January 13, 2008
Charlottesville, Day 3: Mexican, Hot Chocolate Break, and Vietnamese
Step 1: Wake up.
Step 2: Get horchata.
Step 3: EAT EVERYTHING.
Now I shall backtrack to what happened between Tristan, Olivia and I getting horchatas and falling into a collective food coma.
For a late Sunday lunch, we went to Aqui Es Mexico, one of Tristan's favorite restaurants. If I lived in Charlottesville it'd be one of my favorite places too. Because.
You'll see them in a bit.
First came the complimentary tortilla chips, super crisp and freshly fried. As much as I like digging into the standard bread basket and thus destroying my appetite for the rest of the meal (carbs and butter will do that to ya), I think I prefer tortilla chips as a pre-meal snack. I mean, I still love bread to death!—it's just that chips go down more easily and appear to have less of an appetite-suppressing effect even though they're made of corn and fat. I mean, they're made of angel wings and fairy honey! Okay.
Olivia's caldo de res was the first dish to come out. Tender beef chunka (a "chunka" is like a larger version of a "chunk," at least in my malformed brain) in a hearty vegetable chunk-laden (large chunks, not quite of the "chunka" designation, but larger than, say, nuggets) beef broth? I'm quite sure it reeked of deliciousness.
And then came my PUPUSAS!, those gloriously thick patties of griddled corn flour stuffed with stuff, inarguably the best "stuff" being cheese and meat. They were a little thinner than I was expecting (because I usually anticipate something that will send my stomach into digestive shock) and the outside wasn't as crispy as I would've preferred—the "crunchy exterior to soft innards" sensation is one that conjures up much joy and increased drool production—but they were still damn tasty and oozing with nubby extensions of gooey cheese. Charlottesville residents, you should be stuffing yourselves with pupusas all the time. That's what I'd do if I had a pupusa-rie nearby.
Fried yucca is a "must order" whenever I see it on a menu. Who wouldn't want crispy nuggets of starch? Who denies the starch nugget?! I prefer yucca over potato since yucca has a lighter texture and has more...flavor. The flavor being "yucca." That wasn't helpful at all. Sorry. I really am sorry; here's my sad face to prove it: :(
Tristan ordered a combination plate of a pupusa and other things we can't identify. Oops. My plan to find a full menu online kinda failed and I obviously didn't take notes. There's a handful of combination plates you can order if you're indecisive/hungry and want a little bit of everything.
Our shrimp huarache came in the form of a super-thick (a thickness that would've been good for the pupusas) corn flour patty topped with sweet lil' shrimpies, and some spicy sauce (the kind that is more of a hot, sharp feeling in the back of your throat and/or your brain, not a flavor you taste on your tongue) and cheese, and...stuff. (I'll take notes next time; I promise.)
Well, as someone who doesn't drool (or even lightly dribble) with anticipation at the thought of eating shrimp, I thought the shrimp huarache was awesomely delicious. The shrimps were memorably tender and burst with a slight sweetness as my teeth ripped through their pure bellies, like baabbiiies!, like if each shrimp had the essence of a baby!, and that essence met its doom in my stomach acids!
In conclusion, Aqui Es Mexico is the shizz—shizz-like qualities including homey-ness, friendliness, cleanliness, funky-art-on-the-walls-ness, and inexpensiveness—and will fill your tummy with joy. And corn.
What goes better with Mexican food than gelato? Or maybe the question should be reversed: what goes better with gelato than [insert any other food]? We went to Milano, Tristan's former workplace, to check out the gelato offerings for the day. He noticed that the gelato had unfortunately not been turned in a while, making a negative impact on tastiness. :(
But it's still alright. I said no to the pistachio for not being of the Sicilian sort (once you eat Bronte pistachio gelato, you can't go back), but the pumpkin melted my brain with its pure squashy essence and autumn spices without being overly sweet. I also got the coconut chocolate fudge, which was good but not as good as the pumpkin.
After nearly falling asleep on a couch on the second floor of the Main Street Market, Tristan drove us to his home in Louisa to say hi to his family. AND THE SHEEP!
Yup, Tristan's family has its own farm with a barn full of sheep. We tried talking to the poofy, fidgety creatures, but they mostly moaned, "BUUUUUUUHHHHuuh," over and over again, akin to a guttural, drawn-out burp. Probably translated to something like, "These fuckers better have food."
