Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Russia, A Real Place -- Sunday in St. Petersburg

My friend Ryan lives in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida), which I've heard is very nice. Everything I know about Russia is wildly inaccurate, as I gleaned most of it from Rocky IV. Ryan sets us straight with an account of a typical Sunday in the Motherland:

When I woke up on Sunday, my girlfriend Natasha said, “Someone has fallen in
love with you. Who is it?” Then she led me to the bathroom mirror and pointed
at a little pimple on the tip of my nose. It was the day’s first reminder (thankfully,
a cute one) that this is Russia and stuff is different.

Sometimes stuff that’s different comes out of the tap really hot, but kind
of brown, or it doesn’t want to rent you ice skates because you didn’t bring
a plastic bag for your shoes. At other moments, it makes you say, “Mmm” and
“Yum,” and the little voice that likes to ask, “What the hell are you doing
here?” takes a nap.

So, back to the pimple. The second early morning reminder that St. Louis,
Missouri is 4,852 miles away was...bliny! Bliny translates to pancakes, but
that’s a poor equivalent. A blin is basically a crepe, similarly enjoyed
with anything from honey to ham and cheese wrapped in its spongy embrace.
Natasha decided we’d try blin’s brother, oladi, for a change, who is more
pancake-like in his nature save one crucial difference: kefir. You know
that stuff that is only found in eclectic dairy sections and is supposedly
very good for digestion due to the presence of living bacteria (oh my god),
but tastes spoiled at its freshest? That’s the stuff. Kefir (400ml or about
2 cups) + 2 eggs + 9 spoons of flour (Natasha was oddly specific) + a little
sugar + a little salt = good pancakes. Top them off with some raspberry jam
and the condensed milk you were saving for your Vietnamese coffee and your
breakfast might look like this:

But why stop there when you spend most of your work week eating diminishing
portions of whatever you whipped up over the weekend? We hit our local
market, which, like all good markets, unabashedly greets you with certain
odors the supermarkets assume you just can’t handle. No feet or
miscellaneous organs today, thank you. We made a beeline for the fish lady,
who sold us some red caviar and pickled herring without smiling at all.

Back in our kitchen we cracked a beer, buttered some bread and got generous
with the caviar.

This midday indulgence pumped us up for the task at hand, the culminating
dish of the day, which the Russians call, “seliodka pod shube,” and we will
happily refer to as, “herring under a fur coat.” To make this masterpiece,
you get your girlfriend, Natasha, to do the fancy knife work with the fish,
removing all those annoying little bones while you focus on the
no-less-honorable assignment of boiling some potatoes, carrots, and beets
until soft (but not too soft!). Natasha renders our fishy friend into tiny cubes while
I shred the veggies.

Everything then goes into a big bowl in this order: carrots, potatoes, diced
onions, herring, beets, mayonnaise (you thought we’d forget), beets,
mayonnaise. Then refrigerate until the mayonnaise turns red (like blood).

Bliny and caviar are for tourists. Get a spoon, dig into this, and you
might be Russian by the end of the year.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Last Night's Dinner

Last night, Edan and I made Fettuccine with Lemon, Hot Peppers and Pecorino Romano, from the Mario Batali cookbook (There really are no stinkers in the Mario Batali cookbook, incidentally). I'm here not to tell you how this meal tasted (It was good; not as spicy as the ingredients would suggest, but good nonetheless), but to serve as cautionary tale.

Since both of us were home in time to work on dinner, we decided to divide the labor between us. Edan chopped the red onion necessary for the dish, while I sliced and seeded the jalapeños. After finishing the onion, the phone rang, and Edan answered it. Meanwhile, I finished up the peppers and put on the water for the fettuccine. Maybe because I filled a pot with water, I suddenly needed to urinate. Badly. So I rinsed my hands off and took a piss. Relieved, I washed my hands and went back to work in the kitchen, sauteeing the red onions and chili flakes in olive oil. After a few moments, I began to feel an odd sensation. My penis began to burn ever so slightly. At first, I thought someone must've been talking about it (You really thought I'd let an opportunity to use the greatest Gary Shandling line of all time pass by?), but didn't stop. In fact, it got much more intense. As Ron Burgundy would say, "It was such a deep burn." I commenced a sped-up version of the pee-pee dance, clutching my groin and hopping up and down. Finally, I had to return to the bathroom and thoroughly wash my genitals. At last. Relief.

