Sunday, May 18, 2014

El Tejado

One day several summers ago a friend of mine, Edmund, and I went to lunch at a nearby restaurant in Englewood called El Tejado. It means "the roof."  It was at the time utterly authentic and I would look around the place inside and realize I am the only caucasian there. I was impressed. It matched Mexico. I invited friends and they hated it. I invited my family and they hated it. All objected to its authenticity, its low class-ness. None could relate to the place. None felt they belonged there. All complained and hastened to exit and they universally suggested I don't do that again. They strongly preferred the Tex Mex places such as the popular Benny's on 7th., always busy, always packed.

Then El Tejado was discovered by Westword and awarded the place "best Mexican restaurant" one year, and then everything changed. New menus printed, no longer salsa-splotched paper. Entrees changed to appeal more to American tastes. The huachinango (red snapper)  scored , battered with corn meal and deep fried blooming to crispy fish-chunks with its head and tail clear off the plate, no longer the fantastic bargain that it once was. Prices adjusted accordingly. It is quite popular presently, just try getting a parking space now. My friends all love it, my family did too when they were still here. It became top of the list for places to meet.

So there went that. 

This was before all that happened. My friend Edmund brother to Doug, twin scions of Merrill family. (In the Adirondack mountains the Merrill cabin (ha!) compound is a mile down a road and the Lynch compound a mile or so down the opposite direction. In speech Ed sounds like a young version of Thurston Howell III, somewhat cartoonish in affectation, a bit off putting to some people. He is abrupt. A bit difficult at times for some people. And there are those who do not care for him so much personally, but his wealth carries him through all of that. Breakfast with Ed in San Francisco is a matter of continuous stream of people breaking in for recognition. It is impossible for a simple conversation uninterrupted. But this lunch in Englewood at El Tejado we pretty much  had the whole place to ourselves. His new Mercedes parked outside right in front. 

Except for a table of Mexican men having lunch. Construction type people it seemed to me. And boy, were they ever rough. On my own I would certainly have cut a very wide swath around the whole table to avoid any contact. They veritably telegraphed hostility by appearance alone. One or two of the men were having a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail and the appetizer looks nothing at all like what white people expect with shrimp placed artfully and obediently around the rim of a martini glass. This is more like a tall sundae glass filled with murky pink reddish liquid with bits of shrimp  and other various bits of unidentifiable things floating around. I had one of those once in Mexico, roaming around late, perforce, I was starving and that was the only thing available that late at a sea-side bar. Warily I ordered one imagining I'd become ill, and discovered how delicious it actually is. 

Back at El Tejado in Englewood, I whispered to Ed. "That thing those guys are eating is a shrimp cocktail believe it or not. It's actually quite good." 

"You don't say."

"I do." 

We finished our meal, stood up to leave, but instead of heading straight out, to my horror Ed naïvely sauntered right up to the table of seated men. I swear to dios mios they looked exactly like this:

Their conversation stopped. The entire table of men looked straight up at us two standing there. The contrast between us could not have been more pronounced. They complete roughnecks, we a couple of fraternity pussies by contrast. They did look hostile and menacing. 

In his slow exaggerated idiosyncratic mid-Atlantic intonation so unlike his identical twin Ed delivered,

"Oooh. My friend Chip here says that soup that you are eating there is shrimp cocktail."

The table of six or so men just sat there blankly and stared at us. They honestly did not know what to think.

"Chip says it is delicious. Is that true?"

They continued to stare. Is this a joke, or what? Regarding us up and down. I nearly pissed myself right there. An eternal pause elapsed.

Then as one the entire table of men grinned broadly displaying bright white teeth all around and one of them  said,

"Yes. Yes. It is shrimp cocktail. And it IS delicious. Would you like to try it?  Here! Try some!"

"Oh. No. That's okay. I just wanted to confirm. I'll try it next time. Thank you guys." 

"Try some!"