We walked around the farm some more. Looked at a tractor. Stared at some not-very-alive crops. Visited the chicken coop. Stood by a mountain of animal excrement. Standard farm things.
We went back inside with our muddied shoes to make Mexican hot chocolate. Or rather, Tristan made it while the rest of us mostly watched.
Step 1: Gather your ingredients. Smash up some Ibarra chocolate tablets (really, you have to whack em against the table as though you were trying to snap their spinal chords, if they possessed any...you murderer), heat as much milk as needed on the stove, and get your blender ready.
Step 2: Pour heated milk into blender receptacle containing chocolate chunks, as many as you want depending on the chocolate buzz you desire. (Best to do more than what the packaging suggests—those directions usually result in weak sauce hot chocolate.) Don't fill it up too much, unless you're Tristan.
Step 3: Put on the blender cover and hit the "blend" button for some whizzy smashie action. If you're Tristan you put too much milk in the blender, meaning that some of it will spurt out and scald your delicate skin. Hear those screams? Those are your skin cells. But such sacrifices are needed to feed your family and friends.
Step 4: Frothy hot chocolate is yours!
If you need to make more, pour the contents of the blender into a larger container and repeat steps 1 to 3.
Finish the evening by petting your kitty.
We went back to Charlottesville on a creepy, forested Virginian road. Oh, such beauty.
After resting at Tristan's place, we ran into the same problem we experienced on Friday night: where could we eat that was cheap, delicious, and open? And no heavy things like burgers and fries.
Saigon Cafe was the most appealing option. My stomach is always ready for Vietnamese food; it's filling without being too heavy, encompasses spicy-sweet-sour flavors in a way that doesn't overwhelm your taste buds or rip through your stomach lining, and almost always has a high tastiness-to-cost ratio.
We started with vegetable spring rolls per Tristan's request. At least, I think they were vegetable, assuming Tristan was following a vegetarian diet that night. Crispy, light, rice paper wrapping stuffed with carrots, fungus (fungus!) and bean noodles, oh yeah. These spring rolls would only disappoint you if you sucked. You don't suck! Yay! Extra point for you!
I love the soup-less rice noodle "salad," bun. And I love pork. Thus I love bun thit nuong, bun topped with chunks of grilled pork. I found the noodles a little too soft, but the crispy, moist pork nuglets (it's like a nugget, but a word that I made up) imbibed with a sweet and mildly hot (and a million other flavors) marinade up for that. At the bottom of the bowl lay fresh chopped lettuce, shredded carrot, and mung bean sprouts. And maybe more. I poured over the accompanying dish of nuoc cham and tossed the contents of the bowl to the best of my ability without making a mess, which usually fails because some evil person decided that bun in all Vietnamese restaurants should always come in a bowl that's too small mix anything in without flinging vegetable bits and sauce into your neighbor's eyes. Or I haven't mastered that art yet. Probably the latter.
Olivia started with a small Hanoi beef soup, or what I figure was pho.
Craving something salad-like, she ordered the Vietnamese special salad for her main dish. A salad of shrimp, chicken and julienne vegetables (looked mostly like cabbage) with some kind of Vietnamese dressing. Uh. Huh. Did it hit the spot? Considering that her reaction was, "Why did I order this?" after eating a few bites, probably not. I doubt it was bad, but it probably didn't fulfill the salad craving.
Tristan devoured his mountain of fried tofu with vegetables. Lots of vegetables: tomato, broccoli, snow peas, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, mushroom, and carrots. At least that's what the menu says—I mostly see tofu. Whenever I eat with Tristan—forcing him to divert from his vegetarian ways and distress his body with sinful animal flesh—he needs to offset the lack of fiber and things of vegetable origins by eating...something with fiber and vegetable origins. Aw, Tristan...he's on a path to living a long, healthy like! Unlike me!
Of course, there was rice. HELL YEAH!
After dinner we went to Kroger and then Harris Teeter in search of something dessert-like, but I think Olivia just ended up getting Fage yogurt and oranges. Or maybe just the yogurt. In case you were wondering, if you go to Kroger in search of Fage yogurt you will fail.
And that's just one of many fun things you can do in Charlottesville on a Sunday night!
Posted by roboppy at 9:23 PM
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