January 22, 2010: El Vez

Dishes five and six: Mexican Chopped Salad & Mahi-Mahi Tacos at El Vez, 13th and Sansom, http://www.elvezrestaurant.com/

Today was the first double-header of the challenge: first up, the Mexican chopped salad (hold the chicken, not my scene), and then the Mahi-Mahi tacos. I love El Vez; Steven Starr has a gift when it comes to creating an experience, whether El Vez, Butcher & Singer, or the sleeper Duane Morris cafeteria. Visiting these restaurants –even Duane Morris– is always an “occasion”, maybe that is why I think so highly of them. The last time I ate at El Vez was the last day of my summer 2009 internship, and I shared it with Dani and a friend from school. Dani and I finished an entire serving of guacamole, while our friend hacked away futilely at an endless salad in a taco bowl. Then we all took naps.

Today was different; today was a day just like any other day, no special occasion. I sat at the bar and people-watched contentedly, making conversation with the bartender about a theoretical Bailey’s-margarita. When it arrive, the chopped salad, like the day, was sparkling in its ordinariness- pleasant bits of pumpkin seed and corn added benign sweetness and richness, and the dressing had an unoffending zing. I suppose I had expected more, like those nights when one of my girlfriends says innocently, as we’re getting dressed, “Maybe we’ll meet our husbands tonight!” and for the rest of the night, you can’t help but wonder about each stranger you meet.

My melancholic reflections were shattered when the mahi-mahi taco arrived. How brilliant- Coleslaw INSIDE the taco! At last! There is a chef somewhere behind those doors who shares my obsession with mayonnaise soaked leafy greens! (Maybe HE is my future husband!) On a serious note, the taco is inspired- the ingredients are in perfect balance; light, moist, flaky fish coated in crumbs; the sweet-spicy-bitter red cabbage slaw; the creamy avocado. I can’t say enough about it. Go eat this. This taco made me grateful that I was born with a mouthful of taste buds.

Not every dish will be mind-blowingly good; not every night will you and your girls meet your husbands. (Really, let’s hope that only happens once.) And that’s what makes it an occasion. If I go back tomorrow and the next day, the taco will be just as good, but it won’t be special any more, and someday I might even take it for granted, and not taste the perfect balance of textures and flavors as it goes down. I don’t want that. I want to wait until the right time, so my mind will be blown all over again.

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