Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 21

For a bunch of moms driving cars that seat 5-7 adults comfortably, the FGs are doing pretty well at finding the right spots around town to park our large vehicles for a meal*. A few days ago, EaterLA published a Heat Map of "where to eat now" with a highly subjective list of the eight most buzzed about Los Angeles restaurants. We'd already been to one of them! And, the day the list came out, we went to another one (see below). I'd say that means that the FG's know where to eat before now.

At least 25% of the time.

Episode 21 - We linger at Tinga

After our outstanding lunch at Lazy Ox, FG 10 emailed to confess that she'd gone straight from rice pudding overload to a meeting over dessert (something with chocolate, olive oil and sea salt) with a client. Naturally, she came out of the meeting with new gourmet taco place for us to try. A friend had connections and the food was supposed to be terrific. When a glowing report came out of Jonathan Gold a week later, the die was cast. Ding-a-ling-a-ling-a, we were heading to Tinga!

The aforesaid connection was enough to get us a reserved end of the long communal table, and a super cheerful waitress named Ruth helping us order. It wasn't too hard. After all, there were eight of us and the menu was pretty compact.

"We'll take every taco you've got, the quesadillas, and that pupusa special. And the corn. Rice and beans, too. And guacamole all around. Did we miss anything?"

Given the amount of food that showed up, I doubt it.

The horchata is the creamy one in the middle. Tinga also makes their own watermelon lemonade, blueberry ginger lemonade, and jamaica. I loved all three, but if pressed would say the blueberry ginger was my favorite.

Ruth started us off with samples of their house made horchata, a cool, slightly sweet, creamy shot of cinnamon and vanilla. It was like liquid rice pudding...a very good thing in our book. They offer a "dirty" version with a hit of espresso thrown in that I imagine would be incredible. That one little sip told us just about everything we needed to know about Tinga -- what came out of the kitchen would be hand-crafted, made with great ingredients, thoughtfully prepared, and completely fresh.

The plates of chips, salsa and guacamole that came out next totally proved that point. The thick-cut chips were freshly fried, the guacamole sang with tangy lime juice and a bite of jalapeno, and the salsas, too, were bright and tasty.

The salsas on the side came in cunning little corn husk shells. Cuteness points.
The gourmet part came next, with the arrival of the quesadillas.

One was filled with a mix of mushrooms that had been cooked down to the point where their earthy flavor was concentrated into a pate...with jack cheese melted on it...in a grilled, house-made flour tortilla with avocado sauce and crema. Yum! Rich, hearty finger food that was sophisticated at the same time. The other was filled with a mix of chorizo and goat cheese, a salty/spicy/pungent combination that really worked for some of us. It turns out that if you don't like goat cheese though, this will not be your favorite.

Ruth and friends were back, this time with cups of our favorite item of the day: the elote special side order: Grilled corn, with creamy lime, chili and poblano puree. The corn had been roasted so there were nice brown bits full of caramelized sweetness, and that dressing had heat, tang and something else that brought all those flavors together. We could not stop eating it, even though there was a suspicious parade of taco plates leaving the kitchen and heading our way. Thank goodness for that long communal table!

After the winning first rounds, the tacos were a bit disappointing. Not that they weren't very good. The flank steak was well seasoned. The chicken had been marinated in something yummy. The condiments, like pickled onions, shaved avocado, bright green mint/tomatillo sauce, and a meaty dipping gravy, were uniformly tasty and definitely all made from scratch. The corn tortillas, too, were hand-formed and full of flavor. But memorable, like that corn, or the horchata? Not really. The only exception was the conchita pibil, made from pork long marinated in Seville orange juice and chiles, slow roasted in a pit, redolent of spice and almost baby-food tender. Fabulous!

We almost, but not quite, forgot that we'd ordered the pupusa special, another dish where chorizo was the star. At first bite, this was wonderful, too, but almost immediately we decided it was far too salty to finish. We may also have been predisposed to forgo any more food by Ruth's promise to bring us dessert. I am a big fan of this new trend of people just bringing us dessert!
"Me, too!" says one of the hundreds of stuffed crows hanging around the place in honor of Halloween
Dessert came, and it was GOOD! Dulce Nachos: warm tortilla chips smothered in a rich, sweet/salty caramel sauce, sprinkled liberally with cinnamon, with vanilla ice cream on top. What's not to love about that?

When we finally arose, groaning, from our stools, there were smiles all around and a big cheer for Ruth, who was awesome.

The bill was steeper than one would expect for a taco lunch, about $30 per person including tax and tip. With the taco plates starting at $6.50, and the quesadillas at $10, plus $5 per side, you are definitely putting your money where your mouth is here. But in a town that now seems to have a $12 burger joint on every corner, this may just be par for the course in this new way of eating. I'd say that the venerable Mr. Gold got this one exactly right when he said, essentially, that there's a place in the pantheon of LA Mexican food for "artisanal tacos, which is to say expensive, clean-tasting, carefully crafted tacos served in design-intensive dining rooms, and made with first-rate ingredients." It's a far cry from the hallowed street taco vendors, but a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

FG Final Verdict? Tinga is ON the list.
Pricing Info: Tacos : $6.50-9.50, quesadillas $9-11, small dishes about $5.
FG Value Rating: Verging on Get Real.

* And to our credit as eco-conscious Angelenos who are nervous about getting lost going to all these new places, we almost always carpool. So all those extra seats come in handy.

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