Monday, December 30, 2013

Getting your Mexican food fix east of weird

Enchiladas especiales from Taqueria Y Restaurant Guadalajara, Elgin TX
This is my new BFF.  Enchiladas especiales at Taqueria Y Restaurant Guadalajara: four chile-fried corn tortillas filled with refried beans and topped with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, crumbled cotija cheese, Mexican crema and avocado.  Add spoonfuls of the excellent, deeply-flavored house-made salsa and you have an outstanding meal from one of my favorite local Mexican restaurants in Elgin, TX

In a small town where fine dining does not exist but fast food franchises do, and where the choices to have a meal out comprise several barbecue joints, a couple of cafes and about a dozen Mexican restaurants, I tend to look for places that do one or two things well.  Those places, for me, are almost always small, family-owned and run Mexican restaurants that serve great food at great prices and have great service to boot.  I love the waitstaff at my favorite places and it's fun to know them by name, talk with them about their families and look forward to seeing them again in the near future.  I always get great service in all my favorite restaurants in Elgin--and I don't think that it's just because I like to tip well.

Taqueria Y Restaurant Guadalajara, located on Highway 290 East, right across from the fabulously refurbished Elgin HEB, also serves excellent sopas and gorditas.  I alternate between refried bean and chorizo fillings, but I love the thick, crispy masa base (which has been deep-fried), the bright, fresh flavors of tomato, onion, lettuce, lime and avocado and the excellent and pungent house salsa that comes with your plate.  If you order a sopa, everything is piled on top.  If you order a gordita, the thick masa tortilla is split open and filled.  Either way, it's a taste explosion that doesn't detonate your wallet.

Sopa from Taqueria Y Restaurant Guadalaja, Elgin TX
There is another little restaurant at the end of Main Street that I also frequent, mainly for the very straightforward and delicious huevos rancheros, but also for sopasTaqueria Azteca de Oro is operated by several ladies who are very serious about their hairnets, not just their food.  They put out sopas that are very tasty, and very different from the ones served at Guadalajara.  The thick masa base is grilled, not fried, so it yields a very tender and soft texture.  It's topped with loose, perfectly seasoned pinto beans, fresh cilantro, onions, crumbled cotija cheese, crema and the special house salsa rojo, which is smoother and hotter than the salsa that typically accompanies tostada chips and Azteca's other dishes.  This sopa is beautiful to look at and I'm always a bit sad when the last bite has disappeared.

The sopa at Taqueria Azteca de Oro, Elgin TX

Another favorite lunchtime stop is Jalisco Mexican Restaurant (also on Highway 290 East, across from what I call The Pawn Shop on the Hill).  Jalisco also has sister restaurant of the same name and menu in Bastrop, TX.  In the summertime, I adore the lightness and simplicity of their single chalupa, a crispy, round tostada topped with tender and excellently seasoned beef fajita strips (or your choice of several other proteins), lettuce, tomato, cheese, avocado and sour cream.  The tacos al pastor are also filling, delicious and come with plenty of lime, cilantro and chopped onion.  But what I really love about Jalisco is their soup.  I absolutely crave a large bowl of chicken tortilla soup and can eat it in any weather. 

Chicken tortilla soup at Jalisco, Elgin TX  

This soup makes everything seem right, whether it's a bad day, or I'm a little under the weather, or I just need some lovin'.  I've tasted many versions of chicken tortilla soup, but this one is my all-time favorite.  The broth is rich and perfectly seasoned with celery and cilantro stems and leaves often making an appearance.  Having eaten countless bowls of this soup, it appears to be built on a large scoop of Mexican rice, a scoop of guacamole, some pico de gallo with plenty of Serrano chile, then the chicken and that exquisite broth.  There is a generous amount of chicken in the soup, and occasionally, I find a bit of skin, or a small bone or some gristle, but I never mind these discoveries.  They tell me that I am eating real chicken!  This tortilla soup comes to the table steaming hot and has been crowned with tortilla chips and that lovely, stringy white cheese that makes this soup a bit messy but totally delectable to eat.
I also really like the chips and salsa served at Jalisco.  I don't know how they do it, but the tortillas are very light and thin and are never greasy.  They come fresh, warm and lightly salted.  The salsa, very simple and full of tomato, fresh onion and cilantro, varies in the level of heat it delivers from visit to visit.  This is probably partly due to the variance in heat in the dried chiles that fleck the sauce.  In any case, it's a great salsa and I have often made a meal of just the salsa and chips, or neglected the meal I had ordered, in order to continue eating this supremely satisfying snack.
Most people know Elgin for its barbecue.  But now you know Elgin for excellent and inexpensive freshly-prepared Mexican food.  Drive out east of Austin and try our Mexican food, we'd love to meet you.  Better yet, drop me a line and I'll meet you sometime for a bite to eat.
May your tastebuds dance!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Three sparkling wines I really like

Although I personally believe that every day is a good day to drink sparkling wine, most people tend to drink more sparklers at this time of year.  Oh, if we could all look as glamorous as Marilyn sipping from our coupes.  Secretly, that's what I hope every time I pop that cork.

The sound of a popping cork from a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne is such a happy sound.  It signals, "This is a special moment!"  And I believe that life should be a series of special moments--some of which we create ourselves, if for no reason other than the fact that it's Tuesday. 

Below are three of my favorite sparklers (paired with recipe links) in case you're without an idea when you're standing in the champagne aisle at the liquor store this holiday season.

Tastes great and can't beat the price:

Hands down, this is the sparkler I offer for parties and as an opener for other events.  Jaume Serra Cristalino is a Spanish cava that sells for well under $10 and is light, clean, dry and citrusy.  Technically, I serve it with almost anything you can dip, dunk, spread on a cracker or pick up with your fingers.  But I really like it with gougeres, those lovely, hot cheese puffs that smell tantalizingly, insanely good.  Try David Lebovitz's recipe here.


Elegant and tastes like a million bucks:

This classy sparkler (expect to pay between $20 and $25) is mostly made from the pinot blanc grape with a little pinot noir for substance and body.  Pierre Sparr Cremant d'Alsace is carefully made in the same way real champagne is made: method traditionelle.  This delightful bubbly is minerally, light and crisp with citrus and herbs.  It has fine bubbles and a creamy mouthfeel.  It is lovely with radishes, butter, dark bread and fleur de sel.  It also pairs finely with creamy, rich cheeses and this delish nibble made with aged gouda, prosciutto and honey.


Happy endings:

I love a dessert wine, and a sparkling dessert wine doubles my pleasure.  Reymos Valencia Espumoso de Moscatel Selección (about $12) is a simple, gorgeous wine that is slightly sweet and redolent of apples and figs.  It is rich and has just enough acid to balance rich cheeses such as Stilton, triple crèmes and Camembert.  If you want to serve it with a knockout dessert, try this tiramisu recipe from Giada de Laurentiis. 

There are many, many more sparklers I could tell you about, but space here is limited.  I've got an idea--give me a shout and we'll crack open a bottle and talk more about it...

Happy Holidays!