Merengue: Caribbean in Roxbury

After a lesbian book club meeting in Charlestown, I was walking toward the train, famished and wondering if it was worth it to try to eat in Charlestown as I like to try to have foodie adventures in the neighborhoods where life takes me. The Charlestown restaurant scene is pretty stupid in my opinion though (let me know if you have any recommendations of affordable and at least slightly interesting places there).

One of the women from the book club needed help finding her car, so I used my iPhone's GPS to help her. From there we decided to go out to dinner together. I told her about my food blog, and since she was a black and, if I recall correctly, Puerto Rican (or Dominican Republican or Cuban, perhaps... one of the islands), she decided she wanted to take me (if I was up for it) to a Caribbean restaurant in Roxbury. Since Roxbury is a neighborhood I wouldn't normally get around to eating in, I was happy to go wherever she wanted. She acted like this might be a weird cultural experience for me, but I assured her that, as a foodie (or at least the kind of foodie I am), the weirder the restaurant experience, the better.

Merengue, however, was not weird at all. It's a large, comfortable, beautifully and colorfully decorated Latin American/Caribbean/Spanish restaurant where anyone would feel completely welcome. I found it funny from the get go, therefore, that my companion would have had any reservations about my comfort level. Maybe the food would be weird.

Again, no. It was a very normal Spanish/Caribbean menu.

Had I been there in a different context, I would have ordered from among these options:

-Queso y Salami Frito (Fried Cheese and Dominican Salami) $ 3.75
-Berenjena Asada (Roasted Eggplant) $3.75
-Mofongo de Cerdo o Pollo con Caldo de pollo (Mashed Plantains with Pork or Chicken inside, accompanied with Chicken Broth) - $7.50
-Tostones Rellenos de Camarones (Fried Green Plantains Filled with Shrimps in Creole Sauce - $15
-Calamares al Gusto* (Calamari in Garlic, Vinaigrette, Creole or Coconut Sauce) - $13

I more or less let my companion choose what we got. She seemed to think it was best to stick to the De La Tierra portion of the menu, so I just went along with that. I suppose I did that so that I wasn't insulting her sense that she was introducing me to something.

Maduros or Fried Plantains

These were good, just like at any good Caribbean/Latin/Etc. restaurant.

Bistec Merengue: (Thin Cut Marinated Steak, Sauteé with Green Peppers, Red Peppers and Onion)  - $10.50

Chuleta Encebollada (Center Cut Pork Chops Topped with Onions)  - $10.50

The same goes for the meat. Everything was juicy and tasty, if a little tough. This is why, as a foodie, once I've gone to a certain ethnicity's restaurants a few times, I'm not usually raring to go back. I want to be surprised with new flavors, and there weren't any in these two dishes for me. That being said, had I ordered from the aforementioned list, I might've had something new. Ah well, next time I won't let someone else influence my ordering this way.

 Gandules con Coco or Coconut Pigeon Peas

My companion didn't want to order these because she figured they wouldn't be as good as her mother's. Trying a bit of mine, she confirmed that, while they were pretty good, they weren't mother-quality. For my part, rice is always a fairly boring carb. These had more flavor than a lot of sides of rice but weren't as flavorful as something with "coconut" and "pigeon" in the name had let me to hope.
Arroz Blanco y Habichuelas or White Rice and Beans

I was jealous of my companion's beans (though certainly not her white rice) because I love getting beans this way where you basically score a soup! Throw some of your meat and some tomato in there, cheese if you have it, a squeeze of a lime and, voila, a pretty darn awesome soup.

Morir Sonando

"To Die Dreaming" is a sweet name for anything, and my friend ordered this dessert of a drink. It's orange juice and evaporated milk, which, along with the name, now makes me think of this dream as a lullabye for children.

The Postre Del Dia: Tres Leches - $3.50

The waitress asked us if we'd care for some tres leches. I was full, but the look on my companion's face indicated she was eager to order some. She said, "It's a dessert."

Now this was a grown woman, and I didn't want to sound condescending, so I kind of let her inform me what tres leches is. To her credit, maybe not every twenty-fire-year-old white girl in Boston knows what tres leches is. Being from Houston, of course I know what tres leches is and have had it numerous times (it's on the dessert menu at probably every Tex-Mex restaurant). On top of that, I speak a fair amount of Spanish. Also, I'm a foodie, and so of course I've already been to restaurants of just about every Latin American persuasion. I had already learned that she didn't speak Spanish, so I wondered whether she even knew enough Spanish to know that tres leches means "three milks" (evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream - get out your Lactaid).

It was quite good, though tres leches has never been my favorite dessert.

She also asked me how the bathroom was when I got back, sounding a little concerned that it might not have been up to my standards (as if I really have standards). Actually, of the three stalls, two of the toilets were covered in some urine, but that seemed like a bad timing coincidence as the restroom was otherwise well kept up and clean.

Food for thought moment:

Sadly, the food did not provide a novel cultural experience. The conversation, however, did. This woman I was with was discussing the other book clubbers with me, all the rest of whom are white. She said she didn't talk much at the meeting because these white women seemed so cocksure of their opinions about the world, so ready to interrupt or dismiss other people's ideas when they conflicted with the ideas they had already brought with them, undisposed to learn from others. She kept referring to herself as a "darkie," a term I'm sure I've only ever read in history books or seen in movies about older, more openly racist times. I think she must use that term to make white people uncomfortable, and I don't think I begrudge her that. The politically correct terms all mask the gritty reality of the effects race has on our lives, especially non-white lives in this society. Some of us progressive and educated white people could probably stand to be made a little more uncomfortable and therefore aware of the reality of racism.

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