Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Hunger Inside Me

Friday night I was starving…

This was not your typical hunger. The entire week I sustained myself on a meager diet of shredded wheat and NutriGrain bars from the office kitchen. My projects just had me too busy to find a proper meal. At night, I would satiate my grumbling stomach with a protein drink, in hopes of being both healthy and nutritious (eating a full steak dinner after just leaving the office at 11pm didn’t seem like the right move). A man-sized hunger was slowly creeping into my stomach. Day by day, the low rumble soon became a roar and on Friday, as the phones stopped ringing and people began leaving for the Hamptons, I became less interested in eating and more interested in the weekly ritual emancipation from bondage. In the spirit of both Fridays and June 19th, I shed the oppressive shackles of Park Avenue and expeditiously joined a Texas compatriot on his roof for mind expanding conversation.

Then the hunger struck. Much like Audrey II, my stomach began pleading with me “feed me”. Starvation can lead to desperation, but the levelheaded foodie knows in times of extreme hunger, you go to what you know. And I know tacos.

A taco is an exquisite creation, a small bit of heaven stuffed into small, hand sized tortillas for your enjoyment. Though most people today classify this as a post-colonial Mexican snack, it is actually a gift from the Aztecs, who would use tortillas as a utensil to roll food. Tacos have a poetic existence, interpreted by everyone a little differently into all shapes and forms. More traditional pounded corn tortillas have given way to the ultimate double-decker, cheese, sour cream and refried monstrosities we know and love, and everything in between. I will admit, I have enjoyed in a crunchwrap or two in my day.

Unfortunately, tacos are incredibly commoditized these days. Mass production, as it usually does, has distracted us from the soft, flavorful light snack that the taco was originally meant to be. As with all good food, a good taco takes time and love. Real corn tortillas take time to pound and roll. Great salsa isn't just something that comes out of a bottle; it takes fresh ingredients and balance. Being in New York, I have been privileged to some delicious and authentic taco dishes that have utilized traditional methods and ingredients to produce what a taco originally should have been. However, not much creativity has been shown to this tortillian ambrosia in the tri-state area. It’s either Rosa Mexicano or Chipotle. One or two food trucks have tried to carry the banner in the battle against cookie cutter tacos, but they have not had the broad reach, or the juno se qua that makes food so heavenly.

But this Friday I was shown a light beamed down from heaven and reflected off a tortilla. Only recently have I been introduced to the gourmet taco - more artisan than food. Fresh, colorful ingredients blend with innovative and intelligent techniques produce an incredible amount of flavor in a tortilla. Torchy's in Austin was my first true excursion into this forum. A nod of the head should go to the titles of these tacos, with such witticisms as “The Republican” and “The Democrat”, but even with these titles, the offerings still candidly represented the local fresh flavors of well seasoned, slow cooked beef or fresh jalapeños and cilantro. Unfortunately in NY I find myself too often disconnected from those flavors. Until I went to Snack Dragon, a small taco shop in Alphabet City that slaps you in the face with levels of flavor unbeknownst to the Yankee. At a place where the most a taco cost was $5, I spent over $30. There seemed to be no limit to how well this shop could construct a taco – from the texture and flavors of the tortilla to the harmony of the sauce dancing to the syncopation of the meats and salsas. A west coast, almost Portland style, taco shop by nature, this place had everything, from lazily tacked up posters of obscure rock and roll bands, unidentifiable but strangely alluring music playing in the background, and even the BYOB privilege (a must for bohemian food establishments). Snack Dragon was one of the best taco experiences I have had in this city to date. Not just because the food was great, but because it was refreshing to finally experience an interpretation of a classic that didn’t just plain suck. If you don’t get it, just ask yourself: after being almost convinced Michael Keaton was Bruce Wayne, who would you rather watch play Batman, Val Kilmer or Christian Bale?

- The UE

1 comment:

D Feltsman said...

ummm...Christian Bale...however after the last one I find myself questioning this...

Good post senor.