Saturday, May 29, 2010

Food For Thought: Porto-Bella

One of the only reasons I want to get the iphone is because of the slop machine food app (Urban Spoon). If you ask anyone who knows me they will immediately roll their eyes when you ask them what it's like deciding where to eat with me; I'm indecisive. And by indecisive I mean it takes ages. My friends have actually install a lengthy questionnaire in order to help fix the problem.

"What genre of food"
"I dunno."
"Fast Food or Sit-Down?"
"I dunno.."
"Ok. Left or right?"
"Ok. We're on the 8 West. Left or Right?"
"Oh god."

When I hear about the iphone I heard only about the slot-machine app. One look at that commercial and I said: "YES! I WANT THAT!"

Easiest decision ever.

Yesterday, Urban Spoon did not fail. My friends and I have made a promise as a group to go and explore San Diego's diverse culinary opportunities, so instead of hitting our same ol' spots we actually let the roll of Urban Spoon decide. I was off the hook.

Ritual Tavern: interior decor think lumber jack married a victorian. Dark wood panel outlined the seating area with dark flowery curtains and creamy beige walls. A deer's head proudly hung in the center of the tavern just as you walk in and know, you're in North Park. Dining out in North Park has a special touch to it. Cooperate-run chains churning out all the same appetizers, all the same entrees, and all the same desserts are not part of the North Park experience. What I love about the neighborhood is that your taste buds are in for an adventurous treat, every time.

The Tavern has an extensive beverage menu. Lots of ales, hard ciders, reds, and whites. A dessert wine too. I opted for the light version of a hefweizen (according to our lovely waitress who was very helpful and informative and I'm sure has actually enjoyed the food she serves). A Pint of RB Hula and I was already satisfied.

The menu was small in the sense that it didn't hand you a buffet of options. (That's one of my problems with the "American" way. WAY too many options. Sometimes, especially for food, you gotta just trust the chef and the owner to tell you what's good.

However, Ritual Tavern had an option for all food lifetsyles: carnivore, vegetarian, chickentarian, and vegan.

Now vegans, I admire your cause and kinda understand what you're getting at, but growing up in a rich Guatemalan food culture, being a vegan would be turning my back to my ancestors, which in turn is disrespectful and being disrespectful in any Latino culture is not tolerated whatsoever.

But the balsamic, herb-marinated portobello mushroom with grilled onions on a rose petal ciabatta sounded AMazing. And different. And going to a new place I felt it was only right to go outside of my food box.

My dish would be served alongside the Tavern's house fries. The ketchup was homemade.

Yup, home-made.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have achieved a new level of ketchup and it was excellent. Fresh and just the right amount of mushiness, I've tried greatness and I'm sorry Mr. Heinz, it was not you. Heinz is street-walkin' cheetah compared to the purity of Ritual Tavern ketchup.

But the sandwich. It appear ominous at first. One thick, black portobello sat in a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, and grilled onions. This was the menu's vegan option, but I felt no sinful guilt against my choice to have it. This felt right, and I knew my Guatemalan ancestors would forgive me. (I had and cooked frijoles earlier that week. Con queso fresco. I had paid my respects).

My first bite was juicy. My sandwich was inking all over the place but I didn't care. With my tide-to-go pen, I really don't care anymore. The messier, the better. The portobello was perfection. For several years now, I have completely fallen in love with the mushroom. As a kid you try to give me a mushroom I look at you like you gave me a dead kitten.

But today my palette screams for mushrooms. This sandwich with the light, fluffy ciabatta made me understand why the portobello is like the grandfather of mushrooms. A mushroom so great, it can be meat. It can be its own sandwich and it's a offer you simply cannot refuse.

The house fries were quite good. Thin and crispy-they added a good crunch to my meal and well the ketchup, you know about the ketchup...

I finished and I said a silent "well done" to all the vegans out there.

Well done.

I am chickentarian. And my friend Kristiana tempted me a bit with her choice of the chicken on prairie roll with avocado but my portobello treated me, and my tummy, right.

It was a different experience to look around at my fellow neighboring diners and see similarity. Gumbo at three tables, chicken on prairie roll on four, and my portobello shared with 3 other diners and a few at the bar. The thing about the small menu is that it brings an unexpected unity in our dining experience, not just with company we choose to go with, but with the company we don't notice are around us-sharing in the same variety of dishes and others enjoying the exact same one as you.

Great food I love as much as the loyal company it keeps.

In a country where others see us as just a bunch of fatasses looking out for the next McDonald's, I like to write the good fight against such awful stereotype. America, the great melting pot, is a playground for food exploration. No culture is left behind, and though you may think your area is limited, look harder, or drive a little further. Good food is waiting for you out there.

Take a risk.


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