Is it noshworthy?

Archive for February, 2010

Mexican Food – From Space!!!!

Friday, February 12th, 2010

During my recent trip to Florida, my old pal Eric took me to a place called “Tijuana Flats‎“. Being a connoisseur of good Mexican food, Eric warned me, “It’s not Mexican food, but it’s still really good.”

Since this is the description of every good Mexican restaurant in the Bay Area, I was happy to give it a try.

When my burrito arrived, it looked authentic. The refried beans looked like refried beans. The burrito looked like a burrito. Then I tasted it. It may look like Mexican food, but it wasn’t.

Now those who know me, know that I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to Mexican food. I swear, this isn’t another tirade about how you can’t find good Mexican food North of Los Angeles. It’s about a different phenomenon that I keep encountering, and I’m really curious if I’m the only one whose noticed it.

You see, the burrito at Tijuana Flats looked really good. The chicken looked like chicken that had marinated for hours in a delicious sauce. Upon tasting it, I discovered that the chicken had indeed been marinated. In hot wing sauce.

The entire burrito looked like the real thing, but practically every ingredient wasn’t what I expected.

It’s as if space aliens looked at the earth with a telescope, saw a burrito, and made something that looked just like it. But since they had never tasted one, had no idea what the ingredients were, they could only make something that looked like a burrito, but didn’t taste like one.

A few years back, I had a similar experience when I went to New Zealand.

My friend Tim LOVES nachos. And it’s rare for him to go more than a week without having them somewhere. But when we decided to go to New Zealand, he knew that it was unlikely he’d have his favorite treat on the other side of the world.

As luck would have it, Nachos had recently arrived in New Zealand, and they were sweeping the nation as a popular type of pub food.

Tim resisted for two weeks, but soon he succumbed to the siren call of nachos.

When it arrived at our table, it looked like nachos. Corn chips, salsa, sour cream, cheese. But upon tasting it, we discovered that we had purchased an evil doppelganger!

New Zealand, like its cousins in the UK and Commonwealth, loves experimental flavors of chips. It’s not uncommon to find potato and corn chips flavored like pickles, hamburger, and thai curry. The ones in this salsa were apparently, “Chili powder flavor“.

These were covered in creme fraiche, plain tomato sauce, and something they referred to as cheese. (Not that Nacho cheese has any resemblance to cheese, either…)

It was almost, but not quite, totally unlike nachos. (With apologies to Douglas Adams).

I’ve had this experience many times, with Mexican food, key lime pie, pizza, corn dogs, even hamburgers! Hasn’t everyone on earth had a hamburger at this point? The imposter BBQ I had in Canada and the pizza I had in Edinburgh, were particularly egregious.

So what I’d like to know is: has anyone else experienced this? I’m not saying that imposter food isn’t tasty on occasion. Just that, it can look like the real thing, and not remotely taste like it.

It does give me hope. Perhaps the owners of Tijuana Flats are space aliens? Maybe the purveyors of nachos in New Zealand are from a small planet just to the right of Betelgeuse. Is imposter food proof that aliens live among us?

Write me and let me know what you think!

Five Guys

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

A quick aside before I get too far. I’ve been fighting flu and laryngitis for the last month, so please forgive me for taking such a long break in writing. Hopefully 2010 will be a far healthier year!

Okay, on with the show.

As many of you know, I’m in Florida this weekend for the last night launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. My best friend Eric works for the Sanford | Burnham Institute, which is working on curing diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Since they built this huge facility here in Florida last year, they caught the attention of their local Congresswoman, Suzanne Kosmas, who has been very supportive of them. Fortunately for me, she also invited a few of them to go to a Space Shuttle launch, and Eric somehow got them to let me tag along.

Sorry, this posting isn’t about space food, but I’ll see what I can do in a future post.

What this post is about is a small hamburger chain called Five Guys.

Last night’s shuttle launch got delayed for 24 hours, so Eric and I were hanging out in the exciting land of Orlando Florida, waiting for the next attempt. And as I am apt to do, I suggested food.

“I know of a great place!” Eric said with the enthusiasm of a man who knows his food. Soon, we were at the counter of a Five Guys burger shop.

For those of you, who like me, have never been to a Five Guys, its best described as the “East Coast equivalent of In-n-Out Burger“. Like In-n-Out, Five Guys concentrates on a small menu that they do extremely well.

It consists of burgers, fries, hot dogs and soda. That’s it. No desserts, no shakes, no apple pies that look nothing like apple pies. The only nod to diversity is a list of 15 condiments that you can choose, ranging from the classic ketchup and mustard, to BBQ sauce and A-1.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair. Their French fries come in regular and Cajun.

Basically, Cajun is this really yummy seasoning salt they’ll coat your fries in. Definitely worth it!

So while eating our yummy burgers, the question that came to mind was, “Is this better than In-n-Out“? To Eric, the answer is clear. Absolutely. And this is really saying something, since Eric loves In-n-Out with a passion usually preserved for his wife and adorable daughters.

To me it might be the equivalent of comparing steak and ice cream. Both are delicious, but it depends entirely on what you feel like eating.

The thing that really stood out to me was the flavor of the burger. Not to commit burger heresy, but American cheese is about as generic as you can get. Once you reach a certain bar of freshness and tastiness, onions, pickles, tomatoes and lettuce are pretty much the same. So the thing that really stood out to me was the flavor of this burger.

They somehow found a way of inducing a flavor with is halfway between backyard BBQ and Mel’s Diner. It conjunction with my condiment selections, it was really, really good.

So I’m finding lots of reasons to like Florida these days. My first night here I drank MacAllan’s 25 year old, Single Malt Scotch, while smoking a 40 year old, pre-embargo Cuban Cigar. I’ve seen Cape Canaveral, learned more about Space Shuttle trivia than I thought possible, and have discovered a delicious new burger place.

As I’m so fond of saying lately, my life really doesn’t suck.

p.s. By the way, it seems like I’m not the only one who likes Five Guys. Our President apparently discovered it as a Senator, and still drops into the one in Washington DC, buying double-cheeseburgers for his staff. Regardless of your politics, you have to love a guy who buys his friends lunch!