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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Born(e) in the USA - Some Hits

With the weather turning colder and pumpkins in the air, I figure if I don't recap my late August/early Sept. foray through the American southwest, it just ain't going to get done.  Already, my memories of tumbling tumbleweeds, cacti, mesas, and soaring vistas seem more hazy hallucinations than concrete visions seared in my mind's eye.  I don't know why Co. and I ended up where we ended up, but I have vague memories of waking up in the middle of a bleak February evening last year in a cold sweat screaming, 'My country for a decent taco.'  [You can imagine a couple exclamation points after that scream - I can't type them myself because of a personal pledge I took sometime last year to accept the fact that one should use no more than one exclamation mark during one's lifetime, a figure I had far exceded shortly after I learned to write back there in grade school a hundred and fifty years ago.  We live in an era of purposeful misspellings ('ur' for 'your,' etc.) and far too many exclamation points and emoticons.  I don't know, maybe as I get older, I'm far less shocked by anything, and so I don't have to pretend I am anymore with pathetic indicators of 'gasp.'  So sue me.  I digress.

Getting back to those taco-infused nightmares, they assuredly had something to do - no, a lot to do, with the sorry state of Mexican food in Paris.  I know, people are always suggesting that Anahuacalli is the real deal, and the New York Times hyped Hacienda del Sol (Anahuacalli's little brother), and though they may not be horrid like most of the Tex-Mex pretenders in Paris, I think I'll pass.  I tried Anahuacalli back around when it first opened - I think it must be about 20 years ago - and despite a decent, yet hardly spectacular meal during one of my youthful-period birthdays, I thought it was pretty low to try to rip off a guy on his birthday by spectacularly overcharging on the wine just because I couldn't fake a decent French accent at the time.  I can assure you, though, I have never dipped into a bowl of nacho chips on a French table that did not include a bowlful of stale chips.  Maybe the French incorrectly assume that nacho chips are supposed to have the consistency and taste of pieces of cardboard, or, maybe they're just stale.  Enough complaining.  At least I had some brief excursions to Monterrey, Mexico over the years to temporarily slake my cravings for the real thing.  But my Mexican period has passed and so it was that Co. and I boarded a plane to Salt Lake City, Utah to start our five-state swing, ending up in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Let's start with the 'hits.'


There are only three reasons to visit Salt Lake City.  The first was our primary incentive - to have a direct flight from Paris that would put us close to the area of the southwest that we wanted to visit.  The other two reasons, which are now our other incentives, are the restaurants Red Iguana and Red Iguana 2, which we visited after our arrival in town and on the night before our departure, respectively.  Before turning to the Iguanas, I know what you're thinking.  As I write this entry, the US is a mere 10 days away from the 2012 Presidential election, with Barack Obama and Willard "Mitt" Romney going down to the wire.  Of course, given the cyber-perpetuality of blogs, at least for the foreseeable future or nuclear holocaust, whichever comes first, this likely will all be old news by the time you get to read this.  You either will be somewhere along another four years of "at least he won't screw anything up really bad" Obama or "lord, why did they ever vote for "flip-flopper, I sure had you fooled during the campaign, didn't I" Willard.  And if it is indeed, lord help us, the latter, then the world will probably have had it's fill of Mormons.  Well, I was in Salt Lake City a grand total of two days and believe me, no offense intended, I have already had my fill of Mormons, especially all those, like pod people, who kept approaching us in the town center asking if we had read their little "On Becoming a Mormon" pamphlet.  Just in case you ever find yourself in that situation, I am going to tell you how you get a pod person to go away without being rude and with as little fuss as possible.  When they approach and ask, "And how are you today, Sir?," answer without missing a beat, "I'm glad you asked - actually, not so good, my hemorrhoids are really, really acting up today."

On to Iguana(s).  Unfortunately, you can't reserve at either venue, the second opening up in the wake of the overwhelming success of Iguana 1, just a couple blocks away.  That means waiting outside on the sidewalk - or if you are lucky, the single bench available for sitting, in the dry heat for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  But bring some reading material and engage in some southwest US people watching and you'll find the time will pass quickly.  We ended up at a table near the back in the Iguana, which by all appearances, seemed more intimate than the more expansive front room.  Serenaded by some friendly musicians, who took requests, we also had a chance to engage in a lively discussion with the owner, who came to our table after learning that we had come from France.  I started off with a couple choices off the extensive tequilla menu, while Co. played it cool with some house sangria.  Given my procrastination at writing this entry, I can't really get into all the details of what we ordered - now mostly long forgotten - but I do have some photos.  And I can say, I remember vividly the excellent, fiery Mole Amarillo ($15.70) that I had at the Red Iguana.  It was "fiery" as advertised and required a few more tequillas to quench.  Where do you think those hemorrhoids came from, anyway. . . man, come on, just kidding.  And by the way, the nacho chips were fresh and crunchy - not anything like the tasteless cardboard I had come to loathe.


