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Restaurants & Bars 9

La Gran Chiquita, Fruitvale + wine tasting

Windy | Apr 6, 200305:56 PM

A planned lunch at Otaez Restaurant on International Blvd took an unexpected turn when we passed the La Gran Chiquita, which until recently was a teriyaki restaurant, and decided to change plans.

We mused over the name--Ruth Lafler asked whether a "gran chiquita was like a jumbo shrimp" but Melanie Wong suggested it was more like a Big Babe.

What we enjoyed:
3 excellent salsas: a mild orange salsa is the house regular plus a mild salsa verde and a gorgeous blood colored chipotle salsa. Tom from NY thought the chips and salsa needed a little extra salt.

A sinchronizada, a flour quesadilla with ham and cheese and served with a side of guacamole and sour cream. I hadn't seen one of these since my last trip to Mexico and thought it was the thing on the table.

Ruth thought the gordita with chicken (?) was very good.

Quesadillas with squash blossom and huitlacoche (corn fungus) were interesting and well received. I was less enthusiastic about the greasy shell and I had hoped for a Oaxacan style quesadilla with just a squash blossom, but it was delicious just the same.

The machaca was tasty, but the meat seemed too moist. This was better at Otaez restaurant. It needed salsa to bring it to life.

Homemade flour and corn tortillas are available. The flour tortillas, which I didn't get to try, were described as "tangy."

We ordered a bowl of menudo blanco (white tripe) out of curiosity, but found it lacking. A generous helping or tripe and a yummy bone of tendon to chew on, but this menudo was more like tripe water, even after adding epazote, onions, lemon, and salsa.

La Gran Chiquita has offal to please any palate--not just a generic cabeza or tripa, but eye balls, cheeks, glands, brains. We got a mixed taco but no one was terribly enthusiastic about it and no eye balls were spotted. The longaniza (sausage) taco was filled with plump, well-spiced meat.

Friendly, very casual service. The horchata and jamaica were from mixes; skip them in favor of freshly squeezed OJ. We managed to spend $34 for the five of us (not including tip) only because we ordered one from every category.

Strolling down International, we enjoyed an excellent taco al pastor from a truck that Ruth or Melanie will have to name. A required stop at the Ojo de Agua truck produced heavenly liquados--a fresa (strawberry) and the sensational nuez (mixed nut). The mango agua fresca tasted not quite ripe--at least it was made from fresh fruit.

We also noted a new rotisserie (chicken necks 3x$1 attracted William Wong's attention), a gumbo house, and the Cinco de Mayo birrieria (say that 3 times fast) for another trip.

La Gran Chiquita Taqueria
3503 International
510 533 6484

Afterward, we stopped in at JC Cellars open house in Alameda, in the warehouse used by Rosenblum and St. George Spirits. Jeff Cohn is the winemaker at Rosenblum who also sells his own wines under the JC Cellars label.The clear favorite of the wines we tasted was the '99 Ventana Vinyards Syrah available for $25. I also liked the late harvest Viognier dessert wine. A highlight was Tucker's Ice Cream of Alameda offering tastes of their syrah ice cream made from JC's 2001 Syrah. Upstairs at Rosenblum, their dog wine (Chateau de Paws) was a good value at $12; it's available at Berkeley Bowl

JC Cellars

Tucker's Ice cream
1349 Park Street
510 522 4960

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