Monday, January 19, 2015.
No choral rehearsal tonight, with the company resting from its big performances over the weekend. The Marys and I head out for dinner as the sun goes down, with the idea of going yet again to the ever-improving Tchoupstix.
But we are distracted by another restaurant two doors down in the same strip mall. It’s a narrow space with its walls painted in such bright colors that we are immediately suspicious. It’s cold and windy outside, so we take a table deep in the rear.
There’s something familiar about the menu. And then the manager comes out, and we recognize him from La Carreta, the local chain that rates Number One on the Marys’ hit parade of Mexican restaurants.
The more of the menu I read, the more it sounds like La Carreta Pumped Up. The names on the dishes may be the same, but the dishes themselves are two or three steps up in terms of interest, ingredients, presentation, and everything else except price. If I were not opposed to the word “authentic,” I would use it now.
The Marys follow their usual routine, and we begin with queso dip with chorizo. But unlike La Carreta’s version, this is mostly chorizo. While that makes it hard to scoop up with chips, it also makes ir meatier and more interesting.
I have chicken tortilla soup. It is very red and very hot–both pepper hot and stove hot. It is very, very good, with the bonus that it’s perfect for the weather. Except the part when it makes my scalp sweat. Even that seems a fair trade for this flavor.
The Marys each order trios of tacos. One is an assortment involving ribeye steak, bacon, bell peppers, guacamole and sour cream. “Norteños,” they call it, and it’s not the overloaded mess that it sounds like. The other is al pastor, the familiar shredded pork with its deceptively rich sauce. All are served on stretchy green tortillas.
I have the most interesting entree, pollo diablo. A dish by the same name is a La Carreta item I order fairly often, but this is nothing like that. The chicken part consists of a meaty, generous half-breast from off the grill. Spinach, chipotle sauce, broccoli (!) and bacon fill up the rest of the dish. This is more American than anything else we’ve had, but very pleasing both to the eye and to the palate.
Along the way, the manager brings us a few small sides. Two salsas–one brown, the other a chunky near-purple, both sharply flavored with chiles. I try them (especially the brown one, whose tastes are all very big) with every dippable item on the table.
We have only begun to scratch the surface of this promising menu. I decide that it’s the Find Of The Month–a department in this publication that I will have to invent especially for this purpose. In fact, this may become the Year Of Mexican Dining in the New Orleans area, what with all the original new ones that keep cropping up where we least expect them. Like, in a Covington strip mall? One that now has three terrific and unique places to eat (Pardo’s and Tchoupstix are the other two).