Part 2 of 4
Part 1: Motion Sickness
Part 2: “Jew eat?…No. Jew?”
Part 4: Adulthood Begins: The UCLA Dorms
My father ended up purchasing the silver Thunderbird even though Allan and I really wanted him to splurge for the coupe with fake leather charcoal seats and accents of periwinkle and white. There’s nothing more elegant than automotive upholstery that looks and feels like Baleen whale, but no amount of foot-stomping and puppy-dog pouting was going to get him to fork up the extra cash. So we left with the base model.
My dad drove us off the lot, Maurice (my oldest brother) sat shotgun, Allan (the middle child) and I (the best! I mean baby) were in the back. Being a two-door, the small triangular windows behind the front seats were sealed shut, which would have been a problem for my inner control-freak, but I wasn’t going to complain, or at least not that day, because the car was brand new and that’s all that mattered.
“Jew-eat?” dad asked, “Jew guys wanna celbrate arr new purchase?”
His New York accent was more pronounced when he got excited. Sentences slurred as words sort of melted into phrases like cheddar on a grilled cheese as if he was saving time and energy from not enunciating.
“Let’s eat!” we screamed, and he drove us across the street to Marieta’s Mexican Cantina.
In predictable dad fashion, we parked as far away from the restaurant entrance as he could. His theory; everyone parks as close to their destination as possible, which increases the chance of someone parking close to him and recklessly opening their car door into his, which, looking back, I can appreciate, because the car had literally been in our possession for less than 15 minutes. But it should be noted that to this day, my father parks his car, or any car for that matter (even rentals), as far away from where he’s going. ‘We can all use the exercise,’ he says, but I’m not convinced that’s true. Besides, if walking through parking lots is considered exercise than why am I paying a small fortune for a gym membership? Exactly! So after making our trek through the asphalt desert we arrived at the land of the free—and unlimited—chips and salsa.
The new car was exciting but not as exhilarating as the mixed chicken and beef fajitas Allan and I always shared at Marieta’s. I think I liked the attention we got from the sizzling platter it was served on more than anything, but it remember it was tasty too.
“Flour or corn?” The waitress would ask, but there was no question. Definitely flour tortillas not corn, though I’ve flip-flopped in my old age, corn tortillas are healthier, because they’re made from corn—and that’s a vegetable.
Growing up in San Diego you sort of have this affinity for Mexican food. Over the years I’ve learned the crappier it looked and the shittier the packaging— the better it tasted. Marieta’s wasn’t necessarily a hole in the wall though. There were holes in the walls, but the patriotic murals of Spanish inquisition propaganda strategically painted around said holes, made the place feel a little more authentic and intentional—in a way homely. But ambiance was the last thing on my mind, as I was usually fixated on getting my strawberry virgin margarita, which, to this day is a poor substitute for the real thing. There’s no chance of getting wasted and they mockingly retain the word virgin in their title; a word that shouldn’t be employed in a kid’s vocabulary at such an early age. It’s like “they” were making me gay and calling me fat.
We left the restaurant satiated and the first thing I did was call my best friend Scotty Feldstein to relay the news. Scotty’s dad Asher was a cardiologist so he was able to rant and rave every two or three years that his parents bought a new car [your child’s bragging rights: reason #476 why leasing is better than buying]. His dad is one of the smartest men alive. He reads everything and anything and knew the answer to any question our active imaginations’ could concoct. I now know it isn’t as impressive as I thought considering the questions were coming from 10 year olds, but still, he’s really really really really really intelligent.
Asher only bought Acuras and he usually got them fully loaded. He’s one of those guys who scouted, researched, and owned a new gadget before everyone else. His first cell phone favored the size of a small telephone booth, minutes cost $100 each, and it only worked in select major cities, but it was still cool and nobody else’s dad had one. Any time a new TV system came out to pasture he harvested it before the other families in the neighborhood even knew it existed. He had a THX surround sound system installed so we could watch shows like Star Trek Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and X-Files all week long, and the sound was so good it felt like we were actually on the deck flying beside Captain Jean-Luc Picard or chasing aliens through forests with Mulder and Scully. I almost cracked a tooth once watching Jurassic Park with the base turned up to medium! His gadget fetish did backfire once (that I’m aware of) when he invested heavily in a laser disk collection….and then DVDs came out. Months later laser disks were vintage and obsolete like our Atari and Sega game systems. Though I’m sure they’d fetch a pretty penny on eBay these days.
