Tuesday, January 25, 2011
I don't pretend to know much about Cuban food. I probably know as much, or less, than most of you reading this. Thankfully, there's not a lot to know. Cuban food is built on simplicity. Which, for this food blogger, is a welcome respite from my often uber-fantastic, ultra-expensive restaurant reviews. Like Mexican food, Cuban food is best when it's served as it is served in its native country. That is, in a street stall, or in the case of La Teresita in Tampa, in a cafe style bar. The restaurant was humming with locals, mostly sitting alone on the high bar stools, eating their lunch and staring at all the tourists entering and exiting. Most of them probably had no idea what they just had, or how lucky they were to eat there.
Sitting at the bar made for terrible photos. Not just because everyone was looking at me like some gringo they'd like to kill and shred up into little pieces that would later go into the the deep fryer, but also because it was crowded and messy up there. This is not a very clean restaurant. Keep that in mind and don't blame me if you go and are expecting something it isn't.
After trying to speak our best Spanglish, we finally got one of only a handful of proper tables, near a window. Ordering was fairly easy. And within literally three minutes we had a mountain of food served to us, along with a Malta. A sort of fizzy, sugary, malty, molasses drink. Which by the way, I will never drink again.
With so much food on the table I found it very hard to choose which to dive into first. So... I simply went around the table and took small forkfuls of everything. With no particular plan of attack. I just ate! My Rabo Encendido, Ox Tail in Sauce, served with Yucca and Frijoles Negros, Black Beans, was one of the most tender pieces of meat I've ever eaten. Using only a fork I made short work of it. Tender, spicy and gloriously hearty. The Yucca had too much garlic in it for me, but was tasty all the same. And the Black Beans, were just Black Beans. We've all had them a million times. There was nothing special about them.
There was something special about my wife's Puerco Asado, Roast Pork. It was equally as good as the Ox Tail. It too, was so tender a knife was only there to scoop sauce, meat and onions onto our fork. Her Croqueta de Jamón, Ham Croquettes, were outstanding. And so were her Plátanos Fritos, Fried Plantains. In fact, the Fried Plantains were my favorite side dish. They were sweet and terribly flavorful. And lastly, Simple Foodie's Sandwich Cubano. I'm not going to translate that for you because if you're reading this blog, you have some food knowledge and know what that is. This part of the meal was a let down. Simple Foodie accidentally answered yes when our waiter asked us in Spanish if he'd like the Sandwich to be... well, more American. That isn't what he said, but in Spanish that's what it meant. And because he answered yes, his Cuban Sandwich came with Lettuce and Tomato, which to me, is a giant NO, NO in Cuban Sandwiches. And it altered it to the point where it wasn't enjoyable.
The bill for all of this food came to about $35 with tip. Which was perhaps the best thing about this incredible, simple, authentic Cuban restaurant. You can have all of your Gastro-Cubano joints like Cuba Libre in Philadelphia, and Alma de Cuba, also in Philadelphia. Give me the Cuban food that the Cuban people actually eat. Because $40 for an entree at Alma de Cuba is simply robbery and not something this foodie ever intends to partake in.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography
Friday, January 14, 2011
I sit here, completely sated and calm. My Mexican food addiction, in check for now. It has been over a year since I had proper Mexican food in a restaurant. Since moving to the U.K. last year, I have struggled to find authenticity in Mexican cooking. The closest I came was Wahaca, which actually shouldn't be called Mexican at all, but Tex-Mex, with London prices. It took a trip to the good 'ole U.S. of A. in order to get my Mexican fix. Like a drug addict, I crave Mexican food on a daily basis. And it was the Taco Bus in Tampa, Florida that acted as my Mexican drug dealer. Pushing authentic, high quality Mexican food, served out of a converted bus. The Taco Bus is open 24/7, which is incredible considering the location. Not exactly prime Tampa real estate.
It's one of the coldest January's in Tampa history, but there stood an army of loyal Taco Bus followers, who were, just like me, waiting in line for their fix. There is a hand written slogan on the bus, which reads: Taco Bus - Broken English, Spoken Perfectly. The bus itself is tired, rusted and dirty. I was in heaven. An older Mexican woman exited the bus and started taking orders from the hungry men and women waiting patiently in line. We had to act fast. I quickly scanned the menu and ordered for the three of us.
To the side of the bus are about six outdoor tables. Each adorning two large plastic containers of hot sauce; green and red. At the front of the bus, on what used to be the grill, sat a large stainless steel sink and to the left of that a soap dispenser. We waited no more than 10 minutes for our food before it was brought out to us on Styrofoam plates, with plastic cutlery. I dove head first into it. I don't remember eating anything so quickly in my life.
My Beer Battered, Fish Taco, with Crema and Chile de Arbol Sauce on the side instantly relieved my wild craving for authentic Mexican food. It was gone in ten seconds and I was onto my next dish. The Beef Tongue Taco with Tomatoes, Onions, Cilantro and Shredded Cabbage made me want to stand up and dance like a Mariachi. It was that good. And so was the Carne Asada Taco, which is Grilled Steak with Mexican seasonings that has been diced up and placed into the perfect delivery system for Meat, the Soft Corn Taco Shell.
Tacos are not the only thing awe inspiring about this no frills, rough and tough restaurant. The Puerco Asado Burrito with Grilled and Seasoned, Diced Pork was one of the best Burritos I've ever had. If not the best. The Meat was so flavorful and the tastes so fresh, I don't imagine it will ever be topped by anything outside of Mexico. And lastly, my wife's staple, a Chicken Quesadilla, with a mountain of Onion, Cilantro, Tomatoes and Cheese.
The Taco Bus in Tampa is one of those restaurants that redefine your expectations of what a particular food should taste like. It has raised the bar on what I expect from Mexican food. If I was a harsh critic before, this certainly will not help those poor restaurants in England that serve sad, lifeless, expensive Tex-Mex.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography