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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Talavera Cocina Mexicana

     The mention of Spring Break conjures images of college students gone wild. The mischievous merrymaking, the abandon, the regrettable choices, dare we say, the debauchery. But you know, us elementary school teachers experience our own psychological rush during that short respite between testing season and the chaotic end of the year. It's hard to put into words. It's a sense of freedom akin to the feeling of cool water on your skin when skinny dipping. By the way, is that still a popular Spring Break activity? No matter. It's refreshing and it's thrilling because you know it won't last long.
     While I don't partake in the bolder side of the revelry, this year's Spring Break gave me an opportunity to indulge in a few of my favorite activities- tinker around the house, catch up with friends, and explore new restaurants. My friend Claudia is in the top three of my list of favorite dining companions. Claudia just knows food. She's traveled the world, hangs with chefs, and is a killer cook herself. In fact, I've often said she should be writing this blog. Ironically, though, she is one of my strongest supporters and faithful cheerleaders in this writing journey.
   
     This time we decided on upscale Mexican food, a cuisine I can only enjoy at a very high level of quality. I'm a Mexican food snob. Talavera resides in Miami's bustling area of Coral Gables. The space is bright and sleek with oversized blue and white ceramic vases providing pops of color. The menu is not overwhelmingly long, but it's a good representation of classic Mexican fare.
   
     Claudia gave up alcoholic indulgences for Lent, but insisted that I try a cocktail without the burden of guilt. So I did, and it was a good decision. I ordered the Flor de PasiĆ³n from their all-Margaritas specialty cocktail menu, a refreshing mixture of hibiscus, passion fruit, lime juice, and tequila. It was all that I seek in my spirits, a sweet, jaunty, fruity drink with a gentle spike that interacted quite well with the salty rim on the glass.
   

     They start you with a basket of crisp blue corn tortilla chips and two dipping salsas, tomato and tomatillo, both too spicy for me, although I tried the tomatillo and found it delightfully sweet until I felt the kick. We ordered a bowl of guacamole, which came garnished with pork rinds, definitely an inventive twist. The guac gifted my mouth with a fresh pop of spring in every bite.
     Claudia ordered the green enchiladas, filled with pulled chicken, surrounded by their peppy tomatillo sauce, topped with lettuce and crumbled cotija cheese. A simple dish, with mild flavors that come alive with the saltiness of the cheese. We thought the chicken was just on the side of overcooked, but the sauce provided a savory moisture to compensate for the slight dryness.
     One particular traditional Mexican dish that has always intrigued me but I've never tried is Cochinita Pibil. I've heard Rick Bayless, a popular American chef who specializes in Mexican dishes with a modern twist, speak of it on TV with contagious excitement, and this was the day that Cochinita and I would be properly introduced. It consists of slow roasted pork wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in citrus juice, which results in a savory sweet explosion of flavor. This is not your average pulled pork, folks.
     The succulent Cochinita Tacos brought some friends to the party besides warm soft tortillas. Savory rice and black beans prepared well enough to impress this tough Cuban expert. Also invited were more fresh guacamole and strips of pickled tomato so tangy, even Cochinita puckered up with delight. Some meals just make you happy.
   
     Our dessert choice was the perfect ending note to this delicious adventure. Churros con Chocolate Abuelita, six classic thick sticks of perfectly fried dough, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, sprinkled with sugar, presented with a Mexican chocolate dipping sauce and fresh whipped cream. Claudia was in such rapture, I almost felt the urge to give her some privacy while she indulged.
     Good company is a key element in a satisfying dining experience. Good company in addition to good food create a spiritual moment for me. On this day, I had both in spades.

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