Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Delivery Challenge

Like most New Yorkers, Husband and I enjoy eating out but much prefer ordering in. The past five years of marriage has turned us into the proverbial "old married couple" for whom a fun Thursday night consists of eating take out as we watch our latest DVD rental, as opposed to drinks downtown at a trendy lounge with the masses.

We had recently dined at El Centro, the newest Mexican restaurant in our neighborhood, and loved the food. I grabbed the delivery menu on our way out and declared that the next week we would put El Centro to our ultimate test - delivery.

What is so difficult about delivery? Well, for one thing, Husband and I are challenged because neither of us work standard 9 to 5 jobs, so we tend to eat at unconventional hours, with dinner usually around 10pm or later. It is not always easy to find a place that delivers that late. El Centro easily passed that test when I saw that they deliver until 11pm every night of the week!

The next hurdle is, of course, how well the food itself travels. It is easy for food to be tasty when it has been freshly prepared in the kitchen and only sits around for 5 minutes or so before reaching the customer at the table. However, take that short 5 minute trip and increase it to 25 minutes or however long it takes to get the customer's home and a whole other set of factors come into play.

First of all, there is the cooling of the food, so sometimes it is lukewarm upon delivery. More importantly, there is the fact that the food is more or less continuing to cook as it travels, as the heat and steam are locked into an airtight container, which is usually the reason that foods which are meant to be crispy, such as french fries, often arrive soggy and lifeless. And finally, there is the aggravation factor - the general risk of becoming incredibly annoyed when your food arrives far later than expected or the order was messed up, but you did not realize it until the delivery guy has long gone.

We both ordered Burro Oaxaqueno, a burrito filled with grilled skirt steak, guacamole, monterey jack cheese, red rice and black beans. Husband had ordered it the night that we ate at the restaurant and it was sublime. We also splurged on an order of chips and guacamole and a side of plantains. The food arrived promptly and with no errors. Another point for El Centro.

The burritos are a work of genius. Every component is well thought out and executed perfectly. The flour tortilla is homemade, and lightly pan fried. I am more accustomed to the steaming of the tortilla, which can sometimes produce less than stellar results as oversteaming often causes the tortilla to be overly chewy or gluey in consistency. The frying eliminates this problem altogether while also providing a slight crispiness to the dish, without being too crunchy. The frying also gives the burrito a bit more structure so it can withstand the aforementioned steaming-while-traveling danger. But the icing on the cake is that they taste good. Whoever makes these fantastic tortillas obviously puts time into it, considering them as a way to compliment the dish as opposed to simply edible wrapping paper.

The steak is packed with flavor from the marinade and is perfectly charred with a whisper of smokiness that tantalizes your mouth; the warm recognition of comfort food spreads through your chest like a bear hug.

The saltiness of the rice and bean combination is the perfect accent for the savory flavor of the meat. The beans themselves are a work of wonder. They are firm yet tender, so that when your teeth breaks their skin it is almost as if they burst in your mouth. They are not drowning in a soupy mess that bleeds onto the plate, but have just the right amount of moisture to them.

This dignified burrito is not oozing with cheese. In fact, at first you may forget that there is even supposed to be cheese in there. But once you dive into the heart of the burrito, you get a taste of cheesy goodness to add to the symphony of flavors.

"Oh my God," Husband purrs as he eats, "This burrito is just as good room temperature as it is hot!"

Moments later he announces that it is the best steak burrito he has ever had. I try to agree with him, but my mouth is full.

We move on to the plantains. They, like the burrito, seem to have a touch of class to them while still remaining true to their simple roots. I love plantains, but they can easily be too sweet for my taste, drenched in a puddle of syrup. I was happy to see that there was not an ounce of syrup lining the container. The plantains were dry, yet perfectly carmelized on the outside so that the very edges were crisp. They were not overripe, and therefore not mushy.

The only disappointment of the evening was the guacamole, which was under seasoned and in my opinion, the avacadoes were not mashed enough. I tend to like my guacamole on the chunky side, but the chunks have to be manageable. These were monstrous. It was disappointing, but really, not terribly upsetting. It isn't as though the guacamole was inedible, just a bit uninspired.

All in all, the meal was a great success. El Centro passed the delivery test with honors. Husband and I consumed everything (even the guacamole), leaving nothing for our sad, little kitty who watched us with huge, hopeful eyes as we ravaged our food.

The next night we were faced with the inevitable question of what to have for dinner.

Would you believe that we actually ordered the same meal again? Well, as gluttonous as it sounds, it is true (OK, everything but the guacamole). And this time we agreed that we would not start the movie until we had completely finished our meal. Never again will we allow ourselves to be distracted from such a divine experience as El Centro.

1 comment:

caesar said...
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