Thursday, October 05, 2006

La Cazuela

I am not well-versed on South American cuisine - I know potatoes, ceviche, quinoa and little else. So one recent Saturday night I headed down to Baltimore's Fell's Point to try La Cazuela, which serves the only Ecuadoran food I can find in the city.

The restaurant was unassuming and sparsely decorated. I did wait a minute to get seated, but the waitress was gracious when she saw me. She gave me a menu and I started looking over it. I thought the potato would be more prominently featured on the menu. Instead, the menu offered a variety of dishes with chicken, pork, tripe, beef and lots and lots of seafood. Yes, there was a healthy sampling of ceviche (fresh seafood marinated in pure citrus juice - such as lemon or lime; the acid "cooks" the seafood chemically, making it safe to eat). Also featured prominently were mabny dishes with plantain, yuca, avocado, rice and (yes, after all) potatoes.

I wanted to order the ceviche, but my mind turned to things that are more difficult to find in Baltimore. When the waitress returned, I ordered the seco de chivo - the goat stew. I have eaten goat before. To me, goat tastes somewhat like lamb, but with a more subtle flavor. It's like buffalo and beef - buffalo tastes, to me, like beef, but with a more subtle flavor. This nanny goat stew came with rice, plantain and avocato, and is only available on the weekends. At $12 it was not unreasonable. I also ordered an Inka Cola, a Peruvian soft drink I am familiar with, that has a bubble-gum kind of taste. They were out, and I don't think the waitress understood me when I asked for Diet Coke, because she offered me a gaseosa called Fioravanti. This turned out to be a raspberry cola. I'm glad she brought it out because I liked it! I wouldn't have ordered it if I had known what it was.

Before my goat stew came out, I was brought some "plantain fries" (my name for them) - plantain cut up like French fries, served with a mayonnaise dipping sauce. Yum-O, as Rachael Ray might say.

Next I got my goat (sounds odd, no?). As every goat dish I have been served before, it had bones - lots of bones. But goat bones are big, and all you have to do is gnaw off the meat. This meat was only a little tough. Served with it was a yellow rice pilaf with pieces of plantain and avocado. These were a nice complement to the goat, though I was expecting more of a stew than what I got, which was more like goat in a thin gravy. But still good.

For dessert, I had the tres leches. I was picturing a tres leches cake. But duh, it was a delicious flan. Very good!

With the price for the stew at $12, plus the bottle of soda at $2.50 and the flan at $4.50, the total price with tax and tip came out to about $23.50. Not a bad deal.

One final note about La Cazuela: for the brave, and definitely not for the animal rights activist willing to be a little culturally relavite, you might try the cuy azado con papas. It's only by special order, and costs $40! Why? Because I guess it's not easy to find this ingredient in the meat market - because it is actually guinea pig! This delicacy is not uncommon for indigenous peoples in the Andes to eat. We just funneled our guinea pigs into the "pet" category instead.

Maybe I'll try it if I can scrounge up 40 bucks.