On the Fence at El Barrio

Cartoon Chef

[freedigitalphotos.net/iosphere]

[I want to practice having ‘topics’ on my blog.  Basically, I want an excuse to play around with my basic 20/13 format.  Here’s hoping it is more socially acceptable than playing with one’s food.]

 ^^^

I have always secretly wanted to be a food critic.  And no, it’s not just because I want to eat for free.  I think I would make an excellent cuisine diva. You know, the nose-in-the-air snob who slinks into a posh establishment wearing sunglasses (as if they won’t recognize the terrifying taster at a glance anyway) orders one of everything on the menu and then delivers pronouncements from on high that make or break the restaurant’s reputation.   Only I have a small problem.  I don’t eat meat.* (Meat, for the purposes of this article refers to red meats: beef, pork, lamb, musk ox, bambi…)  I’m not a vegan or anything like that (no offense to Vegans intended) but, I just don’t like the taste or the texture or sometimes the politics.  (Okay, who out there can eat Veal? I mean, seriously.  The Vegans aren’t entirely wrong about their Eating Animals is Cruel stance.)

You think: “Okay.  You don’t like meat…but you could try all the seafood restaurants…”  Wrong!  I am anti-seafood.  I lack the gene or whatever it is that makes water-based life forms appetizing.  I find crustaceans to be thoroughly repellent.  Shrimp are just about the worst thing ever.  How can someone willingly put a watery cockroach into their mouth, bite the head off, and spit out the crunchy leg parts? Eaugh!  (The sound you make when you suppress vomit.)

So you say, “Well that’s because you have never had good seafood.”  For some reason, people who like seafood cannot fathom a world in which people like me exist.  Vegans don’t count.  They are aliens to our planet and therefore cannot be used for statistical purposes.  As to the attitude, I get it, I really do.  Whenever I meet someone who doesn’t like chocolate, I suspect them of being a terrorist with an anti-confectioner’s manifesto: “The Cocoa Bean Has Had Its Day.  Bring Back Saltwater Taffy.”  Now, where was I?  Oh, right, seafood should only be served to other seafood.

Regarding good seafood: I have tasted several dishes at the behest of many astounded people who don’t believe me when I say, “No, I do not like eating something that swims in its own feces.”  I have tried ‘good’ lobster (stringy rubber bands), ‘good’ calamari (chewy rubber bands), ‘good’ crab, (eek, giant sea spider), ‘good’ shrimp (nasty, filthy, gelatinous horrors of the sea) and don’t let me get started on octopus.  The suckers…oh god…the suckers.  As for regular old fish…if it is coated with a shield-layer of deep fried breading, slathered with a quart of tartar sauce and wedged between a soft Kaiser roll with a fistful of hairy lettuce…I can manage to suppress the gag reflex long enough to swallow it. Not exactly “Yummo”**.

So why do I want to be a food critic if I don’t eat 90% of what is on the menu?  It’s for that remaining 10%.  I eat chicken because it marvelously doesn’t contain feelers, veins, or protoplasmic tendencies like a mollusk does.  Also chicken can be smothered by a thousand different toppings and taste completely different each time—if it is cooked well and with care.  I love veggies and, even though they are considered an afterthought at most American restaurants, there are some incredible variations at the Ethnic establishments.  Countries where living on vegetables is a necessity and therefore, the flavoring of said staple is given some thought beyond “Let’s toss some bacon in it and call it good.”

That said, on occasion, when I have been out to a fine dining establishment that does not involve “Would you like fries with that?” inquiries, I may be moved to share my epicurean wisdom.  For example:

                                 Fence - The Barrio

(Freedigitalphotos.net, moggara12)

The title of my article, which was the intended subject of this rant blog, was meant to pique your interest about a Mexican Restaurant I enjoyed yesterday.  El Barrio http://www.elbarriomexicangrill.com/ is located at 545 Michigan Street NE just East of College Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids, MI.  I recommend it with only minor reservations.  I have only dined there twice, so my exposure to the food is limited.  But what I have had there has been well cooked, hot and served in a timely fashion.  The chips are crisp and the salsa is a nice, mild accompaniment.  The service is friendly and considerate to families with special needs.  (Spoiler Alert.) Two things detracted from my most recent experience.  It is located at a section of the road just before a highway entrance/exit.  At rush hour, be prepared to nose your way through aggressive drivers to access the parking lot. (I blame their discourtesy on low blood sugar.)  The other detractor I would say is they LIED on their dessert menu.  I ordered the ‘fried ice cream’ expecting, silly me, to get fried ice cream.  No, what we got was a ball of ice cream that had been rolled in a crushed nut topping and then served with stale ‘crisps’ which I think would have been delicious if they weren’t old.  I say that because the taco salad I ordered came in the most amazing bowl I have ever eaten.  I mean, it was traffic-stopping good.  I had the leftovers today and the bowl, while a little soggy still tasted fantastic.

I may not be Julia Childs but I can appreciate a decent meal and a lovely ambiance.  Anyone who wishes to challenge my street cred as a food critic is welcome to take me out somewhere for dinner and test my acumen.  (I promise, I can accurately identify kale from radicchio at ten paces—which is as close as I am willing to get to either of those bitter weeds.  Not all veggies are created equal.)  Just don’t ask me to taste your meat.* There are things I am willing to do for a free meal…but that isn’t one of them!

Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:

*All those of you who are of a prurient mind and are snickering to yourself about the use of the word ‘meat’ in this article—shame on you. (Okay, you are allowed some license for the last reference.  That was intentional.)

**Yummo is a trademarked phrase of Kitchen Goddess Rachael Ray.  If you don’t know who Rachael Ray is, she just hasn’t reached your village yet for occupation, wait a bit.  You might want to stock up on EVOO before she gets there though.

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