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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Epicurean Existentialism

It's just like me to make a flowchart on how to eat out, how to survive really, and go out of my way to ignore it.

Like the Christian Existentialists who explain life's troubling, irreconcilable paradoxes through the existence (and source) of the greatest irreconcilable paradox--Jesus (God/man? mortal/immortal?--anyone else confused? No? Congratulations--you're smarter than me.)--sometimes we do things not because they make or don't make sense, but because we just do them. Some things just are. Their absurdity is in line with the inherent absurdity of the universe and hence, given a certain liberal mindset, we are comforted.

And so was my absurdly comforting dinner at Chavella's last night.

ordered the chicken enchiladas. Here's the thing about chicken: I was a vegetarian for 11 years, vegan for two of them and I certainly didn't start eating meat again to eat factory farmed chicken. But, and I'm not making excuses here as I think factory farm chicken is morally and ecologically reprehensible, in the moral/flavor cost-benefit analysis often at work in my food choices, there's something about that ambiguously but inarguably delicious American Mexican chicken that I'm a total sucker for. So, as I said, I ordered the chicken enchiladas.

At Chavella's, a pretty good little Mexican joint a few blocks from my Brooklyn digs, one orders his/her enchiladas with a choice of salsa verde or mole. You don't need a PhD in Cilantro Hate to know salsa verde is quintessentially dangerous to the cilantro averse. For those of you living in the far reaches of xenophobic denial, speaking so little Spanish that you don't know verde means green--verde means green. It gets its green moniker from a variety of ingredients, most notably tomatillo, lime, green chili and, yes, cilantro.

But the thing is the gentleman next to me had ordered the chicken enchiladas with salsa verde and he was enjoying them with gusto in a not-subtly audible fashion. I asked, "Sir, excuse me, I can't help but notice that you're enjoying those enchiladas."

"Oh, God yes. They're so delicious," he replied.

"Sir, do you have a palate for cilantro? What I mean to say is, would you notice if there was cilantro in your salsa verde there?," I continued.

A good sport, he confirmed what I already knew: "Well, yes, it's noticeable but certainly not overwhelming and did I mention how truly delicious they are?"

So then the waitress did what I didn't even consider asking her to do, which was to bring me the mole and verde to try. The cilantro-hating friend who was with me tried them both too. Strangest thing: I could kind of tell there was cilantro in the verde, but I liked it anyway, not because of the cilantro mind you, but despite it. Now, it's common knowledge that the cilantro taste is mitigated in the cooking process and in this case it was cooked. There was no extra fresh cilantro chiffonade or fresh cilantro finishing touch of any kind. As such it just sort of became one with the sauce. I don't know what I'm saying here. This doesn't make sense! This is so, so, absurd.

So I ordered the enchiladas with the very bright, pleasant, garlicky, limy, spicy sauce. It was perfect with the queso fresco and crema and yummy chicken and delicious house-made tortillas. The mole would have overwhelmed everything as (if you want my opinion) it does most everything it touches. In short, the chicken enchiladas verdes were good.

Now, this is not the post you've all been waiting for where I change my ways, start liking cilantro and ruin my blog. No. This is the post where I admit there was once a time in my life when I ate something that had cilantro in it and enjoyed it and much to the chagrin of you polarizing cilantro lovers out there--I'm OK with that. Existence precedes essence, if you know what I'm saying.

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