Wednesday, August 31, 2011

San Antonio: King William: Taco Haven

Since my parents and I would be in San Antonio for about 24 hours together, my mom wanted us to try out a restaurant she'd read about from Alison Cook, a food writer at the Houston Chronicle.  It's funny, back when I was in newspaper my senior year of high school, my mother wanted me to ask the teacher if I could write restaurant reviews for the school's paper, and here I am 7-8 years later, writing a restaurant review blog.

Anyone who knows anything about that newspaper situation will know my mother's idea wasn't going to happen.  I stayed on during this teacher's regime, not having a better class to take during that time slot.  I happily spent my time as a lowly "reporter," shitting out one lame, bare minimum requirement fulfilling article per week in about 4 minutes, and then spending the rest of the time finding new ways to get around the school's internet blocking mechanisms in order to play around on ebaumsworld.  Does that site still exist?  Apparently, but I don't think anyone actually visits it.  I did actually spend more than 4 minutes on each article, but the rest of the time was spent editing the article so that the first letter of each line would spell out a hateful message about that ignorant teacher.  Once, before she drove almost everybody in that class to quit by making their lives miserable there because she was mad at them for things like wanting to write an article coming out against racial and sexually oriented discrimination in our high school, she got mad at us for talking "too much" in class.  She proceeded to print out a few hundred sheets of paper that said "Your (sic) Busted."  She had actually printed out sheets with the message on each paper 4 times, once in each corner,  and had cut them all up into fourths.  Instead of acting like an adult or even a mature peer and just talking to us about whatever issues she had with us, she decided she'd just walk to our little mailboxes and put in one of these little passive aggressive misspelled notes.  Probably because every time she tried to engage in an argument with any of us, we won, and she got frustrated and confused.

My mom has been suggesting I read Alison Cook for a while, occasionally sending me articles I usually don't read or only begin to read before realizing I don't need to read about one more restaurant to add to my "one day" list.

Cook is apparently one of those food writers who likes to was poetic, even about down-to-Earth deliciousnesses at Taco Haven such as "2 eggs, papas con chile, barbacoa, beans and quesadilla," which in her article become "a lush landscape of scarlet-coated huevos rancheros by a lake of refried beans, a hillock of chile-laced home fries and a mountain of crisp-edged barbacoa threads. Laid on top are twin half-moons of handmade corn tortillas folded over white cheese and pan-fried to a burnished, bubbly finish–cheese quesadillas at their most elemental."  


It gets even flowerier after that, so now I was itching to see if the reality behind Cook's prose was going to inspire me with anything near her level of enthusiasm and impressed-ness.  Though no matter what I eat in the future, if I ever use the word "hillock" on this blog, someone please come and shoot me in the face.

My mom, dad and I found the place after I impressed my mother with the fact that with just my iPhone and the knowledge that Alison Cook had once written a glowing review about some breakfast place with tacos in San Antonio, it took me about 2 minutes to locate the restaurant in question.

One of a number of cute signs on the store's outer walls.


As we entered, I saw that the place was just as Cook described, "cavernous" with lots of fun art on the walls.  The restroom was similarly well decorated, though it smelled really bad in there - a sewage problem kind of really bad.

They didn't put any chips and salsa on our table, so Mom waved them over and asked after them, after all, what kind of self-respecting Mexican restaurant in Texas doesn't plop down endless piles of chips and salsa starting even before they get glasses of water to your table?

The salsa was just two steps above Pace, which I mean as a pretty bad insult, by the way.  Where the hell was the cilantro?  The chiles of any kind whatsoever?
I had to add some of the spicy tomatillo sauce in order to get some kick in the salsa.  But Cook hadn't mentioned the salsa, so maybe this was just the Haven's weak point.  Such an important point, though...

When people know you're a foodie and you go to a restaurant with one dish in particular that is a foodie duty dish, the one featured in an article or the expensive and hyper-indulgent dish or hyper-expensive and haute-est cuisine type dish there, they know you're going to be compelled to order that, so they can order what they want to eat and get to try yours as well.  Sometimes I use people as pawns in my games of trying to get to eat what I want and try every dish I need to try as well, so I can't really complain.

The problem is when the dish I have to order contains about 1800 calories, and I really would prefer to eat a few breakfast tacos.

For instance, because it was really a given that I had to try the meal that caused Cook such ecstasy, my mother was free to order Ralphie's Special:

 Deep Fried CornTortillas, filled withPollo topped with Cabbage, Cilantro & Tomatoes $7.50
These were wonderful.  Deep frying corn tortillas is always a good plan.  This is a simple dish, its constituent parts doing all the work, but everything was done well.  And I was able to squirrel away a bit of her cilantro for my dish.

I of course had the Reggie's Weekend Special:

2 eggs, papas con chile,  barbacoa, beans and quesadilla - $7.50
It really was a mountain of food, but neither the word "landscape" nor "hillock" entered my mind, and the quesadillas weren't exactly bubbling when they arrived, though they were definitely full of butter and melted cheese.  The barbacoa was fine.  As were the refried beans.  Maybe if I'd had some of the "vivid pico de gallo" Cook mentions, I would've enjoyed this a lot more.  There should've been some served with our chips.  There should always be a heap of cilantro on my plate.  I mean, jesus (feel free to read that as "hey-zeus", just give me something to interrupt the greasy carb and saturated fat fest on this plate.

Let's take a look at these "elemental" "half-moons"
Speaking of moons, I've decided Cook was probably high when she ate this.  That's the only explanation I can come up with.  Well, the other one involves her being a douche, so let's stick with the former conclusion.

My dad had the chilaquiles:

 
Tortilla chips mixed with egg, topped with melted cheese and salsa ranchera served with papas and beans $5.25
I have always found this dish to be more interestingly named than flavored.  I was so full that I didn't even have the motivation to ask for a bite.  I already knew everything I needed to know about this place to know what his food tasted like anyway.  I'd had all those ingredients and could rearrange them in my mind's mouth and get the experience, and it was so so.  

The point is that this food was also super indulgent and certainly yummy, but whatever transcendent experience Cook had is beyond me.

In the words of a San Antonio native Cook quotes, the food here really, "sticks to your ribs."  As Cook put it, she felt, "as stuffed as a quail filled with tamales for Thanksgiving." (What?  Is that a thing?)

Actually, I'm changing my diagnosis.  This sounds like the kind of experience and writing that would come out of my having had 3-5 too many Coronas the night before and reveling in that morning after indulgence meal, which is possibly my favorite thing in the world, and one of the only times eating something like this for breakfast is well-advised.  Otherwise, this weekend special just becomes a special way to ruin any chance of productivity or energy you might've had for the weekend, as you'll be compelled to take an 11 AM - 2 PM siesta immediately afterwards.  If you have a hangover and wake up just 4-5 hours after a heavy night of drinking as I do, then this is a marvelous idea.  Otherwise, stick with Ralphie's plan.

My mother has this need to order an extra bean and cheese taco or burrito wherever she goes, which, oddly, is a trait she shares with stoned college kids visiting Taco Bell at 3:30 in the morning. - $1.25, add-ons $.50 each

Taco Haven on Urbanspoon

To my northeastern friends, aren't these prices beautiful?