I've gone by this place so many times - it's on Fletcher at La Clede, between Riverside and San Fernando Road - but never at a mealtime. Yesterday Mrs. O had the day off and we were running errands in the area, so we decided to check it out. It was a little disconcerting to find the place deserted, except for the owner and whoever was in the kitchen, but we were greeted graciously, seated and given menus. We ordered a couple of tamarindos, which arrived with some good fresh chips and a salsa unlike any we'd had before, the color of cream of tomato soup but quite delicious and with a very definite slow burn. The room was very nicely furnished and decorated, and the money that had obviously been sunk into it was, alas, reflected in the menu - appetizers started at $4 for one tamal to $9.25 for the garnachas chapinas, and entree plates go from $10.99 for a fancy-dressed tortilla to $25.99 for the tapado, a seafood soup, with most items hovering in the fifteen-dollar range. Mrs. O was muttering about the $12.99 shrimp cocktail when the owner came by again with the daily-specials menu, and her mood lifted considerably when she saw the lengua plate offered at $9.99. The other ten-dollar special was gallina in crema, chicken cooked in a cream sauce, so of course I ordered that.
And then we slowly ate all the chips and salsa, sucked sporadically at our tamarindo, conversed about this and that...for a very...long...time. Did they have to cook everything from scratch? Make the tortillas and cook the rice? And what would they do, we wondered, if there had actually been any customers besides us? Eventually, of course, the food did arrive, and our attitude quickly became one of forgiveness: it was all really good. The rice was much like what we get at La Caravana, the Salvadoran place near our house, a big mound of richly-flavored rice studded with peas and bits of carrot. The tomato sauce and chunks of tongue were superb, tender and delicious, and my chicken and sauce were wonderful too, only a bit more difficult to eat because everything was on the bone. There was a plain but very good salad of iceberg lettuce and a wedge of tomato with a light and tangy vinaigrette on each plate as well, and the tortilla basket had four nice fresh ones of the thick'n'fluffy variety.
Whether the special includes drinks or the guy was just sorry for making us wait, I don't know, but the tab came to $21 with tax. This is obviously not a place for a working person with a strict one-hour lunch break, which I'm sure explains why we were all the crowd they had, but the owner said things usually pick up after 3:00 or so. I want to try more of their stuff and will...when I have the time!