Why do I share this embarrassing story with you? So that others may learn from my mistakes. If you're working with jalapeños, wash your hands. With turpentine. For once, you're all happy there are no photos.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Links for the Weekend

  • Wolfgang Puck is no longer offering foie gras at any of his fine restaurants. But can I still get an order of Hepatitis A, that's what I want to know?
  • The L.A. Times recommends you make your own stock. I agree. Boudrain's been pushing this for years. I suspect that they are both right -- your food (soups, sauces, etc.) will taste much better if you make your own stock, rather than use that salty stuff they sell at the market. One problem, though. I've been trying to make veal stock for about six months, and I can't get my hands on enough veal bones to do it. I've checked all the supermarket butcher counters around, and nobody gets veal bones in quantity. Whatever happened to the stand-alone butcher shop in America, anyway? That's a subject for a longer, more thought out post.
  • The New York Times has a good article about Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa. It describes her risky move into the world of publishing (Would-be authors take note: Garten used $200,000 of her own money to hire a consultant and a publicist. All the people I know who know anything about the publishing industry recommend doing this as well. It'd be a better use of your six figure advance than that Lexus hybrid you were coveting) and her resistance to become a shrieking whore of consumerism. The Grinder uses the article to take a jab at everybody's favorite Food Network shill. I've always felt a little ambivalent about Ms. Garten. On the one hand, her East Hampton life with "Jeffrey" (former dean of the Yale School of Business, apparently) represents a completely unrealistic, Martha Stewart-esque mode of existence that can be off putting. Her food, though, is simple to make and damn tasty (although a little butter-happy, if you ask me). Edan and I have two of her cookbooks. They are among the best and most useful that we own.
  • What's the next stage in eco-conscious eating? Refrigeration optimization. Why waste the freon keeping your mustard cold when you can just leave it in the cupboard? While this article devolves into a laundry list of items that don't need to be refrigerated, it does have a few interesting tidbits. For instance, Ed Koch apparently refrigerates balsamic vinegar. The other problem with the article is that everybody knows that most subzero refrigerators are used to keep boxes of takeout cold. Just like most people with "professional kitchens" cook about once a month.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Blair's is tucked away on an unassuming strip of Rowena Avenue, in the backside of Silverlake (I always get confused when driving around Silverlake...strange, considering my otherwise stellar sense of direction, so I refer to this area as the "backside" of Silverlake...I'm not sure why), near such landmarks as The Coffee Table (soon to be high-rise condominiums) and Ivanhoe Elementary School. I'd heard both good and bad things about Blair's before getting the chance to try it myself last night (Thanks to my father-in-law, Bob, for the opportunity).

Divided into three rooms -- a bar, a main dining room, and a cafe (which doubles as a second dining room at night) -- Blair's offers the kind of dim, orange lighting and private little tables perfect for a date...or in my case, dinner with your wife and her father. The place was about half full, and they seated us immediately. The server, who was training another server, quickly asked us our drink choices. Having been seated only moments earlier, it's no surprise we didn't know yet. So we asked for a few minutes. Why is it that a few minutes inevitably turns into half an hour in these situations. I could just picture the waitress telling her trainee, "This is when we inexplicably disappear for thirty minutes. I don't care what you do -- smoke a cigarette, call your boyfriend, play some online poker -- but DO NOT go into the dining room." When they finally returned, we settled on a blended wine called "Coup d'Etat" from the Andrew Rich winery. It tasted like a Spanish wine to me, and sure enough, it claimed to be inspired by the wines of the Mediterranean, so score one for me.

We asked for the specials, and the waitress informed us that everything on the menu is special (Right, just like every little kid is special, a fiction of which I am no longer a believer). So there are no specials. And the menu is always the same. I later discovered that this is a point of some irritation for the regulars. Having never been there, it didn't bother me at all.

For starters, we decided to share the Maryland blue crab cake and a salad of roasted beets with avocado and goat cheese on mixed greens. The food came out very quickly, and was presented simply and elegantly. With too many greens and not enough beets, I thought the salad was a slight disappointment. The crab cake had a nice, herby flavor, but the consistency was chunkier than I like in a crab cake. Still, I gave the crab cake higher marks than the salad.

