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An Utterly Enchanting Meal at La Corneta

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An Utterly Enchanting Meal at La Corneta

nja | May 17, 2004 01:17 PM

Rapture.

No word describes better the emotion the four of us felt following our lunch at La Corneta on Saturday.

I was not going to let the mediocre meal at Sausalito Taco Shop go down as the only Mexican meal my sister and her boyfriend, visiting from the East Coast, would have during their trip to San Francisco. So on Saturday afternoon I took them down to La Corneta in the Mission.

We joined the ever present burrito line and started scanning the menu. A few moments later, a woman approached us and asked if we'd be eating there and how many of us there were. She then escorted us to a table, handed out tattered phone-order menus, and returned a few moments later with a basket of chips, three salsas, and a cup of guacamole. That's right, my friends. La Corneta, my favorite Mission taqueria, is NOW A SIT-DOWN MEXICAN RESTAURANT.

They were a little vague on the details, but apparently they are trying this out on Saturday and Sundays to see how it goes. You can still wait in the burrito assembly line for food to sit down or to go.

Only one waitress was covering the entire dining room, so service was a bit inattentive. Our orders were taken and food & drinks came quickly, but for other things (water & chip refills) we found it easier to get up and go to the counter. Our waitress was far more comfortable speaking Spanish than English, and was also a little reluctant to give us such scary foods as hot salsa and... cilantro. Nevertheless, the pleasure of sitting back and having good, fresh Mexican food and cheap beers delivered to the table made us all really happy.

The chips were thin, fresh, and warm. The salsas (rojo, verde, pico de gallo) were fresh and mostly mild, except for the much hotter serrano version of the pico de gallo that we requested. The pico de gallos had surprisingly ripe and flavorful tomatoes. The delicious guacamole was a simple mixture of creamy avocado, lime, and salt. The taco de pollo en salsa verde, which I've raved about before, was as flavorful as ever but our large pieces of white meat were dry: a downside of table service is not being able to point at exactly the food (i.e., the small chunks of dark meat) you want. They were supposedly out of carnitas, so our waitress offered al pastor instead, yet delivered a carne asada taco. I wonder now, given her reluctance to give us hot salsa and cilatro on our tacos, if she felt carnitas and al pastor were too strange for the three gringos. The dry, well-done, from-the-steam-table carne asada on the taco was far inferior to the carne asada dinner platter, which came with a freshly cooked to medium slab of flank steak. The super quesadilla with pollo asado was stellar in all regards, as always. Rice: good. Beans: a slightly runnier version of their excellently creamy refried peruanos. Bottled Mexican beers: cold and refreshing. Total cost, including tip, $27.

About the time our orders were taken, a band started playing covers of songs made popular by Edie Gorme, Gipsy Kings, Buena Vista Social Club, and others. The four musicians (elec guitar/vocals, bongos/percussion, violin, and maracas) filled the space with beautifully uplifting music and received rousing ovations from the mostly Latino patrons after each song.

So there we were. Warm afternoon in the Mission, sunlight spilling down through the skylight and filling the indoor faux-plaza. Tucked into a table in the corner with cold beers, chips and guac, and fresh and simple Mexican food. Gorgeous live music and an appreciate crowd. Girlfriend sitting next to me scraping up every last bit of refried beans from her plate. Sister saying these are the California moments she misses during the dreary days in Philadelphia. Her boyfriend joking that he'll never be able to enjoy another $10 NYC "Mission-style" burrito. Life is good. The music ends, the bill is paid, we reluctantly yield our table to other lucky souls and leave the restaurant.

Angels we must have seemed, hope in our eyes, joy in our voices, auras of good cheer, not so much walking as floating along the swirling breezes of Mission Street.

-Nick

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