It wasn’t so long ago that you seemed never to be more than a tostada’s throw from a Mexican eatery, but recently they seem to be a threatened species.
Mexico is not in the EU so it can’t be Brexit and I doubt whether President Trump’s wall is likely to have had an effect yet, so I can only put it down to a change in food fashion and the trend for ethnic food to be sold from street food stalls rather than permanent restaurant premises.
One place which seems to be bucking the trend is Tortilla in Trinity Kitchen. I don’t normally review chain restaurants and until I got home and looked at the website I didn’t realise that this establishment fell into that category. In my defence I don’t get around much anymore and, even if I did, there are only two others in the North of England, one in Newcastle and the other in Liverpool. The reason I don’t do chains is that you all know what to expect from a Burger King and the portions seem to be regulated by accountants rather than chefs. On top of that, I like to promote local independent businesses.
After all that, it would appear that Tortilla is not a Mexican Restaurant anyway but ‘Real California Burritos and Tacos’ which means that it doesn’t sell tortillas. I am so confused. Not to worry, because the one thing about those good folks from the US of A is that they exaggerate their ancestors’ country of origin to such an extent that the longer they live there the more entrenched in their ethnic roots they become. You only need to look at the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York to see how it outstrips by miles anything Dublin has to offer, even though the nearest any of the participants has been to the Emerald Isle is a theme pub in Brooklyn.
Fortunately, the same goes for ex-pat Mexicans in the Golden State, a fact which I discovered when I found myself in San Diego on 5th May 1989. San Diego is probably one of my favourite places in the world, with the mixture of ultra modern and old world Spanish as it’s just north of the border. I didn’t realise then that on that particular date, Cinco de Mayo, is a Mexican national holiday, meaning I couldn’t sit and have a quiet beer and a read of the newspaper without being assaulted by a Mariachi Band every five minutes. I also discovered that the only tune that these players know is ‘Roll Out The Barrel’, which is very surreal. I was back two years later so decided to nip across the border to celebrate the National Day in Tijuana to get the ‘authentic’ experience, and what do I find? Nothing – nada. They just let it pass them by. Before I draw the curtains and get the slide projector out to bore you rigid with my holiday snaps, I had better get on with my review.
Tortilla is one of those build-it-yourself places. You are first presented with the choice of base dish – Burrito, Naked Burrito or Tres (that’s three to you and me) Soft Shell Tacos. As I intended eating on the premises and not walking around town with a cylinder of silver foil in front of my mouth, looking like a seventies glam rock singer, I went for the Naked Burrito. This is where the Californian authenticity was destroyed in that there is a choice of Medium at £5.80 or Large for £6.80 and, as everyone who has visited the other side of the pond knows, there is no such thing as Medium on any menu, it is either Large or Regular. It was advertised as including rice and beans.
I must say that ordering lunch here is not as straightforward as it sounds, because the choice of base dishes is only the start of a number of multiple choice questions with which you are bombarded. I thought that the sentence ‘Includes rice and beans.’ would take care of the first bit but no, I had to say whether I wanted tomato based rice or the coriander option. After going for the latter, there was then the matter of the pulses, and from an exhaustive list offered to me at a speed quicker than the terms and conditions of a finance deal at the end of one of those commercial radio adverts, I opted for black beans.
I believe that I passed that test as I was then given a choice of one of four fillings, the Marinated Grilled Chicken being the object of my affection but, wait, did I want any extras? I was getting the hang of this now so with my new found cockiness I told them to add chorizo for a quid and flashed a smug glance in the direction of the young woman who was loading my carton (not a euphemism). She added sour cream and cheese, but then we were back to the exam: I needed to choose two salsas from a selection of containers displayed on the counter . I didn’t want to have her go through the full description of each, so I pointed at one and asked for a hot chilli sauce to complete the quota. I declined the offer of guacamole as another extra because the carton was beginning to look like a Man v Food challenge. Serves me right for ordering the large. A bottle of cold Corona beer at £3.10 accompanied me and my meal to one of the communal tables in the street food hall of Trinity Kitchen and the three of us began to get to know one another.
There were two things I had noticed whilst being served: first was that the portions had most certainly evaded the company’s bean counters – literally – as the components were liberally added, and secondly, when they were added they had not been piled one on top of the other so that I ended up with every forkful tasting exactly like the last, but had been distributed in different parts of the carton, meaning I could mix the various tastes in myriad combinations. The chicken had been diced into fairly small pieces but was still tender and juicy of texture, with the marinade adding to the joy. All of the other parts were equally fresh, something which is not always the case when ingredients are displayed for any length of time.
I am sure that the queue of people meant that the turnover was such that nothing had a chance to deteriorate too badly. The salsa was hot but not excessively so and the beans still had a bit of a bite rather than being a mush like the refried variety. I have to say that I was very impressed with not only the food, but also the chirpy service. I was also pleased to see that both the chicken and pulled pork were sourced from suppliers with Red Tractor credentials. My only regret about the meal was that I ordered the large portion and it did start to get a bit monotonous by the end. A medium would have been more than adequate at lunchtime. Mea culpa.
Whilst chomping away and people watching, the thought crossed my mind that should I visit the USA again I will make sure I am there on 1st August – Yorkshire Day – and see what extravaganza they put on with Whippet Racing and Flat Cap Parades. We can then all go to the pub and stand looking at our feet until someone else offers to buy the first round.