Monday, May 10, 2010

Cantina Los Caballitos' Roast Pork Empanadas

The question before this last little adventure was; is there something Mexican and pork-xican that will make me love it more than I love Puebla's el pastor? Not bloody likely. But I'll be damned if I won't give it a chance.

As I've long maintained, Mexican is not my favorite style of food, pork or not. What most concerned me about the early Mexican pork dishes I tried was the lack of seasoning to cover up that porky essence that stops me mid-bite on occasion. The plantains packed into the roast pork burrito I had at Pico de Gallo a little while back didn't do enough to mask this flavor, in hindsight.

Believe me, I've considered what an asshole I am for seeking out foods that cover up the taste of roast pork. I know that by doing so, I'm shadowing the reality of the roast pork I consume, and I might as well not pursue such dishes if they keep making me fell sick. But despite my desire to make the Adventures easy on myself in this way, forging forward is the only choice. I can't very well avoid a whole category. This blog is about eating pork from the perspective of a Muslim, and this is how this particular Muslim chooses to deal with roast pork...I know, I know, if that last sentence made you feel angry/confused/sad/fearful, please, just write your thoughts in the comments section.

I was just getting back into town from yet another multi-hour stint in my less-than-tidy car, and I hit up Sunny Ali, who happened to be sitting outside Cantina Los Caballitos about to order some grub. As I arrived to join him, the sun was suddenly obscured by half-menacing clouds. The wind started to pick up as I approached the table as if we were about to have a shootout, or at least words leading to one. Whatever the weather suggested fizzled out as I sat down across from him and heartily greeted my partner in crime. Just then, Sunny's girlfriend Cait, a waitress at this Cantina, brought us a couple of beers. Perfect way to end a shitty drive on the NJ turnpike.

Initially, I didn't feel like experimenting. I just wanted something familiar that would go down easy, the quesadillas I ordered being almost too deep in that category. The pork empanadas were actually Sunny's choice, but the configuration of our plates demanded that we make a partial trade. The picture would have been perfect if that bastard hadn't gotten salsa all in the sour cream.

Because I'm used to empanadas being either the frozen snack or of the corner store variety (which I am suspicious might be the same thing), having a hand crafted one with the shell cooked just right was a treat. The filling was decent at best, not much by way of standout seasoning. The unwelcoming essence of roast pork was at about 40%, especially with a dallop of sour cream. The pork was a little stringier than normal, either the cooking method or the pig being at fault. Overall, the bite match my mood: a little tired and craving a change.

I like both Cantina's in Philly for their atmosphere and layout, not to mention the Tecate and Tequila drink special that pleasantly ruined a few summer days last year, but there food has always left something to be desired. There's something un-Mexican about preparations that I can't quite put my finger on. In a town that has a serious Mexican diaspora and plenty of eateries serving its need for authentic food from home, it seems unnecessary to travel to a hip block for dishes that come off as a very slight attempt to differentiate. Don't be surprised if you see me chilling at Cantina on a hot summer day drinking a Pacifico, but if I ever feel the hankering for something south of the border, you'll find me on 9th St.

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