March 15, 2013
[Mr. Waldrop has been suffering from Daylight Savings Time-related exhaustion. Since he has been unable to write anything this week we are filling this space with three restaurant reviews from The Doing, a weekly newspaper from Dunning, NM, pop.2500.-Eds.]
Just as you cant always judge a book by its cover you cant always judge a restaurant solely by décor either. At first glance the Taco Bell on the corner of Cerillo and Slate doesnt look like much. The main floor, which is a dull light gray, is mostly taken up with booths of the same color sporting cushions in a muted shade of aubergine. Our server too didnt do much to raise expectations, being somewhat lethargic and unable to describe the differences between the different burritos offered. If there was a daily special he didnt mention it. The open kitchen design helped a little, allowing us to watch both the chef and sous chef at work. It was fascinating seeing them use what appeared to be modified pastry guns to dispense sour cream and guacamole. How the dispensers are made must be a restaurant secret, though, as they were unwilling to discuss them in detail. The food more than made up for the overall poor atmosphere. Several members of our party raved about the tacos, although on a different visit I found the real stars of the menu to be the burritos, with the cantina burrito being a real standout. Playfully combining cheese, black beans, rice, and guacamole (I also opted for chicken on mine) it was grilled, both giving it a satisfying authenticity and metamorphosing the individual ingredients into a tangy, satisfying mélange. The lack of a wine list is also made up for by the free refills on drinks. Taco Bell is also, in spite of the lackluster design, kid-friendly, although the five year-old son of one of our party drank four big cups of Fresca and threw up in the parking lot. The only thing Taco Bell really lacks, foodwise, is a decent dessert menu. The churros were small and bland, although the caramel apple empanadas were passable, perhaps hinting at better items to come in the future.
Sometimes even we professional food critics need a night off. Thats why its nice to find a restaurant that delivers. In fact the Pizza Hut on Gold Street only offers delivery and carry-out service. If the name sounds familiar they did at one time have a full-service restaurant on Camino Boulevard. Its now Mother Lode Pawn. And dont let the name fool you: Pizza Hut delivers more than just pizza. Thats good because the pizza itself was a little disappointing. The crust was soggy, perhaps from the sauce which, in spite of being nicely tangy and reminiscent of Hungarian goulash, was applied too thickly. We also asked for extra pepperoni, but two or three pieces per pizza slice hardly qualifies as extra. The bread sticks too seemed slightly undercooked and, in spite of a coating of parmesan, were bland. The chicken wings, on the other hand, were perfect: crispy on the outside and meaty on the inside. We went for the traditional Buffalo variety, with a sultry smothering of hot sauce, although next time we might get adventurous and try the spicy Asian or even the garlic parmesan varieties. I recommend staying away from the bleu cheese dipping sauce, though, which came in a plastic container. It was thin and had a slight metallic taste. Fortunately I always keep a bottle of my favorite brand in the refrigerator or in my briefcase for emergencies.
LINCOLN COUNTY MINIMUM LEVEL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE
Wine/Beer: BYO (40 cigarette corking fee)
On Wednesdays I teach a creative writing class at the local correctional institute. Although the cafeteria is mainly for residents only as a food critic I was offered the chance to dine with my class. And the verdict is in: the chefs are guilty of deliciousness. The meatloaf was succulent and chewy, yet soft enough to be eaten with the spoon that was the only utensil I had. The accompanying mashed potatoes and gravy were also excellent, with subtle hints of smokiness and garlic. A side slice of corn bread was a little dry and, when placed next to the other fare, seemed slightly pedestrian, but added a nice balance of flavors. There was also a vegetarian meal on offer: creamed corn, creamed spinach, and chipped beef on toast. That last item is the subject of a pending lawsuit, but still should not be missed. An old joke I remembered from grade school about chipped beef and circumcisions went over well with the other diners, but we also all agreed that it was excellent: creamy and flavorful, and had a palate-pleasing kick of tarragon in it. The only downside was the toast itself which was hard enough to be used as a shiv. The cafeteria-style serving doesnt lend itself well to sharing, but I did notice a couple of discreet exchanges of trays, presumably so diners who missed the last serving of chili, which was not overly spicy but had a nice tomato base reminiscent of Hungarian goulash, could at least try it. The apple juice which was the only available beverage was also nothing to write home about, although I understand it can be made into an intriguing cider, which I hope to sample on a subsequent visit. However the best part of the meal was the dessert. Id like to thank our server, Ferret, who allowed me an additional serving of the tapioca pudding. It was good enough to make me a repeat offender!