Saturday, April 12, 2008

Latino Love

I've been on something of a Latino kick for the last half year or so; taking a Spanish language community centre course, falling in love with Spain, and going on a pilgrimage through central Mexico to see the overwintering Monarch butterflies have all contributed.

I used to eat flour tortillas once in a while before all this, but now I have a huge stack of yellow corn tortillas sitting in my fridge, and I'm discovering that practically everything tastes good with them. Last night it was merguez (spicy lamb) sausage from Oyama, with organic kale buds fresh from the farm, avocado bits, and rice, for example. This morning, it was fresh eggs picked up at a Langley farm where I could see the chickens walking about. Having seen them with my own eyes, free run might be overstating it...more like free milling, but at any rate, they were delicious eggs.

Of course, the tortillas here and whatever I stuff in them just doesn't compare to the experience of getting blue corn tortillas freshly made in front of me with a hand press at a little stand at the base of a Mexican mountain before a hike up to the huddle of fir trees "drenched" with masses of Monarchs who have had their own amazing journey across the continent. Those blue tortillas filled with just queso and flor de calabaza (cheese and squash blossoms), accompanied by the much needed cup of coffee, and combined with the clean, chilly fresh air of the early morning and the anticipation of the sight that we had travelled so far to see, it was the ultimate breakfast and the best meal I had on the trip.

Blue Corn Kernels

The Masa

So the tortillas have a lot to do with just reminding me of this great trip. And this has affected my restaurant choices lately too. I've gone to an unremarkable Mexican restaurant off Marine Drive (near Granville), that's not really good enough to mention (however there is one on Granville that isn't bad). I continue to enjoy the El Salvadorean fare from Rinconcito Salvadoreno (2062 Commercial Dr., between 4th and 5th Avenue, 604-879-2600).

And Baru (2535 Alma St., just south of Broadway, 604-222-9171) recently got bumped up on my list of restaurants to try. Just one visit so far, but I enjoyed the atmosphere, service, and the food. I went for drinks and appetizers with Wine-o, and the food was fine, but not spectacular (say, like Lolita's, though I don't really like going there because it's so slow). Shown in the photo below are the dishes we chose. We had their Baru Ceviche ($12) which had large, firm chunks of shrimp and halibut, with fresh lemon juice, avocado, tomatoes, onion and cilantro. I really enjoyed this. The Octopus Tiradito ($12), very thinly sliced octopus with fresh lemon juice, had a nice texture. Latin Chips were crispy, thin, fried cassava, yam and plantain chips served with three salsas. I thought the Latin Empanadas, three little corn turnovers filled with beef, were pretty tasty.

I also had an interesting drink from their cocktail list called the Pisco Sour ($9), made of pisco, blended with egg white & fresh lime, producing a white frothy drink. I'm a big fan of tequila, and a snifter of premium tequila served as dessert. Although it was a bit of a splurge, I was tempted because they had a brand I hadn't tried before and probably isn't available in the LCB. Even if it were available, I'm not likely to pay over $100 for a bottle of something I'm not even sure I like. The 4 copas ($18), was pleasantly sweet, full bodied, and fragrant, but a bit on the harsh side for me. I enjoyed the experience, but I'm still on the lookout for the perfect tequila.

There are a number of interesting main dishes ($18 - 20) on the menu, as well as other interesting sounding items. The room is cosy and modern, and the place was packed by the time we left, even though it was the middle of the week. I would go back. I might check out the live music on Tuesdays, and their main dishes.