Tuesday, August 2, 2011

a planned dinner (lyn)

Although we have been saying it since Christmas, Cynthia and I finally make a plan to get together.  This time with our kids.

Alexander and Nicole are the same age.  We were all once good friends, but when Cynthia and Nicole moved to NJ eight years ago, our visits grew more and more infrequent.  Then life took over, and although Cynthia and I have sporadically kept in touch, the kids haven’t.  This fall, they will both be off to college:  Alexander to Cornell, and Nicole to nearby Ithaca College. 

We meet at a new Mexican restaurant, Casabel Taqueria.  Ironically, it has replaced Willy’s, our most common go-to place whenever the four of us used to eat out.  Whenever I pass by, it is always filled.  In a town with so many restaurants, an always-crowded scene is a good recommendation.

I haven’t seen Nicole in about three years.  She has developed into a beautiful young woman.  Alexander and Nicole appear to be rekindling their lost childhood friendship.  I embarrass everyone and ask a neighboring diner to take our picture.

The restaurant is packed when we arrive.  The wait for tables outside is 30 minutes, so we choose inside instead.  It is so loud that it’s a struggle to maintain conversation. 

Our waitress comes by to take our order.  For starters, we choose the guacamole and an avocado/tomato salad.  As we are about to order our entrees, the waitress walks away.  We see her at the cash register, and then we see her stop by at other tables.  We can’t figure out why she abandoned us mid-order.   Finally, we get her attention and she comes over to our table.  “Hey, where did you disappear to,” we ask.  “Oh, I thought you wanted to place your starter orders first.  I’m sorry.”  She’s easily forgiven, as she is genuinely nice.

We all order tacos, the restaurant's specialty.  Each order comes with two tacos.  Alexander and I quickly decide on the two we’ll split: The Pescado (“crispy yellowfin tuna belly/hearts of palm/olive/onion”) and Carne Asada (“grilled yucatán achiote hanger steak / oyster mushroom / house creme / crispy onion”). Both orders sound great.   It was an easy decision to make, as none of the other choices are even remotely appealing.  Tacos with braised veal tongue?  Or with Mexican spiced sausage?  Or what about a pork butt taco?  No thanks; we’ll stick to the tuna and steak.  Cynthia also orders the tuna belly and Nicole gets the vegetarian taco.

The first course arrives.  It’s very small but good.   The second course is neither.

Our orders (less Nicole’s, which arrives about ten minutes later) look like a mistake.  The flank steak taco appears to be mushed up meat, ala hamburger helper.  It is nothing like I pictured it, but at least it’s recognizable.  The tuna belly, which we imagined as seared tuna, is hiding inside a batter and looks more like a fried mozzarella stick.  We ask our waitress if we have the right order.  “Oh, yes,” she says.  “Oh, we didn’t realize that the tuna was fried.”  She tells us that it was on the menu.  We check.  Crispy.  Now I remember, crispy is the better-sounding way to say fried.

The food is barely edible.  But I am hungry and eat everything.  We leave and the place is still packed, both inside and out.  They must all be first-timers (or hired actors posing as patrons).  I can’t imagine anyone eating here more than once.  

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