Monday, July 9, 2007

One jellied apricot in a lovely, imperfect meal

As much as I’ve enjoyed the perfect culinary moments I’ve already had in Oaxaca, I’ve also loved those moments that aren’t quite perfect. Perhaps I am learning to be zen, but after living in New York, it’s a relief to be at a place where not everything needs to be the best of its kind.

I read about Casa Elipidia in a little booklet on Oaxaca, self-published by two frequent American visitors. Several blocks south of the zocalo, the restaurant is in the dirtier, hotter part of town. You could walk right by it and miss it, since the only indication the restaurant exists beyond the metal door is a small 8 x 11 sign that says “Restaurant” and little more. (I also love that, so antithetical to the NY philosophy of marketing yourself to the hilt.) But once you enter, you find yourself in an oasis, a quiet courtyard overflowing with plants. There’s only one menu available, the comida corrida, and I didn’t even know what they were serving when I sat down.

The owner and cook is a cross-eyed woman with a quiet smile. The food was fine, nothing to write home about, or blog about, except I was touched by the careful way everything was presented. The botana, or snack, of a fried dumpling with quesillo and a slice of squash was perfectly fried, crispy without being greasy. The tender brisket wasn’t really to my taste, but it sat in the middle of a plate with spears of green beans and chayote artfully placed around it. The dessert, my favorite part, was a little jellied apricot in sweet syrup, in a glass bowl just big enough to hold it. It was the kind of plating I would do at my best, sincere if not rising to the level of art. (My sister, whenever she looks at my plating, sighs, laughs, and says, “You and I are so different.”) It was homey. It was good enough.

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