"No. No. Thank you,  very much, but no. So gracious of you to offer. We are full now. But I will certainly try that next time on your recommendation."

We departed, apparently having cheered the whole group. I could not quite process what just happened.

In the car, now seated, me shotgun, Ed was tickled with his new toy. He showed me all or some that it does. The little touches one doesn't expect in a vehicle. They really are impressive with extras they put all over the place. Things I'd never need or use. I don't care for driving. He is a bit like a boy that way. 

I said, "Ed, you shocked the heck out of me back there."

"How so, Chipster?" 

"I would avoid contact. Those men looked to me frightening. Hostile, in fact."

Thoughtfully and carefully and slowly, as teacher to student,

"Weeeell Chip.  My experience with Mexicans is that they are a kind and gentle people." 

I was dumbfounded again. I never heard anything like that expressed that way.  I was changed on the spot. Ed instilled a new and different fresh attitude from there on out. An attitude I've held steadily since.

Mexican style shrimp cocktail:

1 LB cooked and peeled shrimp rinsed in cold water
1 cup diced celery
2 avocados in 1" cubes

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 +1/4 cup tomato juice
1 tablespoon catsup
2 teaspoons horseradish
1/2 serrano chille minced
6 or so cilantro leaves
1 lime juiced 
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

capers (optional, of course)
cilantro leaf
lime slice 

tequila when the glass becomes  nearly finished.


Shouting Thomas said...

Nobody goes there any more, because it's too crowded.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Last night's episode of Star Trek TOS was "Day of the Dove" where the Klingons looked a lot like Mexicans.

I was in grade school when they did away with the Frito Bandito.

Probably not such a bad thing to be rid of.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I might have devoted my life to finding a cure for cancer or something important like that, but instead my brain is chock full of crap like this.

Kind of sounds like Mel Blanc.

Why would that even occur to me?

See? More crap.

Titus said...

chickahoy, less is more.

Any writing course will tell you they will leave after the first paragraph.

thanks and tits.

edutcher said...

You do realize the guy in the middle of the photo is Pancho Villa, right?

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Last night's episode of Star Trek TOS was "Day of the Dove" where the Klingons looked a lot like Mexicans

All the aliens looked very humanoid on the show.

Partly a budget thing, but I also think because everybody figured aliens would look like us.

Considering Teddy Kennedy had just gotten his immigration bill passed, rather ironic.

ndspinelli said...

San Diego is only 14 miles from the border and has the best authentic Mexican I've tasted in the US. And yes, you go where the blue collar Mexicans go. What I like as much as the sit down restaurants are the taco stands. The best I've found is one tucked between a muffler shop and appliance store. You can hardly see it. Great lengue tacos.

ndspinelli said...

Cottage Grove, where I live has the annual Cottage Grove Festival. For whatever reason, it became the drunkest of ALL the festivals in Dane County. I coached Legion ball and we always played a night game the Friday night of the festival. I hated it. It was literally a 3 ring circus w/ a carnival right over the left and center field fence, and a beer tent right near our fucking dugout. This festival is in June and about a half mile from our house. We get outta town for it every year now.

ndspinelli said...

Wrong thread, sooory.

Mumpsimus said...

"'Authentic' means paper plates and flies," a friend of mine used to say.

ricpic said...

I once ate in a Mexican Mexican restaurant and the hostility was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I realize that in beautiful people land it's some kind of a mark against the dreaded gringo that he gets the message and chooses not to return but why should he?

AllenS said...

Damnit ST! That was going to be my comment.

bagoh20 said...

