Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tinga: Practically perfect cochinita pibil tacos - if you add lettuce

Whenever my dad likes a dish my mother or I make, he doesn’t declare his appreciation through the usual forms of praise.

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

(323) 954-9566


Alessandra said...

Tony does the same thing: he offers food praise in the form of "suggested edits." I am told that it comes from a place of love. :)

In other news, I like that the name of the restaurant you profiled rhymes with "Inga."

Esi said...

I have to hand it to you...the cabbage made it better. Next time I am definitely getting my own order of that corn. (try not to pass out from shock)

Ashley said...

why am i always looking here around lunch time? i want that corn on my plate right now. similar idea to the corn at forage. weekend date. done.

Gastronomer said...

I like how you can have it your way at Tinga ;-) This post cracked me up!

the actor's diet said...

i've had a BBE coupon for TInga and been meaning to try it - i like to have some produce with my food so maybe i'll bring my own apple for after!!!

bagnatic said...

funny! your version sounds better!

Anna A. said...

I want all of this!

stuffycheaks said...

the corn looks great! you should try to recreate it at home and post the receipe!

Monet said...

The corn looks amazing! I don't know if I've ever seen corn so appetizing! Isn't it funny how our parents rub off on us? I loved hearing about your dad and his eating/appreciation habits. Thank you for sharing with me. Have a love-filled weekend!