I don't usually get cravings for food. (Though this morning, the cornmeal pancakes at Just For You were a necessity.) If we're going out to dinner, being asked what I feel like eating is one of the most irritating questions. I. Don't. Know. How can I be expected to pick just one of the thousands of delicious food items all over the city? It's too overwhelming; there's too much choice.
When faced with such a dreadful freedom, I'm forced to compartmentalize. It's hard to find a perfect restaurant. What's not hard to pinpoint is perfect dishes -- or, let's say, dishes that satisfy a specific need, at a specific time and place (oh, the damage that relativity has done!). While I may lust hungrily after the bread at Blue Plate -- warm from the oven, crisped perfectly on top and flecked with rosemary -- I've become bored with their barely changing menu. The grilled hearts of romaine salad was once a no-fail destination dish for me. When I was there a couple of weeks ago, the winter version -- with blue cheese and Granny Smith apples -- was over-dressed and mediocre. Disappointment burns. Oh, how it burns.
Two dishes at two different restaurants have recently infected my consciousness: the relleno negro de pavo at Mi Lindo Yucatan (401 Valencia, at 15th St.) and the samusa soup at Burma Superstar (309 Clement at 4th Ave.). There are similarities to the dishes, especially in their somewhat overwrought spicing, and I wonder what that indicates about my taste. Come to your own conclusions.
Mi Lindo Yucatan is an extremely friendly place and generally a pleasure to visit. But I'm not reviewing the restaurants, I just want to talk about these two dishes. The mole comes in a big dish, and it's not so pretty to look at -- pale shreds of turkey and a few rounds of turkey sausage swimming in an inky black sauce. The sauce is thin but so very rich, redolent of a warm combination of chiles -- habanero, passila, and jalapeno, I think. I could just drink up the sauce -- the meat, in this case, just serves as a vehicle to convey the sauce to my mouth. Plus tortillas, which I suppose are the real vehicle -- so the turkey is, actually, the axle, or the wheels. The steering wheel? I have no use for metaphors; all I need is the sauce. And a hot car.
I had avoided the crowds outside Burma Superstar for years, even when I lived in that neighborhood -- preferring any of the other wonderful restaurants in the area (hello, Szechuan Trenz Spices II! I love you.). Burma Superstar needs not a shred more publicity. Nor does the samusa soup -- it's long been touted as one of the stars of the Superstar. I second that. The soup consists of vegetarian samusas -- fried pillows of lentils, potatoes, and falafel -- that are broken up and introduced to a vegetarian curry broth that holds deep mysteries. It's thick and has a slight heat, laced with spices and ribbons of cabbage. The samusa wrapping soaks up the broth but remains toothsome while the lentil and falafel filling provides further textural delights.
Both the relleno negro and the samusa soup are winter dishes, perfect comfort for the cold, wet weather. Both are worthy of craving. Freedom is now less dreadful.