Most people I know are Mexican, and I had a "common law wife" for 12 years who came to the states at 18 years old. She was a great cook. I eat Mexican food probably more than anything else, and I've spend many days and nights in the homes of family in the barrios of Tijuana. I have no idea what "authentic" Mexican food is. I don't think Mexicans know either. Like if you asked Americans what authentic American food is you would get different answers, it seems Mexican food is the same way. Authentic is whatever YOU ate as a kid, and it can mean very different things. It is much easier to identify what is not authentic though - stuff nobody's mom made at home. Some "authentic" (made by Mexicans as their family always has) is really just bad, poor ingredients, poorly prepared and presented. That's true of my family's cooking which is primarily German, and which I mostly hate. Some clearly non-authentic Mexican is the best. I most like the stuff that is somewhere in between where they use quality fresh ingredients, less processed, and less worked, incorporating the more American sensibilities of cleaning and trimming the ingredients thoroughly and keeping them less mixed and pulverized. I also like Taco Bell. I mean scientists figured out what chemicals to hit your brain with in that stuff when you need food right now.

Chip Ahoy said...

And one day, Titus, you'll make a comment that actually address the subject at hand, actually contributes to the discussion.

Nah, who am I kidding?

You're incapable of anything so reasonable as that. i'm tempted to delete your worthless piece of shit comment. You do piss me off, you miserable cunt.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for the recipe, and a great story!

Would you think it would be good without cilantro? I'm not a fan of the particular green thing.

Chip S. said...

Terrific writing. Excellent set-up, great finish, and--as a coda--a recipe even I could follow.

The punch line reminded me of Mickey Kaus's view on "equality," which is something like being on an equal footing in as many public spheres as possible. (Where "public spheres" include things like cheap Mexican restaurants.)

ndspinelli said...

Well father, w/ that disdain for green things I hope you have regular colonoscopies.

Known Unknown said...

The best Mexican food is of the hole-in-wall variety. And yes, most Mexicans are gentle and kind.

Known Unknown said...

Would you think it would be good without cilantro? I'm not a fan of the particular green thing.


I would hope you would reconsider cilantro. I've found it makes most meals it's an ingredient in much better.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I would hope you would reconsider cilantro.

Cilantro tastes like soap. Period.

Brussels Sprouts taste like acetone. Everyone says they just haven't been cooked right. Maybe. But, I haven't ever had them that didn't leave a horrible chemical taste in my mouth.

I think it is a genetic thing like being able to taste PTC All the talking or persuading in the world isn't going to get me to NOT taste that horrible shit.

Known Unknown said...

Cilantro tastes like soap. Period.

You're not eating it right.

Guildofcannonballs said...

I've yet to grow fond of cilantro. Moldy mint with the mint taken out and only the mold from the mint remaining is how it tastes.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Ndspinelli, EMD:

Now, don't go all food-naggy on me.

I love vegetables. I love spinach (had some tonight), salads, broccoli, beans, peas, kale, greens, and all those other vegetables that are all the other colors.

I just don't like cilantro!

bagoh20 said...

Soap tastes like cilantro, and where would we be without soap?

The Dude said...

I ate a chimichanga in 1984. It had cilantro on it. A coworker was appalled that I could consume such a terrible tasting garnish on my food.

What did I know - I ate some parsley once, too.

Haven't had any cilantro since then, it's only been 30 years, so who knows - I might have some again some day. It could happen. But I doubt it.

I did have a sprig of parsley a few years ago - made me sick for close to a week. Greens will kill you, just sayin'...

ndspinelli said...

Sorry Father. I hate it when people do that to me. And, I don't usually do that to others. I just want you to be healthy for when you go to Russia. Getting sick in a 3rd World country isn't advisable. Actually, I like cilantro very sparingly. When you said you didn't like "green" I thought you meant everything green.

ndspinelli said...

Sixty, I will NEVER try and give you any advice. Never!

Fr Martin Fox said...


I'm not going to Russia, the country; I'm going to Russia, a village in Shelby County, Ohio...

The Dude said...

Ohio, Russia - what's the diff? ;^)

Thanks, Mr. Spinelli, you are a wise man.

ndspinelli said...

LOL! Sorry, father. But, my 3rd world comment holds true for Shelby County. Those Buckeyes just started walking upright recently.