Monday, April 02, 2007

You Can't Win 'Em All

In recent days, we have had two terrific meals and one terrible meal. It's the terrible one that I fixate on, though. What is it that is so deeply disappointing about a bad meal? What makes many people so risk-averse when it comes to dinner? For me, the disappointment is made worse knowing that for the same $70, we could have feasted on fresh, delicious fish rather than the dry, stinky stuff we ate at Kiraku in Fair Haven on Thursday night.

We should have known from the moment we walked in: scented candles and a huge, loud wall projection of a Sting concert are not auspicious in a sushi restaurant. Nor was the very small number of diners on a Thursday night at 7:30 pm (and we were the last people there at 9). My sashimi was the worst I have ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of raw fish, and in some questionable places. My mackerel was dry as a bone and actually seemed to suck some of the moisture out of my tongue, my scallops were slimy and fishy, and my "white tuna" (whose very existence is up for debate) still had ice crystals in the flesh. My eel tempura roll tasted like the oil it had been fried in was at least a week old. Andy's selections were no better, and our waitress was nowhere in evidence so we had no one to complain to. Kiraku had come to us highly recommended, making us wonder whether we'd hit it on a bad night, but still, a Thursday? Scented candles? I don't think we'll be trying it again, despite its perfect Quinnipiac river deck.

A much, much better meal, and a cuisine that is ever so welcome in New Haven, was had by our little group on Friday night at Mezcal, a new Mexican restaurant in the old El Charo Alegre space on Mechanic street (between Lawrence and State). It was no Dona Tomas, but it was damn good, and we can walk there!

Seven of us shared shrimp ceviche (okay), taquitos (so-so), a shredded beef and egg dish (whose name I can't remember -- I can't read my own handwriting) that wasn't very flavorful.... I can see your eyes glazing over, but WAIT! Then the amazing stuff arrived: one order of pollo entomatado, chicken on the bone cooked in a spicy tomato, tomatillo, pepper, and raisin sauce; pollo con pipian, also on the bone in an achiote-colored pumpkin seed sauce that was so good we all tried to eat it with a spoon; and two orders of deeply porky carnitas, stewed, fried, and spiced unlike any I'd had in California, home to Libby's Hero Carnitas. Plus all the homemade chips and incredibly spicy salsa verde and tortillas and beans and rice we could eat. We all left disgustingly full and about $16 lighter, each. The place is BYOB, so go early and stop at the liquor store around the corner for a six-pack of Negro Modela. I always worry about whether places can and will stay open in this town, but on Friday night Mezcal was packed. Hooray!!!

The other home-run meal we had was last week's at Ibiza. Yes, at last and finally we went to Ibiza. I promised I'd take Andy there when my job became permanent, so he cashed in and we got the tasting menu with paired wines. But I will save that post for next.

EDITED TO ADD: It's actually three great meals to one bad one. This afternoon, Tom and I got burritos from the Roomba cart and they had a special barbacoa lamb burrito filling. Oh my god. Roasted lamb in spicy sauce in a Roomba burrito. Best burrito ever? Maybe one of the top three. Ever. And I think one of those other two was at the Roomba cart as well.


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