fried fish?" Hard to imagine me liking fish all that much in between bites of pork, so maybe it was a little better than I remember.

We finished off with the tantalizing churros con chocolate. Serving churros with a milky chocolate dipping sauce is much more Spanish than Mexican, but that is more of a technicality, not a critique. They were good because they were fried, sweet dough sprinkled in sugar. And for some reason I have had a really hard time finding a really good churro in Denver, so that made these even better.

The tacos at Pinche Tacos brick and mortar spot are more like mostly well-executed small plates that have found their way onto tortillas. And street tacos? Maybe if that street was Rodeo Drive or better, Calle Masaryk in Mexico City's posh Polanco neighborhood. And actually, a place not unlike Pinche Tacos would probably do well there, though the salsas would have to be spicy, and the clientele would be dressed to the nines. Classic Mexican flavors have much room for interpretation, and it is hard to go wrong when one executes this well. For that I will tip my hat to the vision of owner Kevin Morrison and those pinches taqueros working hard in the small, open kitchen. I will still likely continue to sate my taco appetites far from Pinche in my further-East Colfax and South Federal favorites, but I am glad I did finally stop in for a bite.

Pinche Taqueria  on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Boom! La Guarida Cubana Cafe in Park Hill

While nothing like the food truck boom, the now-dissipating burger boom or even the under-appreciated cupcake boom, Denver is experiencing something of a boom when it comes to Cuban food. If we are talking pure numbers, it might not seem that impressive: two new restaurants this year. But if we are talking percentages, I think we may have about doubled our Cuban-ness in that same time. And if we are talking family-run, home-cooking-like Cuban cafes, the growth is exponential. Boom.

The Guarida Cubana in Park Hill makes for the second of Denver's family-run Cuban cafes, something of a dream come true for me and my voracious Cuban sandwich appetite. I recently wrote about the other (Cuban) family-run joint way over on the West side of town, so it is nice to see the Cuban scales tipping back East, because while I don't ever mind driving across town for a good meal, the closer the better.

La Guarida is a small storefront on the South Side of Colfax near Jasmine that, like many other great restaurants, you could drive right by without noticing if you didn't have a good nose for Cubans (sandwiches, that is). Unlike many of my other senses that are dull, clumsy and largely useless in my advancing age; my Cuban sense is still strong, and I had this place sniffed out even before it was open for business. Imagine my disappointment when I walked up only to find that it wasn't opening for several more weeks. Then, as is often the case these days, it took me several months to make it back and at least another to write about it.

The night we finally made it in, we were greeted by the quiet but cordial Rosell family, owner's of La Guarida, and they motioned for us to choose a table from the small, empty dinging room. Despite the table service, the vibe at La Guarida was that of few frills. The interior was simple: red-checked table cloths and a few pictures of Cuba hanging from the otherwise bare brick walls. I tend to like simple and straightforward in my restaurants, so everything seemed just about right to me so far. We sat and I got busy ordering my Cuban.

When my Cuban came out I was happy to see it stacked with thick-sliced ham. The bread glistened in the late afternoon light and a line of bright yellow mustard popped out from amongst a pair of sliced pickles. A thin-but-not-too-thin slice of grilled pork stuck out from the top. It looked quite lovely.

And it tasted lovely too. Much of what I liked about this sandwich was that it was thick with meat. The bread was decent as well, grilled and pressed to a delicate crisp. It was a more-than-worthy Cuban and reason alone to return.

I got excited when sitting down to write this and neglected to mention that prior to my sandwich I was served this:

This was a chicken empanada. While innocuous as it may look in the picture above, it was undercooked pastry dough (though flaky and light) filled with some of the driest and blandest semi-ground white meat I have ever eaten. In fact, I wasn't even sure if it was chicken or pork. It didn't necessarily taste bad, it just didn't taste. Dipped in the garlicky sauce it came with helped some, but there was not much good to say about this empanada. 

My wife's dish, however, turned out to be quite good. She ordered the completa del dia, which was a heaping plate of Moros (black beans and rice), fried plantain and a nicely cooked pork chop. 

Though extremely simple and in many ways nothing spectacular, everything was right about this dish, and it was a fine example of Cuban comfort cooking. The pork was moist, the Moros were flavorful and the plantain was fried to perfection. Something I could eat every night of the week.

The boiled yuca we ordered was also good. Again, a simple dish of Cuban comfort. What, in fact, could be more simple that a boiled root vegetable. But it was excellent dipped in the same garlic sauce that could not save that worthless empanada.

We finished the night by splitting a small but richly flavored flan. I skipped the cafe con leche as, I have alluded to in other posts, I really can't stand milk or sugar of any kind in my coffee. I'm sure it's good if you like those kinds of things, but I decided to pass and let the sweet flavor of flan linger all the way home. 

La Guarida Cubana is a welcome addition to East Colfax and while it might not measure up to the warm welcome and all-round quality of its cross-town counterpart, it is certainly worth stopping in and sitting down for a helping of Cuban comfort--and, most importantly, a good Cuban sandwich. 

La Guarida Cubana on Urbanspoon


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