Day 18: Ecuador
It was time to pick a restaurant for my birthday with my mom, my step dad Jimmy, my sister and my girlfriend. As you can guess, a lot of the restaurants on my list are small, divey and out of the way. Also, as my finances continue to dwindle considerably, getting one of the higher priced menus knocked off for a birthday dinner would be ideal. I was looking for a restaurant that had something special, unique and classy— like tablecloths. I also wanted to find a place that had food everybody would enjoy. GirlfriendBites doesn’t eat pork or beef, Jimmy doesn’t eat meat, my sister is very picky and my mom tries to avoid heavier or fried foods. Sounds like a lot of parameters, right? Lucky for me I found just the place.
El Caserio in Silverlake. It’s right off the freeway, it serves Ecuadorian and Italian food and they even have things like martini glasses. Just making the reservation I got a good feeling about this place as the woman on the phone was the sort of person that makes you feel comfortable. So after a glass of wine on the patio of my apartment and the receiving of some much needed gifts after a mostly possession-free move from New York a few months ago (a proper Dutch oven, a good cooking spoon, a cookbook and some shirts), we head out to Silverlake. One look at the exterior and my mother is hooked. “Ooh, this place looks nice.” I think she’s still recovering from Jamaica Day, which she didn’t like, but wants to point out that she has been to Jamaica and loved the food there.
We sit down and order drinks with the help of our wonderfully nice and helpful server, who seems quite happy to be able to speak Spanish tonight (Jimmy is a Puerto Rican from Long Island). Mom gets the very intriguing septima de mencia, which is a gin drink blended with the naranjilla fruit. The naranjilla, which is native to Ecuador, turns the drink into a refreshing green and tastes like a wonderfully bizarre, fruity gin martini. GFB follows with the same and I try the blended mora juice, which is similar to grape and quite pleasant.
For appetizers, we have the incredibly tasty and crispy cheese empanadas. They’re lighter than any of the Argentine variety I’ve had and really get heavenly with their house-made spicy salsa. Served alongside the empanadas is a downright beautiful shrimp ceviche with tomatoes, potatoes, avocados, endive and pickled onions. The care that has gone into these dishes is remarkably apparent and is all done with absolutely no pretense whatsoever; just good food being treated with respect. We order our entrees and the waitress lets us know that there is a big party in the back, so the food will take a little longer than usual. This is definitely one of those times when we don’t care at all. The atmosphere is great, the conversation is flowing and everybody is having a nice time.
GFB’s chicken soup and humitas (Ecuadorian tamales) come out and both are delicious, but it’s the chicken broth that stands out as being the kind that makes you excited to get sick. Mom’s halibut al caserio is prepared in a light and delicious sauce, although just slightly overcooked. My sister eats a perfectly respectable fettuccine Alfredo and Jimmy has the most surprising meal of the night— the tallarines saltados con camaron. Shrimp sauteed with onions, tomatoes, herbs and a thick spaghetti-like pasta called tallarines. It’s really tasty, but my brain is having a hard time processing it. I finally come to terms with the dish after calling it “South American chow mein”. Of all the dishes, it is the one that keeps making me say “wait” and going in for another bite.
Lastly and right in front of me is the chuleta de puerco. A massive, juicy, tender pork chop seasoned with wonderful restraint, served with delicious beans, plantains, salad and boiled potatoes topped with a peanut sauce. This restaurant doesn’t mess around with their food. They take Ecuadorian dishes, execute them extremely well, plate the hell out of them and serve them with a genuine smile. Jimmy even remarks “These guys know how to make rice. A lot of restaurants don’t take care of their rice. But here, they make it like my mom does.” Believe me when I say that’s high praise.
I’m completely full now, but what else is new? I don’t believe I’ve been “hungry” for quite some time. Now I think I see some people walking toward me holding a tiramisu with a candle in it. I’m afraid they’re going to sing. The dessert is creamy, the evening is winding down and when I look across the faces of the people at the table, they’re happy. As much as I love eating in crammed strip malls where the food is thrown on the plate and plopped on the table with no fanfare whatsoever, there is something to be said for the atmosphere in a restaurant like this. They love their food, they love where it comes from and they they treat it that way. But they are also looking out for the diners themselves to make sure not only that the food is good, but that you are put in a position to be able to enjoy it. There are many occasions when I try not to believe this— but sometimes, I realize, a meal isn’t just about the food. On a night like tonight, I feel very fortunate to be reminded.
401 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Food Breakdown: 4 non-alcoholic beverages, 5 alcoholic beverages, 3 appetizers, 1 soup, 4 entrees, 1 dessert
Distance From My House: 12.2 miles