Last weekend was a busy one. Not much time to put my feet up and enjoy the Sunday paper. Saturday night Rick and I took ourselves out to dinner, something we haven’t done in a while. January hit the ground running this year. Fully charged with kinetic energy it seemed to pick up speed with each succeeding day. Feel like I’ve been run over by a riding lawn mower, pieces of me scattered all over the state. I’m hoping February will be featuring a bit tamer fare on its schedule of events.
It was the perfect night for date night. Nothing was defrosted for dinner as I spent most of the day cooking for Super Bowl the following day. Hungry, going out seemed like the perfect plan. As beautiful an area as we live in, the downside of living here is all the excellent restaurants in the area are at least 45 minutes from home. Now, I understand this is not a trip requiring hotel reservations or luggage, but when you’re of a mood to run out and grab a quick bite, the drive can be enough of a buzz kill to encourage you to take something out of the freezer, put your feet up, and forget the whole thing. On Saturday, however, we were determined.
Our restaurant of choice doesn’t take reservations. Located in the midst of a college town, it is mostly staffed with college students, as well as largely populated with same. Knowing there would be a wait on a Saturday we drove in early. Even at that, we found ourselves waiting outside with a pager placated by the usual promise from the perky hostess of a “15 minute wait”. Not being our first rodeo we knew this meant our table would be ready closer to 40, which it was.
Super Bowl pre-partiers in the bar swelled the noise decibels to a notch above the sound barrier. Seated by the kitchen, servers behind our booth carrying empty trays into the kitchen screamed “corner” at the top of their lungs as they passed by to avoid a mid-air collision with those coming the opposite way trays loaded with food. Needing libation at this point, I signaled for a vodka and tonic with a twist and one was provided.
Two waitresses approached our table, one a trainee it was explained, the second the trainer. Having owned a restaurant I have infinite patience with new employees, knowing first hand how difficult those first days can be. New hires must memorize the menu offerings and prices, make themselves knowledgeable about the ingredients in each dish, all the while becoming familiar with the kitchen and staff dynamics and whatever restaurant geared computer system is in place. Stir this in a pot with first day jitters and missteps are generally unavoidable. Rick ordered the huge steak topped off with an equally large marinated mushroom depicted in the cardboard ad on the table. I ordered the steak and seafood special. Yum. A teetotaler, Rick ordered a soda plus several appetizers to share.
After about ten minutes, our appetizers arrived. Across the aisle from us was a family with three children. No food evident yet to distract them, all three apprentice monsters were actively engaged in sending their parents to an early grave. The youngest disappeared and reappeared beneath the table every minute or two like a Jack-in-the-Box on steroids while the two older ones were fully immersed in seeing how many pieces of bread could be lobbed at one another before their father flicked them on the head. Seated in the middle was an older woman who I assumed to be the grandmother guzzling a beer as if she had five minutes to live and this would be the last malt liquor she’d ever taste. “Corner”, I heard as another waiter passed, immediately followed by a deafening crash. Hmmm, a glitch in their highly sophisticated system.
Thankfully, Rick and I are rarely short of conversation because I believe I celebrated a birthday before dinner arrived. In the meantime our trainee stopped by to refill Rick’s soda, unfortunately with the water pitcher, and clear our dishes. Fighting over scraps of bread on the table, our eagerly awaited meals were placed before us. Mine appeared exactly as shown on the menu. A skewer of perfectly cooked scallops and seasoned shrimp nestled in a bed of seasonal veggies seated next to a juicy steak with a fully dressed baked potato. Rick’s dinner was also the same as pictured, except for the steak. The steak in the photo was thick, plump and juicy. The one resting on his plate looked more like the sole of a well used all-weather boot. It was about 1 1/2″ thick and was oddly corrugated. Cutting into it, the reportedly medium rare meat didn’t show a hint of pink. A crook of Rick’s finger in the server’s direction signalled this wasn’t going to work, wasn’t going to work at all.
After being inspected by our ladies in waiting, it was determined this was not as ordered. Apologies were issued and the plate was dispatched to the kitchen for rework. Moments later the restaurant manager, John, a young nervous looking type already combing over his rapidly dwindling hairline, arrived at our table. After profusely apologizing he assured Rick his reworked meal would be out in two shakes of lamb’s tail (in this case cow’s tail) and insisted on providing a dish of clam chowder compliments of the house. Yea.
Insisting I eat before mine got cold, I dug into my dinner. I didn’t enjoy it as much knowing Rick didn’t have his, so offered him bites along the way. The soup long eaten, and what remained of the oyster crackers having disappeared, no new steak had arrived. Finally, the trainee came by to box up my dinner and Rick’s dinner was at last served. Really? This steak looked beautiful, plump and juicy as promised. Cutting into it, unfortunately it was raw. This was not going to end well.
John arrived with a new apology at the tardiness of the recook, and the unfortunate fact that they hadn’t, in fact, cooked it at all and offered to comp Rick’s meal. Rick thanked the man and explained we had owned a restaurant. As an FYI, he thought John should know the first steak served was not anything like the one now sitting on the table, but looked more like one you might pound, bread and cover with gravy. Rick was not slated to work for the diplomatic corp. After some deliberation John, obviously having nothing else to bring to the table, came up with the explanation all cows are not constructed equally so it is this lack of continuity that probably led to the problem. This, of all things during the evening besides the company, made the dinner worth the drive. I must remember that the next time I get an odd-looking hamburger. Perhaps the meat came from one of those dreaded non-uniform bovines. Words to live by.
6 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 4 oz. can diced green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. sea salt
Puree 5 of the tomatoes, onion and garlic in food processor. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over med. heat. Add the tomato puree, chopped tomato, and diced chiles and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add lime juice. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
6 poblano chiles
3 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
4 large egg whites plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Place chiles 1/3 of the oven below the broiler on cookie sheet covered with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. Turn frequently until charred on all sides. Place in resealable bag and close. Allow to sit for 10 minutes to steam. Remove the skin.
Make a horizontal slit across the top of chile below the stem (leave stem intact). At middle of slit slice lengthwise down to the tip of the pepper. Splay pepper and remove seeds. Discard.
Place the cheese in a bowl, then add the oregano, crumbling and rubbing it with your fingers to release its flavor. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Fill each chile with about 1/4 cup cheese mixture. Fold in the sides to cover the filling, then thread 2 toothpicks across the seam to form an X. You will probably need to make a second toothpick X to secure each chile so the filling doesn’t leak out when you fry.
Beat the egg whites with a mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the egg yolk and beat 3 more mins.
Heat 1″ vegetable oil in a deep skillet over med.-high heat.
Place flour in a shallow dish. Season well with salt and pepper. Dredge peppers in flour.
Holding peppers by the stem dip into egg batter, allowing excess batter to drip off.
Cook in batches of 2, turning once until golden brown, 1-2 mins. per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve with warm sauce.