Tuesday, April 07, 2015

finding my place in the art

The best art is fresh -- but inevitable.

Leonard Bernstein may have coined the phrase.  Or he may have stolen it, just as I have.  But it is true about much in art.

And, because, food is a form of art, that little truth applies to what shows up on my plate.

From time to time, I have written here that I am not very fond of most Mexican food.  Even though its ingredients are fresh in one sense, their combination seldom is.  At least, in these parts.  (And, before anyone says it, I concede I have not plumbed the subtleties of Oaxaca.)

The result seldom feels inevitable -- merely predictable.

On Sunday night, I had a very good Easter dinner at Papa Gallo's.  The choice was between turkey and ham.  I could not make up my mind, so, I had half and half and combined it with scalloped potatoes and steamed vegetables. 

The kitchen sent out four ramekins -- gravy, applesauce, cranberry sauce, and a chunky apply compote.  And I had the pleasure of creating my own taste combinations.

Yesterday I returned to try an experiment.  I love open-faced turkey sandwiches covered with gravy made with leftover turkey.  What I call the Newberry's special.

In my travels, I have learned that when a type of food is unfamiliar to local cooks, it is difficult to describe what you expect as an outcome.  My experiment with chiliburgers in Mexican restaurants has been -- well, fascinating.

I described what I wanted to the waiter.  Two pieces of bread topped with leftover turkey, and all of that topped with gravy.  I knew all of the ingredients were on hand from the previous night.

The chef came out to make certain he understood what I wanted.  Two pieces of bread topped with leftover turkey, and all that topped with gravy.  All in my child Spanish.

Even though my chiliburger experiments have not resulted in anything remotely similar to what you would get at the Court Street Dairy Bar, they have all been quite serviceable meals.  None of them have been sent back for a re-do.  And, at least one, though not a chiliburger, turned out to be quite a good dinner.

What appeared on my plate yesterday was not what I would call an open-faced sandwich.  The bread had been toasted and the turkey and gravy were added before the combination was sandwiched together. 

I chuckled.  Added some gravy.  And took a bite. 

It may not have been an open-faced turkey sandwich, but it was delicious.  No, not just delicious.  It was extraordinary.  It tasted like a dish from one of those trendy bistros on the Left Bank.  The scalloped potato patty made a perfect topper.

Now I have another option when the leftover turkey bug hits me.  Knowing the sauces that Papa Gallo's offers up, I could have an almost unlimited number of options.

There is a good lesson for me here.  If I really want my food to be fresh, but inevitable, I had best be prepared to enjoy the inevitably of the chef-artist, and not necessarily my tendency to slip into Stalinist end-directed dishes.

A world of choices awaits.  Especially in Mexico.

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