He doesn’t exclaim, “This is delicious!” while slapping the table with his bestial hands.
He doesn’t give me a high-five or a “Way to go, kitchen sport!”
And he most certainly doesn’t announce with hyperbolic aplomb that something is the best thing he’s ever tasted.
Instead, he tells my mom and me how he would improve whatever it is he’s quietly enjoying from his throne at the head of the table.
“These Brussels sprouts would be even better with tomatoes.” He’ll grumble while my mom and I exchange amused glances. (For the record, they would not be better with tomatoes, but might be improved with bacon...)
Yet, as much as we laugh about his inability to find any dish we make perfect just the way it is, in recent years, I’ve discovered that I’ve developed the same habit. I’m always tweaking recipes to fit my tastes – adding in more garlic or serving it with quinoa, and more often than not, I’ll pause mid-way through my meal to grab the red pepper flakes, my balsamic vinegar, a wedge of lemon for a bright burst of acidity, or some more salt.
This past Sunday evening was no exception. As I started to dig into my dinner, my mind immediately began whirling with ideas about how I could make the already tasty dish even tastier.
Except I wasn’t enjoying my Sunday supper at home.
And I wasn’t alone.
Esi from Dishing Up Delights and I were at Tinga, the four-month-old fast-casual Mexican joint on South La Brea that has received much praise (in the typical praise-like form) for its upscale tacos and eclectic menu.
Yet as I perched on my stool at the long communal table in the center of the sparsely attired space, I couldn’t help but think, “This would be so much better with a little iceberg lettuce.”
After another bite of my cochinita pibil taco with slow-cooked achiote and bitter orange rubbed pork, finely minced pickled cabbage, salsa, and, mercifully, salsa habanero on the side ($6.50), I set the meaty taco down and gave voice to my opinion. Esi, who has grown accustomed to my unusual assertions, smiled, but remained silent. So I leapt from my seat, bounded up the counter and sheepishly put in a request for a small cup of lettuce.
With the added crunch, the sensuous strands of bitter-sweet pork were even more compelling on my tongue. The soft hand-pressed corn tortilla (incidentally, one of the best I’ve encountered) and pork were both excellent on their own, but I felt much more satisfied by the entire package with a bit of textural contrast. The cool lettuce also helped temper the slight heat from the regular salsa that I found more palatable to my spice-challenged mouth than the aggressive habanero version.
My side of grilled sweet buttery corn with creamy lime, chili, and poblano puree ($5.00), however, needed no such enhancement. In fact, I might even go as far to say that it was practically perfect in every way.
Though my dad might think it needs some tomatoes.
142 South La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA