Day 61: Colombia
Just starting to catch our breath after getting knocked around by a long and multi-faceted weekend, GirlfriendBites and I are leaving her parents’ house in Ventura, California and are ready to get back home. The most amazing development, however, in my daily food search, is that there are almost no restaurants left on the northern end of Los Angeles, or even between Los Angeles and Ventura, which seem to require my attention. A huge number of the best regarded restaurants representing every corner of the globe are being found south and east of my abode in Culver City. One such well regarded place does exist, however, in Van Nuys, which is conveniently, right on our way home.
We park, then walk toward Messón Criollo as our obedient dog Franklin waits in the car, staring longingly through the window. “What do you recommend for a typical Colombian meal?” I ask our server. “Everyone usually orders this,” she says, pointing to the picture on the front of the menu, depicting eggs, sausage, rice, beans, beef and chicharrones. Her tone, however, does not sound confident.
“How is it?” I ask.
“Everybody likes it,” she says.
“What do you like?”
“This,” she replies, “sanocho de cola. A beef soup with yucca. It comes with rice and salad.”
GFB and I sip our purple mora juice mixed with milk, a creamy beverage which tastes remarkably like a cranberry milk shake. We also split a very satisfying chicken empanada, topped with a spicy, fresh green salsa. Soon, my soup, rice and salad arrive alongside GFB’s garlic shrimp— which tastes very strongly of lemon pepper. The soup is as calming and satisfying as any I’ve come across thus far on the food journey, with its two hunks of bone clusters, clung to with only partial commitment by tender morsels of meat. The long, thick segments of yucca are easy to break up with my spoon, allowing for very customizable bites of soup. I spoon the green salsa into the bowl, saying “They do this in Bolivia, so I assume it’s perfectly all right in Colombia.” Then I laugh, completely amazed at the words which have just come out of my mouth. How the hell do I know that?
After arriving home, I leave GFB, allowing her to get some work done, and head out to meet folk hero Jason Bernstein at the media preview for Bar Deluxe in Hollywood. Does that last sentence sound strange to anyone else? What am I doing invited to a media preview for a fancy bar in Hollywood, drinking things in martini glasses with names like “cucumber crush” and having waitresses dressed as flappers walking up to me and saying “Would you care to try our pastrami sandwich on a pretzel bun with whiskey sauerkraut?” Here I am, full from a meal of Colombian food in Van Nuys, but somehow sitting at a party where I’m talking to food writers whose material I actually read. I’m still unemployed, still extremely worried about how I’m going to pay my rent next month, having started writing about food as a personal passion and yet—I’ve just been offered ahi tuna bruschetta and exchanged business cards next to an enormous art deco fireplace that looks like the one from the end of Beetlejuice when the house gets all creepy and extra Tim Burton-y. Just like with putting the salsa in the soup and assuming a similarity to Bolivian table etiquette, I’ve been surprised yet again to find that pretending you know what you’re doing really isn’t that far from actually knowing what you’re doing. Having something you care about— and really following through with it— can be enough. Now, was it my goal going in to be invited to a media preview? How could it have been? I would have been amazed going in just to know that I would even make it to 60 days. But right now, it’s just good to know that trying can lead to something. Even if you have no idea how it happened, what it means, or really even what it is. But hey, when you’re broke, free food is free food, and the evening, it turned out, was also quite a lot of fun.
Messón Criollo Grill Restaurant
15713 Vanowen St
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Food Breakdown: 2 entrees, 1 appetizer, 1 non-alcoholic beverages
Distance From My House: 16.8 miles