The past week I did nothing but sit in silence. Literally. Against my stomach's protests, I signed up for an eight-day retreat at a Zen monastery in Calaveras County, in the California Gold Country. My intention was to get away from the busyness of urban life to gain some clarity about myself and my career goals. One perhaps unintended result was that I became intimately acquainted with my appetite.
To gain a more complete understanding of our minds, my fellow retreatants and I learned several psychological tools. For example, we learned that throughout the day we humans are unconsciously viewing and acting upon the events of our lives from the perspective of various "subpersonalities." These "aspects of the identity" were created throughout our lives in response to various difficult situations. So, depending on the person, you might have created a "clown" or a "wallflower" personality to deal with going to school for the first time.
After a week of this kind of contemplation, the main thing I discovered is that my appetite seems to be my dominant subpersonality. Or maybe it just seemed that way after subsisting on nothing but lowfat vegetarian food for the past week. All I know is that during the 4 hour drive back to San Francisco I could think of nothing but food.
What should I eat after a diet of oatmeal, boiled vegetables and
spaghetti with tofu "meatballs"? My first thought was a hamburger,
fries and a milkshake at the In-N-Out
I passed on the way up. I craved grease. I could feel my teeth
sinking through the soft bun, two beef patties, cheese and lettuce, as
the ketchup and juices dripped down my chin. But, perhaps resilient
from a week of meditation, or maybe still full from lunch just an hour
earlier, I drove on. I had a grander intention for my first
meat meal back in San Francisco: tacos at La Taqueria.
La Taqueria is the first restaurant on what my wife and I call our Short List. Throughout the course of this blog I'll gradually unveil our Short List of restaurants that we like to return to again and again, usually when we crave certain dishes. When we crave tacos, we invariably head to La Taqueria. Although one of my favorite food writers, frequent New Yorker contributor Calvin Trillin, may sing the praises of the San Francisco burrito in his book Feeding a Yen, the paragon of Mexican fast food in our city is La Taqueria's taco. So immediately upon arriving back in the city, without even stopping home, I made my way to this taco temple to get my fix of tacos de carnitas and an agua fresca de mango.
Because it was Friday, I knew the Master Taco Maker would be
working. Though his apprentice is an adequate replacement on Sundays
and Mondays (the Master's days off), regulars know to go on one of the
other five days for the taco experience nonpareil. Unlike many other
similar establishments, the carnitas, slow-roasted pork
shoulder, served here manages to maintain an ethereal juicieness and
tenderness. The secret seems to be the lavish use of salt, which also
serves to highlight the pork's flavor against the background of two
soft corn tortillas, pinto beans, tomato salsa and optional (and
recommended) avocado. The house-made spicy jalapeno-cilantro salsa on
the tables adds the perfect note of spiciness. Other recommended
dishes at La Taqueria are the grilled beef carne asada tacos (order with cheese) and any of the fresh fruit or tamarind (my wife's favorite) agua frescas. La Taqueria is definitely on my Short List.