As a main course, Bob got the roasted sea bass and substituted out the Idaho potatoes, because he's no longer eating any "deadly nightshades" (which include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and nipplefruit (I didn't make that up)...apparently all of these foods are poisons that the modern human has evolved to be able to tolerate...Anyway, it's supposedly good for the joints. Ask Bob about it if you see him). Edan ordered the lamb T-bones with celery root puree, while I had the linguine with Italian sausage and artichokes. Yeah, I got the linguine. I know, it's boring, but that's what I wanted, so suck it. I didn't try Bob's sea bass, but he reported that it improved as he ate, which I think is a sign of a good dish. Maybe the sauces needed to seep more fully into the fish; I don't know. I thought Edan's lamb was better than my linguine, but she thought the opposite, so maybe we should've switched. The lamb was very tender and cooked exactly the way I like it -- red in the middle, but not cold. She said the sauce from the lamb lent some flavor to the celery root puree, which was otherwise bland. My linguine was good, but not incredible. The sausage was heavy on fennel, of which I am a staunch supporter, and there was a pleasant amount of broth at the bottom of the bowl, ensuring that the pasta was never dry. The one drawback of the dish was the congealed cheese resting atop it. I don't understand why restaurants do this. Why not sprinkle the cheese on at the table, like they do at Italian restaurants. That way it doesn't turn into a little cheese mound that the diner must cut with a knife.

After some wavering, we decided to get dessert. We settled on a dish called "Coffee and Donuts," homemade cinnamon and sugar donuts filled with vanilla cream and topped with a scoop of coffee ice cream. Folks, this was the highlight of the meal for me. The donuts were not your garden variety belly bombs, but rather light, airy pastries (almost like beignets) dusted with confectioner's sugar and filled with a delicious custard. The coffee ice cream was the perfect accompaniment. Like "sinkers and joe," the gourmet version. What an ending to the meal. Dessert is so underrated.

With entrees running from $18 to $37, and the starters all in the double digit zone as well, Blair's isn't cheap. I'd recommend it as a place to go for a special occasion or if you get a sudden windfall and feel like a good meal. Hey, you're gonna have to spend that NCAA tourney pool money someplace, right?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Baking is Fun

I like to bake. Some people don't. They find the precision it requires stifling. I like it. Sure it lacks the improvisational gratification that other types of cooking offer (you can't just toss some stuff together and have it come out right), but nothing rivals baking for its alchemy. The raw ingredients of a typical cake -- flour, baking powder, etc. -- often seem inedible until you combine them and let them work their magic. Baking requires patience, attention to detail, and most of all, faith. More times than not, I'll suffer a crisis of confidence in the middle of a baking recipe. My would-be cake will resemble a pile of wet mush, or the batter of my cookies will seem too chunky, not "satiny-smooth" as the recipe states it should look. "What have I done wrong?" I'll say (or something a little more R-rated, if the recipe really isn't going well). Usually, things work out, and an hour or two later I'm eating some cake or brownies or whatever. It hasn't gotten so bad that I had to throw anything out. Yet.

On Thursday, I decided to make two recipes (because I like a challenge), neither of which I'd tried before. The first, a coffee cake, was from Brunch: 100 Recipes from Five Points Restaurant, an excellent cookbook for people who enjoy eating well morning, noon, and night. While straightforward in nature, this coffee cake does need to rise for at least an hour. Being the crafty guy I am, I figured "Why waste that hour? Why not make some double deluxe chocolate cookies from another recent cookbook, Tartine?" Why not, indeed.

The day started out fine. I had made the dough for the coffee cake, which is a typical flour-eggs-salt-milk-sugar concoction, plus some active dry yeast. I set the bowl full of cake dough on top of the stove (the surface of our stove never drops below two hundred degrees, which is great for making dough rise. Not so great for cleaning it. You basically have to wear an asbestos suit to clean our stove), and started to make the cookies. Of course, I hadn't bought enough butter (The totally uninteresting back story, which I'll tell you now, is that I had bought way, way too much butter the last time I went on a baking jag, and I think I felt like that stock of butter would never run out. I was wrong). OK, minor setback. I went to the corner store, bought the butter I needed to proceed, and got back to work. They weren't kidding when they called these "double chocolate." Basically, melt three good dark chocolate bars (85% cacao, baby!) and dump about half a cup of cocoa powder into the batter, and you'll get a sense of how chocolaty these are. (Side Note: At this point, I had been baking for at least an hour. Have I mentioned how great it is to have a good mixer? Now I have.) I dropped them onto the baking sheets and put them in the oven.