I used to spend every waking moment I wasn’t in school at Scotty’s house. It was an escape to a land stocked with games and gizmos that even FAO Schwartz could appreciate, and since his dad was a doctor, who got a lot of boxes of chocolate and gift baskets during the holidays, their pantry was always stocked with the best snacks and junk food, including whole packs of Trident cinnamon gum. But this time, for once, my dad bought something new, and I had something to brag about.
“Scotty guess what?” I said, “my dad bought a new car!”
“That’s great!” he said, sounding genuinely happy for me. “Does it have a GPS system with a female computerized voice to tell you where you’re going?” he asked.
“Does it have heated seats in the front with three different temperature settings?”
“No, but when you fart the seats do warm up!”
I laughed at my crude joke but soon realized I was laughing alone (sad I know…but remember I was the fat kid). Scotty was purely asking for details about the car, naïve enough to assume most new cars came with those luxury amenities, but in reality, he just pushed me down to the lower caste where I belonged, steeling what little thunder I had with the Thunderbird.
About a week later, walking from his house to the Del Cerro deli at the bottom of the hill, we both decided our little competition was a waste of energy and agreed that our parents were equally wealthy. This made me feel better, though I knew very well Scotty was just being kind. After all, his dad was more successful than mine. His could afford a subscription to Playboy when mine had a few magazines from 1974 we found in the closet (ew! boobies). We never really bragged to each other about anything again….and if we did, it was more of a show and tell with mutual appreciation.
Chile Relleno Burritos
Since we’re talking about my childhood and Mexican food, the two of which are essentially synonymous, I’m gonna share a nostalgic foodie insider tip; with you and “the entire world” as my mother says when referencing my blog’s audience. I wish! But really, this is a big deal for me. I’m about to spill the beans on the best-kept secret in Mexican food, one I’ve been harboring since 1996 when my mother first let me in on it—the chile relleno burrito.
Should be noted that you can only order chile relleno burritos at taco shops and restaurants that actually make “chile rellenos.” What’s a chile relleno? I’m glad you asked.
A chile relleno is a fresh poblano pepper that’s been roasted, and stuffed like a pocket with cheese and sometimes ground pork or beef, or pork and beef and cheese; and then dipped in a batter and fried. It’s a stand alone entree at most places where they slather it with sauce and serve it with rice and beans. But we’re taking it one step further. We’re getting them to put the chile relleno inside a burrito as a substitute for whatever protein you typically order: carne asada, carnitas, fish, chicken, etc. So if you find yourself looking at that giant menu on the wall behind the cash register and you see “chile relleno” anywhere on it…chances are, you can get them to shove one in a tortilla for you, which makes this the perfect vegetarian dish for those of you sick of the plain bean and cheese burritos or veggie quesadillas.
I can’t tell you how many times someone’s come up to me at a taqueria and asked “what is that you just ordered?” Well actually I can—46. And each time I give them the play-by-play of how to order this magnificent phallic feast.
Be prepared though. Chile relleno burritos aren’t for the faint of heart. If you can’t handle a line of toe tappers on their smart phones impatiently huffing and puffing behind you while you substitute the hell out of your order (which Jonathan thinks is my attempt at being “the center of attention”); then this burrito order isn’t right for you.
But for the fans of cilantro, and fresh tasting lard, this is one order you can’t pass up. So grow some balls, hold your chin up high, and make sure they build your burrito exactly like you want it.
Ask for a chile relleno burrito with:
- refried beans (optional but if you do get some, just a little)
- sour cream (or “crema”)
- lettuce (“lechuga”)
- pico de gallo (that’s the fresh diced tomato and onion salsa)
If it’s the type of place that has different tortilla flavors I always pick “espinaca” or spinach, because that’s a vegetable, so it’s healthy. Otherwise go with regular.
You don’t want guacamole. It just adds a mooshy texture and dulls the bright flavors of everything else. The chile relleno is going to be filled with cheese, so make sure they don’t throw any of the shredded stuff on top or additional cheese inside, because it will be too much.
This is key. Some places serve their chile rellenos with a “salsa” or tomato sauce on top and since you’re getting the chile relleno in a burrito, they sometimes add it. It’s not enchilada sauce, but a light tomato sauce or “ranchero” sauce. YOU DON’T WANT IT. So make sure you tell them in advance not to add any “sauce” on top or inside of the burrito, or that’s all you’ll taste.
Notice we’re going light on the beans. This is more of a courtesy to your significant other than anything else, but really there’s so much other magical fruit in here that beans sort of confuse the situation. But if you’re a legume lover, by all means ask for a little “un pocco frijoles por favor”.
And trust me—you won’t be disappointed