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Restaurants & Bars

Bodeguita del Medio: the quality returns

David Sloo | Nov 9, 200602:16 PM     1

Over the past decade, I've gone back often to Bodeguita del Medio in Palo Alto in spite of variable quality. The atmosphere is consistently lively, the art on the walls consistently kitschy, and the rum is probably consistently rummy.

But the food over the years has sometimes been good and sometimes not cooked perfectly. The cubano sliced pork-and-cucumber-pickle sandwich and the black beans and rice -- moros y cristianos -- form an exception: reliably good.

I think, though, that they have hit their stride again. On Tuesday, we had:

- oyster shooters, which are just shucked oysters in a shotglass with spices. Elsewhere, this is a gimmicky way to consume oysters that you would otherwise want to cook rather than eat raw. At BdM, they are adorned with cocktail sauce, a generous dose of grated horseradish, and habanero rum. The shotglass rim is dipped in salt and powdered habanero. If you get a potent one, as I did, this is a seriously intense and delicious way to take your weekly capsaicin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsaicin) dose.

- lamb chops, rubbed with a lot of cumin, grilled, on a bed of sweet potatoes. These were small, thin, elegant chops. We got the last set from the kitchen as early as 7 pm, and only because my dining companion pointed at the next table and said: I want those. Although we asked for them medium-rare, they came medium- to medium-well done. No matter: the lamb flavor, the grill carbon, and especially the cumin ("smells of bedbugs", according to some famous food writers) were forthright and delectable.

- seared ahi, on a bed of purple mashed potatoes and some sauteed vegetables, with a mango salsa. This was just a delight. The tuna was a big piece of loin, almost black at the surface but still cool in the center. The mango salsa, while simple, is a sweet complement to the simple, meaty flavor of the tuna. (No, it's not as good as the ponzu that Ethel's Grill in Honolulu serves with tataki.) The purple mashed potatoes are the sort of thing you'll like if you like that sort of thing.

Interestingly, both of these main dishes were off-menu. One was an announced special, and perhaps the other had been a special earlier in the evening. Maybe at BdM, the specials really are special.

As we walked out, I saw that one diner was delecting surf 'n' turf, tierra y mar. This was the dish that convinced me to keep coming to Bodeguita del Medio in the first place: it's just a piece of grilled skirt steak and a couple of grilled shrimp, but it used to delight me, before they fell into overcooking the shrimp in about 2001. This week, it looked like the grill marks were deeper, the shrimp cooked quicker and blacker. Next time...

Bodeguita del Medio, 463 California Av, Palo Alto, 650 326-7762.

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