And then the crisis of faith hit. The recipe says to cook them for seven minutes, until they are just firm to the touch. But at seven minutes, I didn't think they were firm at all. So I let them go another two minutes. When I pulled them out, they looked fine, but closer examination revealed that those on the bottom baking sheet were a little burned on the bottom. After tasting the cookies, I think they were all too dry. They definitely require a big glass of milk as accompaniment.Dry, out of focus cookies.

Coffee cake as gooey mess.

Because the cookies ended up eh, there was an undue amount of pressure on the coffee cake. Luckily, the hard part of the caking process was over -- the dough had risen. This coffee cake has no gooey filling, as some do, but it features a topping of cinnamon, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. After applying the topping and letting the cake rise another half hour in the pan, I threw it in the oven. What emerged forty minutes later was perfect. The cake was light, with a fluffy airiness that wasn't the least bit dry. I ate a big piece of it the next morning with coffee. I wish you could all have some. The lesson, as always -- keep the faith. You shall be rewarded with coffee cake.
Coffee cake. Finally.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Few Quick Things

  • If you're like me, you have hours and hours of free time everyday. I like to fill my days watching cheese age. Of course, I also watched a video with the headline "Monkey and Dog are Best Friends" about five times. (via The Grinder)
  • Every time I leave the supermarket, the Girl Scouts hit me up to buy more of their delicious little cookies. Because I am a man of superior discipline, I've only succumbed once, getting a box of Thin Mints and a box of Samoas (Damn those Samoas are good). The Bon Appetit blog has some nice looking recipes for ice cream pie that will get rid of your surplus Girl Scout cookies in a quick and delicious manner.
  • EatingLA has a review of Il Capriccio Pizzeria. I agree with most of the points, but I still think it needs a little more cheese.
  • Tomorrow I will try to post a review of Square One, where Edan and I had breakfast on Sunday, but I make no promises. I'm planning on watching the NCAA Tournament and baking. Because that's how I roll.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Notes From a Fromager -- Los Quesos de Espana

More often than you would expect, people come into the store where I work, glance briefly at the hundreds of cheeses piled up around them, and then ask, wide-eyed and hopeful, “Do you have Manchego?” They always get excited when I say yes, sometimes clapping their hands and doing a little victory dance. But, really, is it much of a surprise that we sell Manchego, perhaps the most popular cheese after brie and cheddar? Come on, people, that’s like going to a bookstore and asking if they’ve heard of The Great Gatsby! Manchego, thanks in a large part to Spain’s push to publicize and export it, has been canonized.

Hailing from Don Quixote’s hometown of La Mancha, Manchego is a sheep’s milk cheese made from, that’s right, Manchego sheep. At my work, we sell a young and an aged version, the latter being much sharper and saltier than its younger counterpart, the texture a little bit flakier. I love lugging these wheels of cheese, which are covered in a braided wax that gets nice and greasy on the bottom. It’s just so cheesy.

If you’ve grown tired of Manchego, I suggest Zamorano, which resembles Manchego in appearance and texture, but is made from two different sheep breeds—Churra and Castellana. Zamorano is also unpasteurized, giving it a more complex flavor: buttery, nutty, sometimes even a little spicy.

Roncal is another spectacular raw sheep’s milk cheese. At the store last week we had an extra-dry wheel, which proved challenging to cut (it crumbled at the knife’s touch), but was also supremely tasty. Roncal comes from Lacha and Aragonesa sheep in the Navarra region of Spain, and it’s made year-round, the shepherds (or whatever they’re called nowadays) moving from one part of the Roncal valley to another, so that their herds can enjoy uninterrupted grazing. Roncal has a meatier flavor than either Manchego or Zamorano; it reminds me a little of Pecorino Romano, without the nose-flaring sharpness.

Pair these cheeses with Tempranillo wine, a few slices of Jamón Serrano, some membrillo (a.k.a. quince paste) and figs, and you’ve got yourself a fabulous Spanish cheese plate. ¿Valé?