To add a little spice to Mexican dining life, we checked out the Iguana around the corner before our departure from the US.  It was definitely a different experience in terms of ambience, but the food was represented by the same "killer' (in a good way) Mexican cuisine as the original RI.  This time, rather than wait for a table on the veranda, we took a table after only a 10- minute wait by the window looking out on the veranda at the end of a cavernous room, big enough to serve as an airplane hangar and filled to the brim with young, boisterous Utah diners.  This time, I dug into the Red Pipian, chicken with a pumpkin seed sauce, not as fiery as last time, but as tasty.  The waiter made a mistake understanding the tequilla shot I had asked for, bringing instead a Cazadores Marguarita, which I drank heartily without nary a complaint, at least until followed up with the unadulterated stuff.

Both dinners for two, including drinks, ran a little over $50 each, not including tips.  Not a bad start and finish to the US trip.

736 West North Temple
Salt Lake City, UT
tel.  801-322-1489

866 W. South Temple
tel. 801-214-6050

(By the way, these street addresses are not a misprints - for some reason, Utahans like to confuse visitors by giving directions like, 'just go down to north 13 west Main street, it's right around the corner from east north 17 west".  I really don't know why they do this, but just remember this on election day.  It could be a Mormon thing.)

And, yes, there is a Red Iguana 3, located in the city center at City Creek Center Food Court, 28 S. State Street.


Right on the heels of the Iguanas, another big hit came in Kanab, Utah at Rocking V, a short drive from our recommended B&B, The Victorian Inn (190 North 300 West; 435-644-8660).  Now, other than its proximity to Bryce Canyon and Zion Park, V may be the only reason to visit Kanab, a town with exceptionally little to offer, and which boasts a speed trap, which isn't really a speed trap, on the main strip - a police car with a mannequin "cop" on the front seat - boasting a Hitler-like mustache, no less - to dissuade drivers from passing too quickly through Kanab lest they miss the town's missing delights.  Wait, I'm not being fair.  There is a cool little Western trinkets/clothing shop/cafe - a tourist bus delight - within walking distance of Rocking.  What's cool about it is the Western movie sets museum in the back, including some sets from Clint 'the empty chair' Eastwood's 1976 Western opus, Outlaw Josey Wales.  Visit at night to get the real effect.

At any rate, as I mentioned, Rocking V turned out to be a pretty good dining experience.  Hussled upstairs past the filled lower dining room - boy, they eat early in the US - we were attentively served by Jennie, our waitress, or was it Ginnie, no, maybe it was Minnie, who the hell remembers.  Let's call her Jennie, and why not?  Jennie made it a point - endlessly - to complain about the crowd downstairs every chance she got, and to commend our luck for being in the 'quiet' room - a rather spacious upstairs space.  The $13 smoked trout appetizer (I can't say 'entree' here because we're in America in this installment, where an entree is an appetizer and a plate is an entree, and did I mention they really eat early in the US?) was pretty good, despite being exceptionally against my doctor's orders for the trip - no smoked fish, he intoned, rather ominously.  Oops.  It was at V's that I had my first fish tacos.  Yes, it is true.  No longer am I a fish taco ($18) virgin.  It was time.  Avidly looking forward to losing it after reading Don Winslow's Savages (now probably destroyed as an Oliver Stone over-the-top adaptation), this was the first of many fish taco meals I had during our trip.  I know, I know, fish tacos in the US West are probably equivalent to Big Macs or hot dogs in the East, but what are you going to do?  Let's put it this way - now that I've had my fill of fish tacos and can go on with the rest of my life, I think I appreciate the tacos I had during the trip more now than then, especially now that I've had the opportunity to make my own, using several recipes, and they are never as good as the ones I had in the US.  I guess the proof is in the sauce.  Co. had the southwest corn trout ($21), followed by a caramel pecan cheese cake - to some it is fish tacos, to others it is pecan cheese cakes, if you know what I mean - all washed down with a decent Cabernet ($33).

The tab, with one tomato-based soup and a shared caramel pecan cheese cake came to $104.  Poor Jennie, up and down those steps, plodded through, wearing her game face, generally managing to be helpful and amiable.

We checked out Escobar's the following night, far cheaper and with a significantly toned-down atmosphere for some hard-core basic and fundamentally decent Mexican food.  It might have been Rosa Escobar herself who plopped herself down next to Co. at our picnic-table like table and gave her the lowdown on the differences between enchiladas, tacos, and burritos, or it may have been Henricata, or Maria, but it definitely was not Jennie.  But if you want to drink, it better be beer.  The kind of place you go after work to unwind.  It wasn't Mexico, but the next best thing.

97 W. Center
Kanab, UT
tel. 435-644-8001

373 eAST 300 South
Kanab, UT
tel. 435-644-3739
To be continued.

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