This month marks my fifth anniversary with J. Like all other anniversaries, we will be spending it apart because we live in two different states and only get to see each other every other month or so. After five years, it still stinks having to be away from J. on our anniversary. It can't be helped, but it really is a terrible feeling.
So, in the midst of my doldrums about J. being so far away, I decided I needed something different, comforting and special. One such place turned out to be a not-so-hidden gem on 24th Street between Indian School and Osborn.
Asi Es La Vida - Spanish for "Such is Life" - has been in the same building on 24th street for some time now. The builidng has housed many things and I remember at one point thinking it was a sports bar. None the less, I had passed it at least once a week and always wondered about it. The only thing I knew was that it served Mexican food and it was pricey.
I pulled into the parking lot that is at the back of the restaurant and was a bit surprised to see it decorated with Greco-Roman columns dotting a wall that surrounded the parking lot. The entrance to the restaurant was facing the lot and a man dressed in a crisp white shirt, slacks and tie greeted me. I entered the small courtyard and then into the main restaurant. The gentleman lead me into the front part of the restaurant and I was immediately comforted.
The interior of the place was romantic and beautiful. The lights were dimmed and votive candles were sitting on little shelves all over the walls. The walls were painted in earthtones and decorated with Mexican art and other items. Across the room, two guitar players were in the middle of a set of soft songs. I was seated at a table for two in a small alcove. The gentleman asked if he could get me some fresh pineapple, orance or papaya juice to start. I asked for a Diet Coke and some water.
In seconds flat, I was set upon by a member of the staff who brought my menu, a lit candle to the table, three types of sauce/salsa, and my drinks. The setting was perfect and the only thing missing was J.'s smiling face. I reviewed the menu and was a bit stymied by the fact that everything looked wonderful. After much thinking, I decided on the Queso Fundido ($7.95) for my appetizer. This would be followed by my Combination Platter of Ropa Vieja and Cochinita Pibil ($15.95). I placed my order and sat back listening to the very talented guitar players and enjoying the atmosphere.
Only about five minutes had passed when my Queso Fundido arrived. In the middle of a large bowl sat a serving of the fundido. It was piping hot and the oil from the cheese made it slide around in the bowl a bit. The cheese was well melted and covered a nice mixture of mild chorizo and nopales (prickly pear cactus pads) that had been sliced and sauteed. The flavor was salty, savory, somewhat bitter and smokey. It was excellent. The best part of the dish, however, was the fresh, homemade corn tortillas that accompanied the dish. I was given a basket of about a half dozen or so that were freshly made and still hot. The only thing that would have made this dish better would have been real butter to put on the corn tortillas before eating them. But I am sure my arteries were thankful such was not the case.
I finished the queso and had a few tortillas left over, so I tried the sauces. The first was a tomatillo sauce that was fragrant and had a nice kick to it. The second was a mild salsa with lots of onions and tomatoes. The third was a rich chipotle hot sauce that was just delicious. All were very good, but the winner was the chipotle sauce.
After finishing my appetizer, my plates were cleared, the drinks refreshed, and I was sat back for just a few moments before my entree arrived. The plate was set in front of me and it wasn't more than a second before my nose was hit with a flurry of aromas. Accompanying the plate was another basket of corn tortillas.
I dove into the Cochinita Pibil. Wow! Pork had been slow roasted until tender and then cooked with a wonderful red chile sauce with orange juice. It was absolutely delicious and the citrus tanginess just rounded everything out wonderfully well. The Ropa Vieja was diced beef and potatoes cooked in a smokey red chile sauce with onions and spices. This was exceptional and the potatoes were cooked to perfection and had soaked up all the flavors of the sauce.
Black beans were served with a sprinkle of queso fresco. They were a solid side dish and held their own with a very rich flavor. The rice side dish was simply white rice with a few peas thrown in and a bit of cumin. Nothing outstanding, but a nice way to pull everything together.
As before, the corn tortillas were hot and fresh and I used every single one making sure I got every last drop of the sauce from the two meat dishes. A staff member came and cleared my dishes and refilled my drinks. Another staff member asked if I would like some dessert. I wasn't going to refuse and he gave me a list of items. They all sounded perfect for a closing course, but I opted for the Flan Napolitano ($4.95).
Shortly after ordering, I received my dessert. The flan was a total surprise to me because I am so used to the round blob that usually is served on a plate with the sauce swirling around everywhere. This was totally different. A slice of flan was on a colorful plate with the aforementioned sauce, but the density of the flan was more like cheesecake than anything else. A fresh strawberry was the garnish and everything was dotted with fresh heavy cream and a sprig of mint. The flan was smooth, slightly sweet and fairly light. It was a grand way to end the meal.
I got my check and a final round of drinks. In reviewing the meal, I noticed that the flan had not been included in the total and called over my server. He thanked me for pointing out the discrepancy, but told me it was on the house. My total bill, including tax, was $28.00. I also threw in a couple of singles into the tip jar for the guitar players. They were good, talented and really made the mood. Strolling mariachis would have been very out of place here.
I paid my bill and finished my drinks. The meal was a success and the service superb. As I exited, I said my goodnights to the gentleman that greeted me at the door. I walked back out into the courtyard and thought about how much J. would have loved this evening. I got into my car and drove away.
So, five years with the most wonderful person in the world. I only wish we could have been together for our anniversary.
Such is life.
Asi Es La Vida
3602 North 24th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Dress: Business Casual (although you could get by with Casual)
Notes: Parking is at the back of the building.