Monday, March 12, 2007

Il Capriccio Pizzeria

Wood fire pizza is as hot in Los Angeles right now as...Jennifer Hudson (It's a gift, I know. I really ought to be writing for one of those Access Hollywood-type shows). First, Pizzeria Mozza, the joint venture of Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton, opened. The hottest restaurant opening in town, with reservations booked for months in advance. The stars, it appears, are off their no-carb diets, as Jennifer Aniston, Topher Grace, and more have tried Mozza's eclectic pizza offerings. While some people have derided the wood-fired crust, claiming it's more like a bagel than pizza, most people have been impressed. Of course, I haven't had the opportunity to go yet. Edan went for lunch on her birthday, and sampled the egg and guanciale pie (egg, ribbons of ruby radicchio, thinly sliced guanciale (which is cured pig jowl), and a bagna cauda (a warm bath of garlic, anchovies and olive oil). She reported back that the egg on the pizza was surprisingly good, and the guanciale was delicious, eventually inspiring us to put it in a pasta dish. Oh, and she saw Randy Jackson from "American Idol" having lunch with a would-be starlet. You don't get that at Pizza Hut. I got to try leftovers of the pizza her mother got, a goat cheese and sausage concoction that was still good a day later. Certainly, Mozza offers something other than your average pizza experience. The crust is thin in the center and bubbly on the edges, almost like a lightly crisped pita bread. The cheese is relatively sparse, and there's not really a sauce to speak of on most of the pies. (Keep in mind that I'm getting all of this from one slice of leftovers and some word of mouth. If anyone has actually been there, please write in and let us know what you thought).

A few weeks ago, I noticed a storefront opening on Sunset Blvd not far from our apartment. It was called Il Capriccio Pizzeria. I wondered, is this the same Il Capriccio that I've eaten at on Vermont Avenue, the one that's about 75 feet from my front door? Then a post popped up on Erin's Kitchen confirming that it was one and the same, and I was officially interested. Edan and I decided to walk over and get a pie on Saturday night.

In retrospect, it was a mistake to walk, since Il Capriccio Pizzeria delivers. While it was a beautiful California night, we took Omar Little with us. That meant dragging him at times, waiting for him to smell every single vertical object in our path (including pedestrians), and stopping him from eating cigarette butts, which apparently taste like pumpkin pie to him. After looking over the menu, we decided on something called the "Salsiccia" pie -- Italian sausage, garlic, rosemary, olive oil, tomato sauce and mozzarella. We also got a mixed salad.

The restaurant is cute and looked surprisingly like a pizzeria, albeit a very new, very clean, very modern pizzeria. There's a counter where the diner places his order, and a big wood-burning oven behind it. One wall features an orange-tinted collage of photographs of Italy, while another wall had specialty goods for sale (olive oil, exotic pastas, and some gourmet chocolate bars). The orange wall is a bit intense, and the chairs seem out of place (They're the kind of white molded plastic chairs one might find in a Korean boba cafe; I'd bet my life they're from Ikea), but it's still a pretty cute place. But we had the dog with us, so we got our pie to go.

Once we got back to the apartment, we sat down to watch some TV and eat some pizza. For all its pretension, the "Salsiccia" is nothing more than a sausage pizza. It's OK with me -- I could eat sausage at every meal -- but we were hoping for a little something special. The crust was very chewy, but I wonder if it would've been better either in the restaurant or delivered by a driver with an insulated bag. The sausage was the ground kind, not little discs. While I'm fine with either, I prefer the discs. Being wood fire pizza, there wasn't much cheese. Since they weren't knocking us out with fancy toppings, more cheese would've been nice. And neither of us tasted even a hint of rosemary. Fairly disappointing. The mixed salad was bagged baby spring mix (I know it well) and some chopped tomatoes. Blah. I'm willing to give Il Capriccio Pizzeria another shot, probably via the delivery man, but I was less than enthused about their pizza this time around.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Dog Bites Rachel Ray

Rachel Ray -- Food Network personality, Bourdain bete noir, and minor irritant -- was attacked by a stray dog in Union Square Park while walking her pit-bull mix, Isaboo. Apparently the stray acted aggressively towards Isaboo (Seriously? Isaboo?), and when Ray stepped in to stop it, the stray took a bite out of her. Now, I'm no great fan of Rachel Ray; in fact, I think they use her show during interrogations in Guantanamo Bay. But I feel bad for her. I think getting attacked by a stray dog would be positively terrifying, and I hope it never happens to me. But I do have a few quick observations:

1. I hope Isaboo tore that dog apart when it went for poor Rachel. Otherwise, what kind of bitch-ass pit-bull lets its owner get attacked? Isn't that why you get a pit-bull in the first place? Unless that dog was a mastiff or an Akita (those things are badass), Isaboo should've been able to take him.

2. There's nothing worse than the yuppie pit-bull owner who insists that pit-bulls are "totally gentle and just misunderstood." Pit-bulls-are-totally-gentle-and-just-misunderstood-guy is my least favorite 21st century urban inhabitant. (And before you start telling me about how your family dog was a pit-bull mix and how it saved you from a fire and got you into Bucknell, save it. I like pit-bulls. Most of them are pretty sweet. I just don't like pit-bulls-are-totally-gentle-and-just-misunderstood-guy. Take your Jack Spade messenger bag and Kettle One vodka and go back to Park Slope.) I'd almost prefer the gangster who taught his pit bull to attack anybody wearing the color blue. Almost.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Mexico City

I'd been to Mexico City once before (the restaurant, not the actual city, which I hear is beautiful), and I'd liked it a lot. If I remember correctly, I had the ropa vieja, a traditional dish of pulled pork marinated in all sorts of chilies and spices, and I like it. Edan had carne asada tacos, about which she raved. When we found that we hadn't sat down at a restaurant and eaten together in a few weeks (we've been doing a lot of takeout), we decided to try Mexico City again.

Mexico City is divided into two rooms, which cuts the ambiance in half. It looks to me like they added the second room, cutting a big hole in the wall that divided them, and just went with it. The results are very odd. I kept looking at the whole in the wall, which is shaped like a big mirror, feeling slightly surprised I wasn't seeing myself. Both times we've been there we've been seated right at the border of the two rooms, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Edan spent half the meal trying to eavesdrop on the women seated directly behind her, while I spent the other half trying to ignore the table next to me, who were boisterously discussing politics (ugh). This is the main problem with Mexico City -- it is loud. Something about the design of the place (concrete floors, maybe?) makes it echoic. It's not loud like a sports bar, more like a crowded subway station. This might work for a diner, but it's not quite right for a place like Mexico City.

The other thing that isn't quite right is the service. Both times we ate there, the food was a little slow coming out. The servers are perfectly friendly, but they're not terribly good at slinging food in a timely manner (Minor tangent: The first time we ate at Mexico City, I successfully guessed the name of our server, Victor. It just came to me. Usually, I'm totally off, like the guy's name is Justin, and I'm guessing Alexander. Not that time. Victor. I just nailed it. So of course when we went back and had a female server, I went with Victoria. And you know what? Her name was Esther. I guess I went to the Victor/Victoria well one time too many).

So what about the food, you say? To start, they serve very good homemade chips and salsa. The red salsa is terrific -- very spicy, but with subtle flavors (and they don't charge you for it, like some places ahem-Malo-ahem). For an entree, I got the plato de Mexica, a sampler of sorts that came with a chicken taco, a cheese quesadilla, a chicken tostada, and a few other things, including what seemed like a cheese empanada. Edan again got the carne asada tacos. I thought the taco, quesadilla, and empanada were all good, but not earth shattering. There was some sort of taquito on my plate that was very bad. Bland, dry chicken encased in a greasy tortilla shell. I had to drown in it in spicy red salsa to get any flavor at all. Edan's tacos were apparently good, although by the time the food arrived, she was deeply embroiled in our neighbors' discussion and couldn't be reached for comment.

Mexico City is definitely a notch up food-wise from El Coyote, our other Mexican food standby, and it's significantly closer to our apartment. It's definitely more expensive (for two of us, tax and tip included, it was $43), and the margaritas are nowhere near as strong as El Coyote's, though. That being said, the food is lighter, with a complexity of flavor that's lacking from most other Mexican restaurants I've tried, and they have lots of odd Oaxacan dishes on the menu (next time I'm getting the pepper stuffed with chopped beef and pork and chopped apples and pears, covered in a creamy walnut sauce; I just didn't have the balls this time). So while the service and ambiance aren't terrific, I like the food enough to make it a regular place. Of course, not everyone shares my opinion.